At the RSA I have the opportunity to meet and work with a diverse and motivated group of Fellows. I’m always amazed how they manage to juggle the range of different ideas and enterprises that they are developing. With 27 000 Fellows there are so many stories it can sometimes feel like you can’t see the wood from the trees but today I’d like to tell you a story of Fellows getting together, discussing an opportunity and providing a solution that helped the environment but more importantly a young man called Sam.
Hill Holt Wood lies on the borders of Lincolnshire and Nottinghamshire and is home to an award winning social enterprise. If you get the chance to visit please do, you’ll be welcomed with open arms and always offered a cup of tea. In just over ten years of operation, the enterprise has transformed the woodland from a failing, flooded rhododendron-smothered patch of trees into a thriving broadleaf wood.
The main stay of the enterprise has been as a supplier of alternative education. The woodland provides a developmental resource for excluded or marginalized young people to build skills, confidence and improved prospects. Benefits to the young people and to the woods feed back positively one on another. Kids need the woods to learn and in turn the woods are maintained by kids. So year on year a trickle of woodland converts graduate from Hill Holt Wood who are interested in sustaining woodland and so the story goes on…
The wood itself was privately owned but is now open to the public and community owned and the social enterprise operates from a stunning eco-build that incorporates an eco design team, meeting rooms, and a café.
Salvation Army enterprise manager Steve Coles was looking for a similarly sustainable project in which to invest a small fund of £10,000 donated as a bequest by the Booth family for the purpose of planting trees. Hill Holt Wood seemed ideal and proposed the money be used to support a young person through a horticultural apprenticeship AND plant trees. The long-term on-going gains are obvious.
Sam Welch was 15 years old when he first visited Hill Holt Wood. As part of his school curriculum he attended for a day a week on a junior rangers scheme. He developed an unexpected passion for woodland and went on to attend Riseholm College in Lincoln but when he graduated with Level 2 and 3 qualifications in arborioculture he could not find work in Gainsborough. At this point a Job Centre advisor suggested that he return to Hill Holt Wood as a volunteer on the flexible support fund. Sam proved to be a fantastic volunteer and an obvious candidate for the Salvation Army fund.
The award was given to Hill Holt Wood and they have funded Sam’s on-going apprenticeship in horticulture. He says he has two main goals in life “the biggest one is to get a full time job at Hill Holt Wood which I would love, or work somewhere doing the same sort of job…”
The Fellowship Team are always looking to hear about Fellow led projects. If you know of work that is going on that would benefit from Fellows support and advice please get in touch directly, shout about your work at rsafellowship.com and apply to RSA Catalyst. If that work is based in the East and West Midlands then I’m your first point of contact, email me at email@example.com or tweet me @pickfordrich I love hearing about new ideas especially when they are told over a hot cup of tea and some cake.
It’s Climate Week! It’s described as “a supercharged national occasion that offers an annual renewal of our ambition and confidence to combat climate change”. Sounds like something you can’t argue with. It’s also particularly significant for us, as the Social Brain Centre is in the early stages of an exciting programme of work investigating behaviour change for climate change.
Nationally, there are over 3,000 events taking place throughout the week, ranging from launch events for hydrogen partnerships to vegetarian punjabi cooking courses. It’s more than likely that there’s something happening near you and it’s easy to find out what.
Exploring the Climate Week website, I was most interested to see what suggestions were included under the ‘Green your home‘ tab. One of the themes we intend to explore in our own project is that of ‘home’ so I was naturally curious to see how the Climate Week team had dealt with the topic.
The list of suggestions appears as follows:
- Green your bathroom
- Green your Cuisine
- Switch to green energy
- Sustainable DIY
- Kick out the Can
- Saving Water
- Love your Laundry
- Keep Warm
- Shower Power
- Kitchen Care
The initial shock for me was that the first of these categories consisted entirely of an advertisement for a brand of ‘eco’ toilet paper. Fair enough, sponsorship is a fact of life these days, and securing it was no doubt essential for Climate Week to proceed with its good work. But the fact that its ‘Green your bathroom’ category consisted only of promotion for one brand of loo roll was disappointing to me.
There are plenty of more effective ways in which we could genuinely take steps to ‘green our bathrooms’. Ironically, one of the best things we could do is take a lead from the majority of the developing world and do away with toilet paper all together, but such a step lacks universal appeal not to mention sponsorship potential.
Moving on, the next category is ‘Green your cuisine’. I was expecting to find all sort of useful tips on how to reduce my carbon emissions by changing my cooking habits, as well as a strong message about reducing meat consumption. The meat industry creates more Co2 than the car industry. One of the single most important actions we could all take to make a difference is to reduce the amount of meat we eat.
Do the Green Thing have, in my opinion, done a good job of finding the right marketing message for this, with their slogan ‘Make Meat a Treat.’ If we can move from considering meat as something that is necessary for a ‘proper’ meal to seeing it as a treat to be enjoyed on special occasions, we could see dramatic drops in carbon consumption per capita. This poster gets this across beautifully, parodying the ‘enjoy responsibly’ campaign that has accompanied advertising for alcohol.
But, no, Climate Week’s thoughts on ‘Green your cuisine’ make no mention of meat, and instead consists of a single, rather vague point about making meals from leftovers. Disappointing indeed.
Next, another advertisement/ plug for a specific company, this time in the form of a ‘green’ energy supplier. Again, this is the only suggestion that is made under the ‘energy’ category, and no attempt is made to suggest ways in which we might actually reduce the amount of energy we consume at home.
I was especially curious to see what was included under the heading of ‘Sustainable DIY’ – I genuinely couldn’t imagine what sorts of suggestions might be made here. Using a hand drill instead of an electric one? How naive of me. Yes, you’ve guessed it, the category appears to have been included purely as a promotion opportunity, this time for a paint company that measures the carbon footprint of the products it manufactures. Measuring the carbon footprint is all well and good, but are they actually doing anything to reduce it, or encourage us to do our bit?
Of the eleven categories in the list above, there are only four that do not contain links to specific companies selling particular products. The four that are not linked to adverts are pretty limp, not really saying anything new and appear at the end of the list, all of which makes me think that this entire section of the website was created entirely for the purpose of giving a platform to advertise the products of companies that have given support to climate week.
I’m disappointed and I think it is a shame – even if the organisers of Climate Week had to include a page to list their corporate supporters, they could have used it as a real platform to share best practice and suggestions that we could engage with rather than the tokenistic disappointment that it is.
However, I don’t want to be so critical as to detract from the important messages that Climate Week is trying to convey. I very much hope that the week of events will go a long way towards renewing national ambition and confidence to combat climate change, far more deeply than simply persuading us to change our brand of toilet roll.
Do you care about climate change? Do you think you have a role to play in helping to reduce carbon emissions? Would you make small changes if you knew they would make a difference? What’s stopping you?
I’ve been thinking a lot about these sorts of questions recently, not least because I’m now working on an exciting and important piece of work looking at behaviour change for climate change. In doing so, my imagination has been particularly captured by the work of Elizabeth Shove (rhymes with cove not love). Professor Shove’s work has looked particularly at changing social practices and the implications of these for energy demand and climate change.
Her seminal paper on conventions of Comfort, Cleanliness and Convenience had quite an effect on me. In the paper, Shove talks about the changing dynamics of social practices and conventions in relation to, amongst other things, personal cleanliness. It has become normal – expected, even – in the Western world, to shower (or bathe) on a daily basis.
This is a relatively new development – Shove notes that it was less than a century ago that a weekly bath was the norm. But the social practice has very much taken hold, and the idea of showering any less than every day is largely unpalatable.
I recently discovered the extent to which people are repelled by the idea of less-than-daily-showering when I told some friends about my decision to halve the number of showers I take. My decision to do this was a direct response to reading Shove’s work, which made me see that I have succumbed, almost blindly, to participating in a social practice, for no good reason other than convention.
I recently discovered the extent to which people are repelled by the idea of less-than-daily-showering when I told some friends about my decision to halve the number of showers I take.
Like many people, I’m someone who is, in general terms, quite concerned about the climate change problem. I recognise that my actions contribute to over-consumption and that my behaviour results in a carbon footprint. I’d like to do more than I currently do to make a positive difference, but it isn’t always clear to me what I should do.
Showering less frequently appealed to me because it is such an obvious way to reduce the energy I use in heating water, as well as the amount of water I consume, without having a terribly negative impact on my life. So, for the past three months, I’ve been having a shower roughly every other day.
It was remarkably easy to make the change, and I haven’t felt uncomfortable, unclean or self-conscious. No one has said anything to me about me looking or smelling any worse than usual, so all in all I’d say the experiment has been a success, and I’ve (possibly) permanently shifted my habit.
Great, I thought, this is an easy thing that everyone could do: I’d better tell people about it. I did not expect my friends to react in the way they did. Comments included, “Don’t you feel disgusting?” “I can’t believe you went out for a meal without having had a shower – that’s so disrespectful to your friend.” “There’s no way I could do that, I’d be so embarrassed.” “Isn’t that a bit extreme?” Other reactions were more supportive, but, to my surprise, no one I spoke to was keen to give it a try. Even a friend who works as the sustainability manager for a higher education institution couldn’t imagine “feeling right” without having a shower in the morning.
I really was surprised by this – although I knew the social practices associated with cleanliness are embedded in our society, I somehow didn’t expect to find such deep attachment to them. Am I an extremist for showering less-than-daily? Is it really disrespectful to socialise without having showered? And more importantly, if social practices can become so widespread and so deeply ingrained within a generation, surely they can also be moderated or even reversed. What do you think – would you shower less to save the planet?
Here at The Great Recovery HQ we have been glued to our TV screens for the last few weeks watching BBC 2’s three part documentary series: Welcome to India. Over 1 in 6 of the world’s population live in India, and during the series we see the film crew follow a handful of ‘backstreet entrepreneurs’ who are all “learning to survive in a crowded world”.
In episode 1 we meet 23 year old Kaale who has moved from the countryside to the city of Kolkata in search of gold. Gold is a precious metal with huge cultural significance in India – it acts as insurance, and Indian housewives own an incredible 11% of the world’s gold stocks. That’s more than the USA, Germany and Switzerland put together. Kaale lives with 20 other men in a small room in Kolkata’s Jewellery district, and wakes at 3am every morning to begin work. The huge mass of goldsmiths who live and work in the area leave particles of gold on the street which falls off their clothes, hands and hair when they wash, and gathers with the dirt and dust. Kaale and his friends spend hours sweeping the streets and using traditional American gold panning techniques to extract the metal.
“When people look at the street, all they see is garbage… But we know what’s hiding here.”
During the hour long programme, we see Kaale taking his gold panning venture even further by lowering himself down the tiny drains of Kolkata, extracting sack loads of ‘sludge’ and selling it to Javed, whose family own a backstreet gold panning workshop on a disused bank of the River Ganges.
Here, Javed’s 20 employees work tirelessly to first dry the mud, then sieve and crush it into powder (the only mechanised part of the process) before using 19th century Californian techniques with a wooden board and water to massage the mud to trap gold particles in tiny grooves on the board. Mercury is added to the remaining mud to ‘stick’ to the gold, and this is moulded into ‘ranga’ balls which are heated to first drive off any impurities, then to melt off the mercury. All that remains is one final smelting with nitric acid and they are left with 24 carat gold! These tiny gold particles that could so easily be dismissed as lost are being meticulously sourced and implemented back into circulation.
In episode 2 we meet Kanye, who also works recycling metals, but on a much bigger scale. Mumbai is home to a cargo ship graveyard, and it is down to 16,000 workers to ‘butcher’ these 12,000 tonne ships from across the world. It is an extremely dangerous job – every part of the ginormous vessels is taken apart by hand. Not a bit of the boats go to waste. The reusable parts go to the market and supply the Indian construction industry with cheap recycled steel, and the bits that cannot be reused are turned into something else and sold on. Even the tiny specs of iron that gather on the floor are collected and sold on.
Moving away from metals, to plastic recycling: Johora lives with her 12 children and husband alongside the railway tracks in Kolkata. She has worked her way up from a rag-picker to business-woman, with 3 warehouses collecting, sorting and selling on empty plastic bottles. Her young son, who has a network of ‘suppliers’ (who scour rubbish tips, restaurant and shop refuse) and a rickshaw collects the bottles, and brings them back to the warehouses where 4 employees remove the labels and sort the bottles by colour. They are then bundled into huge balls weighing up to 100 kilos and sold by weight for around £50 each to the next link in the recycling chain. (Johora cheats a little here by filling the odd bottle with water to increase the weight!).
At the next stage of the recycling process, some of the bottles are shredded, and the ‘chips’ are sold to manufacturers of poly-synthetic fibres who can use them to make everything from polar fleece to the stuffing for your sofa cushions.
It’s thanks to businesses like Johora’s that India manages to recycle a massive 60% of all plastic bottles. We, on the other hand are not even close to this figure, this is what the UK aims to be recycling by 2020 – Europe currently recycle 48% of their plastic bottles, the US just 29%.
All of these examples encapsulate so well the ethos behind a circular economy, however the tragic part of this story is the fact that these people aren’t dredging mud out of drains or collecting plastic bottles because they care about the environment, for them it a necessity for survival: “Where you see trash, we see a livelihood”. It’s time that here in the west we began to realise that ‘trash’ shouldn’t really exist as a concept any more. Money can be made from the recycling and recovery process. What if we started collecting and selling all of our plastic bottles? What if recycling became more of a business than a chore?
This illegal ‘backstreet entrepreneurship’ can also be seen in San Francisco, where due to the California Bottle Bill of 1987 (which means a deposit is paid on all plastic and glass bottles sold in the state) recycling has become an extremely profitable business for gangs who raid recycling bins. In February’s edition of BBC 4’s ‘Costing the World’, Tom Heap meets a 78-year-old Vietnamese woman who has spent all night rummaging through bins to collect just £17 worth of recycling. While this illegal activity means that 78% of all waste in the city is diverted from landfill, imagine if we could make this a legitimate business model, instead of relying on those in desperate need to do the work for us, illegally. One of the main drivers for the Technology Strategy board putting up £1.25million for designers to come up with new approaches to the closed loop system are the rising cost of metals and other resources. China now own 97% of the Rare Earth market. We don’t use the words ‘sustainable’ or ‘eco’ as the drivers are now financial as well as moral.
One of the most interesting things to note about all of these stories is the networks that these people have. When Kaale decided to take extend his business to selling drain sludge, he knew exactly who to call who could process mud into gold. When Johora brought her own van so that she could sell her bottles on directly, she knew exactly where to take them to get the best price. It’s developing these networks that we need to build on. We need to make sure that we know where to take our goods to recycle them; we need to make sure we know a materials expert to consult when designing new products and we need to make sure we are building and using these networks at every stage of a products life span. We need to become a connected society.
(This blog was originally posted on the Great Recovery site)
When Sophie needed a new toothbrush, she was overwhelmed by the ridiculous choice of products available that all (give or take the odd tongue scrubber) do exactly the same thing. There are an awful lot of toothbrushes being made, and even more being thrown away. The NHS recommends that you “replace your brush or brush attachment every three months”. If we had all stuck to this advice in 2011, we would have thrown away 224.4 million toothbrushes in England and Wales alone.
So what happens to these toothbrushes when we throw them away? From the look of the one that Sophie found washed up on a beach, not a huge amount happens to them at all. Despite having been battered by the tides, this toothbrush looked in pretty good nick. So when these toothbrushes are sitting in landfill, they are doing just that. Sitting there. Wasted. All 224.4 million of them.
Then Sophie found a toothbrush that really puzzled her: A disposable electric toothbrush. The packaging clearly states to replace it after 3 months. It also carries the WEEE symbol, meaning that the consumer is responsible for ensuring the product is correctly recycled. But how? Sophie had no idea how to go about this. She couldn’t put it in with her regular recycling, and she didn’t want to just put it in the bin. So she took it apart!
Inside the toothbrush, along with a battery she found a motor, just like the ones that we have in our mobile phones to make them vibrate. The funny thing is, the motor wasn’t attached to the bristles. All this toothbrush does is make our hand vibrate.
She decided to send it to her friend Hywel at Sheffield Hallam University who took a closer look.
He found the plastic made up 85% of the weight of the tootbrush, and the motor alone was 10% of the total weight. Within this tiny 10% he has so far found the following ‘ingredients’:
This vast list is before we even get to the polymers used. These will contain fillers that he hasn’t yet measured, but titanium is likely to appear here.
The Royal Society of Chemists place Carbon and Tin as having a medium supply risk, and Tungsten and Neodymium as high. This means that if consumers don’t know how to recycle these small electrical items they fall through the gaps and these precious elements are locked in landfill, increasing the pressure on supply
The way to break this cycle is through systems thinking where everyone plays a role through the life cycle of the product, including the designer. Product designers could work with the design commissioner to make it easier to take the toothbrush apart (without the need for a saw!), packaging designers could work with supply chains to make recycling directions clearer, and government, brands and consumers could reassess the need for a disposable electric toothbrush in the first place,
Join us in our investigation into closed loop design. Why don’t you take something apart and see what you discover? (making sure you take the necessary safety precautions of course!) To contribute to our deconstruction series, contact Hilary.firstname.lastname@example.org or come along to one of our Great Recovery e-waste workshops, taking place throughout November.
This post was originally published on the Great Recovery blog.
Over the summer I went to Fellows’ network events in Nottingham, Cardiff and Leeds to discuss RSA Catalyst – the programme I manage supporting the new and early stage ideas for social innovations that RSA Fellows come up with.
I kept the events simple: firstly, I tried to get people thinking about new solutions to tackle social problems by talking about Catalyst-supported ventures and our criteria; then I asked local Catalyst-supported ventures to present; finally I gave those people with new ideas a structured platform for sharing them, in order to get attendees to give advice and start collaborating with them.
- Apply for Catalyst via www.thersa.org/catalyst; (two attendees of events already have, with one successful in getting a grant, the other shortlisted and encouraged to reapply once they have tweaked the improved their ideas in certain respects).
- Use the presentation I created to run similar events at more of the 60 places across the UK and internationally where Fellows meet regularly. The presentation, now up on the Fellows’ resources page, walks you through how to do this.
The Catalyst projects we heard from were:
- Our Leicester Day; who recently ran their second annual gathering in the main market square for all communities, local clubs, societies and charities to share what they do with the local community and get more participants
- Inklusive; who create sustainable employment for people with disabilities by remanufacturing, refilling and reusing printing cartridges rather than them ending up in landfill
- New Endings; brings together residents, artists and town planners, to re-imagine dead-end streetscapes
- Solderpad; A website for people to collaborate open-source on electronics
the main aim of the evenings was to hear and help new ideas being developed
But the main aim of the evenings was to hear and help new ideas being developed. Here are 6 ideas that were bubbling up at the meetings:
- Urban growing/housing Turn farmland in Lincolnshire into a town that grows more edible food than it does currently as farmland whilst building affordable housing – more details or contact
- Teaching support to start new peer-to-peer and online networks for and between new teachers, piloting in Cardiff and Bristol – contact
- Unemployment/advertising Council-owned land puts up advertising hoardings of local businesses that take on long-term unemployed and also advertise local charities – more details or contact
- Affordable housing a advice service for community groups across the UK to start Community Land Trusts, a way to generate affordable housing – more details or contact
- Education tours of a cemetery for children to learn about the history of Bradford through its former inhabitants – more details or contact
- Prisoners/photography Train prisoners to take photos in visitors centre to give a link during their time spent inside – contact
Where can I see Catalyst projects? “What if I want to expand a project to Cardiff?”
I’ve now put up a list of all ideas awarded a grant on the Catalyst webpage. Those projects at the top are the ones that the panel believe are most readily-scalable to other locations since they’ve been awarded an additional £5,000 Catalyst grant.
Why is Catalyst resource prioritised on those things that have “yet to be tried out”?
Taking on board feedback about the lack of clarity in this part of the criteria, last month the Fellowship Council Catalyst Working Group (the Fellows and senior staff who decide on grant awards and process changes) changed the criteria from prioritizing ideas that have “yet to be tried out” to ideas that “are totally new or applying something in a new setting”. This reflects the fact that we have supported ideas that are local responses to models proven elsewhere. For example, We Are Bedford is an empty shops project that focused on the inaccessibility of arts to the majority of Bedford residents and on the difficulty local arts and crafts businesses have in selling their products.
Why did Catalyst support Solderpad (see above); what have solder boards and a for-profit company got to do with a social problem?
after being asked ‘Where can I see Catalyst projects, I’ve now put up a list of all ideas awarded a grant on the Catalyst webpage
As always it was a pleasure to meet other Fellows of the RSA and I hope I’ve persuaded them and now you, the reader of this blog, to either apply for Catalyst or run a similar event using the presentation. Please leave me a comment if you have any questions or feedback.
This post was originally posted on Project Dirt, where we are building a cluster for all the community-led environmental projects in Peterborough.
Here at the Citizen Power Peterborough* project we’ve been working with community groups that have ideas which could make Peterborough a greener place. One way we’ve been doing this is by running workshops that allow people to develop their ideas and meet others, then help them apply for a Citizen Power grant that will allow them to test that idea on the ground.
So far we’ve funded further development of a well-loved community garden in Paston and a group who are in the process of assuming responsibility for a section of ancient woodland in Bretton. The latest decisions on funding were made at an event last Friday, when eleven individuals and groups applied for grants to allow them to put their ideas into action.
The three judges were environmental innovators Pam Warhurst of Incredible Edible Todmorden and Hermione Taylor of The DoNation, together with Councillor Sam Dalton – the member of Peterborough’s cabinet with responsibility for environmental issues. The judges heard from each group, who pitched the idea of their project for the chance of a grant.
Among others, the judges heard from one group who wanted to replicate the success of a Cambridge paint upcycling project in Peterborough. Rather than sending paint straight to landfill, they planned to collect waste paint from local recycling centres, store, sort and redistribute it to community groups and families.
A group of students from Peterborough Regional College presented a plan to convert old unused bicycles into safe and usable bikes. The improved bikes will be available for college students to buy at low weekly cost over the course of a year – making travel a more active and healthy experience, as well as being better for the environment.
The judges also heard from another individual who wanted to demonstrate the effectiveness of alternative energy systems like hydrogen power to people at public events. He planned to use an education fuel cell to power a low-energy projector, at the same time demonstrating and explaining the physics behind the post-oil future.
In the end, the judges opted to fund all eleven projects for amounts between £300 and £500 each. Each project will be creating a profile on Project Dirt (if they don’t have one already), so in time you’ll be able to keep track of their progress through the Peterborough cluster on Project Dirt.
Well done to all involved!
* Citizen Power Peterborough is an initiative from the people of Peterborough, the RSA, Peterborough City Council and the Arts Council, East
The full list of winners:
- Peterborough Repaint Scheme from Kevin and Fiona
- The Backyard Food Group Shop from Sophie
- Green Backyard Woodskills from Renny
- Rake and Bake Gardening Club from Parents United
- P£anet Bikes from Peterborough Regional College students
- Pond & Frogs project from Peterborough Regional College students
- An Introduction to Hydrogen Fuel Cells, HHO and Alternative Energy from Jordan
- Bike workshop from Dominic
- Slow Sewing from Lorena
- The Little Miracles Peterborough Sensory Garden from Michelle
- The Olive Branch Community Garden & Allotments from Mark
“I’ve been rich and I’ve been poor. Believe me, honey, rich is better.” This ‘brilliant insight’ by Sophie Tucker is one thing that came to my mind reading Jonathan Rowson’s blog about a major economic/environmental conundrum. We are running out of planet due to our exploding consumption but we don’t yet have an economic model that would be stable without this on-going explosion. Yet, I believe, the real challenge here is not a technical one but an adaptive one. Most likely we will have to go to being somewhat poor again eventually.
The technical challenge
As Tim Jackson put it, in our quest to save the planet we do have a major technical problem – finding an economic model which is stable without economic growth. However, it strikes me how little effort has been made to find it. After I read his brilliant book Prosperity Without Growth in 2010 I was hoping that after a respected economist had dared to voice such a ‘heresy’ against economic growth, at least some governments would start throwing money at finding a sustainable economic model. The reason why so little effort has been made to solve it probably lies in the fact we collectively are reluctant to accept the implications of ‘de-growth’ on our everyday lives. It’s not easy to get excited about buying less or traveling less. Thus, the real challenge seems to be an adaptive one. If we can’t adapt to becoming comfortable with reducing our consumption levels, then there won’t be enough political support to give money to those who believe in economic ‘de-growth’.
The adaptive challenge
That is why I am so interested in finding ways to encourage people to be more adaptable. Mindfulness is one thing has allowed me to cut my own consumption dramatically and yet live an even richer life. General research on mindfulness supports the notion that it allows people to become more comfortable with challenges such as that of reducing consumption. This however, is not enough to appeal to the majority of the population and we need to keep looking for ways to face various adaptive challenges.
Return to poverty
You may very well hate me for saying this but I am almost convinced that the currently high living standards in the West are just a temporary anomaly in world history. The Western world has been able to enjoy this period of enormous economic prosperity mostly because it has mostly been alone in such prosperity. Westerners have been able to use their wealth to buy disproportionate amounts of natural resources while they have still been in abundance. Now that much of the developing world is catching up and is joining us in the bidding game for natural resources, prices will inevitably continue rising. This will make things we buy more expensive squeezing our current living standards. Also, if the trend of the developing world catching up continues, there will be fewer and fewer people willing to produce iPhones and other goods for meagre wages, which will push prices up even more.
So coming back to Sophie Tucker’s ‘insight’ I believe most of us will have to shift to becoming somewhat poorer eventually. This will be a very difficult transition period. The higher we rise economically, the more painful that fall will be.
Return to prosperity
However, as Tim Jackson explains it, prosperity does not need to be limited to economic terms. There is an abundance of psychological research showing that economic prosperity is one among many things that correlates with a sense of wellbeing. Other sources of prosperity include the quality of our relationships, safety and vibrancy of our communities, a sense of autonomy, a sense of competence, and mental health. My hope is that once we become more adaptive and flexible we may be able to turn some our attention away from material prosperity to wider prosperity.
Perhaps the best line of the entire Durban summit on climate change came towards the end from a youth statement by Anjali Appadurai who was selected to speak on behalf of her generation. ”You’ve been negotiating all my life“, she said.
I would like to think her speech helped to give some energy to the exhausted negotiators at a point when coffee and fruit salad were no longer effective in keeping sleep away.
Friends of the Earth suggest the agreement on climate change emissions was ’feeble’, and insufficient to avert catastrophic rises in average global temperatures of above two degrees celcius – the level generally considered merely extremely bad, rather than completely disastrous for our continued tenancy of the planet.
No doubt more could have been achieved, and no doubt more needs to be achieved, and more quickly. Nonetheless Durban feels to me like an important step in the right direction, if not some sort of breakthrough.
The details of the international agreement still need to be fleshed out by 2015, and won’t be implemented until 2020, but agreeing to be part of such a binding process, and arguing about its details, is much better than no agreement at all.
Most fundamentally, it looks like the biggest barriers to international cooperation on carbon emissions, while still standing, no longer look unassailable. (I am reminded of a line from Predator: “If it bleeds, we can kill it.”)
Most fundamentally, it looks like the biggest barriers to international cooperation on carbon emissions, while still standing, no longer look unassailable. (I am reminded of a line from Predator: “If it bleeds, we can kill it.”)
The ‘big three’, USA, China and India appear to have been convinced by some powerful negotiating by Connie Hedegaard of the EU. The wider debate between developing and developed countries still stands, but it seems to be less of a sticking point. There is something unfair about the developed world, who polluted their way to growth, now asking the developing world to remain relatively impoverished because of a problem that was not of their making. However, the two most powerful proponents of this argument, India and China, have enjoyed hight levels of economic growth for over a decade. They still want their economies to grow, but the need for sustained high levels of growth is less acute than it looked a decade ago and there is more scope for cooperation.
That said, there were some sharp words along the way:
The increased flexibility of China is noted by Mark Lynas in the FT, but there was also a tetchy moment where China’s chief negotiator, Xie Zhenhua, lambasted the EU in a passionate speech, saying: “Who gives you the right to tell us what to do?”
There was an answer from one of the small island states that amounted to: because if you don’t change your ways, we will not exist- and how can we accept that?
Whether it is Appadurai, Hedegaard, Natarajan, or Nkoana-Mashabane, the biggest stars of Durban were women. A coincidence? I don’t think so.
India’s environment minister Jayanthi Natarajan also asked a searching question: ”How do I give a blank cheque signing away the livelihood rights of 1.2 billion members of our population?” However, it was because of Natarajan, who seems to have taken a decision that went beyond her country’s instruction, that a deal was achieved.
It is easy to get lost in the details, important though they are, but for me three things stood out from watching the Durban negotiations from afar.
1) When Europe is united, it is very powerful on the international stage.
2) Don’t give up.
3) It helps to have plenty of women around.
I know it’s slightly outrageous to say that, but that’s my overall impression. Whether it is Appadurai, Hedegaard, Natarajan, or Nkoana-Mashabane, the biggest stars of Durban were women. A coincidence? I don’t think so.
Meat production puts more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than transport. Estimates suggest that the production of meat accounts for 18% of carbon emissions, compared with 14% from transport. In their hot-off-the-press report about taxi drivers’ fuel efficiency, my colleagues Jamie Young and Jonathan Rowson argue that there is a lack of salience when it comes to climate change. This comes across pretty clearly in the British Social Attitudes Survey which came out this week.
Less than half (43%) of British citizens consider climate change to be dangerous for the environment
The results from the environment section of the survey are alarming. Despite the increasing urgency of the climate change problem, public concern about the environmental threat has declined over the past decade. Less than half (43%) of British citizens consider climate change to be dangerous for the environment; only 28% of us regard air pollution from cars as very or extremely dangerous, a figure which is down from 54% in 2000. These beliefs are reflected in our behaviour. Although recycling is now common, other forms of environmentally-friendly behaviour, such as cutting back on driving and reducing energy use in the home are much less so.
Given that we are pretty certain that there is a gap between knowing what we should do and actually doing it, throwing figures at people about how much carbon is emitted as a result of meat production probably isn’t terribly constructive. However, real life narrative about changes people manage to make might put something more meaningful in the mix.
So, I was vegetarian for eleven years. I gave up being a vegetarian almost as many years ago, and despite being quite an enthusiastic eater of meat, I generally make more meat-free meals than meaty ones. During my committed vegetarian phase, I became quite used to people complaining about the inconvenience of having to accommodate my dietary needs. Julie, an extremely close friend of mine, always gracious and polite, used to try very hard to feed me well when I was visiting her, but on one occasion she said to me “I just don’t know what you actually eat”.
Of the people I know, Julie is the least likely I would imagine to go meat-free. She has three menfolk in her house – two sons and a husband, all of whom have massive appetites and expect a daily dose of flesh-based protein on their plates. As a result of a gradual realisation of the impact of meat production on the climate, and partly swayed by the charismatic influence of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, Julie has sneakily withdrawn a great deal of meat from her family’s diet. As I understand it, this has involved a certain degree of deceit.
Basically, she hasn’t mentioned that she’s doing it. She serves up spaghetti bolognaise made with lentils instead of beef, and just doesn’t say anything. She feeds them ‘pie’ (which is actually quiche) – a double deceit here, given that the chaps in her house all claim not to like quiche, as well as assuming that ‘pie’ involves meat. I slightly get the impression that she’s getting as much satisfaction from the subterfuge as she is from doing her bit for the environment. Whatever’s going on in the background, she’s managed to more than halve the amount of meat they eat, and I really think that if Julie can do it, anyone can.