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.