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Archive for July, 2012

I went to a sustainability symposium today, and much of what the speakers said really resonated with me.

Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. A spot on definition, in my opinion!

Common themes that more or less every speaker touched upon:

  • The world is in a pretty grim state at the moment; from alarming news about Greenland recently, the threat of a food crisis, the Eurozone crisis, graduate unemployment, banking scandals and, of course, climate change.
  • One of the greatest challenges we will have to face is that it is likely that 9 billion people will be living on our planet by 2050
  • We need radical thinking to address the issues we are facing – the ‘business as usual’ model is failing
  • The comfortable lifestyle that we enjoy in the West is unsustainable
  • The difficulty of persuading businesses to take sustainability seriously, and to incorporate it into their vision & strategy

Slightly contentious points:

  • The economic crisis won’t be solved until we stop relying on fossil fuels and transition to renewable energy
  • The symposium got personal at one point – the panel was asked what personal actions they took to minimise their environmental impact. One member of the panel raised his Klean Kanteen (<3). The spokesperson for Friends of the Earth stated that he personally only boycotted products/companies when backed by a campaign, in order for there to be an impact (I personally disagree – I would rather not spend my money on a product from an ethically dubious company full stop).
  • There was a bit of BP bashing – apparently they aren’t taking their own re-branding (‘Beyond Petroleum’) seriously, and are recklessly pursuing fossil fuels instead of renewable energy, surprise, surprise.

Inspiring Quotes

  • ‘Vision without action is a dream. Action without vision is simply passing the time. Action with Vision is making a positive difference’ – Joel Barker
  • ‘When asked if I am pessimistic or optimistic about the future, my answer is always the same: If you look at the science about what is happening on earth and aren’t pessimistic, you don’t understand the data. But if you meet the people who are working to restore this earth and the lives of the poor, and you aren’t optimistic, you haven’t got a pulse. What I see everywhere in the world are ordinary people willing to confront despair, power, and incalculable odds in order to restore some semblance of grace, justice, and beauty to this world’ – Paul Hawken

I’m hoping to have a career in the sustainability sector. For me, tackling climate change is more than something I’d like to do for a job; it’s a personal issue. Through inaction, we have so, so much to lose.

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Is it enough?

‘But it’s so tasty!’ This piece is called ‘Greed’ by Brittany Jackson.

I’m a passionate advocate for all things green. I love making my own cosmetics and cleaning products, I don’t eat meat, fish, dairy or eggs, I never take plastic bags from the supermarket, I take recyclables home if I can’t see a recycling bin when I’m out and about, I turn off lights when I’m not using them, switch off power at the mains every night, buy eco bulbs, buy sponges and toothbrushes that biodegrade, have stopped buying new clothes and only buy second hand ones, minimise plastic consumption as much as I can, never buy bottled water, use a reusable menstrual cup, use a reusable water bottle (so much so that when I lost my Klean Kanteen in January, I went about asking my acquaintances on my course if they had seen it – none of them had, but all knew what it looked like because I always have it by my side), ask for no straws or styrofoam cups at restaurants, put an extra one (or two) jumpers on instead of turning on the heater in winter… you name it and I probably do it (apart from transport e.g. I do use a car and fly fairly frequently. Hey, there’s always room for improvement!). In fact, I’m always on the lookout for obscure eco tips, so if you’ve got any, send them my way :). I’m committed to saving the planet, and I probably take things further than the average person.

Is it enough? If everyone were to live like me, would mankind be able to avoid climate disaster? The answer is, no, probably not. We need to radically change our energy, transportation and agricultural systems if we are serious about averting climate change. How?

  • We need to invest in renewable energy (solar, wind, tidal, wave, geothermal etc.). We need to start subsidising renewable energies more, and start subsidising conventional fossil fuel energies (coal, oil and gas) less. This is because when we use fossil fuels, carbon dioxide is released, which contributes to climate change. Renewable energies do not generate carbon dioxide.
  • We need to change our transportation system – perhaps by considering electric vehicles, powered by renewable energy.
  • We need to change our agricultural system by shifting subsidies away from cheap, factory farmed meat. And I’m not just saying this as an animal-loving vegan; eating factory farmed meat wastes precious resources (water, grain, energy) and pollutes the environment (the UN has identified livestock farming as a greater contributor of greenhouse gases than transportation in this infamous report back in 2006). We also need to grow less cotton, which uses an enormous amount of water, pesticides, herbicides and insecticides.

As an individual, to make a significant contribution to the first two issues (energy and transport), you need to be wealthy. For example, installing solar panels on your roof isn’t cheap, especially since solar subsidies have been cut here in the UK recently. Additionally, you need to own your home, which isn’t a luxury everyone can afford. Electric cars aren’t cheap either. So, like me, if you can’t afford these options, you could use public transport (which isn’t always convenient, and most don’t run on renewable energy) and/or switch to a 100% renewable energy supplier such as Good Energy (which is probably more expensive than a conventional energy supplier, on average). Again, it seems that individuals who are trying to do that right thing are penalised financially! As for reducing our impact on our strained agricultural system, individuals could consume less meat, dairy and eggs, buy fewer new clothes, buy more second hand clothes (e.g. ebay, charity shops, thrift stores), grow their own fruit and vegetables, buy local food etc.

However, we cannot depend on individual action alone if we wish to avert climate change. After all, people who are rich enough to afford fitting their homes with renewable technologies are not the majority of the population, and many wouldn’t want to spend their money on such projects in any case. We need to tell our governments we want change. I don’t know how we should persuade our governments to start investing in renewables more and slowly but surely stop subsidising fossil fuels so heavily, but I imagine it’s probably a combination of emailing MPs, emailing local councils, protesting in person outside parliament at organised events, joining a local organisation that is concerned about environmental sustainability and signing e-petitions, among other activities. I hope that one day I can do more than just doing ‘eco-things’ and writing this blog. Somehow, we need to show our governments that we want the taxpayer’s money to invest in the future of our planet through environmentally responsible policies, such as  the Welsh Assembly’s target to achieve zero waste by 2050.

Furthermore, if we are serious about averting global warming, we need to tackle overpopulation and overconsumption. At the moment, there are too many people on this planet (7 billion plus), using too many resources (particularly individuals in developed countries) and the Earth is suffering because of it.

In summary, I believe it is important to do all of the small, eco-things I’ve listed in the first paragraph, and more. It’s essential that we teach our children to do these things too. Changing your consumer habits is good and important (in my opinion), but not enough to prevent climate change unleashing destruction on mankind.

I’ll leave you with an inspirational quote from Margaret Mead: ‘Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has’

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The Royal Academy of Arts have been hosting the Summer Exhibition every year since 1769. I’ve been going annually since 2009, and really enjoy it!

Below, ‘The Ritz’ by Gillian Westgate.

Below, ‘Goldcrest’ by Richard Spare

Below, ‘Time for Tea’ by Suki Cohn (click to enlarge)

Below, ‘Ultima Ora’ by David Tindle (click to enlarge)

Below, ‘Blue’ by Greg Genestine-Charlton – I thought that this one was one of the best (though it was £750!)

Below, ‘The Meeting, Royal Academy of Arts’ by Leonard Rosoman (click to enlarge). Again, one of the best, in my opinion (it wasn’t for sale).

Below, a large sculpture (approx 1m by 1m) called ‘Me as a lion, as a hero’ by Sahand Hesamiyan.

Below, ‘Feather Child I’ by Lucy Glendinning. This one was quite shocking because it was positioned at your feet.

This stone sculpture in the middle of the photo was lovely, and is called ‘Vortex for After Cosmati’ by John Maine.

Below, ‘Stand Prose 2011’ by Rachel Heller.

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Solar photovoltaic (PV) panels on new Blackfriars bridge

The new Blackfriars station is on a bridge on the River Thames, London… and has been fitted with 4400 solar photovoltaic (PV) panels! These solar PV panels will generate half of the station’s energy needs and reduce its carbon dioxide emissions by 511 tons per year. The station has also been installed with a rain water harvesting system and sun pipes. Sun pipes introduce natural lighting into buildings, meaning that artificial lighting (which uses electricity) does not have to be used during the day. What an exemplary project!

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