Time for Greens to Return to the Grassroots

The past five decades have seen groups such as Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace and the Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF) successfully campaign to raise awareness of environmental issues.

The green movement has promoted a way of speaking and thinking about the environment that was not possible or imaginable decades ago.

Today green issues are a feature of the modern world that that everyone now recognises. As the green movement reaches middle age, it is coming under increasing criticism for being bureaucratic, ineffective, out of touch and set in its ways.

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THE past five decades have seen groups such as Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace and the Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF) successfully campaign to raise awareness of environmental issues.

The green movement has promoted a way of speaking and thinking about the environment that was not possible or imaginable decades ago.

Today green issues are a feature of the modern world that that everyone now recognises. As the green movement reaches middle age, it is coming under increasing criticism for being bureaucratic, ineffective, out of touch and set in its ways.

Environmental concern initially focused on the protection of selected species and habitats, reducing polluting emissions to air, water and soil and improving the control and management of waste and hazardous substances.

As society became increasingly globalised, industrialised and interconnected, environmental issues changed in their complexity and geographical scope.

With the recognition of acid rain, the hole in the ozone layer and climate change as environmental problems, the focus moved from the local to the regional and global scale.

Efforts are now being made to control greenhouse gases and specific pollutants from sectors such as energy and transport. This has involved improving the efficiency of resource use and adopting cleaner technology.

While progress has been made in improving the state of the environment, human activity continues to drive environmental problems such as climate change, deforestation, depletion of natural resources and loss of biodiversity.

Despite many achievements the green movement has failed to win the hearts and minds of a large part of the electorate. The urgency of reducing greenhouse gases, the slow progress made in achieving a binding international climate change agreement, the style of campaigning and the rise in climate scepticism have caused fractions within the green movement.

Jonathon Porritt, a former director of Friends of the Earth, accused the movement of betraying the public by not supporting the grassroots campaign to stop the sell-off of England’s forests.

Porritt claimed the green movement was either too concerned about its relationship with the Department of the Environment to criticise the sell-off or that they hoped to gain from it.

More recently, the movement has been criticised for its opposition to the role of technology in addressing environmental issues such as nuclear power and genetically modified (GM) crops.

US environmentalist Stewart Brand believes the failure to embrace technologies has hindered environmental and social progress. He suggests we will be saved from global warming by densely populated cities, nuclear energy, GM food and planet-wide geo-engineering to manipulate the Earth’s climate to counteract climate change.

Mark Lynas accuses the green movement of having helped cause climate change through their opposition to nuclear power.

In contrast, Porritt warns of the dangers of being seduced by nuclear and argues that a 100 per cent renewable supply strategy for the UK is feasible by 2050, assuming that total UK energy consumption can be reduced by at least 40 per cent by 2030. This could be achieved by massive investment in energy efficiency.

As the world enters a new age of natural resource scarcity and climate change, food and energy insecurity will the affect the way of life of many communities. Therefore a renewed green movement will be required for a new age of global challenges. This will require agreement on the different technologies it supports.

There has been a tendency for green groups to scare people into change. There is now recognition of the need to provide a positive agenda.

A greater focus on “green localism” could re-engage an often suspicious and uninterested public by taking action within their immediate sphere of influence. Working in partnership with local authorities and businesses, local groups could contribute to build stronger communities able to fight climate change, improve health and wellbeing and secure a healthy natural environment.

The green movement has the potential to evolve through a network of grassroots groups that contribute to national and international campaigns using social media. It remains to be seen how the environmental idea can be captured and shaped by new generations in an age of new challenges. What is certain we will have to develop ways to respond to the effects future environmental change will have on our current way of life.

This article is based on the book Environmentalism Since 1945 by Gary Haq and Alistair Paul, published by Routledge in September 2011.

© Gary Haq 2011

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

When The Lights Go Out

THE UK government would be acting as a “climate criminal” if it allows a new coal-fired power station at Kingsnorth in Kent to go ahead, say campaign groups. If we are to address depleting energy resources and tackle climate change then we will need to face up to the impending energy crunch and the difficult choices ahead.

Gary HaqTHE UK government would be acting as a “climate criminal” if it allows a new coal-fired power station at Kingsnorth in Kent to go ahead, say campaign groups. If we are to address depleting energy resources and tackle climate change then we will need to face up to the impending energy crunch and the difficult choices ahead.
Power failures are a rare thing where I live. I have experienced then when visiting Karachi and Kathmandu. There the lights tend to flicker as a warning sign that we will soon be thrown into darkness. After experiencing the black void for a couple of seconds there is a sudden loud noise as the hotel generator normally kicks in and light is restored.

The last time I experienced a power cut in the UK was as a young child in the 1970s. Then sitting in the dark with a candle seemed like fun. However, after recently experiencing three power failures within a few days I was left with the realisation how the simplest of things in the home were energy dependent. For more than one hour in the evening I could not watch TV, boil the kettle, listen to music, neither see the time, call out on the landline nor could I use my mobile phone as that needed to be recharged. I had forgotten the inconvenience of being left in the dark. I was not totally lost. My 1930s wind-up wall clock and black 1950s Bakelite telephone, which I tend to keep plugged in because I like the ring, were both still functioning. These products are from a bygone age when we were less profligate with energy.

Gary HaqOur demand for energy has been increasing. According to the International Energy Agency world energy consumption is projected to expand by 50 per cent from 2005 to 2030. While the global economic recession will obviously result in a fall in current demand nevertheless we will continue to be a fossil fuel based economy. Our demand for energy has increased so much that we are now on the verge of passing the peak in oil production. This “Peak Oil” is the point where the maximum rate of global petroleum extraction is reached. After this point the rate of oil production goes into terminal decline. The peak is expected in the next 20 years. However, this may be delayed due to the global economic downturn. The use of fossil fuels has resulted in carbon dioxide, a key greenhouse gas, being pumped in to the air. Pre-industrial levels of carbon dioxide was 280 parts per million (ppm). Our use of oil and gas, have increased this to 385 ppm. It continues to grow by about 2 ppm per year.

If we are to meet future energy demand and avoid climate change then we need to address our demand for energy and look to alternative energy sources. Campaign groups claim the new coal-fired power stations will increase the impact of climate change on poor countries. If the Kingsnorth does get the green light it would be the first coal-fired plant to be built in the UK for more than two decades.

Gary HaqA number of leading environmentalists are now supporting nuclear power as a viable energy source arguing it is better than climate change. Nuclear power together with wind, wave and solar power are seen as vital if low-carbon energy generation is to be achieved. Nuclear power currently accounts for about a fifth of the UK’s electricity, compared with the 35 per cent from coal and 35 per cent from gas. The UK’s nineteen reactors in ten different power stations across the country are ageing. If action is not taken then by 2015 we will lose eight gigawatts power generation that is equivalent to approximately six coal-fired power stations. In the next 15 years the UK will need to replace 33 per cent of its generating capacity. Even with the planned gas-fired power stations there will still be a short fall to meet the increase in energy demand in the coming decade.

We need to face up to the fact that we will be left with an energy gap. Action to increase the efficiency of the energy we use and reduce our overall demand will be needed. If we are serious about tackling climate change and reducing greenhouse gas emissions then can we afford to leave out nuclear from the energy package? Its drawbacks may seem insignificant when compared to the scale and impact of a changing climate. Unfortunately, we may only realise this when it is too late to do anything about it.

Start stocking up on the candles now!

© 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