The One Planet Development is a forward-thinking Welsh planning policy by the One Planet Council, a voluntary body, promoting sustainable principles to enable people to generate most of their resources from the land they own and work towards a zero-carbon lifestyle.
The policy’s principles are that each person should live off 2.8 hectares of land by using 100% renewable energy systems such as harvesting rainwater, living in a carbon neutral home and using land-based produce to satisfy 65% of their needs. The policy was adopted by the Welsh Government in 2011 and since has seen 24 approved schemes, which are annually audited to ensure the requirements of the policy are being met.
Saving the planet is currently a very relevant topic. Greta Thunberg makes frequent headlines for protesting, movements such as Extinction Rebellion are gaining ever increasing amounts of recognition, and TV programmes like Seven Worlds One Planet are highlighting the magnitude of destruction we are causing due to our consumeristic and wasteful habits. If the dulcet tones of David Attenborough weren’t enough to persuade you into doing something about it, the faces of the baby snow monkeys certainly will.
With a font of knowledge and resources at our fingertips, we are aware than ever of the effect that our actions have on the planet, and little by little people are gradually adopting changes into their lifestyle: buying reusable bags in supermarkets, cutting down on single use plastic, cycling to work and switching to electric cars.
But despite our best efforts the planet is still getting warmer at an accelerated rate owing to human activity, and globally we are still producing over 380 million tons of plastic every year (only 10% of which is recycled), and we continue to lose a football pitch sized chunk of the Amazon rainforest every second, to make way for crops for intensive agriculture.
Clearly, all our best efforts aren’t enough. So, what more can we do? Should we, as a country be fighting to implement the One Planet Development Policy so that people can live solely off the land they own and commit to living carbon neutral forever? The One Planet Council believes people from all walks of life are capable of this lifestyle, but how scalable is this Policy?
Each person participating either as a household or part of a wider community must provide for 65% of their basic food, income, energy and waste needs within 5 years of starting the project. Applications for the programme must be accompanied by a lengthy management report outlining exactly how the requirements will be met across a series of criteria. This document must include a business plan, as well as ecological footprint, zero carbon, biodiversity, community and transport assessments.
Subsequently the Policy certifies that participants consider every aspect of their lives in order to mitigate any potential damage to the environment. The goal is for each person to use their fair share of the Earth’s resources.
It certainly sounds appealing and presumably if everyone on the planet participated, we would start to reduce the environmental challenges we are currently facing.
The policy however states each person has 2.8 hectares (28,000m2) to live on, but in Wales where the population density is 148 people per km2, if everyone were to live on an equal amount of land, it would only give each person 0.675 hectares (or 6,750m2), less than a quarter of the requirement of the policy.
If we then explore transferring this policy to England where the population density is 274 people per km2, each person would have just 0.36 hectares (3,600m2) to live on, and for London it would be just 0.0178 hectares (178m2).
Topography is also a potential issue, as well as the variations in substrate types, such as rock, sediment, saltmarsh, heather, bog, acid grassland, fen, marsh and swamps. It is also worth bearing in mind, that these habitats support valuable and delicate ecosystems which need to be preserved.
The skills and energy required in growing all your own produce, and building and sustaining your own carbon neutral home, and of course managing the whole operation in the long term are extensive and could be beyond many people’s capabilities. As a result, this could be more challenging for some than it is for others. Whilst the One Planet Council provides an extensive contact list including ecologists, carpenters, planning consultants, architects, horticulturalists and permaculture experts, acquiring knowledge and expertise from these specialists’ costs time and money, as well as passion and enthusiasm for that way-of-life from the outset.
The policy has stringent regulatory procedures to ensure that everyone taking part is meeting the targets, including 65% of their income and basic needs from land-based produce. Setting up and maintaining infrastructure of this magnitude is a full-time job, meaning most occupations outside of this venture would be discarded. In fact, most people that have ventured into the lifestyle, provide their additional income requirements through crafts.
So, if everyone in Wales or England were giving up their day jobs to live off the land, what would happen to our public services and infrastructure? Where would the provision be for hospitals, schools, transport links, and other such services? And who would ultimately be responsible for the auditing of large populations living in this way?
The idea behind the policy is fantastic and certainly those who have embarked on the challenge should be supported rather than criticised. In theory if this mode of living was scaled up across the whole planet, or indeed if a notable percentage of people were living in this way, then we would be further along the way to solving the climate crisis than we are now.
The Policy’s regulatory procedure is to ensure that people are successfully living ‘off-grid’, and so this requires full engagement in the process – a huge commitment. So what happens if an NHS nurse, for example, wants to live in this way, but can’t spare the additional time required to invest in growing their own produce? What happens when people become physically incapable of maintaining their plot of land?
So how realistic is the policy in our heavily consumerist based lifestyles? Should smaller, ‘bitesize’ versions of the policy be introduced to allow, and reward people for living in a more sustainable fashion?
Could we be have some sort of reward scheme for growing our own, for opting to use public transport instead of using a car, for choosing a ‘staycation’ instead of a Caribbean cruise? If we all tried to incorporate an idea from the Policy into our daily lives as well as the other changes we are already making, we’d be much closer to saving the planet.