“Code red for humanity”

Above Lyme Regis. Copyright Max Redwood and reproduced by kind permission

“Climate change is widespread, rapid and intensifying”

Surely no-one could have missed these headlines on the publication of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report on 9 August 2021?

The UN Secretary-General António Guterres said the Working Group’s report was nothing less than “a code red for humanity. 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. We are at imminent risk of hitting 1.5 degrees in the near term.” The only way to avoid 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.

West County Bylines has already published two of my articles: the first was a report of an event where some of our political leaders discussed the IPCC report. The second looked at the West Country, 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? This one is more local still, concentrating largely on Lyme Regis, where I am a resident and town councillor.

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

As the UN Secretary-General stated, the solutions were 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.”

Yes, we need global co-operation on a massive scale, and we hope and expect the UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (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. And 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 hyper-local 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 into practice their own plans to reduce greenhouse emissions; and
  • by engaging with the wider community to shape a 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 faced by estuary-based coastal towns like 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 the town are shown to be at risk of coastal flooding, possibly as early as 2030.

Screengrab from interactive map Climate Central

The Royal College of Art and others undertook the ‘Future Town’ ‘Community Place-making and Transport Planning’ project last year in Lyme. 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 also shared their creative ideas for future sustainable means of transport.

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 results form an excellent starting point for future discussions later this year. Please join in and share your ideas!

Photo by the author

The Impact community carbon calculator clearly shows that housing, mostly that served by domestic gas boilers, contributes the most to the town’s territorial emissions. The Lyme Regis Development Trust, in collaboration with Turn Lyme Green, other community groups, volunteers and the town council, is working with Dorset Community Energy. They are developing 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.

Lyme Regis household carbon footprint: screen grab from Impact Tool

The Dorset Climate Action Network (DorsetCAN) is a new 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. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for daily news and examples of inspiring local actions. Joining a climate action network 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.

During the Great Big Green Week, DorsetCAN is co-ordinating a Greener Homes event on the weekends of Saturday 25 September and Sunday 3 October 2021.Local residents who have made adjustments to their homes will 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 lower than those across Dorset Council generally, owing to the greater impact of agriculture in their average.

Town and country emissions Impact Tool

Emissions arising from travel and from 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 reductions or seasonal discounts to Gateway Card holders. Look out for the next Totally Locally Fiver Fest campaign in October, which offers bargains to celebrate our local independent businesses. This time, it will offer free parking in Dorset Council car parks to encourage us all to join in. Following consultation with residents, Dorset Council is also considering flexible ‘Pop and Shop’ permits alongside resident and worker permits, which should encourage better support for local high streets.

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.

Shopping locally, supporting 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 will be in research for carbon capture and storage, and new forms of clean power, based on hydrogen.

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, food bank, allotment growers. There are Eco-schools, local food groups and the food co-operative, along with growing and cooking projects in schools for 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, using biotechnology to convert food and organic packaging waste, including coffee cups, into a nutritious living compost.

If joining a community group is not for you, making changes even on an individual level can make a difference: changes to our diet, for example, can have a big impact, and Lyme is very lucky to have a wide range of cafés, restaurants and pubs offering vegetarian and vegan options.

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 initiative, postponed from 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!

Beach toys box. Photo by the author