Earth Hour 2013: Try And Make Your Earth Hour Action Really Sustainable ….

It’s been a year since Earth Hour 2012 and I really hope that whatever it was that you did for Earth Hour last year has made a meaningful difference to the Earth and to your Ecocred.

My view on Earth Hour hasn’t changed in the last year, click here for my 2012 post on the subject.

There have been quite a few similar blog and news articles with similar thoughts on the Earth Hour debate. This is positive and I guess points to the fact that people are beginning to understand that we should be making sustainable and longterm Earth Saving commitments and not commitments that comprise primarily of greenwash, feel good, short term actions. So …. if you do decide to do something for Earth Hour try and commit to making your Earth Hour action something long term sustainable and not greenwash! That in my opinion would be the best thing to do to make Earth Hour really make a difference!

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World Bank, Development Delusion and Other Interesting Articles

Just read a great and informative article about the World Bank entitled “The World Banks Development Delusion”. The article briefly explores the history of the Bank and argues the need for change in the funding approach used by the World Bank, in its attempts to facilitate development and reduce poverty. The article made the following interesting points:

  • History shows that most of the countries that have come under the sway of the World Bank – and its sister institution, the IMF – have experienced declining development outcomes over the past 30 years or so.
  • Developing countries need much more control over decisions that affect them. Power in the World Bank is presently apportioned according to members’ shares, just like in a corporation. Major decisions require 85% of the vote, and the United States, which holds about 16% of the shares (and controls the presidency), wields de facto veto power. The same is true of the IMF. Developing countries together hold less than 50% of the vote, which is shocking given that the institution supposedly exists to promote their welfare. • Development aid should be delinked from corporate bonds. This would take Wall Street’s interests out of the equation, eliminate the pressure to siphon wealth from debtors, and allow the bank to evaluate its performance on the basis of poverty reduction outcomes instead of loan volume, as is the current practice. (http://www.thoughtleader.co.za/jasonhickel/2012/09/28/the-world-bank-and-the-development-delusion/)

The article also reminded me about the poem The Development Set. Yes, I know I always mention this but it’s only because it’s so true and I have yet to see any real evidence of development finance institutions trying to steer away from being tarred by the same brush that tarred “The Development Set”.

Should you wish to find out more on unsustainable aid, read the article on the World Bank and its development delusions and or read the poem The Development Set, check out the links below:

The need for Sustainable Aid

Aid, Development and the Development Set

The World Banks Development Delusion

Infrastructure Development and Funding

My Latest Green Fail….

…. another post about green that isn’t really green and how we all need to change our thinking and consumption patterns…and yes I am not perfect …..

My previous post on rare earth minerals got me thinking about the fact that transitioning towards a greener and more sustainable economy by focusing on technology, resource and innovation may not necessarily be the best option, especially when:

  • The new and innovative technologies end up increasing our dependence on resources, albeit, new or different ones.
  • The new and innovative technologies result in dependence or impact that is merely dressed up in different possibly green-washed and even organic new swag.
  • The new and innovative technologies result in an increase in unnecessary consumption often due to green wash and unsustainable trends.

Keep in mind that not all new and greener technologies are unsustainable. What is important is the manner in which we make the change to newer technologies, and the quantity and quality of the new technologies that we buy. Merely buying the newest and greenest technology will not make you greener and in fact may make you guilty of unsustainable and unethical consumption patterns.

It is very important that when we make our “green” choices we consider the entire impact and not merely the superficial impact that we would like to see?  Unfortunately, and much to my dismay I am guilty of this in many respects. So I thought as my good deed for the day…..I would share some of my green fails with the hope that I could prevent someone else from going down the same route.

My most recent “goody two-shoes green delusion fails” are;

  • Falling for a new high-tech gadget and upgrading my iPad to the latest version, that isn’t really that different from my previous one? From a functionality perspective I use the new one for exactly the same purpose as the previous one.  The question is did I really need the new one? and was the overall cost of the upgrade really worth it?

Green Pros:

  1. Less paper use and waste by reading eBooks, magazines and online news,
  2. Note taking, report editing and emails on the tablet = less printing of emails and reports and having an easily transportable and accessible library of documents that I need during the day.

Green Cons:

  1. Unnecessary use of resources and rare earth metals used to produce, package and transport my new tablet: think ecological footprint etc
  2. The iPad 3 has a higher carbon footprint that the iPad 2. (http://ecolibris.blogspot.com/2012/07/how-green-is-new-ipad-part-6-comparing.html#)
  3. Waste: landfill / recycling and disposal costs associated with the previous tablet. (though, I did try to offset this cost by up-cycling  the old tablet)

  • Green Retail Therapy: I recently bought a whole new batch of solar fairy lights and garden lights. The new solar fairy and garden lights were marketed as being greener than the previous generation of solar lights etc.  … so despite that fact that I already have a few pretty solar fairy lights twinkling away in my little garden and the fact that I don’t need more lights in my garden, I bought some more.

Green Pros:

  1. At least I didn’t buy conventional fairy lights that would increase my use of electricity generated from coal.

Green Cons:

  1. Unnecessary use and waste of resources that were used to produce, package and transport my new ”green” lighting.

Ultimately, these two examples are a large-scale green fail on my part that has sent my ecocred plummeting, despite the fact that I didn’t send the old iPad or fairy lights to a landfill.

I didn’t really need a new tablet to do exactly the same things that my previous tablet did. Neither did I need additional fairy lights., …even if they were solar-powered and therefore greener than conventional lights.

I was just a greedy little wannabe wanting to have the newest and shiniest gadgets. Gadgets, that are being marketed as green, that maybe a bit faster, prettier etc , yet barely have enough new features to outweigh the environmental and social costs of the new gadget or technology.

Not everything that is green is sustainable!

Additional reading to up your ecocred!

Five things you should know before buying apples iPad.

How green is the new iPad?

RIO + 20: Worth The Effort ?

Rio+20 is upon us and I haven’t posted or put any real thought or effort into the Rio+20 excitement, despite the Rio + 20 summit being hailed as  a “wonderful, green and strategic” decision making moment for the world! Does this make me a bad “greenie” or put me in the box with people who don’t care about the planet or nature or the green economy or pandas….?

I can assure you that I am very concerned about the development path/ economic trajectory that we are on. This despite the assurances and re-assurance from multinationals, corporates and governments that;

  • sustainability and equity issues are being mainstreamed
  • business and government are working towards solutions for the pressing issues of sustainable and equitable development
  • We are in fact slowly transitioning to a greener economy

“Rome was not built-in a day” but how many more summits, conferences, COPs, protocols, accords agreements,laws etc do we need before we are able to see any real and tangible sustainable development?  The fact that these conferences and summits etc attract some of the worlds greatest development minds, authorities and governments that meet (over and over again) to try to sort out the various development challenges that we face should indicate that the processes that we use to address these development challenges may not be working? maybe it is time for something else?

This week, up to 100,000 people are streaming into Rio de Janeiro for the year’s biggest international event – the UN Conference on Sustainable Development to be held on 13-22 June. (M Khor)

With this in mind lets look at the a few issues that should be but will in all likelihood not be fully or adequately addressed or resolved at Rio+20;

  • Fossil fuel subsidies: do we really need to subsidise one the key things that is responsible for a great many of our environmental problems?
  • Emissions targets: who gets which piece of the pie?
  • Tipping points and pollution and the degradation of natural resources and landscapes: It is a well-known fact that we have to stop and redress  the pollution and degradation.
  • Equity and access to natural resources: Define fair, access and resource?
  • Green Economy: what is the definition? is this the silver bullet/ solution? or do we need something else
  • Food and resource security and scarcity: overconsumption, in efficient production methods etc
  • Full informed participation of affected stakeholders: better community participation: is it only government and business that know what is good for the rest of us?

What I am basically saying is that assurances of governments, the champagne environmentalists, the green-bling-brigade, the development set etc I am still not convinced that we are achieving much development impact by hosting  summits, sitting around and arguing the format of draft agreements and accords.

While I will keep my fingers (and toes) crossed for some exciting decsions and actions resulting from RIO+20, I will not hold my breath or drop what I am doing to follow the developments of the summit. We need to see action and change, not more meetings about meetings etc ….

Some additional reading should you be interested in other views on Rio+20:

Can Rio Solve the Worlds problems?  

Human Impacts Institute Article on Rio+20

Rio+20 Text Out of touch with reality

World Bank: Rio+20

Before its news: Rio+20

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 

Jargon: Getting In The Way Of Sustainable Development

I often find myself sitting in a meeting or workshop being bombarded by words and concepts such as sustainable development, sustainability green, green economy, green infrastructure, low-carbon, low-carbon economy and other fashionable jargon.
The meaning of sustainable development and the concept of sustainability had always been pretty clear to me. However recently as the focus on sustainable development, environmental degradation and climate change has increased sustainable development and sustainability morphed into “naughty words” and everyone started fixating on climate change, low-carbon and “green” instead. There are various reasons for this one of which is probably due to overuse and green wash and misdirected energies within the sector. As a result green economy, green jobs, green infrastructure, low-carbon economy … etc … became the ‘words/ concepts’ du jour. Unfortunately, each of these words and concepts translate differently depending on the context within which they are being used.
This lack of agreement on the meaning of the terms is likely one of the reasons that we seem to be unable to resolve any of the genuine sustainable development (environmental and social and economic) issues that we face or achieve the sustainability goals that we are working towards. This may also be one of the reasons that there is so much green wash and so many well intended (green, low-carbon, climate resilient etc) projects which result in impacts that are not necessarily sustainable.
In the diagram below I try to explain (broadly) the inter-relationship between the concepts of sustainable development, low-carbon economy and the green economy.


Sustainable Development covers the social, economic and environmental issues and aims to ensure that social, environmental and economic needs etc are met in the most efficient and effective manner while retaining the integrity of ecological and social systems.
Issues of “green” outside of a sustainable context have a narrower focus on environmental issues. The green economy focuses on environmental issues only so far as there are potential economic benefits to its direct stakeholders. In many instances this has resulted in negative social impacts due to the lack of an integrated approach towards genuine sustainability, and the co-opting of sustainability as an economic fundamental, as more important than anything else. Anything that is economically sustainable is hardly ever socially or ecologically sustainable in today’s world.

In the same way that a low-carbon economy is aimed at reducing carbon emissions to mitigate climate change effects, it has a narrower focus on carbon emission reduction and the facilitation of economic growth. This does not necessarily mean that such an economy is necessarily green, sustainable or beneficial to society.The focus on carbon ignores all the other emissions from a fossil-led economy, or its vast (mostly negative) social impacts. Beginning from health impacts and stretching to fewer jobs that suit production, but little else.

This lack of clear and accepted definition, understanding and the interchangeability of terms and concepts among actors and stakeholders in the sustainable development sector is a key contributor to the poor progress being made in the implementation of the sustainable development agenda. The lack of a clear definition and understanding has resulted in a duplication of efforts, misdirected energies and people talking past each other. What we need are focused definitions and the implementation of actions that facilitate development that is beneficial to the environment, society and the economy. What we do not need is more workshops, discussions and meeting on what needs to be done ……..etc

In the words of Gro Harlem Brundtland;

“Fundamentally, sustainable development is a notion of discipline. It means humanity must ensure that meeting present needs does not compromise the ability of future generations to meet their needs.”

Aid, Development & The Development Set !

This is an old poem I found which I think is very pertinent and also very sad.

I work in the Development Finance and Environmental sector (10+ years) and am often very disheartened and sad when I think about all the green wash and the fact that good development projects and proposals often get overlooked for projects that don’t necessarily make sense (or only make financial sense) when you look at all the issues and consider sustainability etc.

Don’t get me wrong there are lots of good organisations out there that do good work but in my opinion there is also a lot of hot air/ big development talk etc that is not actually helping anyone except for the people who fly around the world telling people what they should be doing and how they should be doing it.

The poem made me think… we haven’t really come very far or achieved much development impact or sustainability since the 1970s (when the poem was written) ….other than the development set living much cooler lives and travelling around holding more and more very important talk-show sessions? The poem also made me think of COP 17 and what the real cost of COP17 was. (Click on links for previous blog posts on COP17).

The Development Set by Ross Coggins

Excuse me, friends, I must catch my jet I’m off to join the Development Set;

My bags are packed, and I’ve had all my shots I have traveller’s checks and pills for the trots!

The Development Set is bright and noble

Our thoughts are deep and our vision global;

Although we move with the better classes

Our thoughts are always with the masses.

In Sheraton Hotels in scattered nations

We damn multi-national corporations;

injustice seems easy to protest In such seething hotbeds of social rest.

We discuss malnutrition over steaks

And plan hunger talks during coffee breaks.

Whether Asian floods or African drought,

We face each issue with open mouth.

We bring in consultants whose circumlocution

Raises difficulties for every solution –

Thus guaranteeing continued good eating

By showing the need for another meeting.

The language of the Development Set Stretches the English alphabet;

We use swell words like “epigenetic” “Micro”, “macro”, and “logarithmetic”

It pleasures us to be esoteric – It’s so intellectually atmospheric!

And although establishments may be unmoved,

Our vocabularies are much improved.

When the talk gets deep and you’re feeling numb,

You can keep your shame to a minimum:

To show that you, too, are intelligent

Smugly ask, “Is it really development?”

Or say,

“That’s fine in practice, but don’t you see: It doesn’t work out in theory!”

A few may find this incomprehensible,

But most will admire you as deep and sensible.

Development set homes are extremely chic,

Full of carvings, curios, and draped with batik.

Eye-level photographs subtly assure

That your host is at home with the great and the poor.

Enough of these verses – on with the mission!

Our task is as broad as the human condition!

Just pray god the biblical promise is true:

The poor ye shall always have with you.

From “Adult Education and Development” September 1976

Climate Change, COP17 & Champagne Environmentalists

Pop the Champers for COP17!

Days away from COP 17 and the media is abuzz with which celebs will be making an appearance in support of COP17. Apparently  Leonardo DiCaprio, Angelina Jolie, Bono, Arnold Schwarzenegger and probably a score of others are scheduled to attend COP 17 in Durban.  This got me thinking…

  1. Is the celeb support helping fight climate change
  2. Is the support worth the GHG emissions
  3. Do the celebs make a difference to the people most affected by climate change and environmental degradation?
  4. Is celeb support of climate and environmental issues simply perpetuating the consumerist model (the you can have it all mentality) that has helped to get us to this position of ecological debt, climate change and environmental degradation that we are tying to solve…. think greenwash, the eco-fashion bandwagon, environment as advertising and publicity stunts, inequality in resource use etc….
  5. Will the celebs be flying economy class (first class=more emissions)? will they (and their entourage) be using public transport? will they walk to all their public appearances? or maybe they will offset their emissions by planting a tree or two… or three (hopefully indigenous to the environment that they plant it in….)

Please do not for a minute think that am totally against celebrities helping out with a “good cause”. I do however believe that quite a few celebs are rather involved with greenwash and publicity as opposed to actually making a difference…… they need to really look at the impact of their lifestyles, the cause that they are promoting and the actual message that they are communicating. Some reading about the contradictions in celeb champagne lifestyles and their environmental messages….

Hypocrisy of champagne environmentalists is deceitful and distracting

Enviro-celebs attending COP17

Luxury brands must wake up to ethical and environmental responsibilities

This also brings us back to the question of whether COP17 is worth all the carbon miles?… could we not have the same or a better result through just agreeing on what needs to be done and doing it instead to flying around the world year after year and going through the same arguments again and again….