Green Campaigns – Dangerous Propaganda?

The Northern Ireland’s Minister of Environment, Sammy Wilson, has taken the decision to block the government’s “Act on CO2” advertisement campaign on climate change to be shown in Northern Ireland claiming it to be “insidious propaganda”. Do green campaigns cause more damage than good? Do they go far enough in commuincating the message to the public about the scale of the real challenges ahead?

Advertisements

Act on CO2ARE public campaigns aimed at raising awareness of our impact on the environment dangerous propaganda?

Northern Ireland’s Minister of Environment, Sammy Wilson, thinks so. He has blocked the government’s “Act on CO2” advertisement campaign on climate change from being shown in Northern Ireland. Mr Wilson is reported to have described the campaign has “insidious propaganda” claiming that the campaign adverts were: “giving the people the impression that by turning off the standby light on their TV they could save the world from melting glaciers and being submerged under 40ft of water

It is not surprising that Mr Wilson is a climate change denier and does not believe man-made greenhouse gas emissions are the main cause of climate change. However, it is surprising that such a view is held by someone who holds the office of Minister of Environment.

wilson1

Mr Wilson’s view not only questions whether climate change is man-made but also the role of environmental campaigns to persuade people to change their behaviour. National information campaigns have been used for many years to raise environmental awareness. These have included the 1970s “Save It” energy campaign, 1990s “Are You Doing Your Bit?” and more recently “Act on CO2” (2007). Many regional and local government authorities have their own campaigns to address particular environmental issues. Such campaigns tend to provide the public with information to allow them to make informed choices and to persuade them that collectively they can make a difference.

In particularly Mr Wilson’s view challenges the green mantra of: “Think Globally, Act Locally”. When faced with such an overwhelming global phenomenon such as climate change we may feel that the individual actions we take are insignificant. If the cause of the problem is the collective impact of individual actions then surely working collectively is the solution?

Some environmentalists would agree with Mr Wilson that encouraging people to take small painless steps such as switching of lights gives a wrong impression. lightsThey would argue that this leads to a false sense of security that current lifestyles can continue with only small changes while in fact more radical changes are necessary. There is a need to confront the problem of our high consuming lifestyles head-on and tackle the underlying motivations of consumerism. Campaigns such as the Government’s “Act on CO2” are seen by some hard-line environmentalists as a deflection and waste of precious campaign and communication resources.

We have become so locked-in to a highly energy intensive, polluting, wasteful and inequitable way of life that materialistic values will not be able to deliver the systematic changes necessary in human behaviour. For example, not owing or using a car may not result in net environmental benefits if the money saved is used to fly to a far-flung holiday destination.

flightEnvironmental campaigns are guilty of failing to communicate the fundamental changes that are required in the way we live. Unfortunately, the public are not receptive to extreme messages such as banning car use and flying. A survey of British attitudes to flying by the National Centre for Social Research found that there were high levels of public concern about the environmental impact of air travel and a growing agreement that the cost of flying should reflect environmental damage. Despite this view the majority of the public still believe that people should be able to fly as much as they want. However, the size of this majority is falling.

Although public awareness campaigns have limitations they are a vital tool in tackling the environmental challenges ahead. It would be “dangerous” not to use all available means to engage and encourage the public to take action collectively. In the words of Gandhi “We must be the change we wish to see in the world” and that means each and everyone one of us doing our bit.

© Gary Haq 2009

Growing Old in a Changing Climate

Older People in a Flood THE ageing of our society and the changing of our climate are two key inevitabilities of this century. However, the effects of climate change will not be evenly distributed, as certain groups in society will be affected more than others. The recent heavy snow in the UK and the heatwave in Australia show that older people are particularly vulnerable to extreme weather events.

Older people are not only among the prime contributors to climate change, but also potentially some of the first casualties. They may be physically, financially and emotionally less able to cope the effects of a changing climate than the rest of the population.

The August 2003 European heatwave clearly demonstrated the consequences of a rapid rise in temperature which reached 40°C and resulted in the death of 14,802 elderly people in France, and 2,139 in England and Wales.Heatwave

The June 2007 floods showed the impact severe weather events can have on local communities and services. Older people, especially those without the resources to cope, will be affected more by such events. The insecurity and heightened exposure to threats posed by a changing climate are further compounded for older people by their reduced capacity for coping independently.

The effects of climate change, such as high temperatures, storm damage and poor access to public services due to extreme weather events, pose a threat to our quality of life in old age. How well we will deal with the effects of a changing climate will be determined by our state of health, income, where we live, family support network and access to, and quality of, key essential services. As we grow older, we are faced increasingly with declining health and physical strength, disability, loss of income and bereavement.

We can adapt to climate change and old age separately, but that risks seeking solutions in one area that might adversely affect another. For example, we might drive up the cost of fuel in order to restrain usage but impose, in consequence, on our older population, an inability to adequately keep warm and pricing them out of the car-using public when that might be their only option to get out and about.

The issues around climate change, and the issues about an ageing society, can be described in isolation, but we need to bring them together if we are to protect older people. Energy use is of particular concern as an increasing number of older people are facing fuel poverty.

The carbon footprint of those aged 50 to 64 years, and 65 to 74 years, are the two highest compared to other age groups. Clearly, our carbon reduction strategies need to give due attention to the particular characteristics of these groups. But older people must be part of the solution too: can we make it easier for them to conserve energy, and can we harness their interest and enthusiasm to “make the world a fit place for our grandchildren”, and build a positive force for the future?

Older people are willing to contribute to tackling climate change. However, there is no coherent policy response which addresses the interface between climate change and older people. Policies need to be sharpened, focused and co-ordinated to deal with the range of impacts a changing climate will have on the lives of an ageing population.

Government agencies and older people’s organisations need to make a concerted effort to improve the ability of older people to cope with the effects of climate change. It calls on government to risk assess all future policies so that they do not undermine government targets to reduce UK greenhouse gas emissions and put older people at risk.

If we are to meet the challenge of growing old in a changing climate, then older people need to have an active role. We need to make it easier for them to conserve energy, use public transport and maintain crucial social networks that will help them better cope with the effects of climate change.

© Gary Haq 2009

Extreme Weather in Two Lands

Big Snow in LondonAS the UK struggles with the worst snow for six years across large parts of England, down under the Australians are having to deal with the worst heatwave in decades, with temperatures in excess of 43C (109F) in the south-eastern part of the country. Health officials in South Australia are blaming the high temperatures for an increase in the number of sudden deaths among the elderly. While in the north near Queensland authorities are monitoring a low pressure system that could develop into the state’s second cyclone within a week. More than 60 per cent of Queensland is covered by floodwaters and more devastation is expected. Already there are almost 3,000 properties in the north of Townsville surrounded by floodwaters caused by ex-tropical cyclone Ellie.

Australian heatwaveThe snowfall in England resulted in schools being closed, public transport closures and airport delays. The heatwave in Victoria is the worst since 1908. Wildfires in the west of the state made worse by dry conditions and sweeping winds destroyed 2,000 hectares (4,900 acres) of forest and grassland, forcing residents to flee their homes, emergency workers. The high temperatures resulted in a massive increase the use of air conditioners which have claimed to have caused a breakdown in Melbourne’s electricity grid – leaving half a million homes without power. The economic cost of the heatwave in Melbourne is estimated to be 100,000 Australian dollars.

In the UK the big snow is estimated to have cost the country £1bn in lost productivity due to approximately 20 per cent of the country’s workforce is believed to have taken Monday off due to the extreme weather. Many businesses in London and the south-east were forced to operate on a limited basis with transport services in chaos after up to eight inches of snow. Nearly half of businesses in London were operating at only 50 per cent capacity.

These recent extreme weather events clearly demonstrate our vulnerability to the impacts of a sudden change in climate. The social, economic and environmental impact of such extreme weather should be a warning to us all about what we can expect in the future as the planet warms up and the climate changes. We need to act now to prevent the possibility of run away climate change. We need to make the necessary investment to ensure the infrastructure, social and emergency services can adequately cope with extremes change in the weather.

© Gary Haq 2009

Staying Green in a Global Recession

Drax Power Station in YorkshireWHERE there is a will, there is a way. Unfortunately, when it comes to tackling climate change, the Government and the public may not have the will to make the radical changes necessary to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Faced with the credit crunch, global recession and a decline in personal finances, we may feel more inclined to abandon our green intentions.

In the short-term, this may provide some financial and political relief but we will have to pay in the long-term when faced with the human, environmental and economic cost of climate change.

The Stern report on the economic impact of climate change showed that the dangers of unabated climate change would cost the equivalent of at least five per cent of global gross domestic product (GDP) each year.

In contrast, the costs of action to avoid the worst impacts of climate change can be limited to around one per cent of global GDP each year. People would pay a little more for carbon-intensive goods, but
our economies could essentially continue to grow strongly.

The UK has shown some leadership with the Climate Change Bill. We are the only country in the world that has made the national long-term goal of a 80 per cent reduction in carbon dioxide emissions by 2050 a legally binding target.

In contrast, the idea of personal carbon allowances, whereby people would have to trade in credits if they wanted to exceed their own carbon quota, has been shelved. Carbon allowances are seen as being effective and fairer than green taxes. However, the Government claims that while the scheme has appeal, it would be too expensive and complicated to implement.

For the past year, Louise, a 52-year-old secondary school teacher from York, has been struggling to reduce her carbon footprint. From fitting energy efficient light bulbs, recycling waste to reducing her car use – she has followed the advice. While she has made considerable progress, she has not found it easy. “I keep finding really good reasons why everyone else should be doing the hard work,” says Louise.

She is not alone. While we may rush to embrace the fashionable
idea of being green, our enthusiasm begins to waver when faced with the many small, but numerous difficulties we encounter in practice. A report by the Worldwide Fund for Nature questions whether promoting what it calls “simple and painless steps” for reasons of self-interest (e.g. lower heating bills) may be preventing us from engaging in more significant and potentially inconvenient and costly changes to our lifestyles.

It claims that those who engage in environmentally friendly behaviour in pursuit of goals such as personal growth and community
involvement tend to be more motivated and are likely to sustain their behaviour in the long term. While this may be the case, not everyone has the ability, time or inclination to lead a green lifestyle.

Cycling in HollandSetting emission reduction targets is easy; it is more difficult to implement the changes that will result in the required emission reductions. We only need to look to our European neighbours to see that the knowledge and technology exists to reduce carbon emissions. The Netherlands has an integrated transport system where walking, cycling and public transport provides realistic and affordable alternatives to the car.

The German green dot system requires manufacturers to take back the packaging of their goods, requiring them to reuse or recycle. In Scandinavia, energy-efficient homes are the norm rather than the exception. We can no longer claim ignorance on how to achieve a low carbon society. What is lacking is political will.

Politicians need to show leadership and take the tough decisions to make a low carbon society a reality. If we are to kick the carbon habit, then the low carbon option needs to be the cheaper, convenient and easier option for all. We will not longer have to think about being green, as it will be the only option.

In the face of economic difficulties, we should not be distracted by short-term issues but focus on the long-term consequences of our actions. We will need to accept that if we are to avoid the worst impacts of climate change then fundamental changes are required to reduce our carbon dependency.

© Gary Haq 2009