A tourist in the UK

This month’s EarthCare was written in Britain, Yorkshire to be precise, where my mum was celebrating her 90th Birthday.  The building blocks of British society are unlike those in Australia, the population in Britain is significantly greater than WA and is fundamentally different in its distribution, there being many cities, towns and villages in a country much
smaller than our state.  The British system is inherently decentralised, distinct from our single capital city with a single CBD.  Such decentralisation promotes comprehensive well patronised transit systems.  For example I wrote this on a train travelling through countryside at over 100 miles per Hour (170km/hr); it was comfortable, clean and had Internet access, I could, of course, have chosen first class with better seats, free food and drink and better wifi, but at a cost.  Public transport there is good, though locals have been known to grumble, you can get from anywhere to anywhere with ease.  With fuel prices at double those we complain about in WA and congested roads, cars tend to be small and used mostly for short trips; much freight also travels by rail.  Car journeys are
different to ours, due to the shorter distances involved, one constantly sees roadside stalls selling home grown fruit and vegetables as well as surplus household items, while farm-shops offer a wider range of produce straight from the barn; with a quality of flavours and textures I will not forget for a long time.  If an item is not produced by that farm or village it is clearly marked as not local.  Sharing home grown produce is also prevalent, as are home gardens and allotments.  Supermarkets are quite small and used mainly for convenience shopping.  Mega supermarkets of the 1990s are now few and far between.

The move to renewable energy sources is well progressed.  My mum was recently asked if she would be interested in installing PV cells on her cottage, the Village Hall was being done and the more people who signed up the cheaper each panel.  She was advised the cost would be recovered in 7 years, something she felt was not a good prospect at her age!  However PV is evident all over the place, despite the fact I did not see the sun in 3 weeks!  Wind turbines of varying sizes are across the countryside, from huge farms to a single turbine powering a church in remote Boland.  The Brits really get the need for renewable energy.   I visited a converted mill in a remote village in a remote valley in the Yorkshire Pennines, the 22ft waterwheel (c1784) was replaced in 1879 with a water turbine to provide primary power and a “new” additional turbine installed in 1898 provided electricity to the village, one of the first grid systems anywhere in the world.  Both turbines are still fully operational, as is one installed in 2010 to “back-feed” the grid.   British people are reducing their carbon and ecological footprints, while continuing to have good quality of life.

One issue prevalent on my arrival were the riots rocking London.  Whilst the hackneyed political blame game played out, what was clear is major contributing factors are large income disparity and ever-increasing population densities, especially in poorer immigrant
suburbs.  Probably a catalyst may be the support the UK government gave rioters in the Middle East, for a very different reason, but it gave rioting a level of legitimacy.  The courts have been criticised for handing down severe penalties for those convicted, on the grounds people were caught up in the mob mentality.  I will leave readers to form their own pinion on this.

So what brief lessons do I bring home?

  • For public transport to work well requires decentralisation with a critical mass of people at secondary and regional centres.
  • Everyone needs a reduced carbon and ecological footprint through embracing renewable energy
  • All members of society should be treated with dignity and respect.

Published in Fremantle Herald 1st October 2011


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