Of all the days to choose to visit the north east of England I chose the 28th June, so I was there in the midst of the downpour and ended up having quite an adventure. I was there at the very kind invitation of Tyne & Wear South federation, having been asked to speak to 180 WI members at a luncheon in The Stadium of Light. My visit included a close up viewing of the Angel of the North, which I think is really rather beautiful and a fete of engineering; even more so when you are standing at the foot of the statue rather than glancing from the window of a train. Traveling from Sunderland to Newcastle, I saw lighthouses and landmarks, ships and seagulls, and suddenly a big black cloud, and then a great downpour. Drains and manholes became fountains, roads became fords through which cars gingerly and slowly drove - or rather, did not. The cancellation of all trains meant I spent the night with a WI member friend and her family although it took us three and a half hours to travel less than 4 miles to her home! For me this cloud truly did have a silver lining; thank you A and H.
This week I read with interest that as a nation, we spend between £50 and £86 a year on standby power, which represents 9-16% of domestic power demand (we also watch television for an average of six hours a day rather than for five hours a day as we did five years ago). This caught my attention because five years ago, the WI was calling for the standby mechanisms on many electrical products to be modified for less energy use, if not removed completely. Much of this is to do with remote control and ease of access, but questions are now being asked in talks and conferences around the world on lessening energy consumption that we will watch developing.
The case of community energy is also currently in the WI's remit and in the last few weeks, WI members have visited sites to see such schemes in action. This follows my visit last November to Germany where community energy schemes are becoming quite the norm. Llangattock Green Valleys is one such example in Powys where a community group got together to find ways of saving energy (and money) by reducing their personal and community footprint using renewable technologies such as solar and wind, water and wood fuel. Take a look at their website; I’m sure many a community could think along these lines. Coming together, pooling ideas and taking action can make a real difference.
In 1997, the WI adopted a mandate urging WI members to support "Agenda 21" and to work to further its social, economic and environmental aims. Agenda 21 is a non-binding and voluntarily implemented action plan of the United Nations, which stemmed from the United Nations Conference on Environment and development (UNCED) held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in 1992. It is a comprehensive blueprint of action to be taken globally, nationally, and locally by organisations of the UN, governments, and major groups in every area in which humans directly affect the environment. Just days ago, the Rio +20 follow-up conference came to an end. The conference focused on two themes: a green economy in the context of sustainable development, poverty eradication; and the institutional framework for sustainable development. How far have we come in 20 years? Progress has been very limited,: but one thing I did note is a move towards greater sustainability, Rio+20 is the first major UN conference to carry out a “PaperSmart” programme to cut paper use, vastly reducing paper consumption by close to 20 million sheets. Not quite a paperless conference, but I am pleased to say that certainly for the last four years, the NFWI has held paperless Board and committee meetings. Just one of the many initiatives WI members undertake in sticking to Agenda 21.