Really Upworthy?

10th September 2014 by

Every day I get updates from Upworthy into my email inbox. I’m not alone – the site has almost 7 million likes on Facebook. Sometimes I read the updates, sometimes I don’t – but generally it’s good to know that when I do open those emails they are full of videos and infographics that challenge much of the oppressive status quo that exists in our society today. Prejudice and oppression based on gender, religion, sexuality and race are regularly tackled, and there is often input about serious environmental issues – like climate change for example. Not only that, but the content tends to have a feel good element, and inspire some hope that things could be different! True, there’s the occasional advert posted as an inspiring video, which jars a little, because I don’t think equality should be a selling point (it should be a given), but all in all it’s a pretty inspiring job they all do.

computingYesterday, I opened an email from Upworthy – it was about about the upcoming UN Climate Summit and Upworthy’s involvement. I was just a teeny tiny (read: huge) bit surprised when I noticed a ‘U’ in the corner. The ‘U’ was none other than Unilever’s logo, announcing their sponsorship. In Unilever’s own words “[o]n any given day, two billion people use Unilever products”. Two billion people?? That’s quite a lot, almost a third of the whole world’s population. What do Unilever make, you might ask, and why are they sponsoring this? A quick look on their homepage shows me the following brands: Lynx, Hellmann’s Mayonnaise, Knorr, Dove, Surf, Persil, PG Tips, Lipton, Wall’s, Colman’s Mustard… the list goes on. In essence, purveyors of highly processed products. There are any number of reasons that these types of products could be questioned – health impacts, treatment of workers, transparency, the environment. To find out more I’d recommend a read of  this report ‘Behind the Brand’: it’s a report by Oxfam on the ethics of ‘Big 10′ food companies, of which Unilever is one. Although Unilever is better than some – they still have a very long way to go.

As our topic is climate change, let’s stick with a couple of the environmental concerns. Body and cleaning products are usually derived from oil and chemicals – aside from the environmental impact of fairtradetheir manufacture, their impact once used, and their packaging (from plastic to aerosol cans) can be highly damaging. (Luckily their are lots of low impact ways to make your own – try this link.) A thought on some of the ‘food’ produced and marketed by Unilever doesn’t inspire a huge amount more hope. At Otesha our purchasing policy is to buy Fairtrade and organic tea and coffee. PG Tips bears the Rainforest foundation mark, which goes someway to protecting biodiversity, but doesn’t guarantee fair trade for the producers. But I’ve heard that non-organic food products, reliant on chemical pesticides and fertilisers, and usually grown in monocultures – are not great for biodiversity and again there is a big impact from the manufacture and use of chemicals. Industrial agriculture has massive carbon outputs too – a really good read to find out more in this area is Stolen Harvest by Vandana Shiva.

There’s so much more I could add here, but I think you catch my drift. So why am I writing all of this? I guess I’m just worried when companies so involved in creating the environmental crisis devise projects and sponsorship to ‘change the world’ when it’s really the core of their business operations that needs to change. I get the need for business to change, but I don’t believe that what they’re doing is changing their business. In their own words, they’re worried about climate change because they’re worried about profit. When smaller or charitable organisations take support from such organisations  and advertise it – whilst the companies continue to manufacture products in environmentally destructive ways – the word greenwash creeps to mind. Companies, cooperatives, organisations that produce and trade in environmentally and socially ethical ways don’t need their logo plastered onto other people’s projects – because they are already part of the solution. As individuals let’s support these positive alternatives to build a future that is healthy for people and planet (if you’re in Hackney try Growing Communities for food!) and let’s support other organisations to take a similar stand against greenwash!

Party

22nd November 2012 by

Click the image to enlarge. More cartoons here.

Laying down Roots of Success in East London

30th October 2012 by

99% of the UK is literate. Many of us are financially literate. But how many can claim to be environmentally literate?

Many of you reading this will be well aware of the far-reaching environmental impacts of our everyday actions, from what we choose to eat for breakfast, how we travel to work, how we conduct ourselves in the workspace to how we socialise.  We have become aware of the spaces we find ourselves in and the practices required to maintain or make them ‘green’.  But how many of us had these thoughts in our head when we were 16 or 17, deciding our ‘careers’?

Financial reward, professional development, qualifications needed… these were key factors to consider when ‘deciding our future’ as one career advisor put it.  I remember clearly taking a ‘career test’ when I was 15, a series of questions covering academic, personal and lifestyle preferences.   The result; I should look into becoming a telephone pylon erector; I didn’t mind heights, liked the outdoors and wanted variety in my job.   There was no mention of the environmental impact of this career choice- the resource intensive, carbon polluting energy sector I’d be working in, no mention of renewable energy, no mention of the vehicle I would inevitably be driving around in to erect these pylons.

11 years on, with the impacts of climate change being felt world-over, with resource wars a real or threatened phenomena on every continent- you’d expect environmental impact and sustainability to play a large part in career choice for today’s young people making the transition to work, right? Wrong.  A few months ago we were contacted by a careers advisor from a local connexions service in a bit of a panic- she’d had young people coming in asking about how to get a green job, some wanted to work in renewable energy.  They had no resources or knowledge to deal with it.  This is madness.

We know that to address the global challenges facing our economy and climate, we must transform society within a single generation.   The need to transition to a green economy is urgent if we are to meet the national target of 80% carbon emissions cuts by 2050.  And this transition requires green jobs. We know there are policy barriers to the creation of green jobs.  We also know that those making the transition to employment, both young and old, need to understand, want and demand green jobs.

That’s why, as part of our green jobs programme here at The Otesha Project UK, we’ve spent the last 10 months adapting the successful US environmental literacy and job readiness curriculum ‘Roots of Success’ for a UK audience.  It’s a 9-module curriculum, each one themed and aimed at raising awareness of local and global environmental issues whilst improving essential job market skills.  At the end of each module there are case studies on relevant green jobs, how to access them and career pathways.  It’s interactive and dynamic, using videos and discussion to engage and give participants a solid understanding of environmental literacy.

We’ve started piloting our UK version with groups here in east London.  We worked with a group of young people on the Princes-Trust Team Programme who took the introductory ‘Fundamentals’ module and the ‘Community Organising’ module which was used to help plan their community project.  We’ve also worked with trainee bike mechanics on Bikework’s ‘Cycle into Work’ scheme, running the fundamentals, transport and community organising modules.  We’ve had really positive feedback from participants, some learning “the importance of not wasting stuff”, another saying he would “Look into how [he] could incorporate eco friendly ideas in [his] business plan.”  The course aims to inspire and empower; one trainee left saying “I definitely want to have a green job!! I knew that already, but this class opened my eyes.”

And we’re planning more; we’ll soon be delivering the training with volunteers at Hackney City Farm, with trainee construction workers and homeless people at Crisis Skylight to help broker people facing barriers to employment into green and decent work;  helping to tackle massive youth unemployment and climate change.

 Tamsin Robertson, Otesha’s green jobs caseworker

ROAD TRIP!!!

1st June 2012 by

That’s right, I spent a substantial part of last month on the road with the One Million Climate Jobs Caravan, organised by the Campaign Against Climate Change Trade Union Group. There were two vans – one going round the North and one going round the South (and before you ask, they were the most fuel efficient vans possible) – and I hopped on for Birmingham, Southampton, Portsmouth, Brighton, and Manchester. Phew!

We would park up in the city centres during the day, telling people about the One Million Climate Jobs report that lays out a strategy for government investment that would create one million climate jobs, which would go a looong way towards addressing the double whammy we face at the moment, of climate change and economic recession. We had a petition for people to sign up to calling for the government to take on this strategy, and we had a lot of information on the tables from this campaign and others, like the UK Youth Climate Coalition’s Youth for Green Jobs campaign.

The consequence of having all this information, a sign-up sheet, and a massive van that said ONE MILLION CLIMATE JOBS on the side of it? People started queueing. For a job. We were approached, again and again, by people who were looking for a job and thought we were recruiting, and it was the same in all the towns the caravan visited apparently. We had to say, again and again, that we didn’t actually have jobs to offer, but we were campaigning for the government to create them! I met men on the dole who signed our petition, went to the job centre to sign on, and then came back to try and sign the petition again because they felt so strongly. I met a 17 year old girl who was 3 months pregnant and couldn’t find anyone to take her on. I met young people about to graduate from college or university, and were scared about the economic climate they were about to graduate into. And everyone I met, without exception, agreed that it made sense to create jobs in sectors that would also work to improve our environment and slow climate change.

The experience was heartbreaking, but also invigorating. It proved to me how dire the situation is for so many people across the country, that they think their best hope for a job might be a van parked up on the side of the road. But it also proved how essential it is that we are campaigning on this issue, and it showed how much support people have for the green jobs agenda. Because why wouldn’t they? IT MAKES SENSE.

In each town, there was a public meeting in the evening hosted by local organisers. People from the local councils, unions, and activist groups came together to see what they could do about creating climate / green jobs locally. I spoke to each of them about our experiences with the East London Green Jobs Alliance, sharing our learnings and the process by which we set it up and got it going. The meetings I went to were great, but to be honest, turn out was fairly low, with between 15 – 40 at each meeting (I think it was higher in the north). I don’t think it’s for lack of support for the agenda, as I really felt that out on the street. And those conversations I had on the street were educational, because unlike trade unionists or environmentalists, who have been banging on about this stuff for ages, I really felt that many people with no political agenda or affiliation were getting wise to the situation. And I felt that they were on the cusp of taking action. Maybe signing a petition was the first step.

It definitely won’t be their last. Because the economic situation isn’t going to get any better soon, nor is the environmental situation. There will come a moment, soon, when people who see a van on the side of the street won’t politely queue. They will scramble, and they will fight, and they will start to fill the halls at public meetings. And what will the government do then?

Unfair Advantage

19th April 2012 by

A little cartoon abut doping (which allows me to crow bar in my interest in solar panels – sorry). Click to see the full size image. More cartoons here.

A just transition or just a transition?

7th December 2011 by

Otesha team member Hanna Thomas, who is lead organiser of the East London Green Jobs Alliance, has been writing in the Occupied Times – the newspaper produced by the Occupy London Stock Exchange camp – and warns that the Occupy and green movements must not assume complacently that equity and the move to a green economy will go hand in hand.

A major criticism that has been levelled at Occupy LSX is that the movement has become an umbrella for too many issues. “What do they want?” our mainstream media asks, as a stroll through the camp makes it clear that democracy and corporate greed are not the only issues being debated. Linger around St. Pauls, or peek your head into the Tent City University, and you will soon find yourself debating and discussing issues of mental wellbeing, gender equality, class, the environment, parenting, and the role of religion, amongst many, many others. However, rather than betray a lack of focus, to me the diversity of topics being discussed means something quite different – that our movements for social and environmental justice are growing up, that we are seeing connections and joining the dots between issues, and that we recognise that we are most powerful when allied.

There is much that we can learn from each other, and the global Occupy / Indignados movement has provided us with the perfect opportunity to compare notes. What’s working, what isn’t? Are our demands aligned, and does that even matter? However, there is one area of discussion that certainly needs to be addressed by the environmental and Occupy movements together, and that is ‘what does transition look like’? We say that another way is possible, but what journey do we have to take to get there? How can we work together towards building a new low carbon economy, one that incorporates values of social justice, equity, and democracy? Of course, this conversation is already well under way in many countries across the world, but different elements of our movement are in danger of pulling in very different directions. You might not think it, but transitioning away from a pollution-based economy and transitioning away from our current capitalist model do not necessarily have to have much in common.

Let’s not kid ourselves – the new, low-carbon economy could be one that retains all of the inequities and corporate greed of our current economic system. One where companies profit from the transition, while workers are stuck in green McJobs, doing the essential work of decarbonising our energy systems and retrofitting our homes but in a vicious circle of low pay and few opportunities for progression or training. Nor does the anarcho-marxist model of transition away from a capitalist state make any promises to those who are currently most underserved by our current society. The end goal may be distribution of wealth and workers’ rights, but the requisite insurrection and ensuing chaos that it takes to get there may only end up harming those that need the most help. Indeed, members of our unions are concerned that significant periods of economic restructuring in the past have often happened in a chaotic fashion that has left ordinary workers, their families and communities to bear the brunt. Indeed in the UK, many individuals and communities are still paying the price for the rapid shift away from industrial production over the last 30 years.

Perhaps there is a middle way, one that respects workers’ rights, the rights of the poor, and our planetary boundaries. This is where the idea of Just Transition may come in handy. Just Transition is a framework for a fair and sustainable shift to a low carbon economy, proposed by trades unions and supported by environmental NGOs, that seeks to prevent injustice becoming a feature of environmental transition. Just Transition recognises that support for environmental policies are conditional on a fair distribution of the costs and benefits of those policies across the economy, and on the creation of opportunities for active engagement by those affected in determining the future wellbeing of themselves and their families.

The framework is not foolproof – it does not deal with the capitalism question, nor does it a build a comprehensive vision of a new world. Questions about growth, nuclear, and means of production go unanswered. However, it is the beginning of an essential conversation about how we can create a new system that is both economically and ecologically viable.

What is not questioned is the speed at which we must act. The need to transition away from our current economic and social model in this country and the rest of the developed world is an urgent one. We are experiencing rapidly rising levels of inequality and, according to the IEA, we have only an estimated 5 years before the fight to mitigate dangerous climate change becomes a fruitless one.

Yes, the challenge ahead is immense, but so is our movement. Who would have thought, just one year ago, that the world would be engaged in a global conversation about corporate greed and the terms of democracy? A fair society that respects our earth may seem out of reach, but that is all the more reason to keep striving for it. As David Harvey has said, “Of course this is utopian!  But so what!  We cannot afford not to be.”

Blowing hot and cold on wind

19th October 2011 by

A normal conversation whilst visiting my parents house in Wales goes thus:

Me: “Where are you off to Dad?”

Dad: “Just up to see Nora, I’ll be back for lunch.”

Me: “Is she alright? This is the third time you’ve been this week!”

Dad (looking slightly perturbed): “I’m not sure, she’s not been moving much lately – I just want to go and check on her.”

Enter Mum, rolling her eyes: “Are you still going on about Nora????”

Photo by John Williams, Bro Dyfi Community Renewables

Now you may be wondering whether Nora may be an ailing neighbour, or even a mystery female. However, Nora, the woman so close to my dad’s heart, is in fact a wind turbine, formally known as the Nordtank 500, which stands proud and tall on the hill opposite my family home in the heart of Wales.

Nora is one of two turbines owned by Bro Ddyfi Community Renewables, one of the first locally owned energy cooperatives in the UK. The co-op is owned by mainly local shareholders – just normal local people – who want to put their money where their mouths are and create renewable energy for the local community, as well as getting a small return from selling the electricity to the grid. The project was also funded by Ecodyfi, a local NGO dedicated to sustainable development, the project from which is used to tackle energy poverty through providing grants to households for energy efficiency measures.

For many, wind turbines are an emblem of the environmental movement, symbolising the essence of sustainability: harvesting clean, renewable and often cheap energy from the natural environment. Many people, me and my dad included, see wind turbines as things of beauty, majestically gracing the hills and mountains of some of the most stunning landscapes in the world. And all over the country normal people are walking the talk, getting involved with community owned wind projects from Scotland to Oxfordshire in a bid to do their bit in the fight against climate change and other global environmental destruction associated with the oil industry.

However, not everyone shares these views and aspirations. As anyone who lives near a planned wind farm site knows, there is often substantial and vocal opposition to wind power. Driving through small villages in mid-Wales you can see fields littered with increasingly humorous placards proclaiming ‘No to wind’.

Paradoxically, opponents of wind also see themselves as stewards of the environment, although with a slightly different mandate to wind supporters. One MP from mid-Wales called proposals to create a new wind farm ‘environmental vandalism’, citing the usual (and often unsubstantiated) criticisms concerning noise pollution, bird deaths and damage to tourist-luring vistas.

So how is it that members of the same community, who are fighting for the same cause of environmental protection, end up in such embittered conflict over wind? It seems to me to depend on depth of environmental worldview.

Photo by John Williams, Bro Dyfi Community Renewables

People who see the environment as a global and long lasting entity tend to see wind turbines as a necessary tool in fighting climate change, and perhaps are willing to overlook small scale distruption to the local environment. Others, who see the environment as limited to what they see in their gardens, are passionately fighting to limit what they see as destruction of the natural landscape and biodiversity in their locality – resulting in what is commonly known as NIMBY (not-in-my-back-yard) syndrome.

It would be naive to say that people accused of NIMBYism do not understand the environmental issues at stake. However, it it boils down to how this information is processed, depending on how you look at the world. Some people will put their hard-earned savings into building a wind turbine of their very own, whilst a neighbour may spend long hours planning campaigns to shut it down.

Obviously one of these viewpoints is going to have to change or be overruled, which is why the issue of wind in many communities is such a touchy subject. Perhaps as climate change comes more to the forefront of people’s minds, and the cost of fossil fuels increase as peak oil looms, then attitudes will change. Perhaps the people who support wind should become as vocal as the often minority anti-wind protesters, to show local support  to counteract the resentment.

Maybe it’s up to people like my dad and his friends to change people’s attitudes and show that wind turbines are the lesser of the evils in the quest for a secure energy supply. All I know, as I follow my dad’s gaze to watch a Nora happily spinning round on her hilltop throne (and I’m sure even the most NIMBYistic of my community would agree), is that I’m glad she’s not a hulking great power station.

Powershift 2011

2nd September 2011 by

Oct 7-9 Salford Crescent, Manchester

Fancy taking part in Power Shift – the UK’s largest youth event on climate change.

From 7-9th October 2011, join hundreds of young people in the heart of the industrial revolution in Salford, Manchester, to take part in Power Shift 2011.

Through a series of workshops, talks, training, a bit of a boogie and a Day of Action, you will be equipped with the skills and knowledge you need to be effective, innovative and engaging young leaders.

This years theme is green jobs and Otesha shall be there, with Hanna Thomas who coordinates the East London Green Jobs Alliance speaking on the panel.

Power Shift is the most important moment this year for young people who care about their future to come together. We invite you to take your place in history: attend Power Shift, and join the movement towards a clean, just future.

To volunteer or get your tickets head to their website.

Moving Planet – Sept 24th

2nd September 2011 by

All over the world people are taking to the streets. March, cycle or skate and join the call for the world to go beyond fossil fuels.

Hop on to www.moving-planet.org to find an event local to you or even register your own one. They’ve got a great website with loads of resources and support, from printable posters, stickers and t-shirt graphics, through to guides on how to organise an event and get a whole school involved.

During the day Moving Planet will be delivering a clear and strong set of demands:
– Science-based policies to get us back to 350ppm
– A rapid, just transition to zero carbon emissions
– A mobilization of funding for a fair transition to a 350ppm world
– Lifting the rights of people over the rights of polluters
More details on the demands here moving-planet.org/demands


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