Is your house’s carbon footprint too high? Then we’re tearing it down

One Change: This is the basis of a fascinating but risky Welsh ecological initiative

The challenges don’t end once planning permission has been obtained. Photograph: Getty

The challenges don’t end once planning permission has been obtained. Photograph: Getty

 

Humanity consumes more than 1½ times more resources annually than the planet can reliably provide. This is clearly not sustainable, and in an attempt to spur the public to try alternative ways of living more lightly in the world, the Welsh government has introduced a scheme called One Planet Development that allows people to build new homes and farms in the countryside without the normal planning requirements – as long as their ecological footprint is sufficiently low.

The scheme permits the construction of homes, barns, workshop buildings and all the other paraphernalia of independent homesteads, once their owners can prove that after five years their carbon emissions for all aspects of the construction, and their current way of life, is below a threshold set by the government. If they fulfil the criteria they are granted retrospective planning permission. If not, everything must be torn down and removed.

It’s a complex scheme and a risky one, requiring huge trust on all sides, but it may be what is needed to successfully tackle the challenges ahead. Somehow society is going to have to find a way (in a very short time) to encourage people to produce food and offer land-based enterprises locally in a sustainable way, and also to facilitate the many idealistic young people who do not see a future in the current destructive economic model and wish to provide their own housing and live off the land. During our headlong rush towards globalisation these people were considered a nuisance – troublesome idealists who were hurdles on the path towards progress. They may now offer us all solutions to living comfortably within the limitations of our resources.

Symbiotic co-existence

A key aspect of One Planet Developments is that applicants can demonstrate that they are living independently on the land without government subsidies, and that they are fulfilling their basic needs from the site in terms of energy, food, income, water and waste assimilation. All buildings must be low-carbon and constructed from local, natural materials. In short, they must prove they have created a symbiotic co-existence between themselves and their natural environment.

It’s a challenging undertaking to grow your own food, manage your own energy, develop a feasible and profitable land-based business, and keep detailed records of all activities and expenditure so that your “ecological footprint” can be calculated annually. And the challenges don’t end once planning permission has been obtained, as it is conditional on these factors continuing for as long as the buildings are occupied. One Planet Development sites can only be sold on the understanding that the new owners will continue with the same low-carbon lifestyle.

With so many large farmers struggling to break even on 100-acre holdings, how could a small, 10-acre farm with a few families cohabiting on it ever be feasible? The answer appears to be that applicants aren’t required to completely support themselves from the land; only to cover their “minimum needs”. Also, they will be farming without mechanised machinery or expensive chemical inputs, and will sell value-added products directly to customers rather than selling basic commodities into a globalised market. They can also offer training workshops and other ecological enterprises on site. The Ecological Land Co-operative in the UK compiled a report on eight such small holdings that have successful ecological land-based businesses on 10 acres or less. They prove what is possible; it just requires a different way of being in the world.  See ecologicalland.coop.

Irish projects

Participants in the One Planet Development programme will have to lower their global ecological footprint to 2.4 global hectares per person, while Irish people currently use 5.1 global hectares per person to sustain us. The reduction would mean avoiding international flights and, most likely, sharing a vehicle with other families, as the resources used to manufacture and power even an electric car would not be feasible for an individual if we were forced to live within our means.

The nearest we have in Ireland to such developments are The Hollies in Cork and the new Coole Eco Community in Offaly. A petition has been drawn up to urge the Government, or even a single county council, to consider implementing a similar scheme in Ireland. You can sign it at my.uplift.ie/p/oneplanet.

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