Our Green History

oday environmentalism influences the language and decisions of government, corporations and individuals to an extent that was not possible a century ago.

The belief that the environment should be protected has become widely held throughout society as the global speed and scale of resource use and environmental destruction has been recognised and understood.

As western standards of living have increased, basic material needs have been met, and people have demanded higher standards of environmental quality. But beyond the basic belief that the environment should be protected, there is no agreement on why this is important or how this should be done. There is no unifying set of environmental ideas that society subscribes to nor a single environmental movement united behind a shared cause.

Environmentalism has evolved in complex and sometimes contradictory ways to span conservative, reformist and radical ideas about what the world should look like, as well as how change should be brought about. Each strand of modern environmental thinking brings its own set of ideas about how humanity should organise itself and interact with its environment.

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Today environmentalism influences the language and decisions of government, corporations and individuals to an extent that was not possible a century ago.

The belief that the environment should be protected has become widely held throughout society as the global speed and scale of resource use and environmental destruction has been recognised and understood.

As western standards of living have increased, basic material needs have been met, and people have demanded higher standards of environmental quality. But beyond the basic belief that the environment should be protected, there is no agreement on why this is important or how this should be done. There is no unifying set of environmental ideas that society subscribes to nor a single environmental movement united behind a shared cause.

Environmentalism has evolved in complex and sometimes contradictory ways to span conservative, reformist and radical ideas about what the world should look like, as well as how change should be brought about. Each strand of modern environmental thinking brings its own set of ideas about how humanity should organise itself and interact with its environment.

Over the last 60 years these have evolved with each new environmental cause from nuclear power and pesticide use in the 1960s, to acid rain and the depletion of the ozone layer in the 1970s and 1980s and biodiversity loss and climate change in the 1990s and 2000s. Often these causes have taken hold in different countries at different times, each prompted by particular historical circumstances. For this reason environmentalism has been taken up in many forms across generations and the continents of the world.

The explosion of environmental activity in the 1960s did not represent the creation of an entirely new set of ideas. In 1885 German sociologist Max Weber (1864-1920) wrote: “It would never occur to me to regard the enjoyment of nature as the invention of the modern age.” The same can be said for modern day interest in the environment.

The fact that modern environmental concern spread following atomic bomb tests and to the backdrop of the Vietnam War is a point much referred to by historians and environmentalists. Rachel Carson’s book Silent Spring (1962) was amongst the first to link the dangers of the atomic bomb to the misuse of pesticides, emphasising humanity’s capacity to destroy nature and itself.

Over the next ten years a number of publications followed suit, Tragedy of the Commons (1968), and Limits to Growth (1972), raised wider anxieties about the future of the planet, whilst Blueprint for Survival (1972), and Small is Beautiful (1973) sketched out green alternatives. Almost half a century later the anxieties expressed in each of these books are still at the centre of many environmental concerns today.

Media coverage of dramatic pollution events has been instrumental in raising environmental concerns over the last half century.The first major oil spill in Britain occurred when the super tanker Torrey Canyon struck a reef between the UK mainland and the Isles of Scilly in March 1967.

The resulting oil slick covered 120 miles of Cornish coast, killing tens of thousands of birds. Two years later an explosion on the Union Oil Company oil platform, six miles off the coast of Santa Barbara in California, resulted in the release of hundreds of thousands of gallons of crude oil.

These highly visible examples of humanity’s impact on the environment occurred as the age of colour television began and broadcasters discovered that major pollution events made visually dramatic news stories. Each decade since has witnessed at least one massive oil spill from a super tanker or oil platform, these serve as timely reminders that environmental issues have not gone away.

The history of contemporary environmentalism has been marked by the establishment of new institutions. Campaigns on issues such as pesticide use and nuclear testing led to the development of a new breed of professional campaign groups which have become the public face of environmentalism.

At the same time governments have responded to public concerns about the environment by establishing environmental institutions of their own. Agencies, scientific programmes, international agreements, laws and regulations have been established to support environmental goals.

All this has helped give environmentalism a permanence that has transcended the decades.

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

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

Greening of Community Spirit

IT has become fashionable nowadays in the UK to talk about our broken society, our broken economy and our broken politics. Community and family breakdown, welfare dependency, failing schools and rising crime have all become synonymous with a broken Britain.

IT has become fashionable nowadays in the UK to talk about our broken society, our broken economy and our broken politics. Community and family breakdown, welfare dependency, failing schools and rising crime have all become synonymous with a broken Britain.

With such a negative assessment of Britain, you would be forgiven for thinking that “community spirit” was a ghost of a bygone age.

It is true that our communities have changed. Gone are the days when we could leave our homes unlocked, when we knew most of our neighbours and when children could play safely on the street without fear of being run-over by a car. And gone is the time when the spirit of the Blitz helped us to cope with the massive bombing raids on our neighbourhoods during the Second World War.

Communities often experience their finest hour when confronted by extreme hardship. In November last year, community spirit prevailed in flood-hit Cumbria when the worst rainfall ever recorded in Britain devastated the town of Workington. Residents helped out by delivering hot drinks and refreshments to the local church for their neighbours who had been forced from their homes by flood water.

In recent times, a new “green community spirit” has been gaining momentum. In 2009, the villagers of Newton-le-Willows, near Bedale in North Yorkshire, were rewarded for their strong sense of community in promoting green living in their village, which included organising a green festival and car-free day. Newton-le-Willows won the title of the nation’s village of the year.

Local communities are beginning to wake up to the threat of climate change and peak oil – the point in time when the maximum rate of global petroleum is reached. A recent report funded by Virgin boss Richard Branson and other British business leaders warned that peak oil will result in oil shortages, insecurity of supply and price volatility. This will destabilise economic, political and social activity within the next five years. The “oil crunch” is expected to hit the poorest sectors of society as the price for travel, food, heating and consumer goods rises.

A grassroot response to climate change and peak oil has been the “transition towns” movement. There are currently 278 transition towns and cities spanning 12 countries, and all working to raise awareness of green living and to become better equipped to deal with the implications of a changing climate, energy shortages and a possible collapse in the global economy.

Local groups develop practical projects such as community-supported agriculture, car clubs, local currencies, neighbourhood carbon reduction clubs, urban orchards and re-skilling classes. Together they are preparing to reduce their energy use and become more self-reliant.

In Todmorden (Yorkshire, UK), there is a community campaign to grow local food. The Incredible Edible initiative involves businesses, schools, farmers and the local community who come together to increase the amount of local food grown and eaten in the town. What began as herb gardens has now evolved in planting vegetables and trees around the town including two orchards. Public flowerbeds have been transformed into community herb and vegetable patches.

In York (Yorkshire, UK), six community groups have come together to take the York Green Streets Challenge. They have all pledged to reduce their joint carbon footprint by 10 per cent in 2010. The groups include three neighbourhood teams, two primary school teams and a church team. Members of the team meet each month to discuss what particular action they are taking to reduce their carbon footprint and to share experiences and information. One team has event started to grow their own vegetables on a shared allotment.

Emma, a member of a green street neighbourhood team, says the initiative has had “a wonderful effect on neighbourliness, bringing together people from both sides of the busy road. After 20 years living here, I suddenly know more neighbours than ever before. We all have a lot more people to nod to on the street“.

These local environmental initiatives demonstrate that community spirit is alive and well. People are taking power in their own hands to make a difference by acting locally and thinking globally. Community action will become even more prominent in the future as we are forced to adapt to changes both in our climate and energy supply.

The notion that Britain is broken assumes it was once complete and intact. British history is scattered with a litany of socio-economic problems that needed to be resolved, and 21st century Britain is no exception. Despite Britain´s problems, there are other countries in a worse situation.

So let us focus on what binds a nation together rather than
what divides it. Let us celebrate the fact that throughout local communities there is, and always has been, an inherent willingness to support each other when the going gets tough.

© Gary Haq 2010
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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

Staying Green in a Global Recession

Drax Power Station in YorkshireWHERE there is a will, there is a way. Unfortunately, when it comes to tackling climate change, the Government and the public may not have the will to make the radical changes necessary to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Faced with the credit crunch, global recession and a decline in personal finances, we may feel more inclined to abandon our green intentions.

In the short-term, this may provide some financial and political relief but we will have to pay in the long-term when faced with the human, environmental and economic cost of climate change.

The Stern report on the economic impact of climate change showed that the dangers of unabated climate change would cost the equivalent of at least five per cent of global gross domestic product (GDP) each year.

In contrast, the costs of action to avoid the worst impacts of climate change can be limited to around one per cent of global GDP each year. People would pay a little more for carbon-intensive goods, but
our economies could essentially continue to grow strongly.

The UK has shown some leadership with the Climate Change Bill. We are the only country in the world that has made the national long-term goal of a 80 per cent reduction in carbon dioxide emissions by 2050 a legally binding target.

In contrast, the idea of personal carbon allowances, whereby people would have to trade in credits if they wanted to exceed their own carbon quota, has been shelved. Carbon allowances are seen as being effective and fairer than green taxes. However, the Government claims that while the scheme has appeal, it would be too expensive and complicated to implement.

For the past year, Louise, a 52-year-old secondary school teacher from York, has been struggling to reduce her carbon footprint. From fitting energy efficient light bulbs, recycling waste to reducing her car use – she has followed the advice. While she has made considerable progress, she has not found it easy. “I keep finding really good reasons why everyone else should be doing the hard work,” says Louise.

She is not alone. While we may rush to embrace the fashionable
idea of being green, our enthusiasm begins to waver when faced with the many small, but numerous difficulties we encounter in practice. A report by the Worldwide Fund for Nature questions whether promoting what it calls “simple and painless steps” for reasons of self-interest (e.g. lower heating bills) may be preventing us from engaging in more significant and potentially inconvenient and costly changes to our lifestyles.

It claims that those who engage in environmentally friendly behaviour in pursuit of goals such as personal growth and community
involvement tend to be more motivated and are likely to sustain their behaviour in the long term. While this may be the case, not everyone has the ability, time or inclination to lead a green lifestyle.

Cycling in HollandSetting emission reduction targets is easy; it is more difficult to implement the changes that will result in the required emission reductions. We only need to look to our European neighbours to see that the knowledge and technology exists to reduce carbon emissions. The Netherlands has an integrated transport system where walking, cycling and public transport provides realistic and affordable alternatives to the car.

The German green dot system requires manufacturers to take back the packaging of their goods, requiring them to reuse or recycle. In Scandinavia, energy-efficient homes are the norm rather than the exception. We can no longer claim ignorance on how to achieve a low carbon society. What is lacking is political will.

Politicians need to show leadership and take the tough decisions to make a low carbon society a reality. If we are to kick the carbon habit, then the low carbon option needs to be the cheaper, convenient and easier option for all. We will not longer have to think about being green, as it will be the only option.

In the face of economic difficulties, we should not be distracted by short-term issues but focus on the long-term consequences of our actions. We will need to accept that if we are to avoid the worst impacts of climate change then fundamental changes are required to reduce our carbon dependency.

© Gary Haq 2009