The Green Teacher Network

8th July 2011 by

Environmentalism is often thought of as a middle class hobby, a domain only for those who have the time and the resources to consider organic food, hybrid cars and other trappings of the eco-consumer lifestyle. Although climate change affects the poorest in the world the most, the same poorest that have always suffering environmental injustice the most.

But here in the UK with our well stocked supermarkets, multiple transport systems and energy on demand, it’s hard to make it all seem real. At Otesha we promote lifestyle change through small personal actions, and could definitely be accused of the occasional bout of eco-consumerism, which doesn’t always seem like much compared to drought, floods, famine and severe seasonal changes. But, as the new proverb goes, ‘look after the parts of carbon and the parts per million of CO2 (and CO2e, that’s carbon equivalents, other greenhouse gases) in the atmosphere will look after themselves.

Environmental education (we don’t usually call ourselves that, but we do fit the bill) takes on other forms in countries that closer to the climate change frontline. The Green Teacher Network in Indonesia is working with teachers like Ekowanto (who uses just one name, a high school teacher) “to integrate environmental issues, particularly mangroves, into school subjects to make our students aware of the importance of mangrove reserves in dealing with abrasion and rising sea level.”

Indonesia is home to one-third of the wold’s mangrove forests, which mitigate the effects of climate change by acting as a carbon sink, but deforestation is happening fast. Mangroves are destroyed by seawater contamination and industrial waste, and many mangrove forests have been converted into residential and fishpond areas.

The Green Teacher Network are educating other teachers, advocating for mangroves to be integrated into the curriculum and taking students to visit mangrove forests. Many Indonesian schools are located near mangroves.

Ekowanto vowed to teach some 1,200 students in his school how to grow mangroves. “I have collected mangrove seeds and this coming academic year, my colleagues and I will teach our students to germinate the seeds in the school compound and plant them later in destroyed mangrove sites in Labuan district, Pandeglang regency.”

This is exciting and much more tangible stuff than the carbon counting we sometimes get bogged down in in the UK, and it probably has a much greater impact on reducing carbon too. Besides which, having just looked on google images, mangrove forests are completely beautiful, what more reason do you need to take school groups to visit them and protect them?

Up in the air!

1st July 2011 by

Eluned is travelling to India to volunteer with Performers without Borders. After a month of train travelling and many months of journey planning, Eluned finds herself aboard a plane for the final leg of her journey.

On the plane
As we sit on the runway at Tashkent airport, I look around at the other passengers settling into their seats. Most of them look bored and non-plussed. When we eventually set off, I strain and wriggle in my seat, trying to get a look out of the window from where I´m sitting in the centre aisle. I´m puzzled to see that everyone else is reading magazines, staring at the seat in front of them, or plugging in their headphones and falling asleep.

No one seems to be in the least bit amazed about the fact that we will soon be forging our way through the atmosphere, travelling thousands of feet above the Earth. In fact, the only person who seems remotely as excited as me is the toddler bouncing up and down on their seat in front! The plane tips into the air and my head and stomach fly away momentarily before I rise up to meet them.

It seems a strange place for our society to have reached, and it strikes me as quite sad, where something really quite miraculous is – at least for the richest fraction of the world – taken as commonplace and boring. Part of my problem with this type of transport is that people do it without thinking twice, either about how amazing it is, or about the big impact it will have. Not only that, but people seem to have forgotten the fascination with not just the destination, but the journey. For me, the train ride from London to Tashkent itself was every bit as exciting and as memorable an experience as each country I stepped out into. It was kind of like meeting new friends in a cosy cinema to watch a live documentary of the world going by.

What’s the problem with flying?
Air travel can be uniquely harmful, because it releases gases directly into the upper atmosphere. It is one of the most significant ways a single person can contribute to climate change.

There are three gases emitted by aircraft which contribute to global warming: water vapour, carbon dioxide and nitrogen oxides. The combined effect of the gases on global warming can be 2-5 times as bad as carbon dioxide alone. Because they are released high into the atmosphere, they do far more damage than they would on the ground.

To put it in context, on a return trip from the UK to New Zealand you would add approximately 12 tonnes of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere, more than the average British person emits in a whole year. If you flew from London to Paris your emissions would be 244kg of CO2 – to go by train would produce 91% less!

In other words, in a single plane trip you could contribute more to global warming than the total of all your other activities in a whole year. Even if you do all you can to reduce your “carbon footprint” (the amount of carbon emissions you produce) in other areas of your lifestyle, and are careful about the way you choose to eat, power and heat your home, consume and dispose of goods, making a flight can quite easily counteract all of it – just like that.

The big C.C.
It can be hard to make the idea of climate change real, to think how what I am/ you are doing every day, now, relates to the climate of the whole world. But what it means is very real, and can be really quite scary.

For me, there are several reasons why I wanted to try travel to India and back overland. Firstly, because by flying I would contribute way more greenhouse gases to the atmosphere than I am comfortable with. I try to do what I can to live in a way which doesn´t harm other people or the world around us. For me, flying to India would undermine a lot of the work I would be doing once I got there. It is all the more pertinent because I am travelling to a developing country. Whilst the richest 7% of the global population (which includes the British) create 50% of global carbon emissions – as well as making the majority of flights – it is the developing world which will be the most vulnerable to climate change. It has been estimated by the UK Department of International Development that climate change will cancel the benefits of western aid and debt relief.
Over all, flying to India and back would produce approximately 5 tonnes of CO2, more than it takes to heat a  UK house for an entire year. The same trip taken directly by train would produce just over 1 tonne of CO2.

Because of bureaucratic obstacles, a tight timetable and safety concerns, sadly I chose to fly part of the way on the outward trip. I therefore estimate my carbon output (including a return journey, hopefully all overland but the long way round) to be 1.7 tonnes of CO2. The carbon saving I will make by traveling this way is therefore in the region of 3.3. tonnes (I would really like to make a comparison between this and other activities to make it more real and show how much it really is, so if anyone has any suggestions of where I can find something like this, please get in touch!!).

I also want to travel overland because – wow, what an experience! Already, I have taken in so much more of the landscape, and made so many more real connections with people than I would by sitting in an air conditioned container making jet trails over their heads. For me travel is not just about a single place to go to and come back from, but about the journey getting there. I want to make the most of the opportunity to discover more about the world, but to do it without causing too much damage. (Also, as I discovered during this flight, although I may love being above the clouds and appreciate the miracle of flying, the whole package of aviation, from the arduous check in, the tedium of sterile airports to the hours without a view for those without window seats can be distinctly boring).

Another Way is Possible
Finally, I wanted to attempt this trip overland because I genuinely believe that lower-carbon travel is a much better way forward than sitting comfortably and watching business as usual mess up things for myself and for people that I love and care about. I really hope that in doing it, maybe someone else´s eyes will be opened to the possibilities, and that a few more minds will become aware of how much difference a flight can make.

If it seems like things are unlikely to change, just consider that only 50 years ago, there were no commercial airlines. Things do change. Internet and global communications make planning overland travel a whole lot more straightforward. Within Europe, efficient train connections make overland travel a very viable option, whilst outside of Europe train cheaper train prices can make long journeys less pricey than you might think. Websites like www.seat61.com make planning a lot more easy, whilst a new system to be released soon on www.loco2.co.uk aims to facilitate train booking for journeys in Europe – and to find the cheapest routes. It would make me so happy to know that my trip and this blog had inspired someone to take on the adventure of riding overland, instead of flying.

Before making your next flight, think about its impact. Ask yourself, “hang on, do I have to take this flight? Or does it just seem more convenient? What about doing things differently?”. It is your choice, and there are alternatives – alternatives that can be really amazing! I hope that reading this blog might inspire you to stop and reconsider. Above all, I have to say, there´s nothing quite like a good long train ride =:0).

More algebra, less climate change

13th June 2011 by

There was a shriek from across the office as our officemate Melanie@MyBnk turned on her computer to read the news this morning. “Climate change should be excluded from curriculum” she cried, quoting the front page of the Guardian.

Tim Oates, government adviser on the new national curriculum for 5-16 yr olds, reckons schools should get to decide whether or not to teach students about climate change in science. Apparently we need “to get back to the science in science. We have believed that we need to keep the national curriculum up to date with topical issues, but oxidation and gravity don’t date.”

Excuse me Mr Oates, I don’t believe that the melting point of icecaps, carbon production upon burning certain resources and the effect of warming gases in the atmosphere date either. This is only, I politely remind you, THE BIGGEST CHALLENGE EVER TO FACE HUMANKIND and one that these students will have to find solutions for. Maybe schools should teach handwriting with a quill and ink rather than IT, good handwriting doesn’t date, does it?

He says, “we are not taking it back 100 years; we are taking it back to the core stuff.” Climate change has been part of the national curriculum since 1995, so no you’re right Tim, you’re only taking it back 16 years.

Bob Ward, policy and communications director of the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at the London School of Economics, points out that teaching science through topical issues like climate change makes core scientific concepts more interesting for students and can increase their understanding of science. “Certain politicians feel that they don’t like the concept of climate change. I hope this isn’t a sign of a political agenda being exercised”, I really hope so too Bob. He warns that giving skeptical teachers the option not to teach climate change “would not be in the best interests of pupils. It would be like a creationist teacher not teaching about evolution.”

What Oates would like is students to be taught algebra at an earlier age. Oh yes, it’s the lack of algebra that’s responsible for the ills of the world, climate change is just a minor distraction. I too would like to know more about algebra than climate change, but before I go and do that, shall we just deal with this pesky climate change thing together?

I apologise for the apoplectic tone of this blog. I am going to go and rage somewhere else now. But before I go, People & Planet are being much more constructive than I am about this particularly stupid bit of prospective policy, they’re created a campaign to keep climate change in the curriculum which you can join by writing to Tim Oates.

The wind and hills

4th May 2011 by

As I cycled along the Somerset coast this weekend, I was thinking about the wind.  The wind and hills. It was a perfect road for cycling: an amazing gradient, hardly any traffic, moorland, ponies.  But man, that crosswind! That wonderful gradient, pedaling hard but going so fast (how fast I don’t know, I forgot the speedometer..), but fast (but not quite as fast as the people on racing bikes with carbon-fibre bottle cages)… but that crosswind. Man.

Later on, going up a never-ending hill – one of those not-so-steep but really never-ending hills – accompanied by another crosswind I thought, as I’m sure others have before, about putting a sail on my bicycle.  It could be quite fun, not knowing where the wind will take you,  just don’t try it on a cliff-top. Or a busy road.  Or any road?

I thought again: just get over it, cycle up the hills without complaining and use the wind a bit more usefully! Exmoor’s pretty spacious: other than beautiful moorland, it’s also got some fields and roads, pubs, cream tea places (yum), and, did I mention? Wind! Ten points for guessing what my more useful suggestion is.

In April this year wind power became Spain’s main source of electricity for the first time ever! It hurts to not bring my sailing bicycles plan to fruition, but just in case there’s not enough wind to go around, I won’t steal it – I’ll leave it on Exmoor and hope some clever people help us follow in Spain’s footsteps!

Green Jobs – No on Prop 23 coalition

9th April 2011 by

Slightly different take today on the green jobs agenda, as I tell you about the very successful No on Prop 23 campaign that took place in California last November.

What is Prop 23?

Prop 23 was put on the November 2010 ballot, and supported by big oil companies Valero, Tesoro, and Koch Industries. If passed, it would have suspended AB 32, a law enacted in 2006 that is legally referred to as the Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006. The goal of the proposition was to freeze the provisions of AB 32 until California’s unemployment rate drops to 5.5% or below for four consecutive quarters. As the current rate is 12.4%, this wording was seen by then governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and others as a wording trick to delay the environmental regulations indefinitely. AB 32 requires that greenhouse emission levels in the state be cut to 1990 levels by 2020, in a gradual process of cutting that is slated to begin in 2012. Reducing greenhouse emission levels to 1990 levels will involve cutting them by about 15% from 2010 levels. The proposition was referred to as the “ground zero” of clean energy policy. If California couldn’t defeat this, it did not bode well for the future of US or worldwide policy on climate.

The coalition

The No on 23 campaign brought together an incredibly diverse coalition of businesses, venture capitalists, community organisations, social justice and environmental organisations. Together, they raised something like $50 million for their campaign (outspending the opposition), and created the result that Prop 23 was defeated by a margin of 2 to 1. Yay!

The message

These diverse organisations and networks were able to come together because they had a common enemy – Texas oil companies – and a common message which focused on public health impacts and the notion that Prop 23 would kill clean energy jobs. The messengers were public health groups and businesses – it was a conscious decision to not run an “environmental” campaign, since polling in California suggested that climate change was not a top issue, and wouldn’t win it.

The method

- The coalition reps we met with talked about waging the “air war” (media, framing the issue etc) and the “ground war” (door-knocking, phone-banking, good old community organising). They did an amazing job of waging the air war, but they believe it was the ground work in low-income communities that actually won the vote. Low-income communities and communities of color are a vast untapped voter base in California, that had the power to swing the vote. You can see this in the stats – the polled white vote in California was 50/50 on Prop 23. People of color, on the other hand, ended up voting 70% no.

– It was important to get in there first. There is good evidence to show that who communities hear from first has a large impact on how they vote. So the No on 23 coalition made a big point of getting into communities way before the oil companies.

– Check out the brilliant Communities United for more of their methods. They told us they had elderly people from the asian communities taking leadership on the issue and talking to their peers. Lots of emphasis on “place-based organising” – meeting people who are already working in those communities, creating coalitions and building campaigns together.

– There was also a lot of work done to “empower the base”. Lots of local media work was done to ensure that the voices from affected communities were heard.

What now?

– The challenge now is to keep the coalition together and build on their success. They need to work out what else they can achieve together – what are they for, in other words, rather than against.

– What can they continue to have win/wins on? What are the areas of overlap that business, environmental organisations and community networks can work together on?

– Having “empowered the base” in many local communities, they also need to capitalise on the dialogue that has been opened around green jobs and environmental justice. Rather than letting the power dissipate, new calls need to be made about bringing jobs into these communities, and identifying what those jobs will be.

Lessons we can take

– The green jobs agenda fits into a much broader set of issues around social justice, environmental justice, environmental racism, poverty, and public health. We dont have to pigeon hole ourselves into just playing this as an environmental or climate issue.

– Community organising, of which there is such a strong tradition in the US, will play a big part in the success of our local campaigns and programmes. As demonstrated by the No on 23 campaign, communities of color are deciding the future of energy policy in California. It is so important to make connections with communities at the beginning and build from there in coalition and partnership, if we want to succeed. So get practicing your canvassing.

– Again, this was another great example of grassroots and policy people working brilliantly together and informing each other. We definitely need more of this in the UK!

Still to come.. the Ella Baker Center and Green for All.. till next time!

Climate Weak- the kerfuffle continues

28th March 2011 by

As avid followers of our blog will know, Otesha, People & Planet and Magnificent Revolution sent a joint open letter about the questionable corporate sponsorship of Climate Week.

The letter was sent out to:

– the organisers of Climate Week (who did not reply)
– the celebrities who have put their name to it (who also did not reply, although apparently it was forwarded on to Vivian Westwood’s PA)
– the sponsors (Tesco, RBS, Aviva, EDF and Kellogs, as yet no reply from any of them either)
– all of the voluntary sector organisations who’ve signed up to support Climate Week

We didn’t have many responses from the voluntary sector, but those we did have were pretty interesting. One organisation were adamant that they were not affiliated in any way with Climate Week (Climate Week’s website thinks otherwise). Another group thanked us “for speaking out”. Another asked us to consider our position on the ground that “it’s probably best to welcome even small, maybe token, steps like this (RBS’ involvement)…  after all, somebody in RBS probably argued their heads off to get even this agreed”. Someone else we contacted shared how they had thought long and hard about supporting Climate Week, “in my personal life, I encourage everyone I know to bank with alternatives to the main high street banks (they are all bad) and I don’t shop at Tescos and encourage friends and family to shop locally. However, in my professional life I need to try to reach beyond the converted and I think Climate Week is a way of doing so”. Others thanked us for simply sharing our thoughts and concerns.

We were definitely not the only people pondering the Climate Week conundrum. The transition network has been buzzing with tough questions about Climate Week. What do we gain by labeling others as ‘climate villains’ or ‘inspiring leaders’? The Hub Islington hosted a wonderfully named ‘Climate Weak’ panel discussion on the ethics of working with corporates and corporate sponsorship (summarised here).

Platform and a coalition of other NGOs released a report during Climate Week, ‘Dirty Money – Corporate greenwash and RBS coal finance’.

UKYCC, after accepting an award for Most Inspirational Young Person, issued a statement which outlined their concerns about RBSs sponsoring Climate Week whilst still being heavily involved in the destructive tar sands development project in Canada.

Then to top it all off, the Guardian revealed that Climate Week is a for-profit organisation! And that last one left me speechless. Ok, it didn’t, of course I have plenty to say about profiting from Climate Week, but it’s all so obvious that I’m not even going to bother. We all know what I would say anyway.

An open letter to Climate Week

15th March 2011 by

Dear Climate Week Supporters, Sponsors, Organisers and Judges,

We are writing to you because of your involvement with March 2011 Climate Week. This signifies a clear commitment to taking strong action on climate change, and we applaud you for this. Whilst we are completely behind the aims of Climate Week, we have concerns about Climate Week’s corporate sponsors, the Royal Bank of Scotland in particular. Some organisations who were invited to enter the Climate Week awards, including the Otesha Project and Magnificent Revolution, have been unable to do so because they feel that the association of RBS with Climate Week constitutes ‘greenwash’.

We support Climate Week’s intention to ‘shine a spotlight on the many positive steps already being taken in workplaces and communities across Britain’ and use these examples to inspire others. However we do not agree that RBS is ‘supporting the transition to a low carbon economy’.

Unfortunately any positive steps taken by RBS in their business operations and in their investment in the renewable energy sector are far outweighed by RBS’ continued investment in carbon intensive industries. Whilst sponsorship of Climate Week could constitute a welcome first step on a journey to more sustainable practice for a bank which self-identifies as ‘The Oil and Gas Bank’, there is currently no evidence to suggest that this sponsorship represents anything more significant than ‘greenwash’.  Perhaps this rebranding is a response to continued criticism from numerous NGOs and grassroots campaigns, which has led to more widespread negative publicity for the bank. However it is concrete action, not rebranding, which is required.

RBS cites its high ranking by the Carbon Disclosure Project as testimony to its environmental credentials. Unfortunately the CDP ranking does not appear to have sufficient scope to capture the entirety of carbon emissions for which a company such as RBS is responsible: only the energy usage within bank branches and offices is taken into account. Whilst every action taken to reduce carbon emissions is important, it is vital that we do not allow the championing of RBS’ weak energy saving measures to obscure the far more damaging practices financed by RBS, such as the coal, oil and gas industries. We are particularly concerned with RBS’ financing of the Canadian Tar Sands, the exploitation of this resource is trampling indigenous rights, destroying vast areas of ancient boreal forest, and has the potential to cause runaway climate change (for more information see ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2009/03/canadian-oil-sands/kunzig-text).

Sponsorship 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 light bulbs allows us to continue ‘business as usual’.
We urge you to reconsider your involvement with Climate Week and to raise these concerns with others involved in Climate Week.

If you would like to discuss any of the points raised in this letter further, please contact Jo Clarke (jo@otesha.org.uk).

Your Sincerely,

The Otesha Project UK
www.otesha.org.uk

People & Planet
www.peopleandplanet.org

Magnificent Revolution
www.magnificentrevolution.org

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.

In praise of fuss

1st March 2011 by

I’m sadly prone to moaning about stuff and not getting off my behind and doing anything about it. So this month I encourage you, in fact I challenge you, to make a fuss.

You don’t necessarily have to superglue yourself to a bank to make a difference. Fuss may also be easy, fun and polite.

Sign an online petition, or, now and again, reply to a consultation and send an email to your MP. Get to know your MP, (mine is currently asking calm informed questions about carbon emissions from coal fired power stations – and getting real answers for the minister for Climate Change Charles Hendry* – get free alerts from this wonderful website ). Pat him/her on the head when s/he gets something right. Who’s a good elected representative? You are! Yes you are! Get out of your comfort zone.

When you are boycotting something, send a short note explaining you are doing so (otherwise, trust me, they won’t have a clue). Boycotts do work and they have a long history of contributing to social change. In 1791 following Parliament’s refusal to abolish slavery, a boycott led to a 30-50% drop in the sales of sugar. Shops responded by selling sugar guaranteed to have been produced by ‘free men’. Learn more here.

Or write to a company of a product or service you do use to ask them about their ethical policy – you’ll have a lot of sway as a proper consumer what gives them money and everything.

If you made a fuss and it didn’t work? Well maybe it did in an intangible way, maybe you inspired someone else to make a fuss and they did get something done, maybe you helped to create a backdrop for a more fuss-making society. As a person who I can’t remember once said; democracy is only as good as we make it.

*His mum was in our shop (at CAT) yesterday. Oh my, we did get excited. Yeah, we get all the stars here.

A moment of CO2 infographic nerdiness

23rd February 2011 by

A fascinating snapshot showing where the world’s greenhouse gas emissions are coming from and where they’re going to (click to link to a larger version).

World emissions according to the WRI

The data’s from 2000 so it needs an update, but I’d wager that things haven’t changed that dramatically in the past ten years. Source: World Resources Institute.


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