Shout out for the Arab Youth Climate Movement on Saturday!

9th November 2012 by

Otesha’s friends at tcktcktck and 350.org have been supporting the formation and growth of the Arab Youth Climate Movement (AYCM), a new group of young people across the Middle East and North Africa, looking to create a generation-wide movement to solve the climate crisis.

From 26 November, this 2012 UN Climate Change Conference (COP 18) will take place in Doha, Qatar, and it’s more important than ever that there is a strong youth movement calling for Arab leadership on climate change. To showcase their demands AYCM are holding their first ever Day of Action this Saturday 10th November.

There are actions happening in 13 countries around the region from Egypt to Palestine and Libya – young people are going to be taking action and spreaking the word. You can read a full list of all the actions here.

Otesha is calling for our friends to support the AYCM to make sure their message is heard internationally. With both traditional and new media we hope to make some noise that resounds both inside and outside the Arab region. We have heard first hand from these young people how important social media now is in their countries and we all know the role it played in recent changes that have taken place in the region and the young people assure us that social media is monitored constantly in their countries. If there ever was a time just to give 5 minutes of your Saturday to send a tweet then this is it!

We’re asking for your support on Saturday and throughout next week to make sure these young people’s voices are heard.

Sign up to receive updates from TckTckTck’s twitter and facebook accounts to watch out for content coming through as it happens and retweet, repost and share your thoughts. Easy, online activism in support of youth activists just like us sounds like a decent plan for the weekend!

Plastic fast update: that weekend newspaper problem

7th September 2012 by

Back in June and July I was blogging here about my household’s attempt to go cold-turkey, no-ifs-no-buts plastic-free for one month. I’ve left a bit of a gap before coming back to reflect on how it went and what we learned, and I’ll definitely be writing some wrap-up thoughts on that before too long.  But first there are some plastic-fast loose ends to tie up.

For example, the weekend newspaper.  A langurous devouring of the weekend paper and all those supplements used to be a weekly ritual in my house.  Realising we’d have to cut it out was one of the shocks of the plastic fast, because our paper of choice (the Guardian), packages all its magazines, guides, reviews, etc in a plastic bag.  As long-time readers of that paper, we were pretty disappointed, so we got in touch to explain why we were going to be cancelling the paper.

Is a pollution-causing, one-use, throwaway plastic bag the only way to keep all these supplements together?

A tweet – direct to the paper’s sustainability team – got no response, but we did get a speedy reply to an email.  Here’s how the exchange went:

Us:

Will you look for a way of packaging your Saturday edition in a plastic-free way – and keep us up to date so we know when we can start buying it again?

The Guardian:

Hi, I understand your frustration. We have written about this before and the problem is that the supermarkets demand that the various sections are already pulled together on delivery, whereas in the past it used to be done at the newsagents.

Also we have had many problems in the past of people stealing the sections they wanted, such as the guide, and then readers complaining they were missing.

What we have done is explored alternatives and also reduced the amount of plastic used in the packaging.

I have also cc’d our environment manager who may be able to give you an update.

best wishes

Us:

I appreciate that there have been some complaints about parts of the paper missing. However other newspapers, such as the Saturday Independent and Independent on Sunday, manage fine without the plastic bag. Moreover these newspapers do not use glossy paper in their magazine so it is less toxic.

When you referred to exploring alternatives, what alternatives did you explore and what were the conclusions of that process?

Have  you explored the use of paper packaging which can be used as a branding exercise, such as ‘your guardian in paper bag’, or potato starch packaging for example, which is biodegradable.

The Guardian (now from the Environment and Sustainability Manager):

Hi,

I admire and support your cause and do attempt to make changes in my own life to reduce plastics and chemicals i.e stainless steel water bottle and food containers.

But more importantly, back to the Guardian Sustainability.  We are in the process of publishing our 2012 sustainability report, but this is the link to the 2011 operations sections http://www.guardian.co.uk/sustainability/operations.

We are both committed and passionate about the environment and our impacts on it.

I have included the conclusions from our previous research into the polybagging (this was before my time), but I am aware that we should re-investigate this issue.

We focus our efforts on primary impact areas. So we have concentrated on where our paper comes from,  now 98% is from recycled or certified virgin source. We report energy consumption from all the paper mills (58% of our carbon footprint) and are planning to build a similar water database. We have reduced the the weight and density of the magazine paper, but have to consider quality which affects breakages and waste in the printing process.

We also are looking at your glossy magazine concerns in terms of the sustainability of other paper additives. Certain grades of paper, especially those used in magazines, may use a significant proportion of non-fibre (i.e paper pulp)  additives to improve gloss, brightness and other properties. Many of these additives are mineral- based and the extraction and processing of the raw materials may have the potential to result in habitat loss and pollution. This is an issue which tends to be conveniently ignored by the industry.

We are also supporting leading academic research into understanding the impacts of our Digital Media, which is too easily seen as “Carbon Lite”. The footprint of guardian.co.uk is approximately 10,000tco2e in 2011_12 (not yet published), we believe no other website has done this.

We are not perfect and we acknowledge that in our annual reports. But do try to make a difference and are committed to constantly improving.  I am more than happy for you to come to Kings Place for a coffee and chat.

So the conclusions of the 2008 study on plastic wraps:

Case study: Polybagging

The science of sustainability can be incredibly complex, as we found out when we investigated how to create a more environmentally-friendly wrapping to our weekend papers.

We have become increasingly ill at ease about the use of see-through polybags, even though commercially they are essential given the need to hold together our multi-sectioned weekend papers and the insistence of some of our supermarket clients to have our publications ready bundled.

The current polywrap is made from 100% polythene and as such is a type 2 recyclable material, but it is difficult finding recycling places, other than supermarkets that offer plastic bag recycling.

Our readers too have consistently been unhappy with the current practice with 92% saying in our reader survey that it is important the plastic is made of recycled material or is biodegradable.

Prince Charles joined the debate, writing to the chief executive of our parent company GMG in April 2008, to ask if we “have any cunning ideas about how this practice could be altered. Otherwise the Pacific Ocean will become even more clogged up!”

We had already been working on switching to alternative bio-plastics made from potato or corn starch, commissioning a lifecycle analysis of the environmental impact of polybagging in 2007.

Following an inconclusive initial report, a secondary study was commissioned which suggested that unless disposed of in the correct way through composting, bio-plastics would be more harmful to the environment than regular plastic wrapping due to the emission of harmful greenhouse gases, including methane, when disposed of through landfill.

This information led to our environment editor writing a front page splash on the dangers of these plastics, which are used by many supermarkets for wrapping food products.

While continuing to investigate an alternative, we have in the meantime taken action on our existing plastic wrap, by reducing its thickness by 20%. We have also successfully tested the use of 25% recycled polythene and hope to roll this out in 2009.

——-

So that’s where the Guardian was at.  They really went out of their way to get detailed replies to us, which is really encouraging, and the level of detail they’ve put into examining and quantifying their impact is impressive. It was also good of them to share their as-yet unpublished figure for the carbon footprint of their digital operations.  And the concerns about the environmental impact of bioplastics is troubling – something I haven’t looked at closely enough (or at all) in these blog posts.  That said, some of the Guaridan’s answers were a bit hmmm. For example…

It’s odd to blame the supermarkets’ demands when, for example, the Independent doesn’t bag its own supplements on the weekend – are the supermarkets really asking one thing of the Guardian and another of the Independent?

And then… why plastic or bioplastic at all?  If the supplements absolutely have to be bound in some way, why not in a recycled paper envelope or bag – the Guardian’s designers could even have a lot of fun with the design and branding (you could even print the crosswords on it!)

And… off the plastic topic a bit, but if glossy paper is so harmful (with “the potential to result in habitat loss and pollution”) and the industry is turning a blind eye, why is the Guardian still using it? There are plenty of non-gloss options out there – just do it!

So the Guardian (no doubt other papers are as bad or worse) has ‘fessed up in a lot of detail to the problem of its plastic addiction and other harmful effects of its production, but hasn’t really set out what it’s firmly planning to do about it, which is disappointing.  Hopefully it will be in their 2012 sustainability report, but it’s not very clear.  If they want to get in touch and fill us in on where they go next on this one, we’d love to hear from them!

[There, I managed to get through this post without going off on a rant about newspapers reporting on the environmental crisis and yet continuing to publish travel sections promoting long-haul destinations and flying, fashion spreads encouraging one-season wardrobes, Christmas features cheering on turbo-charged consumerism and… oops.]

Riding the airwaves – our visit to Stroud

29th August 2012 by

Putting the kettle on, Otesha-style..

Western Quester 1: How ‘bouts we brew up a nice cup of tea?

WQ2: I’m game, but hadn’t we better put it to the group? Consensus, consensus, consensus!

WQ3: Good shout. Roll up, Questers: a decision is to be made! Shall I facilitate?

WQ4: Sure- I’d be biased by my intense hankering for tea right now. Still, does the warmth of a steaming mug in the hands justify all that gas to heat the water? [Fingers waggle all round]

WQ5: And don’t forget the vegan food mandate: oat milk’s an option, but there’s nothing on this Tetrapak to suggest that these are even vaguely local oats. Uh-oh…Tetrapak…

WQ6: Problem-led solution: that empty carton’s perfect for our next recycled wallet-making workshop!

WQ7: Phew, thank goodness: I love a dash o’ milk in my tea. And look: the tea’s fairly traded, too…

WQ8: May I make a Proposal? It’s blowing a gale, most of our tents contain at least one puddle and a team of slugs and we’re cycling 45 miles today…a cup of tea is just about justifiable…[all hands waggle frantically…brew time…]

And so on… Otesha tours try to organise themselves through a process of reaching consensus wherever possible. Using facilitation, hand gestures and an ethic of careful listening, the rainbow of personalities, lifestyle preferences and communication styles among us thus get a chance for equal airing in discussions. It’s getting us along just fine, for the most part. There are certain things that consensus can’t help us out with, however. Rain/sweat/hills: recurrent pests, those. ‘Roads’ that peter out into tracks whose clods and pits are obscured by knee-long grass. The flatulent results of the copious quantities of dried fruit and nuts required to keep us conquering all those hills. The fact that said fruit and nuts are generally shipped from China (not ideal for a ‘preferably local’ food mandate). We are heartened to hear that Totnes has christened itself a Nut Town, and we’re going! For now, snack nutrition and snack origin ethics are a challenge to balance, but the cooking teams have been producing most winsome meals for our trusty Tupperwares.

 We were sad to leave the Stepping Stones co-op at Highbury Farm, after a busy day off in Monmouth seeing to our laundry, bikes and grubby bodies (thanks to the kind folk at the leisure centre for the use of the showers!). An intense yet laughter-packed training week was rounded off by an evening of Olympian treasure hunting and feasting, sealing our Otesha initiation with suitably recycled tour t-shirts and bike bells. Proudly clad, it was time to finally get on the road!

Our first cycling day took us 45 miles from Redbrook to Stroud. We snaked along the broody woodlands of the Wye Valley, passing Tintern Abbey, the majestically spooky ruins of 12th century monastic life, whose setting inspired the following snippet from Wordsworth: “O Sylvan Wye! Thou wanderer thru the woods, How often has my spirit turned to thee!”. These wanderers admired the sublime nature too, in between handfuls of raisins and wondering whether those Team GB-clad tandem cyclists scoffing coffee cake were the real deal…indeed, the Sunday sightseers were out in force- vintage cars, Harley Davidsons, hot air balloons; but what we were most cheered by were the many cyclists- from families to the lycra-laden Competitive Camp. We crossed the Severn Bridge and swooned at the steel above and sand below, before joining part of the National Cycle Route all the way to Stroud. There were plenty of thatched rooves, cottage gardens and memorable place names to admire en route: Tomtit’s Bottom, Bendy Bow, Muzzle Patch… Lunchtime shade from the glorious sunshine came in the form of a grandfatherly oak tree on a village green. The day was also peppered with foraged blackberries, as the autumnal hedgerow harvest of sloes, hawthorn and rosehips begins to ripen. August seems rather early for this, we thought, but this has hardly been a meteorologically sane year. The food producers we’ve met so far have almost unanimously reported the worst growing season for decades. Rain-logged soils. Potato blight. Slugs with 10-foot fangs (actual quote, accused pest unverified by us).

Despite the setbacks, our hosts at Stroud Community Agriculture furnished us with a box of delicious, biodynamically-grown veg to cook upon arrival. The community-supported agriculture (CSA) model allows risk to be shared among the 190 members, who pay a regular amount for their veg box (or simply a donation) but accept that content and yields vary. The food and the setting were beautiful: they’re based at Hawkwood College, an adult education centre inspired by the teachings of Rudolf Steiner and featuring such courses as ‘making your own Tibetan singing bowl’ and ‘The Sacred Clown’. After our long ride, the warm shower was all the enlightenment we needed for one day…

We were looked after most handsomely by Mark and Rachel at SCA and by James from Transition Stroud. We spent Monday morning weeding kohlrabi and holding an impromptu play rehearsal in a churchyard (thank goodness for the right to free speech, but apologies to the snoozing man bolted awake by us practising our human alarm clock). James had organised us a slot on Stroud FM, a community radio station: we got all stage frighty but managed to overcome the shyness to transmit the media scene from the play down the aerials of Stroud. The Stroudies weren’t exactly out in droves for that evening’s performance (our first!) at the Market Tavern, but that suited us fine: the audience were a lovely, encouraging bunch who gave us some tips and told us about some of the many Transition projects bubbling away: Stroud Community TV, open days to showcase edible gardens and eco homes and a hub system to distribute and exchange locally-grown produce. Stroud, in the growing trend of ‘specialising’ Transition Towns, is to be an ‘Apple Town’: we look forward to being able to replace our raisin addiction with Stroudian dried apples on future rides. James also told us about Bicycology, which organises bike tours and activism-based projects: we’ve been inspired to cook up more awareness-raising street action to shout about our growing love of all things bike, so watch this space…

On Tuesday, we met Helen from Ecotricity and learned about their aim to increase provision of wind-derived electricity and to widen the growing infrastructure for powering electric cars. A reviving vegan cappuccino in café Star Anise was followed by a magical interlude in Dennis Gould’s cosily cluttered woodblock letterpress studio. The walls are jewelled with Dennis’ musings, more often than not amusing: digs at the Powers That Be; odes to anarcho-cyclists, Lorca and Colin Ward; ditties, wordplay and quotes galore, many printed on thick handmade paper. Showered with little gifts and most with a new wannabe career in printmaking, we prised ourselves away to grab another quick session in the recording studio to record a little piece for James’ Transition-themed radio show…getting media-savvy now… (Click HERE to hear the the team performing on Stroud FM )

The evening was dominated by a lot of daily bread: two groups of us, unbeknown to the other, had stumbled across shops about to throw away vast quantities of bread, sandwiches and pasta salad and so decided to rescue the abandoned fare. The ingredients lists took us way wide of our democratically-decided food mandate, as did the horrendous packaging, but purely in the name of preventing food waste, we dined predominantly on sarnies. Breakfast, too, was a breaded affair: with hunks of the stuff in our bellies, it was time to wave goodbye to Stroud…

Moving pictures that get you moving

7th March 2012 by

Olivia Furber is an Otesha alumnus from our mammoth LeJog (Land’s End to John O’Groats) cycle tour. Not only that, but we are so proud to learn that she has just won a Young Achiever’s Award – well done, Olivia! In this guest post she describes how she was inspired to use the emotional power of cinema to rouse herself and others from armchair apathy.

Have you ever seen a film that has moved you, stuck in your memory, or told you something you didn’t know before? I’m imagining the answer for most people is ‘yes’. Films, be they documentary or fiction, have the power to relay information in a compelling and emotive way and to give voice to stories that need to be told. Some films even have the power to profoundly change your behaviour and perception of the world. This was certainly my experience.

About two years ago I was feeling pretty depressed about climate change, environmental degradation and my seeming inability to do anything to stop them. I felt powerless and useless. A turning point came when I watched The Age of Stupid, a story told from the perspective of an archivist living in a devastated planet in the year 2050. He looks back 40 years and asks ‘why didn’t we act when we had the chance?’

If you haven’t seen the film then 1) watch it 2) expect to feel depressed. I came out of the cinema feeling panicked. I was filled with a sense of urgency but didn’t know how or where to direct this feeling. Once again I felt useless. Then I had a lightbulb moment. If films could provide information and urgency, then I should show them to as many people as possible. After all, who doesn’t love a good film? But I needed to do more, I needed to provide avenues for people’s energy and enthusiasm to be harnessed, post-viewing.

I let this idea simmer for a little while and decided that the solution was to organise an environmental film festival that went beyond the screen. The idea was to organise a series of carefully selected films (fiction, animation and documentary), screen them for FREE to the general public and accompany each screening with an activity  and avenue for action that complimented the content of the film.

Showing the films for free was really important as I didn’t want there to be any barriers to people attending. I was also aware that there was a certain stigma attached to environmental films, the idea that an environmental film would, by definition, be preachy and depressing. To challenge this perception I sought out films that were upbeat and humorous.

I was lucky enough to get a generous grant from the University of Edinburgh – and Cineco, Scotland’s first environmental film festival was born. I had 3 months to get the programme together and recruited an excellent team of fellow volunteers to help me. The first step, selecting the films, was great fun, as it involved watching film after film, often from the comfort of my bed. Once we had selected the films, and paid for the rights to screen them, we began the hunt for a host venue for the festival and put our thinking caps on about what activities would best complement each film.

In the end we programmed 14 events over three months. I absolutely underestimated how time consuming organising events is and taking this on in the final year of my degree proved to be a bit of a challenge, but people’s feedback and the great audience turnout made it absolutely worthwhile and kept levels of enthusiasm very high.

Each event was more than just a film screening. We had panel discussions, Q&As with directors, waste-food banquets and tea tastings, to name just a few. Most importantly, each event provided an avenue for any enthusiasm or interest aroused in the audience by the film. Local and national environmental groups were invited to each screening, all of whom told audiences about actions they could take that evening or that week to contribute to solving issues presented on screen.

We had an overall audience of 800 for all the events and myself and the Cineco team were invited to two climate change conferences to speak about the power of environmental film to address issues and effect change. It was a really inspiring experience and a model I hope others can follow.

Significant Others

7th February 2012 by

Millions of couples will celebrate Valentine’s Day next week. Already this poses major issues for me:

1.  Isn’t this just another capital way to spend more money on stuff you don’t need? ie. roses… which in reality are sh*t.

2. On a general basis, there’s an assumption that you only have one heterosexual partner.

3. And is this only a celebration of partners? What about all the single folk? Surely nothing’s wrong with celebrating your singlehood, right?!

So it got me thinking – why not celebrate my love with an alternative celebration? Something a bit quirky, entertaining, and a bit of a challenge.

So I’ve been working on The Significant Other Festival, which aims to do just that.

The Pensive Federation asked seven writers to create a seven-minute play in seven days with the theme of the Significant Other. They handed the scripts over to a director and a company of two actors and gave them seven days to stage it. The result will be performed this weekend – just before Valentine’s Day.

By creating theatre in a confined period of time, they hope to capture what real people think and feel about love and relationships in the 21st century. Through this format, they were able to draw together a company of creative people from different backgrounds, and experience.

Full details and links for the shows at the foot of this post if you’d like to come and see.

Another element which is key to the company’s success are the volunteer participants. From writer to stage manager and even the poster designer, everyone is passionate about the festival and is keen to volunteer their time.

This also opened another door for service exchanging. Calu Lema (superhero Otesha cycle tour co-ordinator) so kindly offered her services to design the poster. This tied in incredibly well to her own blog, which challenges her to take on 12 new tasks for 2012. You can read all about her gift economy ethos as well as how The Pensive Federation poster design was Task number 1.

I leave you with something to chew on:

‘Significant other’ is colloquially used as a gender-blind term for a person’s partner in an intimate relationship without disclosing or presuming anything about marital status, relationship status, or sexual orientation.

So what does the significant other mean to you?

Come and see the show!

Dates: 11 and 12 February
Times: 3pm and 7:30pm daily
Tickets: £7.00
Location: Camden People’s Theatre, 58-60 Hampstead Road, London NW1 2PY

For more details, click here and to purchase tickets click here.

Tuning out

15th December 2011 by

The TV in my flat has disappeared! We haven’t been burgled, though. Our big, boxy old cathode ray goggle box is actually gathering dust on the floor of the spare room, unused. We moved it out of the way in preparation for a party back in August, and it hasn’t been moved back since. We’ll probably recycle it back onto Freecycle before long, which is where we got it in the first place. Or maybe we’ll have a ritual smashing.

And now there’s not only a big space in the corner of the living room – there’s a big free space opened up in our heads, too. It’s been liberating.

It’s not that we don’t veg out on the sofa any more, I’m afraid. There are, these days, the temptations of iPlayer, 4OD and all the rest – unlike the last time I went telly-free, when I ended up doing a lot more reading and going out (and fielding baffled questions along the lines of ‘But what do you do if you don’t have a TV?’ Which I always thought was a question, on escaping their lips, that ought to bring the questioner up short and cause them to look at their own life, but never mind. If I’d known about it at the time, I’d have simply sent them to this lovely project.

So we still veg more than we should, really (no one will lie on their death beds wishing they’d spent more time watching screens).

But what good has happened is that we’re exposed to many, many fewer advertisements, to the extent that when we come across them now they have a weird, alien, even surreal feel. Do advertisers really speak to people in these strange tones? Do they really think the bland and airbrushed lifestyles they depict is what we aspire to, or identify with, and so will cause us to buy their product?

The problem is that it takes a prolonged period of not being exposed to ads in order to see their inherent weirdness. Yes, even if you think you’re not affected by ads, there’s good evidence to suggest that you are. Not only that, but that it is capable of chipping away at the values that you and others hold dear – and that are vital to social, economic and environmental justice.

WWF and the Public Interest Research Centre produced a fascinating report recently, Think of me as evil?, pulling together the available academic evidence on the effects of advertising. It will have made pretty excruciating reading for advertisers who claim that criticisms of their ‘trade’ are overblown.

One by one it pulls apart the defences put up by the advertising industry: that it doesn’t increase people’s overall consumption but simply persuades them to switch between brands; that it doesn’t create an acquisitive culture but simply reflects our society’s existing values. The report not only shows that these arguments are almost certainly nonsense, but points up still more alarming effects of saturation advertising. Such as?

  • Exposure to TV advertising increases the tendency to take on household debt and work longer hours in order to meet increased expectations
  • Advertising undermines people’s ‘intrinsic values’ such as community, affiliation to friends and family and self-development and boosts ‘extrinsic values’ such as envy of higher social classes and admiration of greater wealth or power – and this really matters, because extrinsic values are associated with “higher levels of prejudice, less concern about the environment and lower motivation to engage in corresponding behaviours, and weak (or absent) concern about human rights”
  • It makes us cynical: because advertisers sometimes appeal to intrinsic values – see Dove’s ads assuring us that all body shapes are legitimate – the fact that we know they are doing so in order to hawk a product makes us less trusting of other appeals to intrinsic values, such as, I don’t know, fighting environmental degradation or sweatshop labour

Great. So we know what to do, right? Junk the telly, don’t buy magazines. But that’s not so easy for most, and even if it were, you only need to step outside to be bombarded by billboards, logos, ads on buses, ads on taxis, giant screens in public places, funky viral ads on pavements. Every surface is covered.

So is it a losing game to fight this apparently unstoppable tide of shilling and mental pollution? Most of the time it seems that way. So it’s time for some inspiring examples to show that we should make a stink and that we can fight back.

Sao Paulo - photo by Márcio Cabral de Moura

But never, never underestimate the cynicism and stubbornness of the corporate world to turn anything into a marketing and selling opportunity – even Sao Paolo’s anti-advertising revolution made one company see an opportunity to make a buck. This one’s up there in the pantheon of cynical opportunism!

This issue really matters. It’s a question of rights – our right not to have our community spaces colonised by corporate occupiers for the very shallowest and most damaging of motives.

And as the WWF/PIRC report eloquently showed, it matters to movements like ours because it chips away at people’s sense that they can and should make positive change. It is a kind of negative magic, working changes in our consciousness without our consent and making the insane and the polluting appear to be desirable choices.

“To complete the task of breaking away from the murky thinking and the tangled nonrational drives that dominate contemporary life … it’s necessary to break away from the lifestyles and everyday choices that are produced by that thinking and those drives.

“Mind you, the same equation works the other way around: to make the break away from lifestyles that demand energy and resource flows we can’t count on getting for much longer—and making that break is perhaps the most essential task of the decade or so immediately before us—it’s going to be necessary to turn away from the thinking patterns and the unmentioned and usually unnoticed passions that make those lifestyles seem to make sense”

John Michael Greer

Cleaning up Climate Week?

30th November 2011 by

This week the (R)oyal Bank of Scotland announced that they are cancelling their sponsorship of Climate Week.  This sponsorship arrangement from a bank which used to call itself the ‘Oil and Gas Bank’ was considered nothing more than a bit of nasty greenwash by many organisations and individuals. Letters were written (including this one from us at Otesha), protests were made, and RBS are no longer sponsoring Climate Week.

In our letter addressed to anyone and everyone involved in Climate Week we called for concrete action, rather than rebranding, from the “UK bank most heavily involved in financing fossil fuels”, and argued that “(s)ponsorship from companies with such weak green credentials lends legitimacy to the flawed concept that one small action is a sufficient reaction to climate change and that changing the lightbulbs allows us to continue ‘business as usual’.”


We’re pleased to hear of these cleaning, greening developments: greenwash is a tricky thing to get one’s head around. There are so many familiar questions: Can ‘bad money’ do good? Is a small change better than no change? Would we be able to achieve anything if Lord Greenwash doesn’t give us any money?

It’s incredibly important that the messages we try to spread aren’t undermined, though – so we need to keep on calling out greenwash: letting polluters know that putting a little cash into events like Climate Week won’t save the planet; and that exploiting the earth at the expense of current and future generations as well as the local and global environment is not okay.

Maria Lam of Climate Week says the 2011 event was “the biggest environmental occasion ever run in Britain”.  It’s great to get thousands of people involved, interested and hopefully taking action, and I hope that as Climate Week gets cleaner and greener, more organisations and individuals will feel able to participate.

But aside from ensuring a greenwash-free event, we also need action to be sustained across months and years. Questions about the value of individual media-intensive environmental events could probably give me enough material for at least one more blog, so I’ll leave this here after one last thought: climate change will be for life, folks, not just for Christmas – our actions have to match that.

My burning question on bankers’ bonuses and CEOs’ salaries

10th November 2011 by

Not very often, but once in a while, a top-tier banker or CEO will appear in a broadcasting studio or broadsheet newspaper interview and be asked: Are you worth it? Do you deserve it?

It seems the answer they give is always yes, sometimes with some humility and sometimes all-guns-blazing, arguing that their know-how and talent creates wealth for the rest of society.

George Monbiot this week pointed to research showing that bankers’ performances are no better than if they had thrown dice to make investment decisions. But, as he admits, present them with this evidence and it often makes no difference to their self-belief.

For me, these TV studio encounters are frustrating. There is a burning question I want to see the financiers answer. I think it would be illuminating and help blow some fresh air through the debate, opening up an important angle that’s often not looked at.

It’s not ‘Are you worth your salary?’ It’s not ‘Isn’t the gap between the richest and poorest hurting the whole of society?’ – though these are important questions.

It’s:

“Why do you want so much more money than anyone actually needs?”

Pressing them to answer this question would make for an absolutely riveting interview. Many of the honest, or even dishonest, answers I can imagine being given would confront viewers, and perhaps the interviewees, with the question of how much wealth and how much consumption is enough, and how much is moral.

What might the honest answers be? Here are a few guesses:

“I want to earn enough so that I can move only in circles of similarly rich people and so I don’t have to mix with ordinary people unless I choose to.”

“I like to know that I possess more money than I could spend because the knowledge of this abstract wealth gives me a feeling of security and self-affirmation.”

“I want to buy stuff: Rolexes, swimming-pools, multiple homes with more rooms than I can use, haute couture, yachts, limousines, racehorses and private jets.”

“I want to reach that point where my wealth is so great that I can live off the interest on my existing wealth without having to do work that is actually productive.”

“I want to live with and die with more money and material possessions than 99% of human beings.”

“I want my children to go through life knowing only ease and total material security, provided for in every way so they don’t have to learn how to make their own way in the world.”

Their claims that they deserve their remuneration seem to convince some people, even some of those who can never hope to earn such sums themselves but respect those who have been able to.

But what would it do to the debate to air this question of what we might want enormous incomes for? Many people, most likely, would still identify with these desires, still want them for themselves and still see them as legitimate and justified reward for supposedly hard work and irreplaceable talent.

Many others, though, might find themselves feeling new disgust, anger, alienation or even pity towards those who want incredible wealth.

Airing the question, though, would help bring out some deep questions for all of us, because the gap between top-flight financiers and the rest of us arguably has a parallel in the difference between most of us in rich industrialised countries and the vast majority of the world’s people who would regard our lifestyles as those of kings and emperors.

It would put on the table for all us the question of how much is enough, whether there is a gap between what we desire materially what we need to live decently, whether our desires are compatible with natural limits and others’ well-being, and what we are prepared to forego for the greater good and greater equality.

This is an increasingly important question, because if we cling to a sense of entitlement to riches and great material ease, but the economy and declining available energy make these less and less attainable, the anger that may result can take ugly political directions into scapegoating and extremism. We all need to be prompted to re-evaluate what we can collectively afford to have and afford to desire.

So come on, Paxman, give it a shot.

Coal Cares and Oil is oh-so sustainable

20th May 2011 by

I would be lying if I said that I didn’t for a minute think this was real.

This month a coalition of America’s coal companies launched ‘Coal Cares’, a brand-new campaign to combat the stigma of asthma faced by children living in the shadow of coal power stations.

“Why Free Inhalers? Because COAL CARES.

Coal Cares™ is a brand-new initiative from BHP Billiton, one of America’s proud family of coal companies, to reach out to American youngsters with asthma and to help them keep their heads high in the face of those who would treat them with less than full dignity. For kids who have no choice but to use an inhaler, Coal Cares™ lets them inhale with pride.

Puff-Puff™ inhalers are available free to any family living within 200 miles of a coal plant, and each inhaler comes with a $10 coupon towards the cost of the asthma medication itself.”

The website  features such textual joys as “Coal: it’s the safest energy there is”; a Kidz Koal Korner full of fun coal based activities and some incredible energy ‘facts’.

“Facts:

Coal power is solar power
That’s because millions of years ago, before coal began to form from decaying organic matter, the sun provided the energy that organic matter required to grow and die.

Wind Kills
Wind turbines can kill up to 70,000 birds per year, or 4.27 birds per turbine per year. Coal particulate pollution, on the other hand, kills fewer than 13,000 people per year.”

Of course the website and offer of free asthma inhalers does not come from a coalition of coal companies. The true authors are the Yes Men and a small environmental and public health group called Coal is Killing Kids (CKK). This is their response to the coal industries expensive lobbying against the Clean Air Act. “We don’t have their millions, but we do have a knack for incredibly tasteless jokes,” said Veronica Tomlinson of CKK.

I doubt I was the only person momentarily fooled. After all was this website that much more ludicrous than some of the greenwash pedaled by coal, oil and gas companies? In 2007 Shell got into trouble with the Advertising Standards Agency for it’s flower-power adverts, picturing flowers billowing from power plant chimneys. “We use our waste CO2 to grow flowers, and our waste sulphur to make super-strong concrete. Real energy solutions for the real world” proclaimed Shell, ‘liars and false environmental claims’ cried out environmental groups and the ASA.

BP’s ‘Beyond Petroleum’ ad campaign included a poster declaring “if all UK motorists switched to BP Ultimate the reduction in harmful emissions would be the equivalent of taking one million cars off the road”. All well and good, but largely irrelevant unless BP scales down, rather than up, it’s drilling plans.

In the run up to their AGM, BP marked the anniversary of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill with full page colour advert in all the national papers. “One year later. Our commitment continues” they declared over a picture of clear blue seas dotted with oil rigs. Not so, claimed the delegation of Louisiana fishermen who were refused entry to BP’s AGM.

The moral of the story? If you can’t beat ‘em do as Coal is Killing Kids did and join ‘em.

Facts 'n' stuff

1st March 2011 by

Watch this video. No really, it’s less than a minute long. Watch it. Laugh. Send it to all your friends. Then watch it again.

Although the haters will persist in spreading lies, the science is on our side, and a recent survey shows that despite all the climate skepticism we’ve been having recently, most people still view climate change as a huge threat. In an opinion poll many said that the last two unusually cold winters had actually made them worry more about ‘global warming’. Maybe they saw the video and don’t want to go to prison.

According to the Guardian (in an article about a Guardian/ICM opinion poll), the public’s belief in global warming as a man-made danger has weathered the storm of climate controversies and cold weather intact.

The UK suffered two unusually cold winters in 2009 and 2010. But three times more people said the freezing weather had actually made them worry more about global warming than those who were less worried. The finding runs counter to the idea that people are influenced more by local conditions than by reports of globally rising temperatures. It may also indicate an understanding of how warming is projected to increase extreme weather events and that people distinguish between changes in short-term weather and long-term climate.

While climate sceptics remain a vocal presence in some parts of the climate change debate, the new poll shows them to represent a fringe position.


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