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Planet Shaftesbury – Opening Meeting – 17th Jan, 2019



The aim to co-ordinate a local, community-based based challenge to the onset of climate change, triggered late last year by the well attended Extinction Rebellion meeting at Friends’ Meeting House, has taken a significant step forward. Around a hundred people attended a meeting in Shaftesbury Town Hall to listen to a talk by Gary Mantle - CEO of Wiltshire Wildlife Trust - and then to break into discussion groups to outline ideas for a variety of local initiatives. A further meeting, scheduled for February 1st, will – it is hoped – turn many of these ideas into action plans and establish who is prepared to take them forward.

Dr Mantle’s presentation touched on the impact of climate change on all forms of life, with a particular focus upon our region of south-west England. He outlined some of the initiatives in which he and others are involved to both compensate for this and to challenge its human-instigated causes. He concluded with some of his own suggestions as to actions that we can take in our locality.

I was particularly impressed by the sense of balance in his presentation. Some species (such as small egrets), he took time to point out, will benefit from changes in local weather and thrive here. Other beneficiaries (such as the ticks whose bites cause Lyme Disease) will be less welcome. He also established the sense of a disturbance in the web of natural interconnections. The earlier Springs that result from warming, for example, cause trees to go into leaf sooner. This has a negative impact on bluebells which, when in bloom, are reliant on the additional sunlight formerly available at this time of year. So it’s not just the direct effects – the heatwaves, hurricanes and rising sea level – it’s the subtle checks and balances that are going awry.

His talk outlined measures that his own organisation is taking to reduce carbon fuelled energy use and to preserve threatened wildlife. He then covered a broader range of responses: some in which we can participate directly (such as reducing meat and dairy consumption); some requiring campaigns to change government and business practise. (A fuller summary of the talk can be found at http://thisisalfred.com/green/planet-shaftesbury-launches-climate-change-campaigns-at-packed-town-hall-meeting/).

In the discussion session that followed, a series of large A2 sheets of paper were distributed to groups gathered around tables. Each took an aspect of the work ahead – transport, food etc. – as a heading, with an invitation for participants to write down their ideas for locally based activities and campaigns. At the same time, participants were invited to indicate their own willingness to take part in the suggested activities by leaving their names and email addresses on the relevant sheets. The task of the next meeting on February 1st will be to collate this material, form active groups and decide on the structure of the ‘Planet Shaftesbury’ umbrella organisation.

There was a general feeling, after the meeting, that it had been a very successful starting point. For those who have been involved in the ‘green’ movement for some time, there is a constant sense that the uprooting of mindsets required to bring about the real, sustained and desperately required, change in concepts such as ‘the economy’ has been elusive. Though global warming is now upon us and there is already too much CO2 in the atmosphere to mitigate many of its effects, it is still just possible to reverse the process. Planet Shaftesbury will act in alliance with towns and cities across the UK which have declared a climate emergency and are setting targets to achieve zero carbon fuel usage. There is a sense of some sort of groundswell taking place, so maybe now is the time when a breakthrough might be achieved. It is conceivably our last hope.

This initiative was rooted in that of the Extinction Rebellion movement (and will continue to support those who choose to be involved in non-violent direct action to change government policies). But it is very much an attempt to widen awareness amongst and invite participation from those who may not be comfortable with protest and acts of civil disobedience. The Planet Shaftesbury group has no direct political affiliations. As I understand it, its purpose is to help coordinate and to support the growing body of people in this area who recognise that climate change is now a serious and urgent crisis for humanity and who wish to do something about it. It recognises that any step to improve the situation, no matter how small or large, is a step worth taking.


Richard Foreman

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