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Engaging young people with politics will create a fairer democracy

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Better accessibility and promotion are the two most important factors in encouraging more young people to have their say by voting at elections, argues Jack Lewis, member of youth parliament for Richmond-upon-Thames.

This article originally appeared in Blue & Green Tomorrow’s Guide to Sustainable Democracy 2014.  

Everything’s looking pear-shaped. By this, I’m referring to the fact that in the 2010 general election, only 44% of 18-24 year-olds who were registered to vote actually went out and voted. This contrasts strikingly with the figure for the over-65s (76%) and is even more worrying when you consider the fact a greater number of over-65s are registered to vote than 18-24s.

This is problematic simply because it means young people are continually marginalised by decision-makers. Despite statements claiming their commitment to young people, politicians know that come election time, they will need to please the elderly. After all, why would they prioritise young people (i.e. the future of this country) when they know that it will be the older vote that will decide the election?

While it does contain measures that will affect 18-24s, you only have to look at the 2014 budget to see the extent of the prioritisation of the needs of older age groups. But enough of my ranting; let’s discuss some solutions.

First and foremost, why can’t we introduce online voting? Many people lead hectic lives, and a range of other aspects of society can be safely conducted online (including tax payments, banking and shopping), so online voting must be a logical step forward. If voting is made more accessible, then this is the first step towards encouraging more 18-24s to vote.

In addition, longer opening times for voting are needed. I’m not simply talking about keeping online and polling station voting booths open for longer hours; I’m suggesting that online voting and polling stations should be kept open for two days (and overnight), to give young people more opportunity to voice their opinion. This way, the problem of people missing the opportunity to vote due to long working hours is avoided.

However, there must be a drive towards the better promotion of voting and voter registration. I have seen no advertisements (online or in the street) promoting voter registration: an essential step on the path towards voting. Adverts need to be placed on social networks and major websites (including Facebook and YouTube) and also on buses and other forms of public transport, in order to hammer home the importance of voting. It is worth remembering that without voter registration, you can’t vote, and many young people forget the fact that they can register to vote at the ages of 16 and 17. If young people are made aware of voting and are registered to vote, then by the time they reach the age of 18, they are much more inclined to vote.

Finally, improved physical, social and health education (PSHE) is needed in schools. This has been the core focus of the UK Youth Parliament’s Curriculum for Life campaign (which we have run since 2012). Improved education over the issues politicians can influence and also how to register to vote is essential. Improving education is the most important step in empowering and encouraging future voters. Moving beyond PSHE, you have organisations such as Bite the Ballot, which conducts workshops with young people that aim to increase awareness of the importance of voting.

So we need a two-pronged approach to deal with the problem of low voter turnout among 18-24s. We need to make voting more accessible, a step that will encourage 18-24s and also older generations to vote. And we need to promote voting to the greatest possible extent, in order to ensure that 18-24s know how and where to vote.

If this level of accessibility and promotion results in increased young voter turnout, and if this is sustained, then the concerns of 18-24s will be taken as seriously as those of older age groups. This is due to the fact that MPs, MEPs, councillors and others will have to tackle issues that affect young people (youth unemployment and tuition fees being two prominent examples) in order to secure their job after election time. This would lead to a fairer democracy and a nation where the younger generation is taken seriously and encouraged to become the leaders of tomorrow.

Despite the importance of voting, there are other paths to engaging teenagers and 18-24s in politics. Take the London borough of Richmond as an example. As part of my role as a member of youth parliament for this area (the area where I have grown up), I have been fortunate enough to represent the views of the peers who elected me in various ways. Conducting peer research, interviewing decision-makers and facilitating workshops and events are a sample of some of the activities I have been able to take part in. This has instilled within me a sense of responsibility towards my local community. As a result, I will definitely be voting once I am 18, without a doubt. I am sure members of the Richmond youth council (a body of democratically elected young people that represents the interests of the borough’s young people to decision-makers) would say the same.

Such opportunities for empowerment should be open to all young people, as they really have the power to kindle an interest in the world around you. I hope that I have at least raised awareness of politics within my age group as part of my role. Whether we do so through making voting more accessible, more visible or empowering young people, or through all of these, we must reshape our pear-shaped democracy.

Jack Lewis is an elected member of youth parliament (MYP) for the London borough of Richmond-upon-Thames. He is 17-years-old and is currently attending a sixth-form college.

Photo: Garry Knight via Flickr

Further reading:

Voting with your voice: why elections should be shaped by policies, not parties

Political parties on the spot: how do we make our democracy sustainable?

‘Does Magna Carta mean nothing to you? Did she die in vain?’

One size doesn’t fit all: democracy is not always the best form of government

Russell Brand’s revolution: should we vote at all?

The Guide to Sustainable Democracy 2014

Energy

5 Easy Things You Can Do to Make Your Home More Sustainable

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sustainable homes
Shutterstock Licensed Photot - By Diyana Dimitrova

Increasing your home’s energy efficiency is one of the smartest moves you can make as a homeowner. It will lower your bills, increase the resale value of your property, and help minimize our planet’s fast-approaching climate crisis. While major home retrofits can seem daunting, there are plenty of quick and cost-effective ways to start reducing your carbon footprint today. Here are five easy projects to make your home more sustainable.

1. Weather stripping

If you’re looking to make your home more energy efficient, an energy audit is a highly recommended first step. This will reveal where your home is lacking in regards to sustainability suggests the best plan of attack.

Some form of weather stripping is nearly always advised because it is so easy and inexpensive yet can yield such transformative results. The audit will provide information about air leaks which you can couple with your own knowledge of your home’s ventilation needs to develop a strategic plan.

Make sure you choose the appropriate type of weather stripping for each location in your home. Areas that receive a lot of wear and tear, like popular doorways, are best served by slightly more expensive vinyl or metal options. Immobile cracks or infrequently opened windows can be treated with inexpensive foams or caulking. Depending on the age and quality of your home, the resulting energy savings can be as much as 20 percent.

2. Programmable thermostats

Programmable thermostats

Shutterstock Licensed Photo – By Olivier Le Moal

Programmable thermostats have tremendous potential to save money and minimize unnecessary energy usage. About 45 percent of a home’s energy is earmarked for heating and cooling needs with a large fraction of that wasted on unoccupied spaces. Programmable thermostats can automatically lower the heat overnight or shut off the air conditioning when you go to work.

Every degree Fahrenheit you lower the thermostat equates to 1 percent less energy use, which amounts to considerable savings over the course of a year. When used correctly, programmable thermostats reduce heating and cooling bills by 10 to 30 percent. Of course, the same result can be achieved by manually adjusting your thermostats to coincide with your activities, just make sure you remember to do it!

3. Low-flow water hardware

With the current focus on carbon emissions and climate change, we typically equate environmental stability to lower energy use, but fresh water shortage is an equal threat. Installing low-flow hardware for toilets and showers, particularly in drought prone areas, is an inexpensive and easy way to cut water consumption by 50 percent and save as much as $145 per year.

Older toilets use up to 6 gallons of water per flush, the equivalent of an astounding 20.1 gallons per person each day. This makes them the biggest consumer of indoor water. New low-flow toilets are standardized at 1.6 gallons per flush and can save more than 20,000 gallons a year in a 4-member household.

Similarly, low-flow shower heads can decrease water consumption by 40 percent or more while also lowering water heating bills and reducing CO2 emissions. Unlike early versions, new low-flow models are equipped with excellent pressure technology so your shower will be no less satisfying.

4. Energy efficient light bulbs

An average household dedicates about 5 percent of its energy use to lighting, but this value is dropping thanks to new lighting technology. Incandescent bulbs are quickly becoming a thing of the past. These inefficient light sources give off 90 percent of their energy as heat which is not only impractical from a lighting standpoint, but also raises energy bills even further during hot weather.

New LED and compact fluorescent options are far more efficient and longer lasting. Though the upfront costs are higher, the long term environmental and financial benefits are well worth it. Energy efficient light bulbs use as much as 80 percent less energy than traditional incandescent and last 3 to 25 times longer producing savings of about $6 per year per bulb.

5. Installing solar panels

Adding solar panels may not be the easiest, or least expensive, sustainability upgrade for your home, but it will certainly have the greatest impact on both your energy bills and your environmental footprint. Installing solar panels can run about $15,000 – $20,000 upfront, though a number of government incentives are bringing these numbers down. Alternatively, panels can also be leased for a much lower initial investment.

Once operational, a solar system saves about $600 per year over the course of its 25 to 30-year lifespan, and this figure will grow as energy prices rise. Solar installations require little to no maintenance and increase the value of your home.

From an environmental standpoint, the average five-kilowatt residential system can reduce household CO2 emissions by 15,000 pounds every year. Using your solar system to power an electric vehicle is the ultimate sustainable solution serving to reduce total CO2 emissions by as much as 70%!

These days, being environmentally responsible is the hallmark of a good global citizen and it need not require major sacrifices in regards to your lifestyle or your wallet. In fact, increasing your home’s sustainability is apt to make your residence more livable and save you money in the long run. The five projects listed here are just a few of the easy ways to reduce both your environmental footprint and your energy bills. So, give one or more of them a try; with a small budget and a little know-how, there is no reason you can’t start today.

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Environment

How to Build An Eco-Friendly Home Pool

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eco-friendly pool for home owners
Licensed Image from Shutterstock - By alexandre zveiger

Swimming pools are undoubtedly one of the most luxurious features that any home can have. But environmentally-conscious homeowners who are interested in having a pool installed may feel that the potential issues surrounding wasted water, chemical use and energy utilized in heating the water makes having a home swimming pool difficult to justify.

But there is good news, because modern technologies are helping to make pools far less environmentally harmful than ever before. If you are interested in having a pool built but you want to make sure that it is as eco-friendly as possible, you can follow the advice below. From natural pools to solar panel heating systems, there are many steps that you can take.

Choose a natural pool to go chemical free

For those homeowners interested in an eco-friendly pool, the first thing to consider is a natural pool. Natural swimming pools utilise reed bed technology or moss-filtration to naturally filter out dirt from the water. These can be combined with eco-pumps to allow you to have a pool that is completely free from chemicals.

Not only are traditional pool chemicals potentially harmful to the skin, they also mean that you can contaminate the area around the pool if chemical-filled water leaks or is splashed around. This can be bad for your garden and the environment general.

It will be necessary to work with an expert pool builder to ensure that you have the expertise to get your natural pool installed properly. But the results with definitely be worth the effort and planning that you have to put in.

Avoid concrete if possible

The vast majority of home pools are built using concrete but this is far from ideal in terms of an eco-friendly pool for a large number of reasons. Concrete pools are typically built and then lined to stop keep out any bacteria. This is theoretically fine, except that concrete is porous and the lining can be liable to erode or break which can allow bacteria to enter the pool.

It is much better to use a non-porous material such as fibreglass or carbon ceramic composite for your pool. Typically, these swimming pools are supplied in a one-piece shell rather than having to be built from scratch, ensuring a bacteria-free environment. These non-porous materials make it impossible for the water to become contaminated through bacteria seeping into the pool by osmosis.

The further problem that can arise from having a concrete pool is that once this bacteria begins to get into the pool it can be more difficult for a natural filtration system to be effective. This can lead to you having to resort to using chemicals to get the pool clean.

Add solar panels

It is surprising how many will go to extreme lengths to ensure that their pool is as eco-friendly as possible in terms of building and maintaining it but then fall down on something extremely obvious. No matter what steps you take with the rest of your pool, it won’t really be worth the hassle if you are going to be conventionally heating your pool up, using serious amounts of energy to do so.

Thankfully there are plenty of steps you can take to ensure that your pool is heated to a pleasant temperature while causing minimal damage to the environment. Firstly, gathering energy using solar panels has become a very popular way to reduce consumption of electricity as well as decreasing utility bills. Many businesses offer solar panels specifically for swimming pools.

Additionally, installing an energy efficient heat pump or boiler to work in conjunction with your solar panels can be hugely beneficial.

Cover it!

Finally, it is worth remembering that there are many benefits to investing in a pool cover. When you cover your pool you increase its heat retention which stops you from having to power a pump or boiler to keep it warm. This works in conjunction with the solar panels and eco-friendly heating system that you have already had installed.

Additionally, you cover helps to keep out dirt and other detritus that can enter the pool, bringing in bacteria. Anything that you can do to keep bacteria out will be helpful in terms of keeping it clean.

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