Earth Hour 2012, Low Hanging Fruit & Really Making a Difference?

Tonight is Earth Hour 2012!Earth Hour aims to increase awareness of the  (negative) impact of electricity on the environment and urge consumers to act together to reduce electricity consumption and thereby contribute to saving the earth.

….. or in the words of the actual Earth Hour organizers:

“Hundreds of millions of people, businesses and governments around the world unite each year to support the largest environmental event in history – Earth Hour. ” (www.earthhour.org)

More than 5,200 cities and towns in 135 countries worldwide switched off their lights for Earth Hour 2011 alone, sending a powerful message for action on climate change. It also ushered in a new era with members going Beyond the Hour to commit to lasting action for the planet. Without a doubt, it’s shown how great things can be achieved when people come together for a common cause. (www.earthhour.org)

….an alternative view of Earth Hour is:

“Earth Hour celebrates ignorance, poverty and backwardness. ………. It encourages the sanctimonious gesture of turning off trivial appliances for a trivial amount of time, in deference to some ill-defined abstraction called “the Earth,” all the while hypocritically retaining the real benefits of continuous, reliable electricity.” (www.wattsupwiththat.com)

I agree that we need to unite and act and make changes in our resource use and consumption patterns to ensure that we use our resources in a more efficient, equitable and sustainable manner. I also believe that we need to raise awareness and increase the urgency of our actions and end the low- hanging fruit, talk, conference, committee type of actions that are clearly not making much of a difference. We need initiatives that actually make a difference and move away from mere awareness building, and hour-long initiatives.

For me the issue is more that earth hour is close to being seen as a yearly green wash, feel good, drop in the ocean event that doesn’t actually make much difference if we all go back to our normal consumption patterns after the hour of action.

I do understand that the aim is to increase awareness and change electricity use patterns, but how many of us observe the hour, give ourselves a good (green) pat on the back and then carry on with our normal way of life without making worthwhile changes in how we use electricity?

We all need to change our resource use patterns, but is one hour per year really going to help us?

I am not saying don’t support Earth Hour, though I am saying I don’t think a few green washed actions will make much difference! We need to focus our energies on actions and initiatives that actually work and are sustainable!

References and reading :

Earth Hour Website

Action for Climate Justice: Earth Hour and Green wash 

WUWT 

Article on WWF-UK on Green wash and Earth Hour 

(Not So) Good Intentions: Climate Change Adaption & Mitigation Projects

I am pretty certain that we are all aware that everything we do has an impact as does everything we don’t do! This is particularly important as we all do our bit for the planet, nature, our environment, a sustainable future, our families, our next pair of shoes, or outfit, meal, or our next chocolate fix …… or whatever the reason is that you do the things you do.

Often we assume that our actions have no impact and that our positive and “good” actions are just that… perfectly wonderful and good for the world. We especially fall prey to thinking we have achieved great wondrous goodness when we do something that we perceive as good for the planet, nature or society. In addition green washing and misinformation by organisations simply adds to the fake feeling of ”goodness”. It is for this reason that we often end up doing things that we think are very good and that have possible negative impacts that we do not consider or that we blindly ignore.  An example is a recent presentation that I attended on energy efficiency, certified emissions reductions and climate change adaptation technology. Considering all the energy that COP 17 generated about the pros and cons of the climate change response and adaptation, I was quite hopeful that the first presentation that the first post COP 17 presentation I attended  relating to the climate change and technology issue would actually provide some new and amazing information or solution or way forward.

The presentation related to the use of agricultural wastes as an energy source, (nothing new here I thought….) specifically, palm oil processing wastes which are used to generate methane gas which is then used to generate power. Shock horror…..palm oil!

Palm oil, a major component of many processed food products has the dubious honour of being a major contributing factor to green house gas emissions, deforestation, landless-ness, relocation of marginalized communities etc

Surely, these people aren’t trying to sell a climate change adaptation solution (and we all agree that we definitely need solutions to climate change) that involves deforestation, habitat and species loss, and general negativity based on the creation of a few emissions reductions?

So the issue is, do we really need to cause more degradation and negative impacts by adopting solutions that actually take us backward in the journey towards sustainability?

When I raised the issue with the team that was presenting they had no idea about the linkage between palm oil production, species and habitat loss and deforestation etc. I am not sure whether the projects negative impacts will be mitigated or reduced but I did realize that before we blindly follow the solutions presented to us by we need to ensure that the so-called solution is in fact a solution. The other sad fact is that most people should by now know about the impacts of the palm oil industry and we should all be trying to reduce our use of palm oil and not creating opportunities for palm oil production to be increased or overlooked under the guise of sustainability and climate change adaptation.

I do note that the project uses the waste from palm oil processing and in so doing is trying to make the system more efficient. However, at the same time the use of palm oil in this project provides it (in my opinion) with a layer of green wash aimed at making it more acceptable and sustainable.

However, given the palm oil industry’s not so good record as far as habitat and species loss is concerned I think we should avoid climate change adaptation projects that may actually contribute to climate change and increased green house gas emissions in the long run.

In case you did not know here are some facts on the impact of palm oil cultivation:

  • Deforestation, mainly in tropical areas, accounts for up to one-third of total anthropogenic CO2 emissions, and is a driver toward dangerous climate change.
  • Greenpeace has concluded that “first generation” biodiesel extracted from new palm oil plantations may not on balance reduce emissions. If wood from forests cleared for palm plantations is burned instead of used for biodiesel, leaving forests untouched may keep more carbon out of the air.
  • Habitat destruction, leading to the demise of critically endangered species (e.g. the Sumatran tiger, the Asian rhinoceros, and the Sumatran Orangutan.)
  • Reduced biodiversity including damage to biodiversity hotspots.
  • Destruction of cash crops, such as fruit and rubber trees in Sarawak, Sabah and Kalimantan and Borneo, that belong to indigenous peoples (the Dayak), despite their frequent objections.

(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Environmental_impact_of_palm_oil#cite_note-30)

Additional information on Palm Oil:

FAQ PALM OIL

Palm oil in your shopping

Borneo orangutan survival

CSPINET Palm Oil report

Mongabay Article on Palm Oil 

Extras, Ethical Consumption & My Paul Smith Handbag Crush

I think it particularly important that the extras, luxuries and nice to “haves” that one buys are the ones that need to go that extra mile not just to show value for money but also value for the environment and ethics.

The BAG! (www.paulsmith.co.uk)

(This post should have been or could have been entitled “I am no greenie saint….but I try in my own little way… now please can I have that bag!”)

Being a “greenie” and wanting make the greenest, most ethical and earth-friendly decisions is not always easy. In fact green decision-making and consumption is fraught with speed-bumps and pot-holes in the form of green wash, the misrepresentation of products as green, ethical, sustainable and or ecological friendly. Green, sustainability and environmental issues have been hijacked and often products are labeled as green/organic etc when in my opinion they are pretty far from green or good for the environment or the consumers. In many instances i try to buy green, ethical or sustainable products but end up buying products that don’t quite fit your/ or my idea of ethical, green or sustainable. A few examples are;

  • Organic produce that ends up having the most awful carbon miles, having been shipped/flown in from a far off continent.
  • Buying a natural, recyclable etc product but it has been made in a sweatshop with GM cotton or some other nasty type of raw material.
  • Using a natural face cream (that doesn’t harm animals) but has resulted in the monoculture and deforestation (resource inputs such as palm oil, shea butter etc) of large tracts if land which has negatively affected the biodiversity of an area.
  • Installing solar panels in your home in an attempt to reduce your carbon footprint only to find out that the panels are produced in a far off country that doesn’t really mind if you the solar panel factory is polluting the catchment within which it is located causing the ill-health and loss of livelihoods to entire villages etc….

And there I was thinking that I was making ethical consumption choices that would help the planet …. ??

So what is one to do….??  I guess in order to retain ones sanity and not over think each and every thing you end up consuming, the most logical thing make a difference where you can. The approach I take in trying to be a green consumer entails not blindly buying into advertising, green wash and misinformation etc by reading labels and using some logic. For me this implies (among other things)… trying to restrict my consumption patterns to;

  • Needs as opposed to wants.
  • Buying local, organic and ethical and making sure where possible that the claims about the product are not simply green wash.
  • Being logical about labeling and checking labels
  • Staying away from overly processed and packed products
  • Staying away from GM… though this can be very difficultly considering that GM produce is not always labeled etc
  • etc…

Sometimes my wants become needs… (often this relates to fashion items… which surprisingly have quite poor green/ethical track records…given that fashion is often regarded a luxury etc ) and then I try to find a “good green thing“ about the lust-have product that is hopefully not negated by a long list of really bad things about the product/lust have that is occupying my every waking moment.

My latest lust have is a handbag. More specifically, a Paul Smith handbag. Not being a brand hag but really liking nice things…. I was initially quite confused by my need for this specific bag….. however, it seems that I have fallen hopelessly in love with the handbag.

It is a multi-colour, leather bag that would work with almost all of my clothes… in other words it is almost perfect. I would be able to wear it for a good few seasons ..(I don’t believe in blindly following the glossies or what the fashion gurus say is the it item etc so I don’t mind wearing stuff that is considered as being “ohh so five seasons ago)… so I think the bag would be a good buy. I could probably use it until it falls apart, and / or is recycled into something else or used by someone else. I could see myself being a little old lady and still using the bag…in other words I would be willing to commit to the bag….

It would seem that I have already justified the addition of the bag to my world…. But when I tried to research Paul Smith and their environmental/ sustainability policy, to try to shut up my conscience and make me feel better about wanting something that I don’t really need… I didn’t find any information!? Is this even possible? In this day and age surely I am not the only person wondering what this particular brand thinks/ does etc about being more ethical, sustainable and green?

Maybe they are taking the highroad and not green washing their products until they can stand by all their green and ethical claims…?  … or maybe the brand is just not interested in ethical or green consumption?

Please can someone tell me that I am wrong? I really would like to be able to find something positive, ethical or green about Paul Smith?  And I really would like to buy the bag…..