Friday 18 December 2009

Obama's Copenhagen Speech

'We ain't making more cuts unless China tells the world what their cuts are going to be' [Not his exact words of course!]

Full speech here

We wait and see!

Tuesday 8 December 2009

Sell the Sizzle

I've just read Futerra's 'Sell the Sizzle' guide, it is required reading for whoever thought the Please help the world - COP15 opening film was a good idea! The advice in Sell the Sizzle took me back to one of the '10 minute lectures' I did for Hackney Environmental Education Network back in June. So here it is:

10 Minute Lecture: I have a dream

I began the 10 minuter by playing an excerpt from Martin Luther King's 'I have a dream' speech. Below are my notes for the lecture:

That speech in total is around 15 minutes long, during it he highlighted the oppression black people in America had and were suffering. But, it is one of the most famous speeches ever because of four little words and how those words made people feel. ‘I have a dream’

In 1963, when that speech was made, America was on the cusp of great change. ‘I have a dream’ provided a persuasive impetus. The speech is memorable because it is so full of HOPE and EXCITEMENT.

Messages of hope are far to infrequent in Environmental Education. This is especially true in the mainstream media.

Most messages are ones of fear, controversy and blame. Sensationalism sells.

Climate change, for example, is often described as awesome, terrible, immense and beyond human control. It has been dubbed by some as ‘Climate Porn’ (Ereaut and Signit, 2006)

The problem with sensationalism is that the scale of the problem is presented as so big that people become paralysed into inaction by feelings of insignificance. This is compounded by environmentalists telling people to give things up and to engage in mundane solutions: Changing lightbulbs, recycling, public transport, insulation, renewable energy, composting, campaigning etc etc... to a lot of people they sound like a series of chores.

All of those things are not THE answer, they are a small part of the answer. We need people to change their whole way of life, we need people to enjoy themselves without compromising the ability of others to enjoy themselves. As environmental educators we need to start showing the way and not just in terms of practical solutions. We need to create hope and excitement and not spread blame and depression. We don’t create waste and pollution because we hate the environment, we create it as a by product of doing the things that we hope will bring us wellbeing.

NEF has identified 5 ways to wellbeing: 1. Connect, 2. Be Active, 3. Keep learning, 4. Take notice, 5. Give...

Consumer culture conditions us to try and meet these needs in material heavy, energy dependent ways; we are sold pseudo-satisfiers that promise much but only provide short term satisfaction therefore driving us to discard one product as we buy a shiny new one.

‘Sustainability’ is about doing these five things in socially and environmentally responsible ways.

For this we need two things:

  1. Understanding of how we can and why we need to live sustainably.
  2. Opportunities and inspiration to lead a fulfilling and varied life.

We need more of the first and a hell of a lot more of the second, we need to start showing the way. We can meet all five things in low impact ways, but a lot of people have forgotten, or in the case of my generation, never really learned.


I'm really impressed with the Futerra guide. As it says at the end what we need now are lots of positive visions of the future. It is what we're trying to do with Global Footsteps.

Tuesday 10 November 2009

Alain de Botton's Six-Part Series on Philosophy: A Guide to Happiness

Just wanted to create a link to an excellent Six Part series on Philosophy by Alain de Botton. each programme is about 20 mins long and looks at several big emotions like 'happiness', 'anger' and 'love'. Each programme filled me with ideas for workshops critiquing consumerism, materialism, affluenza and so on. My fave thing to do would be to create a 'Diogenes Happiness Wall' (see Epicurus on Happiness) I'm hopefully going to give it a go at a forthcoming LEEF event I'm planning!

Thanks to John Graham-Cumming for posting the links in one place:

Monday 2 November 2009

Documentary: The Shock Doctrine: RSA Screening

Last night we went to watch The Shock Doctrine at the RSA....

After a 2009 packed with high impact environmental films: The Age of Stupid, End of the Line, Pig Business, The Vanishing Bees... 2010 looks set to kick off with some films that don't leave you feeling depressed and saddened and helplessly thinking 'oh dear'. The Shock Doctrine, directed by Michael Winterbottom and 'starring' Naomi Klein takes us to the next step; it makes you angry, motivated and ready to take to the streets. The next step after that, something that was brought up during the Q&A is that we need an alternative ideology to follow, economically and politically; we also need a leader, where is the next Che Guevara (without the violence, or maybe with it?)? Neither are currently obvious.

The Shock Doctrine is a film you have to lean forward, listen intently and concentrate on right the way through, it is like an Adam Curtis doc, but not quite as good. The basic premise is the same as Klein's book. Klein argues that wars as well as economic, environmental and terrorist shocks have been used systematically by neo-liberal governments to hurry through public sector reforms in the shape of mass privatisations of just about everything. The end result is inequality of the kind so well described in the book: 'The Spirit Level'. We live in society in which the rich are very rich and the rest of us are sleepwalking in a bubble of escapism, idly letting our public services slip away as everything is privatised and run for profit. The villian according to Klein is Milton Freidmann, whose extreme free market economics was ushered in by Reagan and Thatcher via Augustus Pinochet and Jorge Rafael Videla Redondo and has since guided the policies of nearly all the rest of the worlds governments.

Where does this film leave us? It leaves me wondering whether the UK and US population at large will wake up to the domestic and global inequality that results from extreme neo-liberalism.. I am left wondering whether a digital technology inspired documentary led revolution will give rise to a mass movement of individuals rebelling against free market economics. What we have at the moment is a society in which being financially rich is the main game, everyone wants money and fame. While this mindset persists, which it does so thanks to the mass media, a grassroots movement is unlikely, it is akin to asking people to fight against what they are striving to achieve for themselves... people still believe that they can be super rich, when it is painfully obvious that only a lucky, small elite can ever be. But while individuals harbour this belief and cling to it, their expectations remain high and they go on living as Selfish Capitalists.

Tuesday 20 October 2009

Environmentalism is like a bad school play

Environmentalism is like a bad school play.

  • Lots of badly prepared and over excited people stand in front of a bemused, but sympathetic audience desperately trying to deliver a coherent story.
  • Actors desperately hope that singing and dancing mixed with comradeship, perseverance and loud voices will get them through.
  • The kind audiences keep up the illusion that the performers are being taken seriously and offer polite applause in the right places.
  • The odd talent stands out, but her role is perhaps not central enough for her talents to be distinguishable from the collective she is marooned within. Besides, her family and teachers probably urge her to stop 'dreaming' and to prepare herself to face the realities of the unchanging real world.

Applause for the nobility of trying has a sadness that is absent from the applause that marks success, excellence or triumph. It feels shallow to do it and feels hollow to receive it, but everyone (sort of) smiles. When this current tidal wave of environmentalism ebbs away, taking with it its posse of disillusioned protagonists, it will have made a lot of noise but will probably have achieved very little. Shouting and screaming about environmental problems can only get us so far, not very far. I fear we will need an Encore; another powerful, more imaginative, wave of environmentalism, one that isn't scared to think about, challenge and change the systems that have created our current predicament. Given the situation we find ourselves in the Encore had better be short but magnificent. We’ll need creative people to design and deliver it; we will need adults who have not had their creativity battered out of them by their schools and families.

This is a long winded way of saying watch this Sir Ken Robinson TED lecture.

Friday 16 October 2009

Modern Britain?

Things to do round behind the Tate Modern

Newsnight: 'Greens on Trial'

Just wanted to write a quick comment about Wednesday’s ‘Greens on Trial’ Newsnight special. It was a good insight into where we are.

Emily Maitlis kept calling Nuclear Power and GM Crops ‘solutions’ and accused environmentalists of being too stubborn to accept these ‘solutions’. The problem is that they are not necessarily ‘solutions’ and that was all Zac Goldsmith, Caroline Lucas et al were saying. Nuclear Power is merely a ‘response’ and not necessarily a sensible one right now. ‘It is uneconomic, unsafe and unnecessary, there are much cheaper and safer ways of generating electricity’ as the Green Party leader (Caroline Lucas) put it. Goldsmith agreed and pointed out that Nuclear cannot be up and running quickly enough and it would not be up and running at all if it wasn’t for bags of government subsidy. That money, if any exists to do anything meaningful on Climate Change, should be directed into areas of bigger priority and impact. John Sauven of Greenpeace called for this, the priority for him was CCS and Energy Efficiency.

These are excellent areas to prioritise in at the moment, but in the longer term, we need to invest in education to help people adjust to a changing world. In the next few decades oil prices are going to soar and with that the prices of just about everything else will soar. Whether we like it or not this is going to change the way we live, we need to prepare people for this and stop pretending that our current way of living can go on forever, it plainly can’t. We need to be skilling people up to build flourishing, enjoyable local economies. We need to be inspiring people and giving them the opportunity to enjoy their lives under the new conditions. The transition towns movement marks the beginnings of this, but it needs to go far beyond community gardening and plastic bag banning in small middle class towns. We need films, music, talks, books, magazines, websites, paintings, cartoons and plays that celebrate and inspire enjoyable fulfilling lives that are naturally low impact. We need to invest in these things and do them well.

Friday 25 September 2009

The rise of Product Placement

Brand republic reported last week that secretary of state for culture media and sport Ben Bradshaw has announced a Government U-turn on the laws limiting product placement on British TV. It is already rife in films, James Bond wears a 'xxxxx' watch and drives a 'xxxx' car as he goes around being a sexy macho uber man. If you watch any US made programmes you will find loads of product placement, this image is from American Idol. Not all of it is as blatant as this example, the more subtle efforts probably work better anyway. So where were the Climate Change campaigners when Ben Bradshaw made this announcement at The Royal Television Society last week? If I had of known about it earlier, I would have gone down there, I'm keeping my eyes open for other opportunities. Consumerism is at the heart of most if not all environmental problems. We live in an age of aggressive materialism product placement is like a virus that fills the minds of the TV viewing public with reassurances that drinking Coke, driving SUV's, wearing designer label clothes and so on is OK and indeed desirable. Obviously this could be a good thing, maybe Ecotricity, Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace will be able to infiltrate their logos into Eastenders and Coronation Street, somehow I think they will be blown out of the water by bigger, richer, more polluting corporations. Throw away your television

Wednesday 23 September 2009

Comments on: 'Exploring Behaviour Change Barriers at Greengaged'

This is a comment I left on an article by Ed Gillespie over on Greengaged...

There is some great stuff here, lots of people are beginning to sit up and take notice of the fact that people don't 'hurt' the environment because they hate it. They hurt it because they love doing other things like 1. travelling, 2. expressing themselves through their appearance, 3. eating(!) and 4. having a warm, well lit home. Those four categories are just the tip of the iceberg, they have many sub-categories: People like driving Ferrari's, people like wearing Diesel jeans, people like eating Tesco's finest strawberry cheesecake and people like buying the latest SMEG fridge... The reasons why people like doing things are hugely complex and they all make sense to us in some way at the decision making moment. A lot of things don't make sense to us when we have our eco hats on but they do make sense to us when we have our 'Keeping up with the Joneses' or 'I want to be sexy' hats on. To use academic speak here, we have 'plural rationalities'; for example, something can seem completely irrational from an environmental perspective but entirely rational from a marital harmony perspective (and the latter in that example almost always wins out!) Design has a massive role to play in making our lives more eco-efficient, but and this is a big BUT... the reasons why people want fashionable clothes and for that matter fashionable homes, holidays, food and all the rest of it, are complex. They involve the interrelationships we have with our peers, our heroes, our family, our community, our old school friends as well as brands, governments, environmentalists, celebrities and social networking sites (that bring all these thing into one intense space)!

We have been infantalised by the kings and queens of consumerism into feeling that we need a multitude of goods and services to be 'happy', 'normal', 'unique', 'cool', 'young', 'vibrant' and so on. Eg: in 2009 we discovered that we MUST twitter, so we all do! The cultural world around us creates anxieties, it makes us feel we are missing out and that we are inadequate, behind the times and un-cool as a result. Nearly all this adds up to education AGAINST sustainability because we are encouraged to buy goods, services, holidays, etc that are only ever really pseudo-satisfiers of our insecurities and more often than not environmentally damaging in their manufacture, marketing, transport, use and disposal (reused and recycled or not).

If we are not careful 'being green' will become just another one of these insecurities and will mix in with all our other insecurities as we struggle to create and maintain an acceptable public image. For many 'being green' is already something they aspire to, but is it because they genuinely understand and feel the need to be deeply, in the same way as they are not racist, or is it because everyone else seems to think it is pretty important to 'be green'. If most people are in the latter category the result is widespread shallow environmentalism; greenwash at the individual level transferring to societal wide greenwash. In the UK today, it is much harder to be deeply green than it is to be a non-racist. Not being racist is not a chore, it does not conflict with the rest of our lives. Being green is much harder as it can compromise our desires to buy/do things that promise to relieve our manufactured and genuine needs, wants and insecurities. Things like being cool, being relaxed, being safe, being young and sexy and, when it comes to commuter travel choices, being on time! We can't have all these things in 'sustainable' ways so it is good that designers are trying to make these things more eco-efficient, but often we can come to not feel the need for the things at all and that is the important point to remember.

The human race is still evolving, it is still incredibly immature and insecure. We need to mature as people and as a species so that we are less reliant on external confirmations that we are 'ok'. We need to be more secure in who we are and more efficient at satisfying rather than buying into 'pseudo' satisfiers of both our material and non-material needs. Designers have a huge role to play in this, they can design the material things we need 'cradle to cradle' and resist the temptation to add un-related meanings to their products. 'This fridge will keep your food cold with minimal environmental impact and it will look as 'ok' as a lump of metal in the corner of your kitchen can look' as opposed to 'This fridge tells people that you are successful, glamorous, artistic and on the pulse.'

Education FOR sustainability and Environmentally responsible behaviour change is about far more than just working out 'greener' ways of having a jacuzzi or playing a computer game, it is about empathy, kindness, respect, maturity, status anxiety, the music of Crass, Kramer vs Kramer, Into the Wild and Tobias Jones' excellent book 'Utopian Dreams'. Systemic change is needed because we can't keep having it all, we need an economic and cultural system that understands that and does not foster a desire in us to want, want, want, buy, buy, buy.

Monday 14 September 2009

Zac Goldsmith

Zac Goldsmith is on the verge of a new stage in his career, he is running for government. He also has a new book out about constant economies. He is poised to become the most influential environmentalist. On September 23rd he has a public meeting down near Wimbledon, here are the details:

23 September 2009
Public meeting Coombe Hill
Wednesday 23 September at 7.45, Coombe Hill Junior School, Coombe Lane West, KT2 7DD

Zac will be discussing:
Local Schools
Council Tax
Green spaces
Parking charges
Small Shops.. and any other issues you would like to raise, so please come along!

More details:

It should be interesting to hear what his audience there has to say. I'm going to try to go along!

Tony Juniper looking forward to Copenhagen?

I'm interviewing a few people for my book at the moment, perhaps this is why I'm not getting much put up on this blog! Here is an extract from the interview I did with Tony Juniper last month. I asked him if he is going to Copenhagen this December, what his aims are and what he thinks might happen.
I’m going to watch, that will be my main aim, find out what happened and to have that as an important piece of information. It is always best to be there I find. I mean if you look at the media coverage it is inevitable that the stuff that comes out the day after the thing finishes is always instructive in that you look at 10 articles and you’ll get 10 completely different versions of what happened depending on who the journalist spoke to just as the meeting was closing. Did they speak to Eva De Burgh, the head of Greenpeace, the Americans, the EU or the Chinese? You get a different version from all of them... absolute success, complete disaster, mixed kind of wins, no wins at all. You have to be there really to form your own views because the media... it’s too complicated for a news story, that’s part of the trouble.
But, what’s going to happen there? I don’t know. The countries are still divided, there does not seem to be a lot of sweetness and light between different blocks, the Africans and the Europeans and the Chinese and the Americans, never-mind the Indians, the Russians and the Brazilians. So the chances of a deal that is going to do what is needed, i.e. a 40% cut by 2020, 80-90% cut by 2050, I don’t think there is a very big chance that is going to be done at Copenhagen. What we might get is some modest commitments in outline, probably not a very detailed deal at Copenhagen but maybe, at best, an agreement that countries need to work towards some framework that will include adaptation, cuts, money, forests, whatever and maybe that will get some flesh put on it during 2010 with any luck.
Some people say that the worse thing that could happen in Copenhagen is half of a crap deal that can be presented as a good one and the mistake then is that governments in the West, in particular, believe that they‘ve done the job when actually what they’ve committed to is like a 5% cut by 2020 and they think that is good. That could be the worst case scenario. In some ways a complete collapse in Copenhagen, on the grounds that it is crap might not be the worst outcome if it means they have to come back again and the political anti is lifted. But, yes there is a real danger that there could be something weak coming from there that is seen as the answer. I think what will probably happen is that there will be half a deal and it will get signed off in 2010. But, you know, it is still going to be one that does the job really, this is kind of last chance. I mean everyone has said it, but it’s true, you know the more the science comes through with new runs on the modelling and observations on what is happening to the seas and the oceans and everything else, you can see that this is actually worse than anyone thought, in terms of scale and speed that it is going at. So, you know four degrees temperature increase plausible by 2100, complete catastrophe for life on Earth including humankind, this is the last chance to avoid it really... [wry laugh]
So there you have it, what must not happen is 'half a crap deal' lets hope it doesn't!

Wednesday 5 August 2009

Option to recycle?

I like the last line: 'If you have an option to recycle an item please do' you always have the option, put it in your bag and take it home!

Wednesday 29 July 2009

Well, it'll make you laugh a bit a least....

Communicating Climate Change with Camera

Had a lovely night out with staff, volunteers and session workers from ecoACTIVE last night. I'd spent the afternoon working on a little project on how to talk about climate change with 'normal' people in social situations without boring the pants off them or antagonising them massively. Normally if I'm out socially I specifically avoid the subjects sustainability, environment, climate change and so on for fear of being shot down in barrage of yawns..... but it was really nice to hang out with people who understand the issues and are not afraid to talk about them, or dare I say it, enjoy talking about them! I had a good chat with Andy Bodycombe, a photojournalist, about how to communicate climate change issues in ways that make it personal and tangible to people, like us, who are temporally and/or geographically so removed from the impacts. Andy and I talked about the danger of falling into the cliches when it comes to telling stories and raising awareness. From a photography point of view, we luckily seem to be veering away from the Polar bears hugging ice cubes and cracks on desert floors cliches. It is still, however, really very difficult to find ways to educate people for sustainability when there are so many images surrounding us that add up to education against sustainability.

My opinion is that you don't necessarily have to mention the environment or climate change at all to provide some education for the environment. Photojournalism wise, if you can show stories of people simply getting on with living sustainably and enjoying it, you can provide inspiring examples. Especially if you can explain what is bringing them wellbeing (community, learning, fulfilment, activity, sharing, empowerment, pride etc) rather than just showing happy faces. After all it is the oldest marketing trick in the book to show a photo of a happy family... in their car, on their sofa, on a sun lounger, in a fast food restaurant... to sell something. The promise of happiness is a strong and powerful one and one that people routinely buy into whether it is an idealised illusion or not. Somehow we need to get the population of Britain and the rest of the World to buy into sustainability to create a low impact but vibrant, healthy and enjoyable society. Acting sustainability is not about just opting out of the consumer economy hunkering down in a log cabin with a good book and an acoustic guitar defiantly humming 'I might not have any friends but at least my carbon emissions are below 1 ton a year la la la', that is a cop out; a bitter and lonely one. Acting sustainably is about being part of an ecologically sustainable economy and contributing to that economy through ones purchasing decisions, work and leisure activities and enjoying it. That economy does not have to be at a national or global scale to begin with, it starts at grass roots and grows. This growth creates signposts to other people, governments and entrepreneurs, signposts that bring more people in. These things are happening and we need to tell those stories.

What we don't need (again in my opinion - good old blogosphere!) are stark warnings about the end of the world and how we must 'reduce our consumption', 'give things up' and 'buy green'. These messages translate in people's minds to 'have less fun', 'do some chores' and 'be a responsible adult'. They are all counter intuitive to our present culture. At the moment most environmentalists persist with trying (and mostly failing) to get people, governments and businesses to buy into things that, to them, look like mundane chores, vote losers, restrictions on fun and short term profit losses. Environmentalists are trying to persuade people to give up goods and services that are environmentally unsustainable; right intent wrong strategy. Many of these goods and services are, at best, only 'pseudo satisfiers' of our basic non-material needs. But, trying to persuade people to give them up without sufficiently advising on and offering alternative, genuine, satisfiers of those needs; things like love, respect, fulfilment, meaning, joy, creativity, diversity, stimulating conversation and community, is a hugely inefficient process. Businesses know that people need all these things in their lives and have for decades been making people feel anxious and insecure about their lack of status, friendships, creativity and so on while at the same time positioning their products as solutions or satisfiers of their needs. The solutions are largely only 'pseudo-satisfiers' because as The Beatles put it: 'you can't buy me love' and a material consumption based economy would not work if these goods and services really did keep their promises of happiness, love, respect etc etc. To get people to consume less without advising on, inspiring, offering and, in fact, selling opportunities for them to satisfy their basic non-material needs in genuine non-material ways is shortsighted. Few people will do it for the sake of preventing some distant environmental disaster, they will only do it if it benefits them, now.

So, lets tell the stories of people who are fulfilled, secure, respected, loved, emotionally stable and fun. These are the people who can see through 'pseudo-satisfiers' and therefore don't buy them, they are people who don't see the 'green' behaviour as a major ball ache, they see it as common sensical and aligned with their everyday existence. They are not overly antagonised by environmentalists and are happy to add a bit of green nous to their life because it won't be a big chore. They also probably don't make a big song and dance about being sustainable either, its just what they do.

Governments and businesses in the end take their lead from people; they need to please them. It will be much easier for a government to impose taxes and regulations on environmentally damaging products in an attempt to phase them out if people are not buying into them anymore. Governments, at the moment, are finding it very difficult to make radical policy decisions for the sake of the environment because they know that there will be a public backlash. Environmentalists need to help people see through the pseudo-satisfers while providing and promoting opportunities for less stressful, less anxious, less materialistic, more fulfilling, more enjoyable and (with added green nous) therefore ultimately more sustainable lives. It is starting to happen, get your camera out and spread the word!

Tuesday 21 July 2009

The Bigger Picture

New Economics Foundation are putting on an event in October called The Bigger Picture, loads of great speakers, some excellent fringe events and hopefully really positive, you can register for it at this website:

Thursday 25 June 2009

Karianduri Primary School

I visited Karianduri Primary School today on our Global Venture. It was good to see that Environmental Education is happening deep in the Rift Valley, it was sad to realise how neccessary it is for children to understand how to cope with effects of climate change. It's been an emotional day. I wrote about it here:

Sunday 21 June 2009

I'm off to Kenya!

I'm off to Kenya tonight with Global Footsteps on a Global Venture. I've got that strange mix of excitement and anxiety running through me today! I'll be writing regular updates on the Global Footsteps blog, so please keep an eye on it. I'll be looking at lots of stuff relating to education for sustainability, so will hopefully have plenty to write about on here when I get back!

Monday 8 June 2009

Whale Wars: Final Episode TONIGHT 9PM Discovery Channel

This is just a quick heads up to say that the last episode of Whale Wars is on Discovery Channel tonight at 9pm! These are some pretty passionate people and they are fighting to end all Whaling. It is compelling viewing! Sea Shepard are hard core environmentalists!

More here:

Wednesday 3 June 2009

A response......

This is a first. It is a response to 2 comments I have had. One came from eco-boudoir on 'eco-bling' and the other was from 'anonymous' on Pig Business. My response is mostly about eco-boudoir and their contribution to the type of comment made by 'anonymous'.

Re: Eco Boudoir: This sort of 'environmentalism' capitalizes on and creates a desire to be a certain type of 'green' - 'conspicuously green'. It embodies consumer culture rather than challenging it. Given the premium prices of these ‘green’ products, being conspicuously green communicates the message: I buy green because I can afford to.

Being green is therefore often portrayed as a middle/upper class endeavour pursued by those who can afford the ethical lifestyle that reaffirms their social status.

The effect of 'eco-bling' is that the majority of the world's people see being green as a luxury decision, one they can't afford to take - see the comment made by 'Anonymous' to my Pig Business article. The truth is that being green is not an expensive thing to do, it is in fact cheaper than being materialistic, it shouldn't cost you more money to be green! NEF have identified 'Five ways to Wellbeing' that are summarised by these headings: Connect... Be Active... Take Notice... Keep Learning...and...Give. Sustainability is about doing all these things in environmentally and socially responsible ways - Enjoying life without compromising the ability of others to enjoy theirs. The possibilities are endless!

Supposedly ethically 'wise' wealthy westerners should not, in my view, still be painting the consumption of luxury, expensive, materially dependent goods and services as the definition of success, happiness and the good life. It is irrelevant whether the good is produced ethically or not, the message is still: 'You need to be indulgent and extravagant to be a sophisticated woman.' The ethical messaging just adds 'green' to that sentence, you can place it before indulgent or after sophisticated. Most people can't afford luxury goods at all let alone pay an added green premium, they therefore opt for the cheaper unsustainable option, whether that be pants, pork, paint or pull overs even if they want to be green. They also get frustrated with the smug, rich and conspicuously green.

It all comes down to how people define what it is to be 'green', we can't go on defining being green as being a consumerist. As convenient as it would be, consumerism and environmentalism can't exist hand in hand. Einstein said: “You cannot solve a problem from the same consciousness that created it. You must learn to see the world anew.” As environmentalists we need to help people let go of consumerist values (consciousness) and crucially show the way to more fulfilling lives that are less dependent on material goods and services that promise but never really deliver happiness and wellbeing. This is what people like NEF and Tom Hodgkinson are trying to do, maybe the people at Eco-Boudoir could get involved and stop winding up people like 'anonymous' and me!

Still unclear? Read Stewart Barr on the myth of green living

Tuesday 2 June 2009

Schumacher on Wisdom

I've just been re-reading EF Schumacher's Small is beautiful (1973). Came across one of my favourite passages in the Education chapter (p. 66):

At present, there can be little doubt that the whole of mankind is in moral danger, not because we are short of scientific and technical knowledge, but because we tend to use it destructively, without wisdom. More education can help us only if it produces more wisdom.

Thursday 28 May 2009


Last night Emma and I shunned the Champions League final to watch a film about Pig farming. Pig Business is set to be shown on More 4 very soon. We were made to wait about 15 minutes for the film to start thanks to the company whose shocking practices were at the heart of it. Smithfield Foods are determined to stop this film going on widespread release, they have threatened the filmmaker, Tracy Worcester, with legal action over some of the claims in the film. Worcester is not phased by this and will not be intimidated by them so the screening went ahead and I hope Channel 4 are brave enough to show it too.

The film itself describes the shocking practice of factory farming that is going on in the poorer regions of the EU. The film is shot mainly in Poland where Smithfield have moved their operations after being forced out of the USA because of changes in animal welfare standards. The EU standards for animal welfare are lower than the ones we have here in the UK, yet supermarkets here are allowed to import pork from the EU, farmed by corporations like Smithfield in these horrendous factory farms. The film described the impacts that the factory farms have had on small scale, traditional farming communities: job losses, break up of community, empty fields and so on. The film has many interviews with people whose health is being effected by the gases coming out of the factories near their homes. There is one scene in which dead piglets are dragged out by trespassing protesters from a foul lagoon of pig excrement, it is not pleasant viewing. Unfortunatley, for libel reasons, Tracy Worcester was not even able to tell us in the Q&A, how it is thought that those piglets ended up there. I cannot imagine they got there legally.

There are wider implications of this film in that it exemplifies how large corporations are overpowering and destroying many ways of life. Small businesses cannot compete with the 'efficiency' of large corporations, proud people who would once have had the dignity of running thier own business are now low paid employees who have little choice but to work for corporations.

My main feeling on this issue is that the heart of the problems lies in the way we have been conditioned to expect cheap food. As was pointed out in the film and is also dicussed in Carl Honore's book 'Slow', people, fifty years ago, used to spend around 40% of their income on food, now that figure is down to around 10%. It would make more sense if it is was somewhere around 20-25%. Factory farmed pork comes cheaper than Farmer's market pork, the reason is that Factory Farms don't pay the full environmental and social costs attached to what they do. To buy non Smithfield, or non factory farmed pork, or any kind of non factory produced meat for that matter, costs more money. Being able to buy food (a basic material need) cheaply, frees up our wallets to spend a larger portion of our income on our wants, wants that have come to be perceived as needs... "I need a new top, I need some new shoes, I need Sky TV, I need that new CD etc, etc"... Buying food from farmer's markets is seen as a bit of a luxury pursuit (it shouldn't, the price differences are really quite small) that only the richer classes can indulge in.

I agree with Zac Goldsmith and the French here, I think the UK should ban imports of food that is produced using methods banned in the UK. The result would be an increase in the price of pork, a price that factors in true environmental and social costs and therefore a real price. If you then want Pork you need to make the decision whether to have an extra 4 pack of lager in the fridge or some very tasty bacon. The price of food produced in environmentally and socially sustainable ways is not too high, our expectations of how much of our income we should spend on food are too low.

Right, its lunchtime, I'm off to make a vegetarian pasta dish, because the easiest way to remove oneself from an industry that treats animals as nothing more than raw materials for processing is to not buy any of its products, ever.

Saturday 23 May 2009

Getting my knickers in a twist

Got this advert in my email today:

Attached was this invitation:

"Come and visit design director, Yvonne Ellis at Harvey Nichols, Knightsbridge. She will be talking about our SS09 collection on May 24th - 27th from 12 noon to 7pm. We will be offering an organic silk and Bamboo eye mask with every purchase. We look forward to seeing you there. With love Eco-boudoir x"

The tag line on the Eco-boudoir website is this: 'Luxury materials produced in the most eco-friendly way.'

On thier 'philosophy' pages they say this: "We have made eco sexy" But, what if it doesn't want to be sexy, what if it being sexy is actually a bad thing? I don't think we should be encouraging people to be conspicuosly green, because you're not then asking them to question conspicuous consumption.

Eco-bling drives me up the wall. The most 'eco-friendly' thing to do would be to not make 'luxury materials' in the first place. Companies like this take the attitude that 'we simply must have luxury lingerie for the ladies of Knightsbridge, the world would be so much poorer without it.' How about asking whether we should still be defining luxury in this way and whether the world really needs a company that sells pants for £40 each? More importantly does it need a company that adds to the idea that women should aspire to buy a Bamboo Summer Camisole and Shorts for £149? On the philosophy part of their website they say this: 'Eco Boudoir offers the woman who understands style and extravagance, everything she needs for indulgence and intimacy; from the sexiest and silkiest underwear against her skin to the softest of throws and cushions.' Should the environmental movement be getting pally with people who have 'needs' for indulgence and 'understand', the (assumedly positive) value of, 'extravagance'?

I'm sure the people who run Eco Boudoir are good people with good intentions and they do do a lot of work to raise awareness of the environmental and social impacts of knicker production see this video. But, maybe they should be questioning the the very existence of the product, not just the way it is produced, because lets face it, nobody really needs a £325 printed silk dressing gown do they?

Monday 18 May 2009

HRA Foundation Bangladesh / Curry With Love UK

Through my work with Global Footsteps I have become involved with a Bangladeshi Community Capacity building project called The HRA Foundation. It has recently run into difficulties, I have written a report outlining the problems and I am trying to raise awareness and support. This is what I'm sending out to journalists:

The HRA Foundation, a community capacity building project based in the Bishwanath sub-district of Sylhet, Bangladesh, has been forcefully and illegally closed down by powerful and self-interested local members of the ruling Awami League Political Party. The Awami League promised in its recent election manifesto, Vision 2021, that it is ‘committed to freeing Bangladesh from its current state of crisis and building a country whose citizens are able to live prosperous and happy lives.’1 The HRA Foundation was set up along very similar principles to the Vision 2021, it is supported by UK partners The Rendezvous Society (UK registered charity: 293357) and Martin Horwood MP (Cheltenham, Lib Dem). Its closure clearly contradicts Awami League promises and is an example of the political obstacles standing in the way of economic and social development in Bangladesh. Awami League public representatives with dual Bangladesh and British citizenship are implicated by their non action. They have thus far failed to attempt any arbitration and have willingly and very wrongfully painted the closure of the foundation as a simple family feud over property rights. The reasons for its initial closure were due to disagreements at a micro level, its continued closure highlights worrying truths about the Awami League at a macro level.

The HRA foundation was founded by Arosh Ali and is financed purely by the Curry With Love Bangladeshi takeaway and delivery service in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire. I have uploaded a report outlining the origins and current situation of the HRA Foundation and Curry With Love to the Global Footsteps news page. Please read it here

Tuesday 12 May 2009

A Modest Suggestion

Last Friday Emma and I went to a supermarket to do a ‘big shop’ it was an ethically painful process (its not like I was n’t expecting it to be like that by the way! It is also not as if I have never been to a supermarket before, I've been hundreds of times!) I was going to write a normal blog about this 'suggestion' but I ended up writing a poem. I performed it at the Green Party Fundraiser on Sunday night here it is:

I’m looking for a section, with a modest selection of low impact food that might fit the current mood for sustainable change as we move into the age of environment awareness, ecological fairness.

Although I’m perfectly able, I’m tired of checking labels, this sort of shopping should be quick but I stick, stick, stick...

In the aisles of many miles sifting through the over travelled piles of fruit that might just mute my overzealous conscience that diverts me from the nonsense of buying out of season for no better reason that it comes cheap and easy in an attempt to please me, me, me.

The layout of this shop slows me to a stop, because I have to assess exactly how much mess each item bought is likely to have wrought on this fragile little planet just so I can scan it.

So I’m asking for a section with a modest selection of low impact food for me to pick and choose while being safe in the knowledge that a Professor from a college has independently checked that each item has n’t wrecked any lives or any land, directly or unplanned on its journey to my basket, it’s not much to ask now is it?

Now I don’t expect perfection lets have failures and corrections, lets tell no green lies so that one day I can buy a week of balanced meals that fit with my ideals without having to scour, hour upon hour for low impact goods amongst the ones that do not could cause deforestation and the droughts in poorer nations that lead to starvation or at best elimination of a diverse range of species, the world is falling into pieces.

But, until I get my section I’ll keep scouring and fetchin' my low impact goods because I think I should.

The Perfect Storm of the Internet

This article suggests that increased internet use is causing problems not only for its own very existence, but also, because of the copious amounts of electricity needed to run it, the climate! Does this mean I should stop using it, or does it mean what seems sensible anyway, don't use it too much?! It's no subsitute for face to face or even phone contact anyway!!

Leo Hickman, author of 'A Good Life - Guide to Ethical Living' has commented on it as well on Comment is free, for some reason I can't copy and paste the link, why is that? Search for: 'Don't take my internet away' instead!

Monday 11 May 2009

Straw Bales!

I've just done a Straw Bale building course at Hackney city farm. It was such a nice way to spend a sunny weekend in London. I don't know a hell of a lot about construction and even less experience of doing it, but it really made no difference, as long as there is someone on site who knows what they are doing everyone else can learn as they go along. That person was Emma, from Amazonails, a not for profit social enterprise that specialises in Straw Bale building. They have teams dedicated to building straw bale homes and do courses like this one all over the country.

Twelve people were on the course, they were mostly in their late 20s and 30s, some with specific projects in mind and some who, like me, hope that maybe one day they could build their own home on a nice plot of land.

It was interesting to hear the different motivations for wanting to learn this technique. There definitely seemed to be a significant financial motivator, one couple on the course said how they saw this technique as a way for them to be able to one day own their own home. The environmental motivator was probably secondary for most, no one really talked about it and that is an important point. Using natural materials, like straw and hazel is basically good common sense, the sustainability of it is complimentary. It requires very little extra work to make a stake out of hazel rather than using a plastic one. It is more creative, more satisfying, cheaper and actually, construction wise, better. Amazonails certainly promote the environmental benefits of their techniques and they have actively researched and developed the most environmentally sustainable methods, that is brilliant, it is thanks to people like them that the construction industry is changing, it makes the Code for Sustainable Homes more realistic.

I'd say everyone on the course had a pretty good sustainability literacy. There were people there from many walks of life, which was really encouraging, it was definitely not a sandal wearing hippy crew. We didn't spend hours persuading each other to be greener we didn't need to, we were just getting on with it, showing the way and that's what we need to do, we need to show the way, just live sustainably, just get on with it because it makes sense. When you lead, when you show the way and people like the look of it they follow!
Thanks to my Emma for buying my place on the course as a Christmas Present, it was brilliant! x

Wednesday 6 May 2009

Into the Wild

This is both a film and a book. To avoid the cliche I will quickly say, the film is better than the book. It captures the environments through which the maverick/ selfish/idealistic/ wonderful/ tragic (delete as you wish) central character Chris McCandless travelled and ultimately perished quite beautifully.

McCandless, was a disillusioned high school graduate in the USA in the early 90s. On graduating he decided to sever all ties with his materialistic, American dream infected parents and follow the lead of his heroes Jack London, Henry David Thoreau, Leo Tolstoy and Doctor Zhivago.

The book gives more background as the author travels to meet some of the people who came across McCandless as he hitchhiked around North America. It won't spoil the ending if I tell you that McCandless came to a tragic and very unfortunate death in the wilds of Alaska (this is told at the start). A quote from a letter sent by McCandless to an old man he befriended sums up what the film and he was about:

So many people live within unhappy circumstances and yet will not take the initiative to change their situation because they are conditioned to a life of security, conformity, and conservatism, all of which may appear to give one peace of mind, but in reality nothing is more damaging to the adventurous spirit within a man than a secure future.

This story, whether read in a book or watched on film, is brilliant education for sustainability, it teaches us to look way beyond the normalising effects of 21st Century life and to imagine wonderfully different ways of living

Upcoming Film: PIG BUSINESS

This film looks like it might be worth watching:

A shocking exposé of how gruesome methods of factory farming are increasingly inflicting hidden long-term damage on public health and the environment, making a mockery of animal welfare and driving traditional, small-scale, humane farmers to the wall.

Pig Business is the result of more than four years’ fearless research across the US, Poland and the UK by passionate environmental activist Tracy Worcester, who has dedicated her life to opposing these harmful and profit-driven big business practices in food production.

Zac Goldsmith of The Ecologist will be doing a Q&A after the screening at The Barbican on May 27th, more details here:

.....more reasons to be vegetarian.

Friday 1 May 2009

Mogsie Music Returns for the Green Party!

I'm playing a fundraising gig next Sunday, please come along, the Green Party is a cause worth drinking for!

I've played this gig before and it is really good fun and has a really quaint charm!! I'm not sure who else is playing, last time there were two really good musicians, there is likely to be a raffle too!

Green Party Monthly Music Gig
Sunday May 10th
8.15pm onwards at
The Capirinha Jazz Bar
177 Archway Road,

(200 yards downhill from Highgate Tube. Busses 43, 134,263 pass the door)
(143 yards downhill from the Boogaloo)

Thursday 30 April 2009

Round Ireland with a Fridge

‘The media likes to hype up what an awful place the world is, but a hitch-hiker will tell you otherwise.’ In the summer of 1997 Tony Hawks (comedian, travel writer, philanthropist, broadcaster) was a hitch-hiker, in Ireland, with a fridge. The book he wrote about his adventure ‘Round Ireland with a Fridge’ was a bestseller and it is soon to released as a film, more about that in a bit, I want to talk about ‘The Fridgehikers guide to life’. Fridgehiker is an abridged version of the story dotted with the lessons Tony learned on his journey. What’s all this got to do with education for sustainability? Well, here are a few of Tony’s bits of advice along with my interpretations of them:

We need less than we think we do
Anyone who has spent anytime on the road know the value of a lighter load, but this is equally true in our everyday life. When we are less materialistic, we have less stuff to buy, look after, clean, insure, worry about losing, use, justify owning and so on. We think we need lots of things, but we have been conditioned to think this by the world around us.

Slow down and create some moments of peace
Life is all bit fast these days and I’m as guilty as most, trying to fit as much in as possible all the time, I enjoy the wide experience of life that this gives me. But, I try to make sure I don’t rush too much between things so I can enjoy the journey. I also try to catch at least ten minutes ‘slow’ time (it often goes on for longer). No writing, no talking, no reading, no eating, no screen watching, just peace and quiet with open eyes and open mind.

You don’t need to show off
Bling is immature, eco-bling is a contradiction, status symbols are shallow, no one likes a show off. Sure we should celebrate and share our talents, but no one likes someone who over does this. Sustainability requires a bit of maturity and humbleness, well actually a lot more than is currently around.

Worrying is not a good use of our time
There is no point worrying about environmental problems, or making others worry about them. We just need to get on with living lives that ease or solve these problems; it is not (despite what we are led to believe) difficult to be green. As Tom Hodgkinson says the best thing we can do about environmental problems is nothing at all. By this he means literally do nothing, unplug, slow down, stop shopping and so on. A better use of our time is to assess exactly where we are now and then decide what is the best course of action to make the future as good as possible. Just get on with life that is simple in means and rich in ends. That is the main thrust of what the Fridgehiker can teach us!

So, the film… Tony Hawks needs extras for ‘Round Ireland with a Fridge’, here is the info:

'Hi there,

I thought you might like to know that Round ireland With A fridge is finally going to be made into a film, with the incredibly creative casting me playing me. I don't know how we thought of it. Anyway, there are a few scenes where we'll need some extras, and since it's an incredibly low budget film, we can't afford to pay anyone! We'll need some extras in the scenes we'll be shooting in pub interiors around the Wimbledon and Tooting areas in London. If you, or anyone you know might like to take part then do get in touch. It would most likely be a day's commitment though, so you'd best be aware of that. (The dates we're likely to need you will be 14th and 15th May.

If you can't help in this regard, please make sure you go and see the film when it comes out. Then you can say that you were asked to be in but that you turned it down.



(If you want to be in the film contact Tony via his website)

Tuesday 28 April 2009

The Language of Sustainability

Sustainability is communicated through many different channels in many different ways for many different reasons. It is received by many different people in many different contexts and is interpreted according to the hat that that person is wearing.

Yesterday I attended a conference run by the Institute for Environmental science, it was well attended, the speakers were excellent and the topic very important. The first speaker, Arran Stibbe (a linguistics expert) asked 'where is the place that people are motivated from?' He answered his own question by pointing out that we can't answer it because people are different. When it comes to stimulating action and communicating sustainability it is very important to remember that one size does not fit all - that was the core message from the conference.

The discourse, or discourses that we choose, the language we use and the medium we communicate through are all very important. Five excellent speakers followed Arran, Erik Bichard, Joe Ravetz, David Fell, Will Ashley-Cantello and Mark Everard. Aswell as Arran, the two that stood out for me were Ravetz and Fell. Ravetz discussed the public reaction to sustainability. Using the case study of his family home he asked 'does anyone believe scientists anymore?' (a question that Everard later argued self-aware scientists were now wary of). The complexity of the science and the, often sensationalist, way in which findings and predictions are communicated created sceptism in his kitchen and I suspect a few others. The NEF 100 months to stop Climate change got a rightful bashing from Ravetz! We were then taken through a few excellent 'Polyp' cartoons, it is well worth a look at the consumerism ones. Fun, arts based communication is very valuable.

David Fell discussed Daniel Dennett's observation of 'The Self as a narrative gravity' and Elias Cannetti's idea of 'society as a coalition of shared myths.' Dennett's observation describes how we are the person that we tell ourselves that we are. Fell pointed out that we tell ourselves a lot of stories. The shared myths of society help us to define ourselves, often we are defined by them. Fell displayed a 'wordle' explaining how we need to move from a self narrative that is consumerist, individualist and so on to one which is enoughist, caring, mature and so on. I'll post them asap!

Much else was discussed as the day progressed through two excellent workshops we analysed different discourses to think about which styles are best for communicated these issues. My little group of four thought it was important to be realistic, positive and empathetic when we are communicating sustainability. We also discussed who controls the language of sustainability, whether the terms sustainable development and sustainability should be scrapped and which words and phrases we should be using to try and create action around sustainability issues.

On the surface sustainability seems a simple thing to communicate - tell people about the problems and they will change their behaviour - the reality is that, when the goal is behaviour change, the appropriate form of communication is very difficult to pin down. Human behaviour is an extremely complex thing, changing it, even our own, is very challenging. I'll end with a quote from Arran Stibbe's excellent workshop on Sustainability discourses:

'The most highly motivating discourses allow people to align their deepest personal goals with creating a more sustainable society.'

Thursday 23 April 2009

Green Sundays

I met with Anna and Jessie from the Arcola Theatre yesterday to discuss their Green Sundays event and how I help out. I will be attending the next one on May 3rd and hopefully leading a film based workshop at the June 7th event. Below is a flyer for the May 3rd event.

You can find out more via their Facebook page or Green Sundays website

Friday 17 April 2009

Global Footsteps

I am the director of the Global Footsteps education programme, we run International Youth Environment Conferences, Global Ventures and lots of events in Gloucestershire related to Sustainability and International development. I've just been updating the website, please have a good look aorund it and spread the word!

Conference: The Language of Sustainability (April 27th)

I'm going to this conference in London later in the month that looks at how sustainability is communicated, something I'm very interested in! For £60 (members of IES) or £100 (non-members) you can come too! You use this booking form. The conference is organised by The Institution of Environmental Sciences

Here are the details:

This one day conference focuses on the Language of Sustainability and features some of the most prominent voices in the sector. During the morning session a panel of invited guests will articulate how their profession views and conveys sustainability.

They include: Eric Bichard, author of Positively Responsible: How Business Can Save the Planet, for business; David Fell, Director of Brook Lyndhurst Ltd, for consultants; Mark Everard of the Environment Agency, with the scientific approach; Joe Ravetz, a leading thinker on sustainability from the University of Manchester, publicising the populist style; and Will Ashley-Cantello, sustainable development policy advisor for the Government. The debate will be chaired by Arran Stibbe, a senior lecturer in linguistics at the University of Gloucestershire.

The session will explore each groups’ language of sustainability and whether they are integrated and can be understood by one another. In the afternoon delegates will form into groups to discuss the development of an ‘Esperanto of Sustainability’ which would break down the barriers between different sectors and be inspiring for all. This is a fantastic opportunity to hear some respected voices debate how we communicate about sustainability, arguably the foremost goal of society.

The event has been organised to celebrate the launch of Professional Associations Research Network’s (PARN) and Professional Partnerships for Sustainable Development (PP4SD) online Special Interest Groups (SIGs). The Institution of Environmental Sciences (IES) invite you to attend this exciting, one-of workshop and contribute to developing the Language of Sustainability.Download a booking form and a flyer.£60 - IES and PARN Members £100 - Non-members

Thursday 2 April 2009

The Spirit Level

I was at the Alternative G20 summit last night at, well in the grounds of, UEL. Disappointly UEL pulled out due to fears over protests. It was a shame because I was looking forward to a decent academic discussion of the issues. In the end it was more like a rally, led by suspended anthropologist Prof Chris Knight from UEL. Tony Benn, Oliver Tickell and Mark Thomas turned up and said all of the usual leftist common sense stuff they usually say, but I want to talk about Prof Richard Wilkinson a social scientist from University of Nottingham. He, along with Kate Pickett, has just published a book called 'The Spirit Level' looking at the impact of inequality on all members of society. We live in an increasingly inequal society, there is a big gap between rich and poor, but we all have, theoretically, the same opportunity to be rich. The truth as Malcolm Gladwell and Oliver James have previously also said is that we do not have equal opportunities, therefore the 'freer' the market the more widespread the 'Status Anxiety' (de Botton). There is a lot more depth to it than this, but basically our aspirations for a 'lifestyle', driven by individualism and Thatcherism, have the effect of us always looking 'upwards' and wanting the next best thing.

You can listen to the lecture that Wilkinson might have drawn on last night on the RSA website here I can't find the powerpoint slideshow yet, which I think will be useful.

Tuesday 31 March 2009

Start the Week

Just listened again to Andrew Marr's show: 'Start the week' it is very worth a listen if you've got half an hour. This week saw Lord Nicholas Stern, the Climate Change Economics expert who is just about to release a book called 'Blueprint for a safer planet', Peter Singer (a philosopher) who has written a great sounding book called 'The life you can save'.... These two are joined by Alan Yentob who has just made a documentary on Obama and Oratory and geographer Susan Smith on home ownership.

No time to write about it now, will try to get something down later!

Monday 30 March 2009

Two Films

On Sunday I went to see two Environmentally themed films. Firstly I saw 'The Age of Stupid'. There has been lots of hype about this film and it was, Ok. For me it did seem a little bit like the makers had seen 'The Day After Tomorrow', 'An Inconvenient Truth' and 'The 11th Hour' and thought: 'hey we could do something like that'.... and that unfortunately is all they have done. The Age of Stupid would be useful to show someone who has either not heard of Climate Change before or is not yet convinced about it. It is dramatic, in places sad and upsetting, but it is the same old mix of Fear, Guilt and Chastisement. Those three things, for me add up to create paralysis, something the status quo feeds off.

There was a short Q&A after the film, I put my hand up first and asked 'why is it so pessimistic?' The answer from 'McLibel star and climate campaigning superstar Dave Morris' was 'I know, I kept trying to persuade Franny Armstrong (the writer) to inject more positivity, but she kept saying it is too serious for that, we need to scare people into changing and campaigning'. I really wish someone would make a more positive film, I wish someone would write about the real solutions, i.e. what a low carbon, low waste, wellbeing led economy would look like, we need to sell that to people before we have got any chance of selling something like 'carbon rationing'. No government at present will implement 'carbon rationing' it equates to telling people to give up everything the government and business have been telling us that we need for the sake of the future. It would be political suicide. We need to move quickly to start selling a wellbeing economy!

On that note 'Garbage Warrior' was so much better, so much more inspiring and so much more enjoyable. It is the story of one man, who has long been mystified by human 'progress', going out there to re-design the way we build and live in houses and communities. He has long been stifled by the dinosaur that is American politics but has persisted and now is an icon for architects the world over, I'm sure Kevin McCloud would love him. Be sure to watch that film, it is full of hope and joy and is a story of people who understand meaning and purpose and wellbeing, they are an example to us all!

In other news, I've been on a 'becoming self employed' course today and have discovered not only that I can claim 20p expenses on every mile I do on the bike when going about my business, but I can also claim the tax back on any 'training' I undertake including any films, conferences, talks and so on I go to and any relevant books and magazines I buy! Good news I guess!

Monday 23 March 2009

Win a Free Course at The School of Life

Carbon Retirement have teamed up with The School of Life to offer a free place on one of their excellent courses, if you want to enter you need to finish a sentence about why you are optimisitic about our chances of surviving climate change! I hope by 'our' they mean all living things, not just humans....

Click here to enter

The pen is mightier than the sword

Below is a letter sent by Dennis Mitchell founder of Global Footsteps to The Ministry of Transport. The letter is part of an ongoing correspondance between Dennis and the Ministry in regard to the proposed 3rd runway at Heathrow. It is very inspiring.

Steve Whyman,
Airports Police DivisionZone 1/26
Great Minster House
76 Marsham Street
21st March 2009
Your Ref: 12/00417/09

Dear Mr Whyman,

Thank you for taking the trouble to write and explain your Ministry’s reasoning behind the Government decision to favour a third runway at Heathrow.

It is clear from your response that in your view “significant economic benefits” over-ride my environmental concerns. Allow me to explain why I am still not persuaded that the expansion plan should go ahead.

Your rationale is based on a concept of costs and benefits that have no proper foundation in what is true wealth. As we have seen, sterling/dollars/euros/etc are an intangible invention of humanity that fluctuate at the mercy of speculation in the competitive casino termed a market. Your figures of £5.5 billion, £3.3 billion, etc are fictions that mean nothing to the real wealth of the Earth. Real wealth is inherent in the material nature of the Earth, its atmosphere and, above all, the energy of the sun. Such wealth, huge as it may seem, is finite and vital to the survival of life on Earth.

Your perspective downplays the welfare of future generations and reveals no concern whatsoever for the non-human life on Earth. It is a recipe for extermination, maybe not in the current generation, but it accelerates the trend to that eventual outcome – the consequence of materialistic policies excused as a need to compete with equally materialistic ‘competitors’ with no consideration for the exponential rise in emissions attributable to the extra air-miles.

You will recall the recent highly-lauded performance of the American pilot whose brilliant airmanship saved the lives of all the passengers when he ditched his damaged aircraft on the river. He was praised in all quarters and we are full of admiration for him. But did you hear anyone express any regret whatsoever for the flock of birds, killed outright and blamed for damaging the aircraft at take-off?

Such is the attitude of ‘growth-obsessed’ humanity to all non-human inhabitants, wildlife and other living nature, and even to future generations of humanity, that I despair at the man-made calamity which will inevitably befall life on Earth.

I shall oppose your plans for airport expansion at Heathrow to the bitter end.

Yours sincerely,

Dennis Mitchell

Wednesday 18 March 2009


Here is a video of a guy called Mihaly Csikzentmihalyi, he is a psychologist who wrote a very good book about happiness and where it comes from called FLOW. It is quite a long and arduous book to read although it does have some fantastic passages. I have also read a chapter by him in a book called 'Psychology and Consumer Culture' which is a really good introduction to 'flow'. The best bit in this clip comes after about 2.30 mins when he says: ‘Young people get commercialised visions of the good life through athletes, rock stars, models etc...50% of young people expect to be [famous] and they think that is the route towards the ‘good life’' For more on flow and what it is click here

Monday 16 March 2009

Should I have a baby?

Please go here to find an interesting piece by Jonathan Porritt on the links between population and the environment. He makes the very useful point that the environmental movement needs to be brave enough to once again approach the taboo subject of population because in short more mouths to feed equals more environmental pressure. Paul Ehrlich spoke about this subject forty years ago in his very famous book The Population Bomb. My humble opinion is that the problem is not merely a high population it is how that population behaves, even if global measures could be put in place to slow down population growth, the problems would not be solved unless we also change the way in which we behave. As more of the globe is Westernised we, as a global population, are getting more and more materialistic. If this trend was reversed and as a worldwide population we were becoming less materialistic, the environment would be better placed to absorb a predicted 2050 global population of 9 billion.

I think Porritt is the best Environmentalist in the UK today (if not the world) he is brave, consistent and most importantly selfless and realistic. I recommend his book too.

Thursday 12 March 2009

A 'chance' to escape

This was the scene at Liverpool St Station today at 5.15pm. About 20 people were queing up for a chance to win a pair of flights to Asia couertesy of Air Asia. The queue was moving pretty slowly, these people were in no rush to get home, the chance to escape the monotony of city life was worth the wait even if the odds of winning were extremly thin. The engine type thing was actually a giant tombola which these lucky entrants were putting a boarding pass into in the hope that theirs might be the one drawn out at the end... or something like that!

The drudgery of everyday life fuels our longing to escape, airplanes are so often the cheap and easy means to that escape, but it begs the question of why we live lives that we are so keen to escape for a couple of weeks every year? Are 50 weeks of 'work, work, work' in exchange for 2 weeks of 'me, me, me' in some exotic location (plus a few days at home with the folks at Christmas) really worth it? Surely those hours from 9 til 5 everyday should be spent doing something enjoyable, rewarding, stimulating and socially useful? They are the hours of the day when we are most awake and productive (we spend them chained to desks while the sun shines outside.) At the very least we can get a sense of wellbeing if we know we are doing something that is collectively good, even if it is tiring and stressful.

As for the environmental battle to keep people out of the air for the sake of 'Climate Change' this just shows how keen people are to fly, they would rather spend fifteen minutes in a queue getting heavily marketed to by an airline for the tiniest chance of winning a flight than get themselves home to their families, their books, thier hobbies, their friends, thier 'life'. The need to escape is both created by and catered for by consumer culture, holidays are a key product. If you asked those pictured below whether they thought a new runway to make Heathrow more efficient was a good idea, they would probably answer: 'Yes!' I asked one man this question and he answered: 'Yes mate!' I also asked him 'do you think you'll win?' He answered 'Probably not.'

Saturday 7 March 2009

Affluenza Exhibition

On the 19th of March the Affluenza Exhibition opens in Clerkenwell London. It should be worth visiting there are a few talks including Oliver James and Neil Boorman. Visit the website here:

Here are my top ten books and things to watch regarding Affluenza:

1. 'The Century of the Self' (documentary) by Adam Curtis)

2. 'The Hidden Persuaders' by Vance Packard

3. 'Status Anxiety' (docu and book) by Alain de Botton

4. 'Affluenza' by Hamilton and Denniss

5. 'Selfish Capitalist' by Oliver James

6. 'Flow' by Mihayli Csikzentmihalyi

7. 'Affluenza' by John De Graff et al

8. 'Slow' by Carl Honore

9. 'Bonfire of the Brands' by Neil Boorman

10. 'How to be Free' by Tom Hodgkinson

This is in no particular order and there are at least 10 more I can think of especially novels by people like George Orwell, Jack Kerouac and F.Scott Fitzgerald!

Wednesday 4 March 2009

Do the Green thing

I was speaking to my colleague at ecoACTIVE, Carlos, today about the lack of multimedia, modern, fun things to show school children. I got home and found this in my email from Green thing! This could be a nice little thing to show at the beginning of a lesson:

Plug Out Boy feat. Green Monday from Green Thing on Vimeo.

Enjoy, spread and use!