Let’s Talk About Saving The World

SAVIGN THE WORLD

Artwork by Laurie Avon.

Climate change is the biggest threat to existence we’ve ever faced – the added irony being that we’ve brought it upon ourselves, yet don’t seem to care enough do anything about it. This is the eternal headache for environmentalists, and while the planet is speeding towards severe climatic change, there is still discussion between scientists about how bleak a scenario we should present. Some believe that a level-headed approach that preserves absolute academic integrity is the way forward, laying out data as if facts alone will be enough to inspire change. Others’ hearts pound and guts twist every time the weather is a bit unusual, and feel that we just need to scare people into action. These approaches don’t work. We’re still failing to connect with the people we hope – and need – to.

In order to align yourself with an audience and inspire change, you have to relate to, and with, their values. However, many of the core values held by environmentalists are intrinsically at odds with many of those held by the rest of the world. Environmentalists push for a scaling-back of industry, pollution and consumption, advocating and enacting sacrifices at individual and societal levels for the sake of the bigger picture, while the global economy is driven for a quick buck. This can be deeply annoying – at times even offensive – to those on both sides. How can we bridge such divides to bring about change?

So often, science communicators fail to inspire change because we fail to see that a transfer of knowledge doesn’t necessarily lead to a transfer of values – but if we want people to feel passionately about the planet, the most important and profound impact will come from precisely this transfer. The conveyance of knowledge – and I know this grates with some scientists – is actually far less important.

Occasionally, conservation scientists will try to ‘value’ nature – that is, to contextualise the environment through qualities we already feel are important. Biodiversity Hotspots are catalogues of severely threatened ecological zones that have a high density of biodiversity. Biodiversity Hotspots are a ‘realistic’ approach to spending the limited pot of money made available for conservation: a way of delivering the most ‘bang for buck’ to investors. It’s a neat way of working with the system – but it’s not changing it for the better.

The criteria that designates Biodiversity Hotspots are ‘number of species’ and ‘percentage [of] habitat lost’. Both must score highly for a region to be classed as a ‘Hotspot’. This appeals to an inherent cultural phenomenon: scarcity drives demand. There is a clear reward to saving the last polar bear, or the last fragment of rainforest, or the most endemic-rich mountain range. By doing so, we can feel we’ve achieved something extraordinary. I get that.

We crave scarcity. Collectively, we go daft for limited-editions, fixed-term bargains and one-of-a-kinds. We prize and reward the fastest, strongest, smallest, etc. We are suckers for superlatives. There’s nothing inherently wrong with this: when I am telling an audience a story of climate change, superlatives are the difference between a story and a great story. They’re the difference between some polar bears and the last polar bears. The object may not change, but how we feel about it does.

When the appeal of superlatives drive conservation, however, something underpinning the approach worries me. No matter how remarkable an ecosystem is, no matter how biodiverse and pristine, or how useful a service it provides humanity – no Biodiversity Hotspot got its title before 70 % of the original habitat had been lost. Regions must be effectively doomed to qualify.

Could we reward scarcity so much that we actually wait for – or even cause – a situation to get worse before we are moved to make it better? Does a species have to be at the edge of extinction before we take notice? And if that’s how our audience currently engages with climate change, should we resign ourselves to it, pursue extreme climate scenarios for the sake of dramatic action?

Our systems of belief and our experience of the world is shaped by the words we use to define it. I hate the term ‘Biodiversity Hotspot’ because it’s unemotive and over-complicated. Defining it is an exercise in cliché, but if you’re going to talk about it to an audience, as I do, you’re going to have to. Explaining biodiversity should not simply elucidate the word, but provide the frame through which we conduct our work, our thought, and ourselves. Imagine how differently we might view the world if we understood biodiversity as:

• All the different plants and animals.

• Number of species.

• Genetic variation.

• What makes life worth living.

• What makes living possible.

How might our values and our priorities change if our definition was taken from different places in that list? All of the above are true for me, and while I will adjust the definition I use depending on my audience, I will never give an academic definition of ‘biodiversity’ without an equally emotive description. I would rather refer to anything to do with climate change as ‘Saving The World’.

Some have corrected me on this point, reasoning that we can only ‘save the world as we know it’. If you tell someone that it’s only the fate of the word as we know it that is at stake, somewhere in the back of their mind will be a little voice saying: ‘Well, change isn’t all bad… It’d be nice if it was a bit warmer…’ All you’ve given them is a get-out clause.

‘Saving The World’ conveys something more personal. To some, ‘The World’ is Planet Earth, and all the stuff within it. But to many others, ‘The World’ is their world: their home, their family, their friends; the food they eat and the things they like to do. That’s what we must recognise and respect as we communicate the need to save the world. We don’t necessarily need to scare people into action, or bombard them with science. We can connect with each other, and move people to change, using language that is true to shared values.

 

Andy Clark is an environmental filmmaker (The Top Of The Tree). His award-winning work ‘High Water Common Ground’ presents an environmentally-holistic and community-focussed approach to flooding in the context of climate change. ‘The Carbon Farmer’ deals with peatlands and climate change, and is due to be shared with UK Parliaments later this year.

 

[This article was originally published in It’s Freezing In LA! Issue 1, August 1st 2018, and has been re-posted here with thanks to Martha Dillon and Alice Attlee, and to Laurie Avon, who’s work you can see more of on Instagram.]

 

 

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That Time I Drove A Tesla…

A few months back I had to drive from Anglesey to Edinburgh and back in a day, and I figured that was the perfect opportunity to take the Tesla Model S for a spin.

Tesla vehicles are simply incredible. Ever since their first production contract in 2005, they have been setting new precedents in our expectations of what electric cars can be; from drive experience, to speed, to torque, to acceleration, to battery life and range, to safety, and basically anything else you care to care about. There is nothing on the market currently quite like Teslas.

I picked up a Model S (Tesla’s best-selling Sedan) from Manchester Airport, courtesy of White Cars (credit where it’s due), and instantly fell in love. Everything about the car aesthetically takes your breath away, from the sleek design, double-take-worthy lack of radiator grill, suave interior, very sexy driver HUD and flipping massive touch-screen multimedia system in the middle of the dash board.

It’s weird when you accelerate in a Tesla – as the above video will attest – because you hear absolutely nothing; for a *very* short time you feel the umph of acceleration press you into your seat, and then you’ve reached the speed limit and you should probably get a hold of yourself. It’s like it doesn’t bother to tell you, it just goes right ahead and is awesome.

Range is one of those big concerns with electric cars in general. By the time I’d driven the ~140 miles from Manchester Airport to Gretna Green, the Model S was telling me that if I wanted to get to Edinburgh at any enjoyable speed I should probably top up the charge, which would take roughly 16 minutes. More importantly, from my own biological perspective, I was ready for a wee and a coffee. I pulled up at one of the free(!) Tesla Superchargers, and by the time I was back at the car it was pretty much ready to go.

There’s the ‘review’ stuff out of the way, but here’s what I really love about Tesla.

A decade or so ago, when talk about this ‘climate change’ thing was starting to pick up, and we were starting to accept that we should probably start emitting less, there was a large-scale sulky reluctance to do anything. By and large the response of *most people* was to groan, kick their feet and get skeptical, mostly because we knew that we really liked most things powered by fossil fuels, and being told that we had to cut down on the fossil fuels was immediately equated with having to give up *all* those things that make our lives enjoyable.

TopGear was just getting good for crying out loud! Clarkson, Hammond and May were accelerating the public’s interest in driving like lunatics, bigger more epic [internal combustion] engines, blowing things up, laughing at caravans and environmentalists in almost equal measure, and steering firmly into perpetuating what I’m going to coin the ’20th-century dream’.

Meanwhile the call for an alternative to fossil-fuel burning automobiles had been quietly made, and while most motor-heads turned up their noses, Elon Musk (and a few partners) cooly asked “How hard can it be?” And unlike the TopGear trio, Tesla made something that worked. Really damn well.

And with that spark of mad ambition, Tesla began setting the bar on what the future is actually going to be like. Now we’ve got real-life Tony Stark, Elon Musk actually moving out of Tesla because he’s done all he can to revolutionise the world of motor vehicles, and is taking on world-saving challenges one after another, very cooly doing what no others have the ambition (or know-how) to do.

But throughout, Teslas are this incredible mark of what’s possible, and they don’t even make it look difficult. Environmentalism is still sullied by prejudice that it’s about sacrifice, strife and challenge. We environmental communicators struggle to connect with a large audience because to many, endangered lemurs stuggle to compete – in many ways – with the thrill of supercars. But Teslas have managed to embody how saving the world should feel.

And there’s the big difference: between having to change and wanting to change.

If the world carries on business-as-usual, we will have to change or we will die.
Tesla, Musk, and others are giving us ways to want to change, and that concept is a hell of a lot more appealing.

For those who are just reluctant to change and averse to progress, I proffer an analogy.
A few decades ago something came along that demanded change, and moved people powerfully to become something new. This something looked at the establishment and said ‘No More’, and in sticking-it-to-the-man gave people a feeling to aspire to and to embody. It was about breaking free of business-as-usual, it was about becoming something new, and feeling awesome.

That something was Rock N Roll. And while the music and the means evolve, the song remains the same. To hell with the nay-sayers. Stick it to the man. Be awesome.
A bad-ass new world awaits.

Saving the world should feel awesome.

Saving the world should feel awesome. Like the Tesla Model S.

 

 

[Disclaimer: This post is not sponsored, I’m just a raving fan of ambitiously making the world a better place.]

Watch This Video And Drink This Beer

Polar Bears are dying. But why should we care?

First of all I’ll qualify what Polar Bears represent; they’re essentially the figure-head of Climate Change. They’re the Charismatic Megafauna, the Umbrella Species, and other conservation jargons that fundamentally mean ‘interesting to people and fundamental to an ecosystem’. They always have been, and always will be. I remember when I was first hearing ‘Global Warming’ being talked about at school; the Polar Bears were the first poster-children of the climate catastrophe. The now over-used image of a lonely Polar Bear on a shrinking iceberg was quickly latched on to and spread far and wide as a way of making people care (by breaking their hearts) about the threat of a warming global climate.

One of my [retrospectively] worst memories as a climate activist was actually hearing people whom I respected shooting the polar-bear image down, shouting “You don’t understand Polar-Bear Ecology,(They were not ecologists themselves…)Polar-Bears are great swimmers, they’re really happy in the water, you’re making a big fuss about nothing!
For the record – that’s a petty way to be a climate skeptic, and a big fat red-herring.  

So to address the ecology first of all, the Arctic ice-caps are melting catastrophically quickly, and that is very bad news for Polar bears. That’s because Polar Bears aren’t just bears that happen live around ice; ice is fundamental to their survival, because they are very specially adapted to hunt within an icy marine environment.
No ice, Polar Bears can’t eat. And just to demonstrate that, here’s that phenomenal clip from The Hunt:

Climate Change has been a tricky issue to communicate effectively for decades, because it’s all been projection into the future – with somewhere between dry hypotheses and all-out-threats of what’s to come from climate scientists. It’s been too intangible, and as such, deniable – or at least, put-off-able. Only in the last couple of years have we had anyone start to point to major climatic events and say “This! This is the impact of climate change, happening now!”

Over the weekend, I’ve seen a video circulating that puts climate change into more brutal reality than much we’ve seen before. One-off weather events can still be dismissed as co-incidence, but after more than a decade the grim reality of the Climate Change Poster Child is really being revealed. The Prophecies are coming true, and it’s heartbreaking. If I didn’t believe it was important, I wouldn’t share this with you.

This is what Climate Change looks like.

Why should people care about Climate Change? Because it means the sixth mass extinction of life on Earth. Because it means severely threatened food security. Because it means the death of coral reefs. Because variety is the spice of life, and biodiversity is the majesty of existence. Because life without life isn’t worth living. Because it bloody hurts.

Sci-Commers: What drives people to action? There’s two core things that influence behaviour – people move away from pain and towards pleasure.
Which is why your work is only half-done if you only beat people up with Climate Change – they need something to DO, to avoid pain, and to grasp pleasure. You have to provide that pleasure, to ensure positive action.

So would you like some Polar Bear-associated pleasure? How about this:

Those hop-loving beer-pirates at Brew Dog have released Make Earth Great Again – a phenomenal protest brew in response to *someone* saying they might withdraw their country from the Paris Agreement.  Make Earth Great Again is an imperial-strength Saison, brewed at a higher temperature than most beers, and with ingredients including actual melted ice caps (glacier water) and endangered Arctic Cloudberries. The result is a crystal-clear, golden brew of activism in a glass, and it’s utterly delicious. Spicy, citrus-y and sweet with a hint of dry acidity, culminating in a beer that’s a perfect accompaniment for a slow afternoon with friends, a conference of parties, or Die Hard marathon. I’m not a brew guru providing bevvy review here – I’m just trying to say that climate activism can be freaking wonderful.

Further to just making a delicious and potent point in this brew, Brew Dog are also giving all proceeds from Make Earth Great Again to 10:10 – a community-focussed climate-action charity doing some really awesome work. So do your part and buy some now.

So it’s incredibly important that we know what’s at stake here, but it’s also desperately important that we make people feel good about taking positive, straightforward action, so that our very worst predictions may not have to come true.

The Carbon Farmer

I’m working on something new, and it’s called The Carbon Farmer. Take a look:

So I guess a valid question is ‘Why am I making a film about bog?’

Peat moorland is something we’ve got a lot of in the UK. There’s over 400,000 Hectares of peatland in England and Wales, and it covers over 70% of Scotland’s land mass, so it’s a big, boggy deal.

However, we’ve not looked after our peat well for the last few hundred years, in a variety of ways. Around the industrial revolution, particularly as northern towns like Manchester and Sheffield started pumping out a whole lot of coal smoke, the bogs of the Pennines started to acidify (peat bogs are naturally acidic places, but this was too much for them), and the vegetation that forms the foundation of life on the peatland basically died.

Peat Degradation in the Peak District

Some seriously degraded peat in the South Pennines, taken from the shoot for High Water Common Ground – which was actually the inspiration for The Carbon Farmer.

Elsewhere in the UK the peat’s been even more actively damaged from some retrospectively poor decisions a few decades ago. Around the 50’s-60’s it was observed that there was all this land ‘going to waste’ in the uplands – a whole load of bog not doing nothin’ for nobody. So the official government decision back then was to cut big drains into the peat in an attempt to dry the landscape and make some viable agricultural land out of if.  *Unfortunately* that didn’t go to plan; the land has never become really viable agricultural land, even for grazing sheep. All that’s happened is the drains have got bigger, and the bog has stopped functioning.

A 'grip' (drain) cut into peat a few decades ago.

But really, why’s that all a bad thing? Who cares about bogs for their intrinsic bog-ness?

Honestly, many of us won’t realise it, but bogs do a lot for most of us. Bogs naturally filter impurities from water that we like to drink (which degradation messes up, cos if you’ve got bare peat then rainwater washes that peat away and then utilities companies have to spend lots on filtering it out). Bogs provide recreation space for walkers and habitat for ground-nesting birds, wading birds, predatory birds, (loads of birds, really), supports insect communities on which many birds feed, and loads of other wildlife (which degradation messes up, as who wants to nest or wade or graze on a big swathe of rubbish bare peat?).
And my personal favourite – healthy bogs naturally ‘clean’ air and actively sequester carbon from the atmosphere. Healthy peat bogs are carbon sinks.
But of course, degradation colossally messes that up too, as when peat becomes degraded it swaps from carbon-sink to carbon-source. Yep, once the water level drops more than just a bit below the surface, millennia of built-up peat starts oxidising and actively releasing CO2 and methane into the atmosphere.

Because peat is so easy to overlook as a bog (as I’ve said, it’s only 70% of Scotland and a huge chunk of the rest of the UK); because peat is not a uniform depth across the UK and is in different states of degradation; because it’s a little bit challenging to put a number on how much damage is done by degraded peat, it’s never actually been calculated or included in national (or global) carbon budgets before.

Until now. Recent research, commissioned by DEFRA and supported by the IUCN NCUK Peatland Programme, has put the first figure on Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions from UK Peatlands, and here it is:

UK Peatlands currently release 16 Million tonnes of CO2(equivalent) every year.
It’s “(equivalennt)” CO2 because it’s a mixture of Greenhouse Gasses, and Methane has a more potent effect on climate change than CO2, but less of it is emitted in a molecular sense.

I’ll put that figure into some context. For the last few years the UK government has been committing to reducing our annual GHG emissions, and the current figure is that the UK is currently cutting emissions by a total of 32 Million tonnes of CO2(equivalent) per year.
So to rephrase; half of our national annual efforts in reducing our emissions are completely undone by the degraded state of our peatlands. We’re seriously taking one step back for every two steps forwards. In my personal opinion, any campaign that’s targeting cutting emissions from any major source – such as the energy sector, which is still the biggest emitter – is seriously lacking if it’s not simultaneously addressing peatland restoration. And I will respectfully note that no current big campaigns are because we’ve never taken this into account before, but a new revelation like this should provide the opportunity to revise some strategies. There are always opportunities to do better, and peatland restoration promises serious bang-for-buck in the Carbon game.

The energy sector is still the largest emitter, but we are addressing that.

It’s not that we could create some hugely powerful carbon-sequestration system if we restored health to UK peatlands, (I mean, that is what we’d create through peatland restoration, but the rate is sequestration is very very very slow). Rather, what we will make an impact by doing is halting a substantial emitter that we have the power to completely shut down – and in so doing effectively double our annual efforts in reducing GHG emissions from all sources.

Arguments against combatting climate change through peatland restoration:

  • “It’ll take attention off the energy sector and other GHG sources – particularly if you create anything resembling a carbon-sink”.
    Right. When Henry told Liza there was a hole in his bucket, was she concerned that if Henry fixed the hole he’d stop collecting water? Did she tell him not to get distracted form the task at hand, and to compensate for the hole by putting more water in? No, everyone on the farm agreed that the best thing to do was to fix the hole, then they could all carry on with their lives.
    I know we’ve had some big-business emissions-apathy to overcome in the past, but we’ve worked damn hard to overcome that and gain momentum on sustainability, climate action and emissions reductions. Reducing emissions from all sources will still be unquestionably important, and frankly we’ve done well up until now at reducing emissions from the energy sector by increasing efficiency – but that’s a finite transition. We need to find a new way of reducing national emissions soon, because the only way the energy sector could become much more emissions-free is if we were to start investing in renewables more. Say………….
  • “It’s traditional management that’s been practised for generations.”
    Let’s dig into that statement; are we saying that “being a farming family in this area, primarily rearing sheep (or surviving through other methods)” is traditional, or is it “Actively destroying healthy peat” is traditional? – Because those things are not the same, nor are they to be confused. The core of this issue is that most people can carry on doing what’s good for them and what they identify with if we can just get this peat-health thing right – and odds are that they could be mutually supportive with a bit of practice.
    But if you’re just that much of a conservative that tradition-for-tradition’s-sake is all the discussion I’m going to get from you, then I’ll have to bring up the other traditions like slavery, recreational opium, pillaging and hedonism that have (by and large) fallen out of fashion, despite decades of practice.

There are other arguments surrounding peat and moorland management, but I’m not going to go into them – in part that’s because, rather like peat emissions used to be, they contain blurry bits. They’re also volatile issues that tend to polarise a debate, and are their own entities that I’m not going to make this project a part of. The Carbon Farmer is very much a ‘common-ground’ project, and the fact is that there isn’t anyone out there saying “Peat degradation is a good thing” – from any perspective. That’s what we agree on, we’re happy to do so, so that’s what we’ll work on.

So what’s the plan?

We have before us a time of great potential change for environmental management in the UK, looming towards us in the form of Brexit. It’s true that, for a long time now, EU regulations have been the highest level of environmental protection available in the UK, but there’s now good reason to hope that we might be able to actually make things even better. Secretary for the Environment Michael Gove has been making some very promising noises since taking office about “Managing land for public benefit” – and there’s a great swell of support for that notion from all relevant communities (which, just to be clear, is basically everyone – as what greater public benefit is there that combatting climate change?). Of particular note, the agricultural community is very open to the idea of managing land for greater public benefit – they’re just waiting to be given the means to do so and to still manage viable farms.

Proof-of-concept artwork for The Carbon Farmer, in production.

The Carbon Farmer is being produced to present the concept of facilitating peat restoration through agricultural subsidies to the general public, the agricultural community, NGOs and UK parliaments, in the hopes that we can keep this focussed as a priority over the next couple of years of policy revisions.
To do so, at time of writing I’m working with the IUCN Peatland Programme, Scottish Forum on Natural Capital and Moors For The Future, and I’m establishing collaborations with a number of other organisations to bring this project – and this future – to life.

Mooooooooove Over, Dairy.

It’s been a loooooooooonnnnggg time coming, but it’s finally crossed the pond! Ben & Jerry’s Non-Dairy Ice Cream is finally available in the UK!!!

I’ve just had my first bowl of both of the below flavours (there is a third, it may have sold-out) – they’re awesome. Go and buy some now.

Ben & Jerry's Non-Dairy Ice Cream in Peanut Butter & Cookies and Chocolate Fudge Brownie Flavours.

I have no qualms with telling you I bought this in Tesco. When other supermarkets in my local area (Anglesey) start providing as many non-dairy options as Tesco, I’ll praise them as well.

I’ve been waiting for this day for what feels like an eternity – why?
Because frankly, cows suck, and dairy-based ice-cream sucks. I’m not saying that dairy-based ice-cream isn’t delicious, but the meat and dairy industry is one of the world’s largest emitters of greenhouse gasses, exacerbating climate change even more severely than almost everything else, and our collective love of it is one of the greatest driving factors in the over-exploitation of the planet. (If you’ve not already, go watch Cowspiracy on Netflix, it’s remarkable).
From a global perspective, ice-cream sucks.

So is that why Ben & Jerry’s have given us this gift of non-dairy ice-cream?
Here’s their answer as snapped from their website:

"We asked you. Lots of you. Some of you were committed to a vegan lifestyle, while others can't or would rather not eat dairy. And all of you are missing the indulgent frozen delights you wish you could enjoy. We knew that with some hard work and experimentation we could deliver the taste and creamy texture you've been craving. So we did."

and they’re nice and humble about it too.

So… kind of a variety of sort-of reasons, none of which anyone can argue against, they’re just not giving one solid answer to why they’ve branched into non-dairy.

And nor should they, to be honest. Because this isn’t about one-thing. There are a multitude of reasons why dairy sucks and why non-dairy is a good idea, and it’d be  unnecessary for them to dwell on one over the others when something so undeniably good is happening.

So I don’t care why they’ve done it – I’m just delighted that they have!
This is how change happens people!
Look around you – how many people, even when confronted with the facts, are going to be happy to give up something so deeply brilliant as ice-cream? (Surely only weirdo’s right? And I am saying that as one of those weirdos, but I don’t expect many other people to follow suit).

But what is it about ice-cream that people love? Is it that it’s made from stuff that comes out of a cow? Unlikely.
Is it that the dairy itself is so harmful to the planet? Probably not.
Is it the experience, the sensation, the flavour, and the delight? Yep, that’ll be it (in most cases).

The small print about what it’s actually made from is immaterial, really, from the point of  view of the consumer. (*Insert several morbid examples about how people don’t care about the negative repercussions of the things they buy).
If you keep the elements that people love, you can provide positive, viable alternatives for the elements that facilitate the things they love.

That’s how we’re going to save the world; by keeping people happy.
That’s how we’re transitioning from combustion-engines to electric cars.
That’s how we’re stopping over-fishing in Indonesia.
And that’s how we’re doing dessert.

Thank you Ben & Jerry’s!

How To Fight Climate Change

Happy #EarthDay and #March For Science!

In short, here’s how to fight climate change (and save the world):

  1. Vote conscientiously. Get informed on different parties’ policies on climate and environment and how they intend to tackle them.
  2. Offset your carbon emissions with Saving Species.
  3. Reduce the amount of plastic that you use and throw away.
    (Watch A Plastic Ocean on Netflix if you want to know why).
  4. Reduce the amount of beef and dairy in your diet – or cut it out completely (Watch Cowspiracy on Netflix if you want to know why).

and check out everything else in Your Save-The-World Starter Pack 🙂

But here’s a big question that people often ask:-

WHY SHOULD YOU BOTHER???

Amidst all the chaos in the world, the sheer magnitude of the climate change problem, it can be very easy to ask “What kind of a difference can I really make?”
You are, after all, just one person. How can one person’s lifestyle change actually do anything to change the world?

My old answer used to be that even if it seems inevitable, can you really be comfortable knowing that your actions are personally and directly contributing to the destruction of everything you love? (take rainforest destruction, the bleaching of the great barrier reef, or the threat of food and water security for your children and grandchildren as examples). Can you contentedly be a part of that? Or will you take a stand and say “No, I will do what is in my power to not be a part of that“?

That old answer is fairly powerful, in that it makes you feel a bit uncomfortable, but there’s no assurance that you will actually make a difference – and that’s what you understandably really want.

Here’s my new answer:

We’ve recently seen the Brexit referendum and the rise of Trump.
How many people said those things could never happen? How many people cast their votes the way they did because “they never thought it would actually happen“; because they “Just wanted to make a point“?

In the last year the world has been completely turned upside down, and we’re desperately close to irreparable damage on a host of issues – not least of which is climate change.

It’s a bizarrely bitter-sweet assurance that’s come out of the last year’s of turmoil:

IF YOU BOTHER TO TRY,
YOU CAN CHANGE THE WORLD.

(now go change it for the better 😉 )

 

Your Search To Save The Planet Is Over: INTERVIEW with Ecosia.

Even in Your Save-The-World Starter Pack, most world-saving actions do actually require you to do something, to donate or give something up. Very very few initiatives out there just fit so seamlessly into your daily lives that you can save the planet without noticing. But there is a search engine out there that is beautifully bucking these trends and doing something great. I would like to introduce you to Ecosia; the way for you to save the world while you search.

EcoHow

Click here to install Ecosia as your default search engine from their homepage now.

It’s wonderfully simple. You search the web with Ecosia, and the revenue generated from advertising plants trees! It even keeps track of how many trees you’ve helped plant! What I love about this most is that Ecosia are beautifully and simply facilitating greatness, with no imposition whatsoever to the user. You don’t have to think about it, but it’s brilliant, and I’m going to tell you their story.

It was a trip around the world that highlighted the issue of global deforestation for the founder & CEO, Christian Kroll, and inspired him to take action. But he and his team didn’t just set out planting trees anywhere; they had vision.
The Great Green Wall is a heartfully ambitious movement of local communities to plant 8,000km of green across northern Africa to combat deforestation and the expansion of the Sahara – think Jadav Payeng but on a continental scale – and that is where Ecosia have set to make their impact.

And what an impact it is! Such a mass of trees will have a huge impact on the climate – not just globally but, thanks to evapotranspiration, on the local environment as well.
In supporting the Great Green Wall, Ecosia (and you, by searching with them) are not only directly combating climate change in one of the harshest environments on earth; they’re proving food and jobs to hungry communities. They’re bonding communities together, promoting healthier lives, cleaning air and water. This is striving to increase environmental, social and economic prosperity. And, in the words of The Great Green Wall, they are “Growing a World Wonder“.

In November 2014, Ecosia planted their one millionth tree. To date, at time of writing, they have planted 3,523,742 trees (14 of which I’ve been responsible for, and I’ve only been searching with them for 24 hours), and they’re currently on track to reach their target of 1 Billion trees planted by 2020. Upon discovering their awesome, world-saving initiative, I was dying to speak to them. I am sincerely grateful for the opportunity to have such a lovely interview with Jacey Bingler of the Ecosia team:


 

You mention online that Ecosia was formed after a trip around the world, which brought to light the problem of deforestation. How did you decide where to begin in tackling this issue, and what lead you to focus on the great green wall?

As Christian first learnt about reforestation when staying in Argentina, a reforestation/rainforest protection program in the Atlantic Rainforest (spreading across Argentina and Brazil) seemed a good starting point for his efforts in late 2009. A couple of years and two tree planting organisations later, the Ecosia team came across the planting program in Burkina Faso. We are fascinated by the idea of keeping the Sahel and Sahara desert from spreading by planting a wall of trees. Those trees don’t only absorb CO2, they also have the power to nourish communities, they can restart water cycles and stabilize economic and political situations in the region.

So how does this actually work? Who’s planting the trees? What trees are they? Who owns the land?

The land is owned and treated by the communities. The communities are also the ones executing the tree planting program with the help of WeForest, who organize the tree planting program in general and OZG, a Belgian NGO, operating with the local people on the ground. The communities do receive “sustainability training” and they must agree to certain standards in order to participate in the program, like granting women their own income from tree planting. But apart from that the program is about empowering people to help themselves and to create as little dependancies as possible. The local communities know best what trees to plant when and where and thanks to a very efficient planting technique the survival rate of the new trees and shrubs is at an astonishing 70%. We are very happy that the feedback from the communities has been very positive so far.

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Your next target is one billion trees planted by 2020. Will that be focussed along the great green wall? What will be the greater impacts of this?

We initially set ourselves this goal of planting 1 billion trees because we determined that as a number that would significantly help mitigate climate change and do a lot for the biodiversity and stability of ecosystems in the planting regions. It is a very ambitious goal but it reminds us of where we are going and what we want to achieve. It motivates us to improve our product and spread the word about this great tree planting search engine every day. Where all these trees will be planted is yet to be determined. The Great Green Wall is an amazing project we are glad to be part of, but there are surely uncountable regions all over the world that are in bitter need of reforestation.

You’re taking on Google; how do you feel about that, and how’s that been received?

Google offers great search results and user experience, otherwise it wouldn’t have become such a popular, omnipresent product. But this omnipresence and monopolist status is what troubles us. Rather than telling people what not to use, we want to show them that there are alternatives and that no one has to use a search engine or product in general just because it is preinstalled in most browsers or on most devices. Lately more and more people seem to be driven away from Google and towards us, probably largely due to the latest tax affair. This shows us that the future belongs to businesses who offer a product that benefits the user and supports a greater cause at the same time.

Ecosia seems set to be able to make a big difference, not just to the environment, but to the whole concept of corporate social responsibility. What element of Ecosia are you most proud of?

We believe that Ecosia is a great tool that empowers everyone to do good, without any additional cost or effort for the user. It capitalizes on a daily habit and turns something as abstract but also lucrative as search advertising into something as nurturing and tangible as trees. But as you already indicated, the product and the good cause it supports could really be anything. The fact that this system works in general, gives us hope, and we celebrate every new social business who joins the movement. Something that is very important to us on the way is being transparent and offering our users as much insight as possible. This is why we publish all our monthly donation receipts and business reports and are happy to answer any kind of question regarding the mechanics that keep Ecosia going.

Do you have any other advice for people wanting to save the world with something as simple as a click?

Don’t underestimate how much more you’ll be able to achieve, if you allow yourself to scale. We used to donate almost all of our total income to tree planting. This never really allowed us to employ additional team members who could help us improve our product and spread the word. Hadn’t it been for our community members who usually are so excited about Ecosia that they share us with their networks, we would have had a very hard time growing and even being able to keep Ecosia running. A little over a year ago we decided to get additional team members on board and invest in new features and product improvements. We started paying our monthly costs first and then donating at least 80% of our profits. This has helped us scale our product so much, that we are now in fact able to donate more money than before. There’s a very interesting TED talk by Dan Parlotta on how social businesses often have a very hard time explaining why and how they invest money. Christian introduced me to it a while ago and I think it’s incredibly insightful.

 


So get to it! You can install Ecosia as your default browser right now by simply clicking the link on their homepage here, and you can also download the Ecosia app for android or iPhone. It takes seconds to do, and every day you’ll be able to make huge impacts with them. Think of it – you can be proud that you’re making the world a better place, every time you fire up the internet!

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Click here to search with Ecosia. Original image courtesy of http://www.beeldkas.be

My sincere thanks again to Jacey from Ecosia, to the whole Ecosia team for their phenomenal work, and to all of you future Ecosia users 🙂

We Go Now Live To The Historic Battlefront…

Where just last week what has been hailed as one of the most monumental global agreements in history was made… but we maybe can’t relax just yet.

COP 21 is now concluded &, it would seem, the fate of our planet decided. By and large, people seem happy that we have achieved what was set out to do: To agree to a less than 2ºC temperature rise (above pre-industrial levels), by reducing our emissions, phasing out fossil fuels, wealthy, developed nations giving $100Billion to developing nations by 2020 to help them do that, and the nice establishment of a 5-year-review where everyone can get together to see how we’re doing. Hurrah!

Main-stream media seems very happy with it all. Politicians seem very happy with it all. Even 50% of the organisers of the Global Climate MarchAvaaz.org – seem happy, saying in a recent email to members that “We did it!… World leaders at the UN climate talks have just set a landmark goal that can save everything we love!
The other 50% of the GCM organisers, 350.org, seem somewhat less thrilled by the result of these talks:

And I think quite rightly so because, as much as it may be great to make this deal and have the world on board… it is still a slightly inadequate deal – mostly in the gross lack of actual targets, and that none of it is legally binding – and there’s still a huge amount of work to be done. The simple fact that the UN have agreed and produced a very vague document about it doesn’t mean that the rest of us can turn to each other and say “Wehey, that’s that then!” dust off our hands and clock-off.

For the last year, momentum has been building up for this to be huge. We knew it was going to be tough, but there was the hope that, with sufficient preparation, the world would be able to pull something together that was appreciably ambitious. Though even Barack Obama is noted as having optimistically called the very notion of agreement ‘ambitious‘. Throughout all that there was hope, and with this hope I (and countless others) watched COP21 unfold, as they steadily drafted out reems of proposals, identified disagreements and sought remedies. But, thanks to The Guardian’s live feed of the events, I was able to pinpoint the moment when the wind was taken from my sails, and the vectors of my face & palm converged…

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It was the moment the actual targets were removed from the draft. The moment apathy set in, and the points of contention – like how much reductions we were going to commit to, or by when – were, instead of decided upon, simply removed and left as fluff. I know scientists who say this is a good thing, that if we had a target of, say, 50% reduction it’d be interpreted as an excuse to still emit a full 50%… but I honestly disagree. Do we really think such lenience won’t be taken advantage of? It’s like choosing not to say to your child “You can have only have half of this chocolate bar” because you think they’ll only have 2 squares if you keep schtup.
And to make it worse, this is all voluntary anyway. No countries are under any obligation to actually do anything! At least they all agree now that something has to be done.

Of course, such dissatisfaction can be taken too far, and this is where my sympathy for activists breaks down. While it’s important that The People exercise their power, certain types of activism do ring with a bit of small-man syndrome, disguised as disestablishmentarianism. For example, I don’t agree with the message in this video by New Internationalist that the only way forward is to take the power from the hands of the corporations.

Like it or not, corporations pretty much are the developed world. They are huge, almightily powerful and influential – even to our governments. It’s something I’ve been discussing with students over my One Man Climate March – we need the phasing-out of fossil fuels but by investment in something else. Do you think we could continue to function if we just cut out all fossil fuels right now? No, absolutely not as our way of life – that we all fight for and, to certain extents, deserve – depend on that too much. Similarly, our society is made and managed by corporations; we can’t get rid of them. What we DO need to do is to help/incense corporations to change the ways they do what they do, to make the world a better place. As we know, they have huge amounts of power and money; they are better equipped than any of us impoverished eco-warriors to change the world right now.
In light of COP21, the head of Europe’s coal lobby spat his dummy out and declared that the coal industry is going to be ‘hated and vilified like slave-traders‘ now.
(“Well, Duh?” was my first thought on that)
But I seriously do wonder why these companies – who currently supply our power through one means or another – don’t just commit to continuing to do so in a cleaner way! We, the customers, don’t necessarily love them because they give us coal, it’s because ultimately they power our homes. And if they complain about loss-of-jobs – what, you think wind-turbines just grow on trees? Or couldn’t stand any improvements?? It’s a lucrative sector, get in there!

I was happy that, smack in the middle of COP21, a huge forum was also held – 2 whole days devoted to presenting sustainable solutions – the 6th Sustainable Innovation Forum. Check out their YouTube channel for what they talked about. Unfortunately this year this became a target of anti-corporate activism, and now there’s great contention around how much elements of this forum can be classified as ‘greenwashing’ for big corporations. So that bit was kind of a mess.

But, ambitious as myself and my eco-peers may be, it’s still apparently very difficult to change the world. I mean, yes, it very much is, but that’s no reason not to try. There’s huge things to consider, almost infinite ramifications of our actions, and always more people & livelihoods to consider, but the answers are out there. But still, here’s a clip of David Cameron practising telling his grand-children that it was just too difficult:

“…No-one is being asked to pre-ordain what that [5-yearly] review would say…
No-one is being asked to sign-up for automatic decreases in their carbon emissions…” 
Mr Cameron says in this pre-COP speech.

Umm, YES, Mr Cameron, that’s almost exactly – word-for-word – what we were asking you to do.

But apparently it is difficult. Apparently it is going to be a hard-slog to kick this habit – but no-one (apart from Mr Cameron there) ever said it was going to be easy. The closest thing any expert has ever got to saying it’ll be easy, is saying it’s going to be easier now than it will in the future. And we’re all going to have to pitch-in.

So that’s what I implore of you all. This is a very big issue, and we have some very big opinions on it. We have some very big hinderances to our efforts, but biggest of all is just our griping about it. Please, can we just get over ourselves and get on with the task in hand. Focus on how to make the world better, and DO SOMETHING about it, rather than distracting yourself on how it’ll be hard, or miserable, because if you do, you’ll be right.

A year ago Prince Ea released this beautiful video that, I think (hope), had the same intended message behind it as Mr Cameron’s before the UN. But from Prince Ea it was much better delivered, and is still resoundingly true today.

And if you don’t think enough has been done… if you want something to do… Then follow Prince Ea’s advice, offset your carbon with Stand For Trees, or with Saving Species. Take pride in the world that you are a part of, and consume less, eat less meat – particularly beef. Help prevent fracking. Share happiness and unity and pride and hope and empowerment. Let this impact your life now so that it will impact others less – and less badly – in the future. Act in such ways that you can take pride in the impact that your life has on this world. And if you ever think that not enough is being done, that is your opportunity to do something more.

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Making Progess

COP21 is nearing an end, and only time will tell if the leaders of the world are going to take this climate change thing seriously, and change the fate of our planet.

It’s weird, humanity has never had a challenge quite like this before, and I don’t think we really know what to do with it. We’ve spent the last few millennia fighting tooth-and-claw-and-brain for a chance at life, the last few thousand years mostly just trying to get-by and survive, and the last few hundred years in a fit of ‘progress’ making lives easier, our homes/jobs more comfortable, and our world smaller. Throughout that time, we’ve always had definitive obstacles to be overcome, the enemies we vanquished always had a face, and fights had a clear beginning and end. Victors and victims were quite easy to discriminate.

Now we’re at this stage in our evolution where we’re actually able to look at ourselves analytically. We see ourselves as superior to all creation yet can also observe ourselves as having barely dragged ourselves from the primordial ooze we so sneer at and, through ‘progress’, have sought to vanquish. We are the only known beings for 13.8 Billion light-years in any direction that possess the ability to comprehend responsibility. What seems difficult is accepting that we are evolved enough to accept that responsibility.

It’s like fighting for the best seat on a plane, only to realise that the one with the best view has to fly the damned thing, and you’ve already taken off.

Now we’re at this crucial point – deciding whether or not we’re going to grip the controls and have to concentrate for a bit, or keep using the steering column as a foot-rest, collectively watching the on-coming mountainside and thinking “Well this is going to be shit.” I’m not sure that’s the best metaphor for COP21, but I’ve not heard a better one.

The Guardian are doing a huge amount in publicising the future of our planet, and focusing energy on COP21. Their “Keep It In The Ground” campaign is having some huge impacts, and they’re appealing to some major world players to make the world a better place. Fundamentally that campaign is rooted in hastily phasing out fossil fuels. But what would happen if we did that?

We – developed human civilisation – are addicted to fossil fuels in a similar way to how so many are addicted to smoking cigarettes. The burning of fossil fuels gives us so much, and we’ve had the power generated from doing that for so long it’s become a fundamental expectation of our lives. We would not accept a society that took those things – technological comforts, magically simple communications, ready food supplies etc. – away from us. But note that it’s not the burning fuels we’re addicted to; it’s what that facilitates. It’s not burning cigarettes that people become addicted to, it’s the way doing that makes them feel. And if you want to change people’s behaviour you can’t simply take away something that gives them pleasure – you have to find out what they already love, and give them more of that (in a better way).

So… and dare I say this… The Guardian are on the right lines, but it’s not quite enough. “Keep It In The Ground” is only half the battle. And it’s the half that, if it were so simple, would never succeed.  Because if you were given the option of:

Your life as it is      –     OR     –     Keep it all in the ground

You’d understandably pick the former, even if it killed you.

And so I propose some satisfaction to the chasm left by simply keeping our source of civilisation in the ground: “Look To The Sky“.

The solution to a problem, and the resolution to the conflict.

The solution to a problem, and the resolution to the conflict.

By “Look To The Sky” I’m simply including the new line of progress that is the investment in Sun, Wind & Water – those renewables that we have in abundance. The technology is coming on in ever-greater leaps and bounds, and realistically we are faced with a similar pressure to our lives as we’ve felt in every major war of the last century – when we’ve made our other biggest technological advances.

I’m not saying that “Keep It In The Ground” doesn’t include the importance of renewables – it does in abundance in the full campaign, just not in the tagline. It’s also nicely straight-to-the-point in what we want to happen with fossil fuels. It’s simple.

People change most profoundly though when given something better to do – “More of Better” is a bigger driving factor of our behaviour than “Less of worse”. And looking forward, “More of Better” is where our attention needs to be. It’s running to the light at the end of the tunnel, not fleeing the darkness behind. So that’s what I’m asking you to do; when you’re wondering what to do with the world, just #LookToTheSky.

We Marched Through London & I Met Bill Oddie

Humanity is at a pivotal point in our history. The Earth, including all known life in the universe, is at a similarly pivotal point as a result. Attention-hungry as all the petty human conflicts right now may be, I’m actually talking about climate change and the COP 21 conference of world-leaders that’s going on right now. That’s a big deal, and last Sunday as many as 70,000 people took to the streets of London to show quite how big a deal we think it is.

One of the things I loved most about the London Global Climate March was the unity that came in the throngs of slightly rain-dampened people – all 70,000 of them in London, and all 785,000 around the world. All there for a common cause, and a common good. All there to show that they’re willing to stand up to protect our world, and show our leaders that we’re willing to support an encourage them in making this world a better place.

And that nice element of ‘support’ is remarkable, as there was also a very strong trend among the speakers & public that the last twenty COP conferences have been… somewhat unsatisfactory. We were reminded at the finish line by three inspirational young girls from Children Against Global Warming that so far, in supposedly getting together to tackle the biggest threat ever faced by mankind, the world’s leaders have accomplished “NOTHING”. So in short – these people who give a shit about the future of the planet, they’re nice, forgiving people.

But a huge highlight of the march for me was meeting the great Bill Oddie. Apart from being an all-round wildlife-lover & enthusiast, Bill is probably best-known for bi-annually enthralling the British public with our own wonderful wildlife via Spring Watch and Autumn Watch. I can also report that he’s one of the most lovely people there’s ever been.

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We ended up chatting for a good half-an-hour about what a great event this was, and his years of both entertaining and inspiring the British public. Throughout his career Bill’s become established as somewhat of an expert on wildlife, and so it was great to be standing with him as we addressed our world leaders. An over-riding theme of the day that developed was the notion that, for quite some time now, our leaders have taken the environment somewhat for granted, and failed to represent the voices of the masses and the real experts.

“The principle to me,” Bill told me, “that really really matters, is that the politicians and the people who make the policies – in cahoots with big businesses etc. etc. – have got to start accepting that they don’t necessarily know best.”

Furthermore, he described the long-standing trend in environmental policy from our government in this country to be filled with “Great Ignorance and Arrogance”.

The attitude of the march was not one of fear, but of faith. Though at the same time, I think everyone there would have called themselves a realist as we all appreciated that the world is in danger, and things could still go very very wrong. We were there to support our world leaders, but couldn’t go without remembering that they have let us down so far… so it was with a modicum of fear in our hearts we were asking them not to do that again.

Bill was warily optimistic of the outcome of this COP21, stating “The tragic thing, if you can imagine all of these politicians getting together over the net couple of days…  if they can look at marches like this, gatherings like this, protests like this… if they can dismiss those, then we really are in big trouble.”

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Could they dismiss this?

But almost worryingly, this march has received very little by way of media coverage – though that’s even from The Guardian, and they organised the event! And sadly that’s despite a remarkably good speech from Jeremy Corbyn, and some wonderful words from Francesca Martinez – this event transcended your standard shouty activism.

Unfortunately most of the coverage of the Global March was focussed around the failed Paris March, at which those who gathered were forcibly removed/arrested – due to the recent, terror-induced ban on demonstrations in the city. Nicely that event has now been replaced by a vigil of shoes to commemorate the lost march, but we’re still waiting to see if the waves of change that were hoped from this event will amount to any more than ripples of disappointment.

Whether you were there at a Global March or not, you have not spent your chance to get involved with the COP21 conference & change the future of the planet. You can still put into action, in your own life, the changes that are being called for – to divest from fossil fuels, support renewables, eat less meat & generally practise compassion and consideration. Directly show your support by Tweeting your leader. And me, I’m off on my own, One Man Climate March.