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Our state government has decided it wants to investigate sustainability and tell us all about how to have a small carbon footprint.
The best way to do this is with a big truck, so we can see they are really, really serious about sustainability. As long as it doesn’t mean changing anything.
Remember: Infinite growth is possible with finite resources. We will discover a cheap recoverable energy source to replace oil. Technology will save us.
So the big news for cyclists is that the town council has finally
given up built the cycle lane they have been promising would be in ‘next years budget’ since long before we arrived here.
The lane should have been built when the town hosted the state garden festival sometime last century, but the money was needed for other important things, like a seven metre high plastic carrot which pokes into the ground at the exact geographical centre of the town and is surrounded by a circle of giant luminous pink and yellow rabbits, without which the garden festival and the town would obviously have been incomplete. I am not making this up.
Anyway, despite being only a couple of hundred metres long, and a vital link between two large sections of the town, the cycle lane remained unsurfaced, as in: “a field”, meaning that children going to school had to ride on the pavement/sidewalk alongside a major road for several hundred metres. This didn’t stop the town including it on their ‘cyclists network’ map (nor did it discourage one councillor from repeatedly claiming it was surfaced and we should all shut up and go home). Finally, the dogged persuasion by the local cyclists club has finally paid off and the government recently made a big announcement that at a cost of €20 000 (which would buy about 5cm of Autobahn) they had now put a cycleway in place.
It is 90cm (3′) wide*.
Some of the councillors are wider than that.
This, remember, is a major link for cyclists and pedestrians between the two largest parts of the town. It could reduce short car trips by providing an way to travel, if it wasn’t too narrow for a pedestrian and a bicycle to pass. Or even a pedestrian and a small dog.
The council have answered this criticism by saying it is a ‘good compromise’ and the cycle lane can’t be any wider for ‘environmental reasons’.
I’m not making that up either.
*How did they manage to make a 90cm wide gravel path cost €20 000? Is there gold dust in it?
When we took over the garden I was already muttering about running workshops there, partly to help pay for what we wanted to do, partly to get to know people within the local networks. This wasn’t possible at first because when we moved in the place was full of asbestos, and it doesn’t look good if you hold a workshop in a garden littered with a health hazard, so first that had to go, and then the shed had to be cleared so that we could do useful things. Like get inside.
Now the shed is cleared, and most of the Asbestos at ground level is gone. There is the small matter of the shed roof but that’s keeping the shed and its contents mostly dry so it’s geting a reprieve. We are also lacking important items like a loo, but I’m almost ready with that and to get me to move a bit faster we’ve decided to organise a cob building workshop as the 28th to the 30th of May 2012.
We’ll be hosting a workshop in cob building by Bernhard Gruber from Austria, who taught on my Permaculture Design Course, and we’ll be trying to build a cob oven as our first project. This is a simple oven that reuses the heat from one fire up to three times: first you put the fire in the oven and heat it up, then you use the heat in the clay to make things like Pizza, then you can put normal bread in to heat slowly, and finally you can use the residual heat to dry out fruit.
The goal is that everyone who comes is able to go home knowing how to build with cob, and able to make their own cob oven at home. If we get enough people on the workshop, we may go wild and try a rocket stove, but we have other pressing needs as well, so it would depend on the size of the group.
On the off chance that someone wants to come and join in, the boring but important details are:
Cost: €60 a day for tuition. (€180 total, 10% discount if you book and pay by Dec 31st)
This doesn’t include food or somewhere to stay: we’ll provide food and ask for what it costs us, and we are working on a place for people to unroll sleeping bags if you can’t find somewhere else to stay.
Course length: 3 days (From 10:00 on Monday the 29th to about 16:00 on Wednesday the 30th.) There will hopefully be an extra evening event with information on permaculture or Bernhards work in Tanzania on Tuesday.
Other details on request, but I don’t want to bore everyone more than I usually do. Please contact me through the form in the sidebar.
More of the usual entries next week, probably involing me panicking that I’ve got too much to do before the workshop begins.
BTW If any German speakers want to come, and would like a discount, I could do with some help making translations…
Many thanks to Utility Cycling for the video.
Bearing in mind that the difference between the cost of petrol to society and the much lower price at the pump amounts to a government subsidy, how exactly will increasing speed limits on motorways from the current 70mph to 80 mph, and causing a 20% increase in fuel consumption, help to reduce the budget deficit in the UK?
Answer that one Mr. Hammond.
And then answer this one.
…the earthquake and what traces it left. Traces in the outer world (buildings, nature, etc.) and in the people living in Japan.
There are collection boxes everywhere -around the shops, in railway stations, even in the airport.
In my in-laws house the ‘emergency packs’ -which every family should have for each person- have been checked and restocked, and have been moved from under the stairs to a more accessible location by the front door.
A big supermarket in town has a big display showing emergency packs and signs saying “Be prepared”. It also has a big map purporting to show the extent of the flooding ‘If the same thing happened here’.
A disaster is good for sales after all.
I thought the economic downturn and increasing petrol prices after the disasters would have got more people walking or cycling.
This does not seem to be the case.
Possibly this is because we are so far away from the disaster itself: we aren’t supplied by the oil refineries that were destroyed, energy is still cheap, and the local power stations are still working, so people carry on as normal.
A friend who took two trucks of aid to the North-East found the local Red Cross were bogged down in red tape, and the army stopped delivering one hot meal a day to the refugee centre -in fact now the government are suggesting people should stop volunteering to help, because the people in the area should “rise up” and rebuild. They’ve no money, infrastructure, fuel, transport or materials, but they should just get on with it and sort themselves out.
She gets the impression the government is giving up.
Television studios are running the occasional story about rebuilding. The media is rarely critical of the government -not as they are in Europe anyway- so this isn’t covered as we would expect it to be. Most media stories look like ‘feel good’ pieces about companies restarting or children getting back to school.
The strange thing about all this is that if we’d stayed on the train in Tokyo it would have carried us through the area about thirty minutes later. And yet everywhere else it’s pretty well business as usual. Even the nuclear lobby has hardly been affected by the Fukushima explosion. They have the support of the government, the opposition and the trade unions: they are still calling the tune.
Or at least most of the time: there were plans to build a nuclear power station on the coast about twenty kilometres away from where I am now.
Fukushima nailed that one, thank goodness.
*Does anyone else have an idea for a blog post about Japan? I’ve still got a week.
We’re trying to organise ourselves to fly to Japan so my wife’s family can be reminded what she and the boys look like. I appreciate this won’t make us very popular in ecological circles, but I wasn’t thinking about carbon footprints when we met on account of her being so darn beautiful.
We checked out alternative ways to travel: eight days on the Trans Siberian railway sounds like fun but costs even more than the plane just between Moscow and Vladivostok and isn’t something to contemplate with three small boys, while cargo ships take about two months.
After listening to my whining for a bit a friend suggested we should go by bike, so I looked it up.
Google thought it would be a good idea to ride over the Alps and then take a ferry across the Mediterranean and Black Sea*. Google clearly thinks I’m fitter than I am. I told it to stop messing about and it came up with this one instead along the Donau/Danube to the Black Sea and then by ferry to Odessa, and across to the eastern end of the Ukraine. After that Google gives up: we’d be on our own through southern Russia, and Kazakhstan -Two places where I’m guessing there isn’t much cycling infrastructure- and then we’re almost there, just three thousand kilometres of China and a ferry to Korea and Japan.
Of course, we’d need a tent, and cooking things, and bags for the bikes, and bookings for the ferry, and several trains, half a dozen guidebooks, several hundred maps, and to learn the Hungarian, Romanian, Russian, Kasak and Chinese for how to say things like “Please” “Thank you”; and for that matter “Puncture (repair)” or “Bike Shop”
On the other hand it’d give us the ultimate answer to “what did you do in the summer?”, and given the length of school holidays we’d reach Japan in plenty of time for a cup of tea with Beautiful Wife’s family before starting off home.
Or we could just take the plane.
*Which it won’t embed, so you’ll have to follow the link.
And so back to the fun and games of Stuttgart 21 (Give the people what they want, etc). The background to the story is here, and some more recent developments are here. It’s German Railways (AKA Deutsche Bahn or DB) and the (then) centre-right state government’s plan to rebuild Stuttgart’s man station and quite coincidentally make some of the most valuable building land in Germany available for sale. Nobody in Stuttgart wanted this except the project partners, who said it couldn’t be stopped because:
1: There would need to be a referendum in Stuttgart. That’s democracy: a small group can’t control everything their way. (except us obviously: see point 4)
2: Oh, wait: there can’t be a referendum in Stuttgart because some of the money is coming from the state, not the city. (and we may lose)
3: The contracts have been signed and it would cost too much to cancel them.
4: Shut up. Politicians make decisions, not people.
5: The dog ate our homework.
6: Go away or we spray you with water cannon.
After the authorities learned the hard way that water-cannoning peaceful crowds of protesters including women and children was A Very Bad Idea, there was a mediation process, and the Stuttgart 21 partners agreed to a ‘Stress Test’: a computer based simulation to show that the new station really could take 30% more trains than the old one.
The agreement was that if the ‘stress test’ showed the planned eight platform station was too constricted, then they would have to figure out how to make a ten platform one instead. (for comparison, the current station has seventeen platforms).
This would cost more of course, but when the agreement was made it was the ‘good old days’ when the CDU were in charge and there was an apparently limitless fund financed by the taxpayer, but now the Green Party are in, and they’ve quickly decided the project will now have a maximum 4.5 billion Euro budget. If it costs more DB will have to pay for it themselves. Currently costs are spiraling and some estimates suggest they will end up on the other side of 20 billion. We’ve already had hissy fits from Deutsche Bahn.
DB won’t let anyone in on the ‘stress test’ claiming they can do it themselves. (this is the company that ‘forgot’ several kilometres of track and a tunnel in their original cost estimates) so the Greens commissioned an independent ‘Stress test’ which reported back last week that an eight platform station can’t work.
Stuttgart 21′s supporters are strangely quiet at the moment.
Now we wait for the ‘other’ stress test.*
*But I bet I know what it’ll say…
I got an email from a friend this Monday saying they knew of a ‘very overgrown’ piece of land whose owner was desperate for someone to look after it; by Tuesday I had an appointment to go and look at the land, and by Thursday evening I was in. Considering you usually don’t get any information about land unless your great grandfather lived in the village, this is quite a shock.
The land is 13 Are, about 1300 square metres, which isn’t quite as massive as it sounds, but it’s still pretty big compared to a balcony.
It’s about 50% brambles and 100% south-west facing hill. The brambles are so rampant that I can’t get within about ten metres of the bottom edge of the property. But it isn’t overlooked by too many houses so I shouldn’t get into too much trouble with nosy neighbours with my strange permacultural ways.
Pictured is the all important privvy/outhouse. At least I think that’s what it was: at the moment it’s full of windows and shutters from some long-forgotten building project.
So this is where all my fancy talk about ecology and self sufficiency will hopefully become reality, and blog material.
Thanks to the horrendously complex German electoral system the Green Party have managed, via an coalition with the centre-left Social Democratic Party (SDP), to get themselves into the driving seat in our state of Baden-Württemberg. It’s not a great surprise: the natives have been getting thoroughly restless of late, mostly over a project called ‘Stuttgart 21′ to rebuild Stuttgart main railway station. The project briefly flashed into international news on September the 30th last year when police sprayed a peaceful demonstration with water cannon. This didn’t exactly get the population behind the project.
Stuttgart central station is a Terminus, so trains have to come in and reverse out. German Railways (Deutsche Bahn or DB) thinks this is so very last century. The track to the station also takes up a very large area of Stuttgart city centre, which just happens to be very wealthy, very popular with businesses, and very short on prime building land. DB’s idea was to build a groovy new underground through station so trains could arrive under the city, stop briefly to drop off passengers, and whiz off to exciting other European places with none of that annoying reversing business. By pure coincidence this would free up a very large area of prime development land right in the centre of Stuttgart.(I wrote an even more detailed post about this here)
Building a whole new station and several kilometres of tunnel would be a tad expensive, of course, but Deutsche Bahn (German railways) and the ruling Christian Democratic Union (CDU) came up with a nifty equation: the current terminus station has 17 platforms, so when that becomes a through station it will only need eight platforms because trains won’t reverse. And that’s obviously far cheaper. Sort of. If you say it quickly is sounds almost feasable.
Now the CDU is out, the Greens are in, German Railways (Deutsche Bahn or DB)paused in their attempts to turn the station into a hole in the ground, and everyone is expecting the Greens to stop them permanently. The question is how they’ll manage this when their coalition partners are cheer leading for the project, but there are a couple of possibilities. One is a referendum, if they can get enough signatures to make it legal. The other is the sleight of hand DB tried to pull a couple of years ago, which at the time I referred to as a POSAD: A Politically Over Simplified Accountants Dream.
After the water cannon episode last year news got out that where old people and children were injured and things were getting out of hand, so a mediator was called in before people started turning cars over. He told Deutsche Bahn to go and find check their shiny new station really could work with eight platforms at peak times. This looks very unlikely, so they’ll be told to go and redesign the station with ten platforms, at which point the whole business case falls to pieces. The report is expected in May.
I can keep you posted if you aren’t bored already.
Normal ramblings to continue next week.
I’m in Freiburg again this weekend but I’ll reply to comments next week.