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What's this blog all about?

Hi, I'm Nicola - welcome to a blog about family travel around the world, without leaving the UK.
I love travel adventures, but to save cash and keep my family's carbon footprint lower, I dreamt up a unique stay-at-home travel experience. So far I've visited 110 countries... without leaving the UK. Join me exploring the next 86! Or have a look at the "countries" you can discover within the UK by scrolling the labels (below right). Here's to happy travel from our doorsteps. See www.nicolabaird.com for info about the seven books I've written, a link to my other blog on thrifty, creative childcare (homemadekids.wordpress.com) or to contact me.

Thursday, 29 October 2009

Climate refugees on wobbly bridge

Pete, Nicola, Lola, 11, and Nell, 8, spent three happy months during summer 2007 travelling around Britain. Now we're home but the travel bug is still there. Join us for the occasional sightseeing plus tips on how to shrink your carbon footprint.

Friends arrive during half term for city sightseeing so we take them on London's best visitor route, the number 4 bus down to St Paul's Cathedral. Nearby the wobbly bridge over the Thames has sprouted mini tents. It's an idea by the German artist Hermann Josef Hack for Oxfam's Here & Now campaign timed to coincide with two-day EU heads of state and . The art installation is in seven cities including Amsterdam and Brussels.

Lola, Nell and Xander (now 10 and born in land-locked Zimbabwe) stretch out amongst the tents and get snapped while I calculate that the tents are 20cm high - just about the height the sea's already risen since 1900. You can find out more about what sea level rise means in the excellent new book for kids Gaia Warriors, by Nicola Davies which is published by Walker Books, £9.99, buy from Amazon.

20cm doesn't look much, but for countries like Tuvalu, or the Maldives where land is barely 1m above sea level this is serious stuff. No surprise that the big London march timed for the Copenhagen COP on Saturday December 5 is to be called The Wave. Find out more here.

Not everyone is impressed by story campaigns. I overhear an irritated woman on the bridge complaining that someone will break their ankle on the cardboard tents. She doesn't lack imagination, but is clearly having trouble with empathy. Does she know that The Maldives has a dynamo head of state, who has already conducted a cabinet meeting underwater to alert the world to his country's sinking future (lots more about the Maldives plight here). To date Tuvalu is less good at climate change PR but the funniest book I've ever read, Tales of the Tikongs, is by Epeli Hau'ofa from Tuvalu so clearly there are skilled wits on the islands who could if they wanted to do so.


What a loss it will be to have either of these countries turned Atlantis.

Thursday, 15 October 2009

Arctic scare on Blog Action Day

Pete, Nicola, Lola, 11, and Nell, 8, spent three happy months during summer 2007 travelling around Britain (pic is of a visit to Lapland via a Kent woodland). Now we're home but the travel bug is still there. Join us for the occasional sightseeing plus tips on how to shrink your carbon footprint.

Waking up to the radio isn't a good idea. This morning it turns out that the explorers who tramped across the icy Arctic measuring ice cores have worked out that this frozen sea is going to melt very summer from around 2020. That's interesting says the radio voice, so good for shipping having a new route up top. Then a scientist, dispassionately, points out that this will really change the world's climate - instead of a lovely bright white world lid there will be a dark sea-colour shade. I guess the albedo effect sizzles up.

White to black is a big change.

For a moment I imagine frantically painting every roof in the UK white. We're not that far from the Arctic, would it help? And then I get angry, this scientist is Mr Calm. A Dickens' Gradgrind of facts - ironic seeing as it is world blog action day, see here. It's up to those of us able to feel how bad that is, to make a better fuss.

Actually people near where I live make more fuss about car parking, and school dinners, oh yes and dog poo, than this scientist is making about the Arctic's ice crisis.

I specialise in the small: being enery efficient at home; not having a car; helping out a school climate club; finding ways for secondary school students to store wet shoes and coats so it is more practical for them to walk to-and-from school.
My university students (on the odd days that I teach) look perplexed by the amount of green and climate changing examples I can dredge up. They are looking for facts from their tutor, not convictions. They find it odd to be asked to be more passionate in their research, their writing and thinking - especially as some feel quite distant from the course objectives. To try and unfreeze them I've asked the 24-year-old climate activist Tamsin Omond, who set up Climate Rush, to come and talk about what motivates her on tuesday 27 October at the London College of Communication's main lecture theatre (2.30-3.30pm if you want to join us, it's free but consider buying Tamsin's new book Rush: the making of a climate activist) available here.

I felt far more distant from the Arctic when I knew it was solid ice. Knowing it's giong to be a swishy, cold, dark sea gives me a horrible jolt. When my family next plays our travel game - being in the UK while pretending to be somewhere else through geographical, physical or cultural clues - we won't need to visit an ice rink to think Arctic.

We won't need to wait for a cold snap.

We won't need to detour to Kent to a Disneyesque-winter wonderland (see how we did it in the pic above).

We'll just pop out of the door and stand by the reservoir looking at the canoe club. We'll imagine they are the new polar explorers.

My hope is that small changes, the ideas of Friends of the Earth's Big Ask, or Age of Stupid film make Franny Armstrong's 10:10 or suggestions from the Government-backed Energy Saving Trust will help people make some changes to their lives that tackle climate change... and help slow down this predicted Arctic melt.

Thursday, 1 October 2009

Energy journeys

Nicola, Pete, Lola and Nell love to travel but insist on keeping their carbon footprint down. Here's how (this post from Nicola)

Just been infuriated by feedback from some riding teaching I did back in July in which a dodgy old Yorkshire lady sounded off about my apparent lack of energy around eight-year-olds and four legged ponies. Funny how much I mind (never mind it not being true!) considering that the rest of my life is spent trying to be far more energy efficient.

And how well we feel we are doing - not just the travelling without planes or living without a car - but the way our end of terrace has been turned into a renewable power house. Since the solar PV was installed in summer 2008, we've generated 1,246kWh of electricity. Given our current summer usage, this is the equivalent of the sun gifting us 311 free leccy days. Nice eh?

It's not a simple calculation of course, as we're not off grid, but I am hoping to get a cheque for a decent amount from Good Energy (like the other 1,000+ renewable energy suppliers spread around the UK) before the end of this month.

At the moment I'm paying around 12p/kWh for using electricity, but expect to get 15p back for every sun-generated unit our panels clocked up. And next year this looks set to soar to 35p. Clearly being a low energy pioneer has a good cash side. Even if it marks you out for pony club disgrace.

Useful contacts for energy savers - to buy an energy metre, http://www.goodenergyshop.co.uk/, or to join the zillions of families trying to slash their energy use by 10 per cent each year see http://www.1010uk.org/.