UN summits, flying, decisions, decisions, decisions: or, how we think we change the world.

27th April 2012 by

I’m on a bit of a 90s kick at the moment – dungarees, lots of plaid, long straggly hair, and Grandmaster Flash on the stereo.

And it’s not just me feeling nostalgic, even the United Nations (UN) is rewinding to the 90s! You might not remember (I was only nine), but in 1992 the UN held its first ever conference on environment and development, otherwise known as the Rio Earth Summit. Lots of things came out of this conference, including an agreement on the Climate Change Convention (which in turn led to the Kyoto Protocol), and an agreement to “not carry out any activities on the lands of indigenous peoples that would cause environmental degradation or that would be culturally inappropriate”.

In other words, it was at this conference that the world set standards for itself on how to develop in a sustainable way. Twenty years on we are, of course, struggling to meet these standards. Every day brings another headline about some environmental challenge or injustice that is happening somewhere in the world. The 2009 Copenhagen climate conference, where we had hoped to find solutions for many of these challenges, was widely accepted as a failure. It seems that we need another boost of inspiration, determination, optimism, and motivation to get things moving again in the right direction.

Cue the Rio Earth Summit that’s happening this June, 20 years after the original (also known as Rio+20)! At this conference, the UN aims to get Heads of State and other bigwigs together, to assess how progress is going towards internationally agreed commitments, and to secure further political commitments to sustainable development. They will also be negotiating on two main themes, which are… drumroll….

- Green Economy in the context of Poverty Eradication and Sustainable Development

- Institutional Framework for Sustainable Development

It’s not only bigwigs that will be there at this conference. Lots of representatives from ‘Civil Society’ will be there too, including NGOs, indigenous peoples, farmers, and an estimated 2000 young people! You can bet your bottom dollar that there will be a ton of lobbyists from business and industry too.

So, why am I telling you all this? Firstly, knowledge is power! And secondly, I will be one of the 2000 young people going to the conference! I’ll be running workshops for the youth there on building green jobs alliances, I’ll be following the negotiations, talking to our government’s negotiators, trying to get media coverage and blogging. I’ll be learning lots too and bringing lessons and stories back to the UK.

But, it takes a lot of carbon to get to Rio. Two tonnes, if you’re flying (which I am). Here at Otesha, we have a really clear travel policy which states that ‘All long-haul trips are made overland if possible. Flights are only taken as a last resort when no other transportation options are available and when the benefit of the trip is clear.’ Since travelling to Rio overland is super, super difficult (although you can read about our friend Lucy Gilliam, who is on an Edwardian sailboat to Rio as we speak – wow!), we had to make a consensus decision as a team about whether we thought this trip to Rio would be of clear benefit – to the people that I’d meet, to those who would read my blogs and learn about the summit’s progress, and to us as an organisation by bringing back learnings and contacts.

It was a really, really difficult conversation. We have a diverse set of beliefs here at Otesha, even if they are all rooted in the same principles. Like most people in this movement, we all differ slightly in what we think will create change, and how we should get there. Eventually, however, we decided that this was a pretty incredible and unique opportunity. It has been 20 years since the last summit, and who knows when the next one will be? Plus, when we co-coordinated the first ever UK youth delegation to the climate negotiations in Poland back in 2008, we created some pretty kick-ass youth campaigners and organisers as a result. I’m not sure if you can ever judge that one flight or another is more ‘worthwhile’, but we hope that being involved in this process will make a difference.

The exciting bit is, even though we don’t really believe in the concept of ‘carbon offsetting’ (see parody site Cheat Neutral for a good explanation of why) we are going to ‘spend a significant amount of time and money doing carbon-reducing activities’ (another bit of our travel policy). After lots of discussion and ideas, we’ve come up with a three-part plan.

Part 1: We are going to spend £50 on buying pollution permits from Sandbag, who take excess carbon credits out of the EU Emissions Trading System. We are also going to donate £50 to a community project through Global Giving.

Part 2: We are going to go out as a team and spend a day planting trees in our local community. We might buy a tree pack, or volunteer with Trees for Cities or BTCV.

Part 3: I’m going to do a 30-day vegan challenge before I go to Rio, and other staff members might join me! A vegan diet is a lot less carbon intensive, but I’ve never tried it before so I’m a little nervous. If I can go longer I will, I just wanted to set myself an achievable goal first!

I will be updating on how our three-part plan goes, and of course, this blog will be inundated with updates and learnings from Rio come June. So keep your eyes peeled, and vegan cookbooks at the ready!

Revolutionary Resolutions

1st February 2010 by

According to some clever bloke on the Internet people have been making new years resolutions since 153BC. This month we challenge you to carry on the tradition and commit yourself to a green resolution.

We’ve resolved to:

  • Go to more swishing parties (that’s clothes swapping to us lay men)
  • Stop buying new clothes
  • Mend old clothes
  • Reuse water bottles and stop buying mineral water
  • Take showers inside of baths
  • Vegan it up two meals a day
  • Write more letters (to friends and MPs)
  • Protest more
  • Brave the weather and the traffic and cycle to work everyday.

And remember, if you break yours you can always start again on the Chinese or Iranian new years.

Martha sent us this resolution:

Mine is to grow my own sweet potatoes, as it is apparently quite easy and I never see any for sale from anywhere closer than Spain.

For anyone who wants to try this first buy a couple of sweet potatoes now since you need to start them nowish. Put them in an airing cupboard or somewhere else nice and warm. Leave them till about April by which time they should have produced some lovely shoots. Take these shoots off and plant them in a nice peat free seed compost, and keep them somewhere fairly warm, definitely frost free in sunlight and don’t forget to water them.

In June either plant them in a reasonable bit of soil or, as I will, in a big tub- old plastic dustbin I used last year for strawberries in my case. Peat free compost and regular feeding with some seaweed product should work fine. If you can add some home made compost all the better. Make sure the tub is well drained. Leave to grow, making sure they are weed free- if you plant them in the ground it’s good to plant them through something, maybe old carpet.

I think they are ready in August-September. When you dig them up be sure to dig deep as they grow downwards or you’ll miss a load of them, one of my reasons for planting in a big tub; I should make sure to get them all.

Meat free Mondays (and vegan Tuesdays)

3rd July 2009 by

We challenge you to go meat free on Mondays.

Turns out eating meat is one of the most carbon intensive things you can do (the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation has worked out that meat is responsible for 18% of greenhouse gas emissions). So the logical thing to do is quit meat on Mondays.  The Belgian city of Ghent has given up meat on Thursdays, but that’s not aliterative, so we suggest Monday as an alternative. The entire city of Ghent is doing it’s bit to combat obesity, cruelty to animals in industrialised farming and climate change. We think you’ll agree, that they’re all three bad things. If ghent can do it so can you and there’s a whole website dedicated to helping you do it.

As with every monthly challenge, we’d like you to get in touch and tell us that your doing it and how you’re finding it. What we’d most like to know this month is your favourite veg(an)etarian recipe, send ‘em in to jo@otesha.org.uk.

For the veggies amoungst you, we challenge you to vegan Tuesdays. For the vegans, we challenge you to find a sustainable alternative to soya (and make it readily available). Remember, meat free Mondays aren’t just for the month, they’re for life.


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