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.

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.


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

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.

The Voice of the Earth

© Gary Haq 2009

GREEN Shoots of a Global Economic Recovery

WITH the global economic recession, a broken financial system, job losses, fall in assets, drop in wealth, persistent poverty and growing environmental problems it is time to change our model of economic growth

Gary HaqWITH the global economic recession, a broken financial system, job losses, fall in assets, drop in wealth, persistent poverty and growing environmental problems it is time to change our model of economic growth.

The global recession is an economic tsunami that sweeping across the planet destroying companies, banks, jobs and lives in its path. To recover from the global slump an economic stimulus is deemed necessary to kick-start production and consumption. The rebuilding of the global economy provides a unique opportunity to create a low-carbon economy that will provide jobs, stabilise the climate and ensure both financial and ecological sustainability.

The capitalist model of development has been to strive for ever more growth but it has failed to deliver greater happiness, freedom from poverty and sustainable use of the planet’s finite natural resources. Instead it has delivered prosperity for the few based on ecological destruction and social injustice. A report of the UK Sustainable Development Commission entitled Prosperity without Growth? claims that it is delusional if we think that the current capitalist economic model can stabilise the climate and protect resource scarcity. Improvements in energy intensity (carbon) have been offset by increases in the scale of economic activity. Global carbon emissions from energy use have increased by 40 per cent since 1990. There is no credible socially just, ecologically sustainable scenario for a growing incomes of 9 billion people.

ls-logo-gif1The economic recovery will demand investment. At the G20 London Summit on 2 April 2009 leaders of the world’s largest economies agreed a global plan for economic recovery and reform. The twenty-nine point communiqué, included US$1.1 trillion for global economic recovery, but was weak on trade issues and a commitment to spend a substantial share of the economic stimulus on low-carbon recovery projects.

Many environmental groups are calling for a need for a global green deal to invest in a green economy. Targeting investment towards energy security, low-carbon infrastructures and ecological protection is vital if we are to achieve a green recovery. It has been suggested that at least two per cent of world GDP should be targeted to green investment and job-generating projects.

A report on pathways to a low carbon economy by McKinsey and Co claims that moving to a “green” global economy is affordable and can protect the planet from the worst effects of climate change by being kept global temperatures below the critical 2°C. The study lists more than 200 opportunities, spread across ten sectors and twenty-one geographical regions, which could cut global greenhouse gas emissions by about 40 per cent below 1990 levels by 2030. That is if all the technology options were put into practice.

For a bargain price of less than half a per cent of global GDP greenhouse gas emissions could be reduced. This would be achieved by investment in wind, solar and other sustainable renewable energy which could by 2030 provide almost a third of all global power needs. Energy efficiency could reduce greenhouse gas emissions by more than a quarter and deforestation in developing countries could be almost fully halted.

This need for a green recovery is slowly trickling thorough to our political leaders. In an interview with The Independent newspaper, the UK Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, in a reference to green initiatives in the budget, which will be on Wednesday 22 April, Brown said: “This is a major part of our plan for recovery in the budget. We will set our proposals for greener economy.” This will enable Britain to become a market leader across the world for electric and hybrid cars. We wait to hear the measures that the UK government will take.

It is clear we cannot go back to our past ways of operating our economic system. The economic recovery has to deliver a different quality of economic growth that can deliver immediate and long-term benefits, reduce the effects of climate change, reduce energy insecurity and the depletion of natural resources.

A Green recovery is the only option.

© Gary Haq 2009

No Time to Waste – Returning to the Good Life

earth-clock-01AS a child the school summer holidays seemed an eternity. Time seemed to pass very slowly. These days as an adult its hard to keep up with all the things one has to do. How many times have you heard people complain we “just don’t have the time”?

Psychologist William James’ explanation is that children experience everything for the first time and that all experiences are new. Their intense perception of the world around them means that times goes slowly. As adults we have fewer new experiences, life is more familiar and less information is taken in and time is less stretched. While there are obvious cognitive psycholgoical explanations to our perception of time there are also other factors at play.

As a child growing up in the 1970s there was only three TV channels which only ran for a limited number of hours. We did not have a computer, mobile phone, video player or DVD to distract us. Most of the time was enjoyed playing out in the streets with other friends. On TV there was a popular sitcom called The Good Life which described the experiences of Tom and Barbara who have had enough of the rat race and decide to become self-sufficient. They convert their garden into a farm, keep pigs and chickens and grow their own crops.the-good-life1

Life seemed a lot simpler back then but perhaps I am looking back through rose-tinted spectacles?. Afterall, I did not have to worry about paying bills, going to work or doing house work. Despite all this, I do feel that life has speeded up.

streetsThis is evident in our breakdown in our sense of community. In the cobbled streets of inner city Salford (UK) where I grew up we knew or had a good idea who lived in the 40-plus houses there. These days I only know three of my neighbours. This is partly due to people being more mobile and not staying in one place too long and partly due to being more private individuals. No longer do we have the time for idle chit chat. Like the White Rabbit in Alice in Wonderland we are rushing around saying we are late.

In his Novel Momo Michael Ende wrote about a mysterious young orphaned girl, who arrives in a small town and notices that the inhabitants are starting to change, becoming obsessed with time and money. Momo discovers that the culprits are the “Grauen Herren”, sinister, ghost-like men who are stealing time. The effects were dramatic. The village barber found that:

he was becoming increasingly restless and irritable. The odd thing was that, no matter how much time he saved, he never had any to spare; in some mysterious way, it simply vanished. Imperceptibly at first, but then quite unmistakably, his days grew shorter and shorter. Almost be­fore he knew it, another week had gone by, another month, and another year, and another and another.”

In his article entitled Time Pollution, Prof. John Whitelegg attempts to explain the paradox that the more people try to save time, the less they seem to have? Whitelegg argues:

Time is central to notions of sustainability. A sustainable city or a sustainable transport policy or a sustainable economy cannot be founded on economic principles which, through their monetarisation of time, orientate society towards higher levels of motorisation, faster speeds and greater consumption of space. The fact that these characteristics produce energy-intensive societies and pollution is only part of the problem. They also distort value systems, elevate mobility above accessibility, associate higher speeds and greater distances with progress, and dislocate communities and social life.”

There is no doubt that our lack of time has contributed to the community disintegration that has been occuring across Europe and other western countries in the last few decades. Perhaps we need to change our perception of time and spend more time being rather than doing. A global recession may provide that window of opportunity to reassess our values and lifestyles and perhaps like Tom and Barbara we can return to the “Good Life” that many of us remember.

© Gary Haq 2009

Darwin, Deep Ecology and the Bible

Charles DarwinTHIS year marks the bicentenary of the birth of the naturalist Charles Darwin and the passing of Norwegian philosopher and founder of deep ecology – Arne Næss.

In his seminal work, ‘On the Origin of Species’ Darwin challenged the Judeao-Christian tradition that humans were created in the image of God: “Then God said, Let us make man in our image … in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.”

Darwin explained that all species of life have evolved over time from common ancestors. This occurred through the process of natural selection whereby organisms most suited to their environment survive and reproduce and pass their advantages to their offspring.

As many more individuals of each species are born than can possibly survive; and as, consequently, there is a frequently recurring struggle for existence, it follows that any being, if it vary however slightly in any manner profitable to itself, under the complex and sometimes varying conditions of life, will have a better chance of surviving, and thus be naturally selected. From the strong principle of inheritance, any selected variety will tend to propagate its new and modified form.”

Darwin’s theory of universal common descent based on evolutionary principles placed humankind as part of the tree of life rather than separate to it.

There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.

Arne NaessArne Næss’s work also challenged the Judeao-Christian tradition and the anthropocentric (human-centred) view of the planet. In the book Genesis the first words God is alleged to have make to humankind were:

Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”

Since then nature has been used commodity to be traded to meet human needs which has resulted in our current global ecological crisis. Næss believed that humans have no right to reduce the richness and diversity of nature except to meet vital needs.

He argued that every being, whether human, animal or vegetable has an equal right to live and to blossom. The well-being and flourishing of human and non-human life on Earth have value in themselves. These values are independent of the usefulness of the non-human world for human purposes. We should not see the world from the narrow viewpoint of ourselves but should see ourselves as part of an ecospheric whole. We should move from anthropocentric to an ecocentric view of the world.

Both Darwin and Næss show we are part of the diversity of life and cannot be separated from it. If we took a more ecocentric approach to policy making then perhaps we could appreciate the inherent value in life itself rather striving for an increasingly higher standard of living.

© Gary Haq 2009

What is Human Ecology?

Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden As a Human Ecology graduate I was recently surprised to hear the term “Human Ecology” being used by the media. It was used with reference to Pope Benedict XVI Christmas speech where he was explaining the need to respect human nature with regard to the order of being ‘man’ or ‘woman’:

We need something like human ecology, meant in the right way. The Church speaks of human nature as ‘man’ or ‘woman’ and asks that this order is respected.”

He suggested there is a need to save humankind from a destructive blurring of gender roles is as important as saving the rainforests. He explained that defending God’s creation was not limited to saving the environment, but also about protecting man from self-destruction.

The Pope makes a distinction between humans and the environment. If there were no environment then we would not be around. I am not so concerned about the blurring of gender roles. I am more concerned about saving ourselves from committing ecological suicide or ecocide. If we are to stop this then a concerted effort is needed from everyone including the church. Over population and over consumption of the earth’s natural resources are the key factors which will determine the fate of humankind.

Taking a holistic human ecological perspective is the only way forward to deal with the key issues. We need to understand our interaction with our social, political, economic and physical environment. Why we behave the way we do and what we can do to change? There are many definitions of human ecology but for me it is an academic discipline that deals with the relationship between humans, human societies, and their natural, social and created environments.

I was fortunate to study Human Ecology at Huddersfield University. I was attracted to the interdisciplinary nature of the course and the focus on local and global issues. Huddersfield was the first and only institute of higher education to offer this type of course in the UK. Sadly, Huddersfield abandoned the course but human ecology lives on at the Centre for Human Ecology in Edinburgh.

For some human ecology might seem an old term from the 1960s especially when we hear so much these days about sustainable development. However, understanding our human ecology is more relevant now than ever.

© Gary Haq 2009