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?

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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.

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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

The Global Ecological Credit Crunch: The Elephant in the Room

HAVE you noticed everyone is talking about the credit crunch and the global recession these days?
Not a day passes without hearing further news about job losses, banks going bust, well-known companies folding-up and attempts by global leaders to implement measures to stop the global financial meltdown. This is all very well but no one seems to be interested in the elephant in the room – the global ecological credit crunch. An issue that will have catastrophic consequences for the future of humanity.

World EconomyHAVE you noticed everyone is talking about the credit crunch and the global recession these days?

Not a day passes without hearing further news about job losses, banks going bust, well-known companies folding-up and attempts by global leaders to implement measures to stop the global financial meltdown.

This is all very well but no one seems to be interested in the elephant in the room – the global ecological credit crunch. An issue that will have catastrophic consequences for the future of humanity.

From the global to the local level we have stamped our footprint on the natural world. We have over-exploited natural resources, degraded ecosystems, and caused mass extinction of some species while endangering others. Our long-term survival is dependent on having access to food, water, air and energy yet we seem intent on irreversibly damaging our life support system.
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A look at the current state of the planet provides a bleak picture. A United Nations assessment of the global situation shows that over the past fifty years we have caused more ecological damage than in any other period in human history. The extent of our willful destruction is becoming ever more evident. Global warming is resulting in changes to the climate system, which could have catastrophic consequences for humanity. The hole in the ozone layer over Antarctica is now larger than ever, allowing harmful ultraviolet radiation to reach the earth endangering human health, marine organisms and food production.

Fifteen out of 24 major ecosystems are being degraded or used unsustainably. Habitat destruction is threatening more than 16,000 species with extinction. Over-exploitation of aquatic ecosystems is putting the future use of marine and freshwater fisheries at risk. Unsustainable land use is causing soil erosion and desertification while the quantity and quality of freshwater is declining, increasing the likelihood of water scarcity in certain regions of world. Our exposure to environmental pollution is responsible for nearly one-quarter of all diseases contributing to respiratory illness, some types of cancers, vector-borne diseases and emerging animals to human disease transfer.

According to the Worldwide Fund for Nature´s (WWF) Living Planet Index we are degrading natural ecosystems at a rate unprecedented in human history. The Index measures trends in the Earth’s biological diversity and enables the health of ecosystems to be monitored. Since 1970 the biodiversity fell by about 30 per cent due to pressures of population growth, economic activities and consumption patterns.

Over the past 45 years, our demands on the planet have more than doubled. In 1961, nearly all countries in the world had more than enough capacity to meet their own demand. However, the situation had radically changed by 2005 with many countries able to meet their needs only by importing resources from other nations. Ecocredit - Ecodebtor

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. Habitat destruction and permanent loss of productivity are threatening both biodiversity and human wellbeing.

If we continue with the slow, steady growth of economies and populations then by the mid-2030s humanity’s demand on the planet will be twice its productive capacity. At this level of ecological deficit, exhaustion of ecological resources and large-scale ecosystem collapse will become increasingly likely. If we carry on regardless with our current level of consumption then by early 2030s we will need two planets to keep up with the demands we place on the planet.

elephant_in_living_room1If we have any hope of addressing the global ecological credit crunch then world leaders will need to start taking it seriously. They will need to give as much attention (if not more) to the elephant in the room as they are to the current financial crisis.

© 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