The Scourge of Time Poverty

WE seem to be in a constant battle against time – fighting to fit everything into our busy schedules. So much so that many of us suffer from “time poverty” – not having enough hours to do what we want. And “time pollution” has now become a feature of our modern way of living.

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WE seem to be in a constant battle against time – fighting to fit everything into our busy schedules.

So much so that many of us suffer from “time poverty” – not having enough hours to do what we want. And “time pollution” has now become a feature of our modern way of living.

The monetary value we place on time has caused us to pursue faster speed and higher levels of motorisation and consumption.

This has resulted in us engaging in socially and environmentally-damaging activities. Paradoxically, the more time we save, the less we seem to have.

In his fantasy 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 “time thieves” – sinister, ghost-like men who are stealing time.

This has dramatic effects on the residents, who become increasingly restless and irritable. No matter how much time they saved, they never had any to spare. Before they knew it, another week had gone by, another month, and another year.

As a child, my perception of time was very different from the one I have today. Then the school summer holidays seemed like an eternity – time passed very slowly.

As an adult, it’s hard to keep up with all the things one has to do. Psychologist William James put children’s perception of time down to them experiencing everything for the first occasion. Their intense perception of the world around them means that time goes slowly.

As adults we have fewer new experiences, life is more familiar, less information is taken in and time is less stretched. While there are obvious psychological explanations of our perception of time, there are also other societal factors at play.

Growing up in the 1970s, there were fewer gadgets and activities we could waste time on compared with today. We did not have multi-channel 24-hour television, nor did we have a computer, mobile phone, DVD player or game box to distract us. Most of the time was enjoyed playing in the streets with friends.

Life seemed a lot slower and simpler back then, but perhaps I am looking back through rose-tinted spectacles. After all, I did not have to worry about paying bills, going to work or doing housework.

Nowadays, life has gone high speed, with our lack of time contributing to community breakdown.

In the cobbled street where I grew up in Salford (UK), we knew or had a good idea who lived in the 40-plus houses. These days, I know only a handful of neighbours. This is partly because of people being more mobile and more private.

And, like the White Rabbit in Alice in Wonderland, many of us are constantly running around muttering that we are late. We are more likely to have a virtual conversation with a total stranger on the other side of the world via Facebook and Twitter than engage in idle chitchat, face to face with our neighbours.

As a society, we have invented numerous ways of saving time. From high-speed trains, fast cars and planes to fast food and all the technologies we use to cut the time it takes to do things. This has resulted in highly energy-intensive and polluting activities.

When people have free time they use it to consume and travel more. We know that many baby boomers are enjoying cosmopolitan lifestyles in their retirement using their “free time” to visit far-flung destinations.

UK Prime Minister David Cameron’s idea of the Big Society is based partly on the premise that people have the time and the will to get involved in community activities such as running a pub or post office. To do this, we will need to change our attitude to time and how we spend it.

A “Slow Movement” is developing that addresses the issue of “time poverty” by encouraging people to do things at the right pace. It promotes slow food, slow gardening, slow money, slow sex and slow travel. The recession is seen as the perfect time to escape the vicious circle of speed which has taken over our lives.

Time is central to the notion of a greener future. If we are to address the issues of time poverty and time pollution we need to reassess the value we place on time.

Slowing down can help improve the quality of life, making it more enjoyable, happier and greener.

It provides an awareness of the preciousness of every minute, hour and day of our limited lifetime – something we should all enjoy before it’s too late.

© Gary Haq 2011

Photo credits: Shutterstock

Putting the SIZZLE into Going Green

GOING Green is a bit like making love – nearly everyone likes the idea of it. Some people do it on a daily basis, some every week, others less frequently, while some individuals just do not get around to doing it at all.

GOING Green is a bit like making love – nearly everyone likes the idea of it. Some people do it on a daily basis, some every week, others less frequently, while some individuals just do not get around to doing it at all.

Back in 2007, at the peak of our eco-awareness, climate change and the carbon footprint seemed new and interesting. There was unprecedented media coverage of green issues and the public, politicians and business leaders were all developing a passion for the planet.

Prince Charles’s recently undertook a green tour of Britain on a bio-fuelled royal train. Despite green living receiving royal approval, there are signs of “green fatigue” setting in as political, public and media interest in environmental issues begins to wane. The UK’s new coalition Government’s decision to get rid of the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution and the independent watchdog, the Sustainable Development Commission, clearly signalled the downgrading of environmental issues.

This is despite David Cameron’s promise to put the environment at the heart of government. Former chair of the Sustainable Development Commission, Jonathan Porritt, described the decision as “crass, unfounded, self-defeating and ideologically-motivated”.

The climategate and glaciergate fiasco has increased public scepticism over climate change science. A recent Ipsos Mori survey of UK public attitudes to climate change found that although the majority of respondents believe that climate change is happening, levels of concern have fallen since 2005, and less than one-third of the population currently consider it to be a purely man-made phenomenon. However, most people consider that it is their responsibility to take action and feel that they personally can make a difference.

The waxing and waning of public interest in environmental issues is nothing new. In 1967, Britain experienced its first major oil disaster when the oil tanker, Torrey Canyon, struck a rock, causing the oil pollution of 120 miles of the Cornish coastline.

Dramatic environmental disasters such as this, together with key publications on the ecological limits to economic growth, increased public concern.

By 1972, environmental issues were placed on the international political agenda when nations gathered together for the first UN Earth Summit in Stockholm. It resulted in governments establishing ministries of the environment and introducing environmental legislation.

Although the 1970s’ oil price rises dampened public interest in green issues, a decade later interest was renewed by the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, a rise in green consumerism, ethical investment and increased activity of Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace. In 1992, the Rio Earth Summit ensured that world leaders embraced the idea of sustainable development and initiated action for a global convention on climate change.

When we are doing well, we are motivated to go green but during an economic downturn we tend to lose interest. It is therefore not surprising that in this new age of austerity we are starting to suffer from green fatigue.

In an economic recession consumers tighten their belts, sales figures fall and companies close down and stop producing polluting emissions. For example, in 2009, EU greenhouse gas emissions fell by seven per cent. A lower demand for energy has been linked to the economic recession as well as cheaper natural gas and increased renewable energy use.

Nowadays most people are familiar with the concept of the carbon footprint. Unfortunately, being aware of the environmental impact of our individual lifestyle choices does not necessarily mean we will change our behaviour. After all, we know that smoking can cause lung cancer, eating junk food can lead to heart disease and obesity and binge drinking is bad for the liver, but we still carry on regardless.

For too long, green campaigns have sold the threat of what would happen if we do not mend our ways. The danger of a “climate hell” has caused some people to switch off.

Back in the 1940s, US salesman, Elmer Wheeler, advised businesses on his “Don’t sell the sausage, sell the sizzle!” marketing approach. Wheeler’s big secret to successful selling was that you do not advertise the sausage itself as it is the desirable sounds and smells of the “sizzle” that make people hungry and want to buy it. There is increasing recognition that the “selling the sausage” approach to green issues is not delivering the fundamental changes required for us to stay within ecological limits.

A report by Futerra, a green communications consultancy, on “Selling the Sizzle: the new climate message” argues that in order to reinvigorate public and media interest, campaigns need to focus on a vision of a greener life that is positive and appealing to all.

Gary Haq discusses green issues with Ed Milliband
The recent election of Ed Milliband as the new leader of Labour Party, now the official opposition to the British government provides hope for many environmentalists.

Mr Milliband was the former Secretary of State for the UK Department of Energy and Climate Change and is a passionate advocate of action on climate change.

He recently reiterated his belief that “climate change is the greatest global threat facing our generation “, adding that “it should be at the very heart of our plan for a successful economy, at the centre of our foreign policy and integral to our mission to change Britain”.

Many environmentalists are hoping that Mr Milliband will now put climate change back on the political agenda after he has criticised the Coalition Government’s claim to be the ‘greenest ever’ as an empty gesture.

So far, environmentalists have failed to effectively communicate a compelling vision of a greener future. It is therefore time to stop selling the notion of a climate hell and start selling a “green heaven”. Let’s put the sizzle back in to going green and demonstrate that a transition to a low carbon society ultimately means a better quality of life for everyone.

© Gary Haq 2010

Photo credits: Shutterstock

Can The Tories Lead a Green Revolution?

WHEN David Cameron became leader of the UK Conservative Party, he vowed that the Tories would lead a new green revolution in Britain. In the 2006 local elections he urged voters to “Vote Blue, Go Green”.

As Britain approaches a General Election, the environment policy of all political parties will come under scrutiny. What will the Tories need to do in order to achieve their promise of a green revolution in Britain?

Climate change poses the greatest environmental threat to the country. Action will therefore be required to address our contribution to the problem as well as ensuring we are able to cope with the impact of extreme weather events and a rise in temperature.

It has been claimed that most Tory MPs are sceptical about the party’s focus on climate change policy and at least six shadow cabinet ministers are sceptical about the economic consequences of a low-carbon policy.

Not only will David Cameron need to convince his colleagues that climate change poses a real threat to our way of life, he will need to reduce our dependency on coal and increase in renewable energy and energy efficiency.

About 27 per cent of the country’s carbon dioxide emissions are the result of domestic energy use. Mr Cameron should follow the example of Kirklees Council’s award-winning Warm Zone scheme.

This home insulation scheme targeted at 170,000 homes has resulted in the average household saving £200 on fuel bills each year while reducing their carbon dioxide emissions by over one tonne. He should roll-out similar schemes across the region and provide cavity wall and loft insulation, energy efficient glazing, draught proofing, improved boilers and low energy light bulbs free to every home.

All new buildings should meet stringent energy performance standards. And we should move away from using energy and resource intensive materials such as steel and concrete to straw bale and timber. To see an example of sustainable construction in practice, Mr Cameron should take a look at York’s Eco-Depot – a timber framed building with straw bale cladding all sourced in regionally in Yorkshire.

There is great potential in the country to use renewable sources of energy. As the saying goes “Where there’s muck there’s brass” – Britain’s sewage could be used to produce biogas. Wind power could be harnessed by constructing Danish style offshore wind farms along the region’s coastline while water turbines in major rivers and streams could be used to provide hydropower.

These measures, together with the introduction of community-based low carbon technologies such as solar water heating, solar electricity, ground heat pumps, micro-wind turbines and combined heat and power, could allow regional “smart grids” to be developed and reduce the region’s dependency on energy from the National Grid.

Britain has already experienced its share of flooding due to torrential rain. This has resulted in serious disruption to roads, schools, offices and caravan parks and has caused great distress and millions of pounds in flood damage.

Mr Cameron should invest in flood and coastal defences to ensure all flood prone towns and villages are adequately protected. In addition, there should be a major tree-planting programme throughout the country to increase the uptake of rainfall and prevent future flooding.

The creation of new woodlands will also have the added benefit of providing fuel wood and wildlife habitats.

We also need to see a revolution in the way we grow our food. Greater incentives should be available to adopt sustainable agricultural practices such as permaculture – an ecologically harmonious efficient and productive approach that stresses the value of diverse crops.

Support should also be given to promote small-scale local food production, which not only increases food security, but also reduces food miles.

Mr Cameron should visit Todmorden’s Incredible Edible initiative to see how public attitudes to local food production have been revolutionised. The whole community – including businesses, schools and farmers – have been “growing their own”. Public flowerbeds have been transformed into community herb gardens and vegetable patches. The initiative has increased the amount of local food grown and eaten in the town.

Our urban environment desperately needs to be made safer, cleaner and more people friendly. Mr Cameron should promote car free cities, walking and cycling and convert car parks to green spaces.

In order to maintain local distinctiveness, he should limit the number of supermarkets and chain stores allowed to open on our high streets and promote local businesses instead. Reducing pollution, improving the character and feel of our local environment will result in happier and healthier residents.

A green revolution cannot take place without its foot troops. Mr Cameron should provide funding for a nation-wide “Green Home Front” to encourage residents, businesses, public bodies, community organisations and schools to work together to make their communities greener. Only by harnessing people power can we revolutionise the way we live and ensure a transition to a new greener age.

If Mr Cameron succeeds in becoming Prime Minister, he will need to deliver on his promise to put environmental policies at the heart of government. In doing so he should remember the words of his predecessor, Margaret Thatcher, who said: “No generation has a freehold on this earth. All we have is a life tenancy – with a full repairing lease.”

© Gary Haq 2010
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