Climate Camp: A Pointless Protest?

IS the Climate Camp protest at Blackheath, the historic London open space that was key in the peasants’ revolt, really making a difference on climate change?

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153673902IS the Climate Camp protest at Blackheath, the historic London open space that was key in the peasants’ revolt, really making a difference on climate change?

The Camp for Climate Action has become an annual grass roots event that brings together a wide range of protesters concerned about climate change and the role of “climate criminals”- companies, institutions and government departments which are guilty of helping to cause global warming and/or not doing enough to stop it.

The first Climate Camp was held in 2006 at Drax Power Station, the UK’s largest emitter of carbon dioxide. In 2007 the Camp descended on Heathrow airport to protest about the contribution of aviation to greenhouse emissions. Last year the Camp took root at Kingsnorth, the proposed site of a UK’s new coal power station for 30 years.

The Camp has become a base for direct action and a focal point for activists to meet and exchange information and learn protest techniques. It also aims to showcase sustainable living and community spirit in action, organised in a non-hierarchical way, with decisions taken by consensus. Workshops at the Camp range from the “Nuts of Bolts of Direct Action”, “Destroy the Banks! Destroy the Investors! Destroy the Arms Trade” to “Eco-Feminist Story Telling for Kids”.

Climate Camp provides a catharsis for many individuals who are angry at the capitalist system and the lack of progress in tackling the climate issue. The Camp receives much media attention most of which tends to be negative, highlighting the disruption and mayhem caused by protesters. This year attention has focused on the role of the police who, unlike April’s G20 protests, are keeping a low profile. Over the coming week climate campers will target the headquarters of Shell and BP to Heathrow Airport and the Bank of England. Direct action will involve demonstrations, entrance blockings and attempts to occupy office blocks.climate camp 2009

If we are to inspire action in those individuals who are either sceptical about climate change or just not interested then is Climate Camp the most effective and positive way of doing it? Already, the protesters have been compared to football hooligans.

About 7.1 million (18%) of the UK population are classed as Positive Greens who think it is important to do as much as they can to limit their impact on the environment. Unfortunately, there is a similar number (7.4 million) who are Honestly Disengaged and are indifferent to whether we are on the verge of a global ecological disaster or not. The rest of the population are divided in other types with varying degrees of willingness to engage in environmental issues and greener living.

In order to gain support for the radical changes to the British way of life that is necessary to survive in an increasingly resource and climate constrained world then we need to both convince our politicians and the different segments of the population to wake up and take action. Images of “hippies”, “new age types”, “anarchists” and “serial protesters” congregating every year and creating havoc makes the Camp a self-indulgent event where only “extremists” are concerned about the issue.

images-2A number of regional Climate Camps are also taking place in Scotland and Wales. If we are to succeed in making a global issue such as climate change a local issue and of concern to local people then it would be more effective to engage the public in local Climate Camps. Equally, such events should be positive and a celebration of what individuals and groups are doing to make a difference and what can be done locally, for example Transition Towns Movement and Carbon Rationing Action Groups (CRAG).

By raising awareness, inspiring action and creating a critical mass at the local level then perhaps then the issue of climate change will be owned by the many not the few and the voices of the majority will finally by heard by our decision makers and global leaders.

© Gary Haq 2009

Enoughism – The Route to Happiness?

When is enough, enough? Is it possible to become worse off, when we possess everything we ever wanted?

According to evolutionary psychology, our brains were created in the Stone Age and evolved some 130,000 to 200,000 years ago in the Pleistocene era when our ability to obtain food, water and shelter was limited.

happinessWHEN is enough, enough? Is it possible to become worse off, when we possess everything we ever wanted?

According to evolutionary psychology, our brains were created in the Stone Age and evolved some 130,000 to 200,000 years ago in the Pleistocene era when our ability to obtain food, water and shelter was limited.

These days we have developed the know-how to exploit natural resources and create goods and services. As a consequence, we find it hard to operate and cope in a world of abundance. Enoughism suggests that there is a point where consumers possess everything they need, and buying more actually makes their life worse off. It emphasises less spending and more restraint in buying and consuming goods.

However, this view has been criticised . It has been argued that our minds are not fixed in the past but are immensely flexible and develop. We have created and transformed our environment. It therefore seems strange that our brains are “wired up” to invent modernity but not to cope with it. If the brain is flexible enough to do the one, then why not the other?

Although we may be mentally more flexible we still seem to be locked-in into a modern society where many aspire to wealth and celebrity. Richard Layard in his book Happiness shows that there is a paradox at the heart of our lives. Most people want more income. Yet when our society becomes richer, we do not necessarily become happier. The evidence suggests that although average incomes have more than doubled in the last fifty years on average people have grown no happier.

images-1The Asia country of Bhutan has devised a Gross National Happiness (GNH) in an attempt to define quality of life in a more holistic and psychological terms based on Buddhist spiritual values rather than Gross National Product. The concept of GNH claims to be based on the premise that true development of human society takes place when material and spiritual development occur side by side to complement and reinforce each other. The four pillars of GNH are the promotion of sustainable development, preservation and promotion of cultural values, conservation of the natural environment, and establishment of good governance.

Statistical data have been used devise a ranking of the world’s happiest nations. Top of the list is Denmark due to its wealth, natural beauty, small size, quality education, and good health care. At the bottom of the list are the countries of Zimbabwe and Burundi. world_map_of_happiness

There is now a grass root movement beginning where people are rethinking their consumerist lifestyles. Some people, such as Dave Gore , have pledged to take the 100 thing challenge and whittle down their possessions to 100 items. While in the current global economic recession people are thinking more of mending and making do with clothes and other items rather than buying new.

Economic growth has provided some people with greater choice and access to a wide variety of goods and services. Having more choice and more things does not necessarily bring more happiness. If anything, we value things less when they are in great supply. People living in the austerity of post-War Britain valued and appreciated food and goods much more due to rationing than we do today when they are considerably cheaper and in abundance.

Our cosumer society has resulted in many environmental problems which have affected our total mental and physical wellbeing. In addressing the root cause of many of today’s environmental problems we can achieve better environmental quality but also a better quality of life that may just provide the happiness that so many of us long for.

© Gary Haq 2009

It Doesn’t Have To Cost the Earth To Be Green

IN a global economic recession we may feel inclined to abandon our green intentions. However, that would be folly. On Friday 5 June it is World Environment Day – an ideal opportunity to begin to save pounds and help protect the planet.

WEDIN a global economic recession we may feel inclined to abandon our green intentions. However, that would be folly. On Friday 5 June it is World Environment Day – an ideal opportunity to begin to save pounds and help protect the planet.

The theme of this year’s World Environment Day is ‘Your Planet Needs You-UNite to Combat Climate Change‘. It reflects the urgency for nations to agree on a new deal at the crucial climate convention meeting in Copenhagen some 180 days later in the year, and the links with overcoming poverty and improved management of forests.

With the threat of global climate change and the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions we are all being asked to reconsider the impact of our lifestyles. This includes many of the actions we do each day without thinking such as filling up the kettle, leaving on the light, jumping in the car to go to the local shop to throwing away things we no longer want. The government, local authorities and the environmental groups are campaigning hard to demonstrate that small changes collectively can make a difference.
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images-2Being Green in the last couple of years has become fashionable where sustainable became the new black. When once Eco-friendly conjured up something dull and worthy it became officially fashionable when bag designer Anya Hindmarch designed a bag for Sainburys supermarket with “I am not a plastic bag” written on it. The unbleached cotton bag costing £5 was sold out within an hour.

There will always be some people who will be receptive to the notion of being Green. Unfortunately, for many a green lifestyle is much lower on their personal agenda. If you are suffering from a debilitating illness, having trouble paying the bills or are a single parent struggling to bring up children being green may just seem too much effort.

Groovy_Green_Angel_TwoThe reality is that only a few people are squeaky Green the rest of us are striving to be Saints rather than Sinners. With limited time and money and family commitments we are struggling with the pressures of day-to-day life and at times the green option may not always be the convenient and appropriate option for our particular circumstances.

Energy used in homes is responsible for over a quarter of all UK emissions of carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas causing climate change. There are simple things we can all do at home to reduce our carbon footprint, save money and help tackle climate change (see below for top tips to save money and the planet).

We should not feel guilty as it is better to have many people striving to do their little bit rather than nothing at all. Government and business have a role to play in making low carbon and green options the cheaper, easier, convenient and best option for all.

On World Environment Day we can at least start to break old habits and try to make a difference for both our pocket and the planet.

TOP GREEN TIPS

Turn Appliances Off Standby
The average household could save up to £30 a year simply by switching of appliances rather than leaving them on standby. You can’t switch most electronic goods off just with the remote control therefore to turn off an appliance completely, use the power switch on the appliance itself or turn it off at the plug. Finally, if a charger or power pack is warm or has a light on, it’s probably using power.

Turn Down The Thermostat
Although it might be cold outside think about putting on a sweater and turning down the heating by 1ºC and save on your heating bills by up to 10 per cent. It can save 135kg carbon per year and reduce your footprint by up to 19%.

Use Cooler Water
If you turn your water down to 60 degrees you can save up to £20 per year on your gas bill as well as saving 161kg carbon per year and reducing your footprint by up to 1.4%.

Put Clothes Out to Dry
Rather then use a tumble drier to dry your clothes why not put them out to dry and reduce your electricity bill and save 268kg carbon per year. As well as reducing your footprint by 2.4%.

Turn Off the Lights
If you are not using a room for a while then switch off the lights. Switching off lights for a year can save £37 in electricity bills, 239kg carbon and reduce your footprint by 2.1%.

Use Energy Saving Light Bulbs
The price of energy efficient light bulbs has fallen. Bulbs cost about £2 or cheaper if bought from a budget shop. According to the Energy Saving Trust fitting just one energy saving light bulb could save you on average around £3 a year, depending on how long your lights are in use every day. For brighter bulbs or those used for more hours a day it can save up to £6 a year. Fit all the lights in your house with energy saving bulbs and you could save around £50 a year and £675 over the lifetime of all of the bulbs.

Eat Away, Not Throw Away
When it comes to food we tend to throw away about a third of the food we buy. For an average UK household this amounts to £424. If this ends up in landfill it produces methane, a greenhouse gas judged to be more than 20 times as powerful as carbon dioxide in causing climate change. Throwing less food away produces less methane and reduces other harmful environmental impacts from producing, packaging and transporting food. Better meal planning can prevent food waste, save money and save 89kg of carbon per year. As well as reducing your footprint by up to 0.8%.

Finally, you can achieve further savings by reusing rather than buying new:

Become a Freecycler
If you need furniture, clothes, tools or books but can’t afford them then join your local Freecycle Group. Freecycle groups match people who have things they want to get rid of with people who can use them rather than sending them off to landfill. By using what we already have, we reduce consumerism, manufacture fewer goods, and lessen the impact on the planet.

Hold a Swishing Party
Get your friends together and hold a Swishing Party, which a fun way to swap clothes you no longer want and party at the same time. Every person must bring at least one good quality, clean item of clothing or an accessory they feel proud to hand on. This is Eco recycling at its best.

© Gary Haq 2009

Food for Thought: Averting the Food Crisis and Reducing Waste

The UK throws away an estimated 6.7 million tonnes of food away every year. Most of the food could have been eaten. Not only does throwing away food waste precious resources, food waste equates to annual cost of £10.2 billion and contributes to greenhouse gas emissions. Are we taking our food for granted?

food-for-everyoneThe UK throws away an estimated 6.7 million tonnes of food away every year. Most of the food could have been eaten. Not only does throwing away food waste precious resources, food waste equates to annual cost of £10.2 billion and contributes to greenhouse gas emissions. Are we taking our food for granted?

The Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP) estimates that the average UK household throws away 18% of all food purchased with families with children throwing away 27%. It is mostly food that could have been consumed if it had been better stored or managed, or had not been left uneaten on a plate. Much of the food waste goes into landfill with an estimated £1 billion worth of food wasted in the UK still “in date” while nearly a quarter was disposed of because the “use by” or “best before” date had expired. Salad, fruit and bread are most commonly wasted food while 60% of all dumped food remains untouched.food-waste

We are not only paying for food we do not eat, we are having to deal with the cost that the waste creates as well as the cost to the climate with regard to the energy used in growing, processing, packaging, transporting, and refrigerating food that only ends up in the bin.

While we throw away food in the UK people in other parts of the world are struggling to cope with an increase in food prices. In 2008 there was a surge in food prices which resulted in millions of people being plunged into hunger causing rioting in countries such as Bangladesh, Cameroon, Egypt and Haiti. The increase in selected commodity prices for wheat, corn, and soya resulted in 110 million people being driven into poverty and added 44 million more to the undernourished. Although prices have fallen sharply since the peak in July 2008, they are still high above those in 2004 for many key commodities.

unepfoodA recent report by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) on the The Environmental Food Crisis states that up to 25 per cent of the world’s food production may become lost due to environmental breakdowns by 2050 unless action is taken.

Cereal yields have already stagnated worldwide and fish landings are declining. Drought, biofuels, high oil prices, low grain stocks and speculation in food stocks all contribute to the current food crisis. These may worsen the situation substantially in the coming decades. The amount of fish currently discarded at sea – estimated at 30 million tonnes annually – could sustain more than a 50 per cent increase in fish farming and aquaculture.

Climate change emerges is a key factor that may undermine the chances of feeding over nine billion people by 2050. Increasing water scarcities and a rise and spread of invasive pests such as insects, diseases and weeds may substantially depress yields in the future.

Over half of the food produced today is either lost, wasted or discarded as a result of inefficiency in the human-managed food chain. Rather than focusing solely on increasing production, food security can be increased by enhancing supply through optimising food energy efficiency. The world could feed the entire projected population growth alone by becoming more efficient while also ensuring the survival of wild animals, birds and fish on this planet.

Tackling the global crisis starts at home. We all need to do our bit by ensuring we do not waste this precious resource we have taken for granted for so long.

© Gary Haq 2009

Could Austerity be Good for the Planet?

WITH the shrinking of the UK economy, planned increase in public borrowing and expected higher taxation and public spending cuts it is claimed that Britain is entering a decade of austerity. Could we see a return to more sustainable lifestyles?

article-1169140-009206c7000004b0-284_468x3751WITH the shrinking of the UK economy, planned increase in public borrowing and expected higher taxation and public spending cuts it is claimed that Britain is entering a decade of austerity. Could we see a return to more sustainable lifestyles?

On 22 April the UK Chancellor of the Exchequer, Alistair Darling, announced in his annual budget that the economy would shrink by 3.5 per cent this year. He also outlined plans to increase public borrowing of £175 billion with borrowing levels to be £173bn, £140bn, £118bn and £97bn in years after.

The Chancellor has been criticised for being over optimistic about future growth forecasts. The Institute for Fiscal Studies has warned the Labour government must close a £90 billion hole in order to balance the budget. The independent think-tank claimed that this would cost every UK family £2,840 per year by 2017-18 in higher taxes or public spending cuts. Critics argue that this will see the dawn of a new age of austerity on the scale of that experienced after the Second World War.

images-7The baby boomers born were the first generation of the consumer society born in Post-War Britain. Since the 1950s we have whole-heartedly embraced consumer values with an emphasis for immediate gratification and satisfying individual needs. We have now arrived at a point where we are living beyond our means not only in the financial sense but also in the ecological sense. The demands of our increasingly globalised, industrialised, high consuming society have overloaded the planet’s natural ability to absorb, replenish and restore. We are now drawing on our ecological capital rather than living off nature’s interest. For sometime we have been experiencing an ecological credit crunch but this has not received much media or public attention.

A new period of austerity could provide the opportunity to rediscover values that were lost sometime ago. While being on a budget may not be fun it does make us thing about how we spend our money and whether purchases are really necessary.

2292499420_1cf4c88267Many people over the age of 65 lived through the War and grew up in years of austerity. They were forced to appreciate the value of food and goods due to having experienced rationing. This instilled a “mend and make do” attitude where waste was avoided. As a consequence many people aged over 65 tend to be prompt bill payers, debt averse and dislike waste.

Since the War we have managed to export our manufacturing base to the Far East to take advantage of low cost labour and consumer products. It is now cheaper to throw away and buy new rather than repair. Gone are the days when things were made to last or where we would have an item for many years with an occasional service or repair. We now consume to be fashionable – when a new trend comes along the old is ditched for the new.

The biggest incentive to encouraging a move to greener lifestyles is cost. There are many things we can all do so save pounds and the planet. Less consumption and profligate use of resources does not have to be austere. It means appreciating the value of not consuming, making do and reusing and recycling and buying to last.

The next decade could be the time we finally begin to live within both our ecological and financial means.

© Gary Haq 2009

Understanding Our EcoPsychology

THE root of the Global Environmental Crisis lies in our relationship with nature. If we are to avoid ecological suicide then we need to rediscover our ecological unconscious.

garyhaqTHE root of the Global Environmental Crisis lies in our relationship with nature. If we are to avoid ecological suicide then we need to rediscover our ecological unconscious.

We have become increasingly disconnected from the natural world on which we are dependent for our survival. Our capitalistic economic model based on continual growth has not only created the ecological crisis but has actively molded consumer demand. As consumers we are no longer in control as tastes and demands are determined by industry and shaped by advertising, which generate false needs.

Our behaviour is continuously encouraged and perpetuated by “perverse” economic incentive structures, media images, institutional barriers, inequalities in access, where status and wealth is reflected in how much we can consume. Our consumption of goods such as the fastest car, latest fashion, the newest gadget is one of the main ways of expressing our identify in the modern world

ad2Human nature has become more consumerist and individualistic decreasing our understanding of the links between social and natural systems. This has lead to the development of a new form of narcissistic self. Psychoanalytical theory suggests that narcissism is an extreme form of individualism. It is a phenomenon from childhood, which means that the world will provide everything we need if we make enough commotion. Things that are out of sight such as food production, waste and environmental degradation are firmly out of the mind.

As we have developed we have becoming increasingly disconnected from nature. The majority of the people living in the developed world have become disengaged from the immediate materials provided by nature that are needed for survival. An increasing amount of the food and raw materials we consume is transported from around the world rather than made and used locally. This disconnection from the natural environment has resulted in a lack of understanding of the environment and ecological systems of which we are a part.

images-6We no longer have a direct understanding of economic activity, consumption and the byproducts of our activities. The waste we generate is an intangible byproduct and has an impact far away from the point of consumption. This detachment has been facilitated by technology. Fridgeration techniques and intensive farming have replaced our understanding of the way things grow and the seasons. This separation leads to a lack of understanding of nature (e.g. our knowledge of food now comes form reading labels on packets and making uniformed judgements) about alternatives and can lead to fear (e.g. food scares). Knowledge based on direct experience has been replaced by knowledge produced by scientists (abstract systems) in laboratories. This has in some cases led to mistrust of science due to vested interest and changes based on new developments.

bundle2A wide variety of ancient and modern cultures have histories of embracing nature such as aboriginal, pagan and Hindu cultures, and shamanism. Where self-identity becomes entwined with nature, so much that loss of sacred places is devastating to indigenous people. In contrast, industrial society has repressed what Theodore Roszak has called our “ecological unconscious”.

If we are to reconnect with nature and restore environmental harmony then we need to rediscover our ecological unconscious that lies at the core of our psyche. This requires healing the fundamental gap between the recently created industrial psyche and the age-old natural environment. This involves re-evaluating character traits which have driven us to dominate nature as if it were an alien and rightless realm as well as questioning the sanity of the size and extent of urban-industrial culture.

images-4Reconnecting with nature via decentralised food production and community nature projects and projects that promote personal empowerment are likely to nourish our “ecological ego”. In contrast, large-scale projects that dominate suppress the individual undermines the ecological ego. Roszak claims as our ecological ego matures towards a sense of ethical responsibility to the planet that is as vividly experienced as our ethical responsibility to other people, it will weave this responsibility into the fabric of social relations and political decisions.

When the needs of the planet have become the needs of the person, the rights of the person have become the rights of the planet then we will have finally rediscovered our ecological unconscious and understood our ecopsychology.

REFERENCES
Ecopsychology
The Voice of the Earth

© Gary Haq 2009

Every Hour is Earth Hour

N Saturday 28 March at 8.30 pm an estimated one billion people in 1,858 cities and towns in 81 countries will voluntarily switch of their lights for sixty minutes as part of WWF’s Earth Hour. This mass collective action is seen as sending a signal to politicians to take action on climate change. While such events create mass public awareness the message can quickly fade in the public consciousness.

earth-hourON Saturday 28 March at 8.30 pm an estimated one billion people in 1,858 cities and towns in 81 countries will voluntarily switch off their lights for sixty minutes as part of the Worldwide Fund for Nature’s (WWF) Earth Hour.

This mass collective action is seen as sending a signal to politicians to take action on climate change. While such events create mass public awareness the message can quickly fade in the public consciousness once the event has passed.

The 1985 Live Aid organized by Bob Geldof and Midge Ure to raise funds for famine relief in Ethiopia was the first event that galvanised the global public to take action. Since then we have seen Live 8 in 2006 held to raise awareness as part of the Make Poverty History Campaign. In 2007 we saw the Live Earth event which brought together a global audience to combat the climate crisis. We have also seen events organised by Nelson Mandela’s charity to raise awareness about AIDS. All these events do some good in raising awareness but whether awareness results in sustained action is a different story.

When it comes to the environment many individuals are green is some way whether motivated by saving money, reducing waste or saving the planet. The UK Department for Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) has developed a model that divides the public in the seven distinct groups based on a set of attitudes and beliefs towards the environment.

Around 7 million people are described as “Positive Greens” who are willing to do as much as they can to reduce their impact. Unfortunately, there is a similar number who are not bothered about the future of the planet as they are engrossed in their own lives. While there are about 5.7 million people who are concerned but cannot voluntarily move to greener behaviours with some help or incentive. The different types of individuals and their attitudes are described below:

Positive Greens (18%: 7.1 million)
I think it is important that I do as much as I can to limit my impact on the environment

Honestly disengaged (18%: 7.4 million)
May be there’ll be an environmental disaster, maybe not. Makes no difference to me, I’m just living life the way I want to.

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Concerned Consumers (14%: 5.7 million)
I think I do more than a lot of people. Still going away is important; I’d find that that hard to give up. Well I wouldn’t, so carbon offsetting would make me feel better.

Cautious Participants (14%: 5.6 million)
I do a couple of things to help the environment. I’d really like to do more, well as long I saw others were.

Sideline Supporters (14%: 56 million)
I think climate change is a big problem for us. I know I don’t do much about how much water or electricity I use, and I forget to turn things off. I’d like to do a bit more.

Stalled Starters (10%: 4.1 million)
I don’t know much about climate change. I can’t afford a car so I use public transport. I’d like a car though.

Waste Watchers (12%: 5.2 million)
Waste not, want not, that’s important, you should live life thinking about what you are doing and using.

Time and money are issues they often come up when discussing greener lifestyles. If we did not have to work so much then perhaps we could devote more time to reducing our impact on the planet such as having an allotment, composting and doing more cycling and walking. Unfortunately many of us have to work to pay the bills.

The biggest outgoing is the rent or mortgage. If we had free accommodation or our mortgages were paid off then perhaps we could then work less and have more time to be greener. However, some would see these reasons as excuses. The DEFRA model shows the complexity of human behaviour and the different things which motivate us and which decide whether we are willing to be green or not.

Earth Hour is a major step in creating a blanket public awareness of the urgency and importance of the issue. However, once the razzmatazz is over then the real work begins. We need to communicate the message to individuals with different mindsets in a way convinces them to take action. That is why every hour is Earth hour.