Car clubs – a way to reduce carbon emissions and congestion

If you can’t cover your travelling entirely by public transport, cycle or on foot, you still don’t need to own a car: join a car club instead! Members get access to a fleet of cars parked in designated bays in local streets without any of the hassle or cost of ownership. Once a member, you can book a car, online or over the phone, for periods upwards of half an hour, and you’re charged according to the length of booking and distance travelled. Members each get a smart card to open the car when they have a booking, so there’s none of the hassle of collecting a conventional hire car.

Oxcar's first birthday celebration - Photo: Oxford Mail

One such car club was set up in East Oxford just over a year ago when a local residents’ group, Oxcar, joined forces with a national not-for-profit car club, Commonwheels. An innovative move was to lease suitable cars from residents, which has made a mix of cars available – small runabouts (including new fuel-efficient Polos), medium-sized hatchbacks and a 7-seater MPV – as well as allowing lower than conventional booking rates. Any car that is leased to the club is fitted with the necessary electronics and becomes part of the fleet, available for use by all members. In return the Club takes on the costs of the car (tax, insurance, service, cleaning etc) and gives the owner free driving hours per month (mileage fees still apply). This can offer the owner significant savings. (For anyone living in East Oxford, Oxcar / Commonwheels are looking for more cars to adopt!).

But crucially, this is not just about saving money – it is about reducing carbon emissions. An independent survey of the first year of the East Oxford scheme, conducted by Carplus, showed that with growth to over 200 members and 8 cars (more on the way) each Commonwheels car had reduced by 10 the number of cars on the roads of Oxford. There’s no doubt that more thought is given as to whether a car journey is really necessary. Congestion and dangerous overparking are reduced too! This is encouraging the County and City Councils to offer more parking bays to the car club which, provided there are more offers of cars to lease (or loans to buy new cars – with the promise of a small return on the investment) will attract more members, in turn providing the resources for more cars, attracting more members ….. . A growing success story!

So why not explore starting a community car club in your area? Perhaps, if needed, you could offer a parking place on your church’s property? Join the discussion about Car Clubs in the comments below.

If you want to hear more, you are welcome to Oxcar’s first AGM: Tuesday, 9 March, 7.30pm at the Gladiator Club, 263 Iffley Road (corner of Percy Street) 0X4 1SJ. There will be an opening address by Monawar Hussain, Deputy Lord Lieutenant for Oxfordshire, followed by reports of activities to date and discussion of possible directions in the future. For further details, email: oxcar2@yahoo.co.uk

Or you could go to websites: for information about the Commonwheels Car Club (which has cars in Reading, High Wycombe, and Headington as well as East Oxford): www.commonwheels.org.uk

For Oxcar details: www.oxcar.org.uk (currently being rebuilt and updated) – for details of the car adoption scheme, write to oxcar2@yahoo.co.uk

For general information about car clubs: www.carclubs.org.uk and www.carplus.org.uk

Grow Zones – reconnecting with the land

Guest Post by Chris Sunderland of EarthAbbey

It is not yet widely recognised that there are spiritual issues at stake over climate change. Many people seem to consider it all as a technical or political problem. They look anxiously into the future for a piece of geo-engineering that will save us, or campaign furiously to get politicians to act. Yet the environmental issues that we face are so serious and so multi-faceted that they demand nothing less than an inner transformation.

There are lots of paths in to the spirituality of climate change. We could talk about finding a proper humility about our abilities to manipulate and engineer the earth. We could consider the transformation of our wills so that we are truly able to live differently. But I would like to focus in this article on another problem, which is simply that we have lost touch with the creation.

More than 50% of humans in general and 80% of the people in the UK now live in towns or cities and, across the world, the great exodus from country to town continues. City living has great benefits in terms of easy communication, opportunity for development and change and some say that it is even ‘greener’ in terms of carbon footprint. But one thing it tends to lack. And that is a deep, heartfelt connection with nature.

I have recently been involved in the formation of a new Christian community known as EarthAbbey, whose members simply commit themselves to encourage one another to journey towards a life more in tune with the earth. It is a neo-monastic community, open to all people everywhere, with a strong focus on practical living. Here in Bristol, where it began, we have been trying to find meaningful ways to reconnect with the land and we came up with a very simple idea we have called Grow Zones. What we did was this.

A small group of us teamed up to turn each other’s gardens over to growing edible produce. Some of us were gardeners already. Many were not. We were particularly interested to learn something about Permaculture in the process. Permaculture is about designing growing systems so that they work in harmony with the local ecosystems rather than against them.  Permaculture has a strong fit with EarthAbbey’s aims. So, the way we did it was that each person spent some time thinking about what they would like to grow and then we met on a series of Saturday mornings, once at each garden, and did the business. The host would produce a list of jobs, we would choose what we wanted to do, and we then spent the morning working. The host then provided us all with a lunch based on fresh local produce.

Now at one level you could see this as a simple carbon reduction strategy. We each produce more of our own food, reducing fossil fuel use from industrial scale agriculture with its irrigation, fertiliser, pesticide and food miles. Yet strangely this was rather far from our minds. We found that we just loved doing this. There was something about working the land itself. A contact with reality, a stillness, the seasons, the hope of fruit. We found ourselves friends, somehow joined in a deep way through our work together. And I think we sensed something of God in it all, a sort of being blessed that is hard to describe, but very powerful to experience.

Last year saw an astonishing resurgence of interest in growing food across this country. Seed manufacturers were overwhelmed at the demand. I know that others have experienced that same sort of joy that we encountered and likewise discovered how powerful working land is as a means of creating community. David Hughes of Eco-Congregations sent us in a great story about a project on the land around  his home ( see the article here)

Receiving this and hearing other similar accounts has made me wonder whether it is right to call this a movement of the Spirit of God? The result of our surprising joy at Grow Zones is that EarthAbbey is now developing a whole range of projects on the land in Bristol and we are very keen to encourage others around the country to try Grow Zones. Our aim is to get 50 or more teams of people around the country turning their gardens over to edible produce and having great fun in the process.

If you would like to host a Grow Zones, please get in touch with us through www.earthabbey.com/growzones . It is all very easy and unburdensome.

If you would like to understand more of the biblical basis for EarthAbbey and what it is doing, try ‘The Dream that inspired the Bible’ by Chris Sunderland available from www.earthabbey.com/publishing for more on the experience of Grow Zones see ‘We have been grow zoned’ and ‘A short film_about_grow_zones.

Chris Sunderland Feb 2010

Contact Chris through www.earthabbey.com or phone 0117 9574652

Fast from carbon this Lent

Photo credit: Dushaun via Flickr

I’m signing up to the Carbon Fast for Lent this year. It is a 40-day journey towards a lighter carbon footprint, with simple energy saving actions each day, and this year it’s being organised jointly by the Church of England and Tearfund.

Lent is a time of year when it’s really good to pay attention to the way we live. During Lent many of us will be trying to do without some of our everyday luxuries. The Carbon Fast offers all sorts of practical ways of putting our extravagant carbon habits under the spotlight. One particular action this year includes trying a day with no iPod, computer or mobile phone. I use a blackberry, mobile phone and email everyday, so this is perhaps one of the actions I will struggle with the most.

My hope is that giving up technology will free us to look more seriously at the issues that face us as a global community, helping us think of others less fortunate than ourselves. This simple action could act as a statement of solidarity with a world that does not have the ability to communicate the way we can, and be a reminder that perhaps we have got beyond ourselves in terms of our own consumption of technology. We have galloped forward so fast – maybe we have out-run our global responsibility in doing that?

Other Carbon Fast actions this year include being a part-time vegetarian, and turning out the lights and enjoying the ambience of a candlelit dinner.

There will no doubt be some painful personal sacrifices during my Carbon Fast this Lent – but I’m ready to embrace the challenge because I’m painfully aware that we need to make radical changes to our privileged western lifestyles for the sake of the rest of the world. It’s often the poorest people who suffer most from our unrestrained carbon consumption.

Will you join me in the Carbon Fast during this time of Lent?

You can find out more and sign-up at www.tearfund.org/carbonfast.