Climate change a ‘code red for humanity’ – but what can we do here in Lyme Regis?

By town councillor and climate activist Belinda Bawden

“CLIMATE change is widespread, rapid and intensifying”, “Code red for Humanity” – surely no-one could have missed these headlines on the publication of the Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change (IPCC) report, published on August 9?

The UN Secretary-General António Guterres said the working group’s report was nothing less than “a code red for humanity”, adding: “The alarm bells are deafening, and the evidence is irrefutable.”

He noted that the internationally-agreed threshold of 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels of global heating was “perilously close” and commented: “We are at imminent risk of hitting 1.5 degrees in the near term.

“The only way to prevent exceeding this threshold, is by urgently stepping up our efforts, and pursuing the most ambitious path. We must act decisively now, to keep 1.5 alive.”

If, like me, you find the whole issue of climate change and the devastating human and environmental impacts it is having completely overwhelming, do not despair, do not deny and do not ignore. We can all be part of the solution.

I recently wrote an article for West County Bylines with some ideas based on my long-term interest as a geographer in humanity’s impact on the natural world, and on my recent experience as a town councillor focusing on the climate and ecological crisis, considering the politics of climate change – what can we do?

As the UN Secretary-General stated, the solutions are clear: “Inclusive and green economies, prosperity, cleaner air and better health are possible for all, if we respond to this crisis with solidarity and courage.”

What does this mean for Lyme Regis and what can we do about it?

Yes, we need global co-operation on a massive scale and hope and expect COP26 in Glasgow to deliver the serious change in momentum we need.

Yes, we need national governments to put the policies and regulations in place and properly fund our local authorities to make the required changes.

Yes, we can work with Dorset Council to help them deliver their Climate and Ecological Emergency Strategy and Action Plan.

However, the solutions must be hyperlocal and driven by the needs of the community.

This means town and parish councils taking a hugely responsible role by setting examples to others by putting their own plans to reduce greenhouse emissions into practice, and by engaging with the wider community to shape the healthier, cleaner, safer and greener future for the town and the surrounding areas.

As a community, we can assess our greatest risks and the areas where we could have the most impact by taking action.

We will need to consider how best to deal with rising sea levels, increasing temperatures and heat waves, greater rainfall and flood risks, as well as potential in-migration.

Climate Central’s interactive Coastal Risk Screening Tool enables close examination of science-based forecasts of potential flood risk areas.

Lyme Regis seems to escape the more extreme risks the estuary-based coastal towns face, including Poole, Weymouth, Bridport, Seaton and Exmouth, but once the map is enlarged, our beach car parks, caravan and chalet sites and even the lower parts of town are at risk of coastal flooding, as early as 2030.

In the ‘Future Town’ Community Place-Making and Transport Planning project undertaken by the Royal College of Art and others last year in Lyme Regis, residents offered their hopes and visions for a greener, cleaner future town with better transport and more space for walking and cycling, more community-based activities and fewer traffic and parking problems.

The Woodroffe School Year 12 art and design students shared their creative ideas for future sustainable means of transport and the findings show the huge interest and positive commitment in the community to work together to improve our own health and well-being by improving our built and natural environments.

The ideas generated from the initial findings form an excellent starting point for future discussions later this year. Please join in and share your ideas!

The Impact Community Carbon Calculator clearly shows that housing, mostly domestic gas boilers, contributes the most to the town’s territorial emissions. Lyme Regis Development Trust, in collaboration with Turn Lyme Green, other community groups, volunteers and the town council, is working with Dorset Community Energy to develop renewable energy generation, as well as providing information, advice and guidance to householders to help them have warmer, more energy-efficient homes with cheaper, greener energy.

Meet like-minded people

The new Dorset Climate Action Network (DorsetCAN) is a network of community groups and individuals working together for a shared vision of a clean, green, sustainable Dorset – taking action together.

Join us as a founder member or encourage your community group to link in.

Joining climate action networks will not only help you meet like-minded people who are happy to share their knowledge and experience but will be a source of support when the going gets tough and the task seems overwhelming.

Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for daily news and examples of inspiring local actions.

During the Great Big Green Week, DorsetCAN is co-ordinating a Greener Homes event on the weekends of Saturday, September 25 and Sunday, October 3.

Homeowners who have changed their lifestyle or cut down their energy use will welcome you to their homes to share their advice and experience.

On a household or personal level, our consumption-based emissions show that Lyme residents’ average per household carbon footprints are significantly higher than the England average, though we are lower than Dorset Council’s due to the greater impact of agriculture in their average.

Our emissions used for travel and for consuming goods brought from outside the town form our largest impacts. So shopping more locally will reduce both those impacts.

Please support our local businesses, many of whom offer Gateway Card holders reductions or seasonal discounts. Look out for the next Totally Locally Fiver Fest campaign in October which offers bargains to celebrate our local independent businesses and this time will offer free parking in Dorset Council car parks to encourage us all to join in.

Dorset Council is also considering flexible ‘Pop and Shop’ permits alongside resident and worker permits, which should encourage better support for local high streets, following consultation with residents.

The Lyme Regis Car Club trial with an electric car from Co-Cars, an Exeter-based social enterprise, should be able to start soon now that the electric charging points are being installed in the town council’s Woodmead car park.

Prospects for a network of electric bike rental hubs are being discussed with neighbouring towns and villages.

We can all make small changes

Shopping locally, supporting our local businesses to keep employment prospects healthy, walking or cycling where we can, joining a car club or switching to an electric car are all solutions and choices we can make to reduce our consumption and travel impacts.

We do not need to wait for technology which does not yet exist, important though investment in research for carbon capture and storage and blue and green hydrogen power will be. The point is we can all make small changes as individuals and as communities.

The Seaside Store in Lyme Regis is tackling the huge issue of food waste by buying through FareShare and accepting donations from local farms and supermarkets of food which would otherwise contribute to our waste.

Bridport’s Food Matters initiative links food producers and consumers, various groups dealing with food waste, the glut store, food bank, allotment growers, Eco-schools and those wishing to learn how to grow, prepare and preserve food.

The Lyme Regis Town Council is currently considering an innovative Seafront Food Waste to Living Soil trial project to convert food and organic packaging waste, including coffee cups, into a nutritious living compost soil using biotechnology.

Changes to our diet can have a big impact on a personal basis and Lyme is very lucky to have a wide range of cafes, restaurants and pubs offering vegetarian and vegan options.

So if joining a community group is not for you, making changes even on an individual level can make a difference.

The Giki Carbon Footprint toolkit is free, fun to use and can help you track the effect of any changes you decide to try.

Households, community groups or streets could do it together and see who can reduce their footprint the most.

Finally, when saving humanity’s future on our beautiful planet seems all too daunting, perhaps we should focus on the smaller things we can do.

My daughter’s idea of a ‘Re-use, Re-cycle’ beach toys box was a simple idea, postponed during lockdown, which is now getting huge admiration on social media.

We look forward to the Happy to Chat benches to encourage good cheer and mutual friendliness in our special town!

Woodmead Halls

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