Shared Planet!

By Laurie Cannell (this post first appeared at The Woodcraft Folk website)

Last Weekend I (Laurie Cannell) went to Shared Planet as Woodcraft Folk Blank Canvas 2011 organiser and the DF Affiliations Rep but mainly because it looked pretty darn exciting!

Shared Planet is Britain’s biggest gathering of students taking action on poverty and climate change and it’s organised by People and Planet, a network of student activist groups in universities around the UK. This year it was on the beautiful University of Birmingham campus.

It was an action packed, intellectual extravaganza of talks, discussion and creativity that all kicked off Saturday morning with a speech from Caroline Lucas MP (leader of The Green Party) about the problems we face politically right now. In particular; these crippling cuts. She doesn’t try to patronise with meaningless rhetoric or even dumb things down into simpleton’s terms too much. She just tells us how it is, and isn’t scared to tell you how she sees it.

Following her were the ‘Going Greener Transition Uni Awards’ where you could spot many a Woodie in the pictures of People and Planet groups that have done brilliant climate saving things in their unis. Things like banning bottled water and installing water fountains or organising fantastic green weeks filled with green action.

I then chose to go to a discussion panel about the global problems our appetites are causing and how we can change. We had a fascinating discussion with four knowledgeable panellists about the impact of our diet and growing population on the world. Topics such as the devastating impact of the growing soya for animal feed; the many ways of not getting your fruit and veg from a supermarket and if we can’t feed everyone now, how will we when there are 9 billion of us in 2050 were all tackled.

  • Helen Rimmer(Food Campaigner at Friends of the Earth) got an anxious laugh at her stat that 6% of greenhouse gases come from animal’s backsides!
  • Alys Fowler(BBC Gardener’s World presenter & author of The Edible Garden) told us we should eat weeds not fish to get our omega 3 fix.
  • Kelvin Cheung (founder and CEO of FoodCycle) told us that 4 million in the UK live in food poverty, meaning they lack the necessary access, income or knowledge to eat properly.
  • Pete Davis (founder of Part-Time Carnivore) shocked us with his stat that 92% of Brits eat meat EVERY DAY!

Later on in the day we had an interesting speech from John Hilary (executive director of ‘War on Want’) on the problems of consumerism and excessive consumption, which hooked me into another interesting panel discussion called ‘Who cares about Sweat Shops?’.


  • Nadia (campaigner for War on Want) had a solution to the age old question, “Should I buy local or Fairtrade?” If we could just reduce demand, then workers would get a better price for each unit they sell and less to transport would mean fewer emissions from transporting.
  • Anna (from Labour behind the Label) revealed that in a Fairtrade T-shirt, the cotton growing might be Fairtrade but the T-shirt manufacture probably isn’t.

I then went to a rousing workshop by Andy May founder of Take back Parliament and hard working promoter of the Yes! Campaign for the referendum on our voting system next May.  I learnt lots more about the huge potential for change a Yes vote next May would carry forward, but also that only 1 in 5 even know there’s going to be a referendum never mind anything about it. So there’s lots of work to do!

For dinner I had great fun going Skipping (getting food from bins) in the streets around campus. We weren’t particularly successful at first, a packet of crisps here a few chips there, but we did find a bin full of shredded paper which immediately transformed us all into 5 year olds and a good deal of lying in, jumping in, taking pictures in, how many people can you fit in ensued. When we got back to campus, however, we found a feast of sandwiches and yogurts and were filled up and ready to party.

The evening took on the form of a surreal mixture of enchanting singing, hilarious activist poetry and crazy, hula hoop fuelled dancing, all in Birmingham Uni’s imposingly magnificent great hall. And much fun it was too.

Sunday. After a rather uncomfortable snooze on the floor of one of the squash courts/bedrooms provided and a long breakfast with chat and card games the day got under way. We started with talks from Californian, Amanda Starbuck (Rainforest Action Network) on the ups and downs of tackling climate change in the USA and Colin Baines (coordinator of the Coop Bank’s Toxic Fuels campaign) who urged us all to go see the Tarnished Earth exhibitons in a city near you to learn about the horrors of the tar sands in Canada and told us all the great stuff the Coop Bank is doing to tackle climate change.

The rest of the day was one big open space session. People came up and pegged a topic they wanted to discuss to a washing line and introduced it into a microphone. Once there were about 50 topics they were split into three groups and discussions were formed around the great hall with notes taken and pegged onto another washing line for people to peruse at the end.

There were far too many fascinating topics to go to all of them, but some of the ones I went to were setting up a food coop (notice the foody theme of my interests…); transition towns; and Climate change paralysis.

So all in all it was an amazingly jam packed, fun filled, intellectually overflowing weekend that I would recommend to anyone interested in issues on climate change and poverty. Many thanks to TREE for paying for me to go and I hope next year we can have a bigger Woodcraft presence there!


I’ve tried to give you a good flavour of my best bits but if you want to look at the full programme, not just what I did, go HERE. Or if you want to find out more about People and Planet, explore HERE.

Pictures stolen from divinephron on flickr, more HERE

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