Open Thinkering


Tag: Northumberland

It is a folly to expect men to do all they may reasonably be expected to do

I live in Northumberland, one of the most sparsely-populated counties in England. In fact, at a mere 64 people per square km, there’s only five places less populated. To put that into perspective, areas of London tend to have between 10,000 and 15,000 people per square km. Yet both Northumberland and London are aiming to achieve ‘net zero’ by 2030. One of these targets is ambitious.

You’ll forgive me for looking at Northumberland County Council’s (NCC) Climate Change Action Plan 2021-23 and raising my eyebrows at the list of the ‘progress’ made since the last report:

  • Decarbonising council fleet vehicles (without explaining what this actually means)
  • Installing 12 public EV points
  • Giving away 15,000 free trees

Fair enough, there has been the Covid-19 pandemic to deal with. And yes, there are a mere 322,000 people living in the county. But still, this is unambitious in the extreme. If you weren’t, like me, seeking out this information, you would be living your life oblivious that the council declared a climate emergency two years ago.

As I shared on earlier today, BBC News reports that many councils who have declared a climate emergency have policies inconsistent with their goals. Here in Morpeth, the county town of Northumberland where I live, a school was knocked down and replaced with a car park. All parking is free here, so parents drop their kids at school and go shopping. Rural buses are noisy, antiquated, polluting vehicles that people avoided even before the pandemic.

Perhaps I’ve missed the meaning of ’emergency’?

Last week, the IPCC report painted a stark picture for human survival on this planet. A few days later, an NCC climate change newsletter included this as its second paragraph:

According to the report the Earth is projected to hit 1.5 degrees Celsius of warming by 2030, a full decade sooner than previously thought. If we do everything right, we can go back down to 1.4°C by 2100.

I’m not sure how someone can read the IPCC report and have that as their main takeaway. The main suggestion in the newsletter is that Northumberland residents take a look at a dashboard that NCC has created in Tableau. For my postcode, it’s suggested that the average house would need to plant 34 trees. The trouble is, of course, that carbon offsetting doesn’t work. Also, the other proposal, that we replace our combi gas boiler with an air source heat pump, would not only cost us thousands, but would need a backup in cold weather.

So I’ve been in touch with the climate change programme manager at NCC expressing my dismay at the tone of this newsletter and the paucity of ambition. Counties like Northumberland should already be carbon negative and certainly need to be by 2030. To have the same goal as huge cities like London (to be net zero) by 2030 shows a real lack of leadership.

As a side note, I’ve tried to find other non-council bodies doing work in the North East of England. There’s Climate Action Network Northumberland which put pressure on NCC to declare a climate emergency. Sadly, they seem to only exist on Facebook and (from what I can see) talk about recycling and sharing news from elsewhere. Then there’s Climate Action North East which have zero upcoming events listed on their website — although they did get back to me via Twitter DM to explain how Covid has affected their organisation. Other than that, all I can find is Blyth Valley Climate Action via the Friends of the Earth website who merely have a contact form.

When I got in touch with NCC I made it clear that I’m willing, presumably along with plenty of other people, to invest time and energy to helping Northumberland get beyond net zero. In my case, a day per week. But without an architecture of participation, everything is down to ‘engagement’ with the council which is a codename for ‘controlled interactions’. Having a climate champions programme might sound useful, but in reality it acts as a bottleneck to action. As I sometimes ask new clients, especially charities and NGOs, “what would you do if a thousand volunteers showed up tomorrow?” The trouble is that too many organisations, NCC included, wouldn’t have a clue.

There’s an NCC climate event at the end of September which I’ve been asked to wait for so that I can be be told how I can get involved. I’m used to working with others at the kind of pace where, in five weeks time, we could have a whole new network up and running… 🤔

Dithered image based on an original by Karsten Würth. Quotation-as-title by Archbishop Whately.

What’s your favourite month?

I reckon my favourite month is probably Prairial, and my least favourite the one we’re entering right about now ⁠— Frimaire.

For those scratching their heads, I’m referring to the French Revolutionary Calendar (also called the ‘Republican’ calendar) which divided the year up in the following way:

The Republican calendar year began the day the autumnal equinox occurred in Paris, and had twelve months of 30 days each, which were given new names based on nature, principally having to do with the prevailing weather in and around Paris. The extra five or six days in the year were not given a month designation, but considered Sansculottides or Complementary Days.


When you think about it, although it’s useful to have everyone in the world using the same calendar, doing so is almost an act of cultural violence.

I live in the North East of England, a place that historically has been known as Northumbria. What would a Northumbrian calendar look like? I don’t think it would be so different to the French Revolutionary one, except we’d probably use month names like ‘Clarty‘:

  • Autumn:
    • Vendémiaire (from French vendange, derived from Latin vindemia, “vintage”), starting 22, 23, or 24 September
    • Brumaire (from French brume, “mist”), starting 22, 23, or 24 October
    • Frimaire (From French frimas, “frost”), starting 21, 22, or 23 November
  • Winter:
    • Nivôse (from Latin nivosus, “snowy”), starting 21, 22, or 23 December
    • Pluviôse (from French pluvieux, derived from Latin pluvius, “rainy”), starting 20, 21, or 22 January
    • Ventôse (from French venteux, derived from Latin ventosus, “windy”), starting 19, 20, or 21 February
  • Spring:
    • Germinal (from French germination), starting 20 or 21 March
    • Floréal (from French fleur, derived from Latin flos, “flower”), starting 20 or 21 April
    • Prairial (from French prairie, “meadow”), starting 20 or 21 May
  • Summer:
    • Messidor (from Latin messis, “harvest”), starting 19 or 20 June
    • Thermidor (or Fervidor*) (from Greek thermon, “summer heat”), starting 19 or 20 July
    • Fructidor (from Latin fructus, “fruit”), starting 18 or 19 August

This post is Day 63 of my #100DaysToOffload challenge. Want to get involved? Find out more at

Weeknote 34/2020

This week has been another good week. Let’s start with last night’s wild camping in Northumberland National Park: it was windy.

My son and I, after walking a couple of hours from where we parked the car, and carrying everything in our backs, got soaked through by the rain and wind coming at us down the valley.

Mercifully, it stopped raining when we got to the place we’d decided to pitch, but the wind continued to howl. In the end, we we erected the tent behind a cow barn and then moved it into place carefully, being very careful not to become a human kite.

The wind howled all night, but we’d brought our headphones and each put on different variations of ‘sleep’ music to get some rest. I decided to sit in the entrance of our tent from 05:30 to watch the sun rise, which was pretty magical.

After some slightly disappointing tea and toast, we packed up the tent and walked back to the car. On the way, we stopped to have a look at a memorial to the servicemen killed in the planes that came down over the Cheviots during the Second World War.

I like mini-adventures, especially given we were back home by 10:00 on Saturday, giving us most of the weekend to spend with the rest of the family!

On the work front, it was again split between the work I’m doing with Outlandish, and that which I’m involved with as part of a team for the Social Mobility Commission and Catalyst. The latter is wrapping up now and looking great now that we’ve applied the official style guide.

For Outlandish, I led a ‘Theory of Change’ session for the new Products circle. We used Miro, including for the video conferencing aspect, which worked well! I’m hoping to stick around beyond my initial engagement with them to the end of September, and indeed have drafted OKRs taking me to Christmas.

Our children were at athletics camp for three days this week, which is unremarkable in and of itself. What made a huge difference is that it was the first time since March that my wife and I have been in together by ourselves during the day. It was nice to be able to have lunch together and do the crossword as we used to.

Next week, I’m going to be writing a couple of bids for funding from Catalyst and the Ford Foundation. It’s the final week of the Social Mobility Commission work, and I’ll be continuing with my productisation activities at Outlandish.

It’s also the children’s last week before they start school a week on Wednesday. Due to the three-tier system in Northumberland, they’re both starting new schools, so I may work slightly less so I’m around for them.

Image of our tent in Northumberland National Park.