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Environmentalism: does active mean effective?



In the wake of events surrounding campaign group No Dash for Gas, Nick Slawicz takes a look at the changing face of environmental activism.

The recent case of No Dash for Gas – the environmental activists who occupied an EDF power station for a week and were spared jail on Thursday – has thrust the idea of green activism back into the forefront of public consciousness.

That isn’t to say it ever truly left, of course: the image of streets teeming with protestors (washed or otherwise) extolling the virtues of everything from protecting the rainforest to saving the whales is as cliched now as the iconography of the besuited corporate fat cat opposing their efforts. But can such a simplistic dichotomy really explain the role of activism in the modern world?

Modern activism is a far cry from that of years past and takes many different forms. People up in arms about the treatment of the natural world these days are as likely to take to Twitter and Facebook as they are to take to the streets, and in doing so reach a far wider audience.

Practically everyone in green politics is represented in social media, from Al Gore (@algore, with over 2.6m followers) to Green party MP Caroline Lucas (@carolinelucas, with a slightly-less robust 58,000). That’s without even beginning to consider the ever-increasing web presence of names such as Greenpeace International, Friends of the Earth and the US Environmental Protection Agency, as well as start-ups that have used the power of new media to mobilise their environmental activities.

The most notable of these is, which in October 2009 used the web to organise more than 4,000 synchronised physical demonstrations, spreading the site’s call for a reduction of carbon dioxide all around the world.

Its message quite literally spread from pole to pole, with scientists in both the Arctic and Antarctic emphasising the number 350 (parts per million (ppm) of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, since you ask) in support of the message. This figure has since passed the 400ppm mark for the first time in at least three million years.

It’s a far cry from the legal wrangling and litigiousness associated with many of the bigger name environmental groups in recent years (to varying degrees of success), but as any politician will tell you – especially in the wake of Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential victory – the backing of a grassroots movement is often the key to getting a message across.

The idea of inviting the public to make a stand has also changed in recent years, perhaps owing to a breakdown in ‘us’ versus ‘them’ as a model for activism. Nowadays, you no longer need to march on parliament to be seen as doing your bit to further the cause – and, even if you do, it’s not likely to be seen as radical behaviour.

As early as 2007, a report by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) found that the majority of people now view aiming towards a green lifestyle as the norm, regardless of sex, age or social group.

Most of us are rooting for the man on the street over the faceless corporation he’s standing in front of. It’s rare to find anyone who’d prefer Goliath to beat David, the Empire to crush the Rebel Alliance, or Apollo Creed to send Rocky to the canvas.

However, as beneficial as strong, socially conscious movements for change can be, it’s crucial to ensure that they stay grounded in facts and tempered by common sense.

It would be a very particular (and hopefully rare) environmentalist who viewed the millions of dollars’ worth of criminal damage committed by organisations such as the Earth Liberation Front as justifiable. ‘Ecotage’ (think ‘sabotage’), as it is often dubbed by its proponents, should be seen as the darker side of modern activism, a tarring and feathering of the movement of a whole by the needlessly gratuitous actions of a few.

Despite its past reputation, activism no longer needs to be seen as extremism: now, change can come from everyone.

To couch the issue in militaristic terms, positive developments in environmental policy will not come through shock and awe, but by winning over the hearts and minds of the population – not by scaremongering and the discourse of fear, but by convincing people they can make a difference to the world they live in.

Letting people know they can help to whittle the problem down by degrees – protest by protest, petition by petition, retweet by retweet – might not grab the headlines like having someone forcibly board a whaling ship or chain themselves to a tree. But anything that responsibly increases awareness and encourages people to get out there, find the facts, develop their own opinions and make a difference has to be good.

Nick Slawicz is a freelance writer. This is an updated version of an article that first appeared in the print version of Blue & Green Tomorrow in 2011.

Further reading:

No Dash for Gas activists avoid jail after power station occupation

No Dash for Gas protested for a clean, sustainable future. And EDF is suing them for it

Why I helped occupy a gas power station in the name of a better future

Me and my friends are being sued by EDF. This action should concern us all


How Going Green Can Save A Company Money



going green can save company money
Shutterstock Licensed Photot - By GOLFX

What is going green?

Going green means to live life in a way that is environmentally friendly for an entire population. It is the conservation of energy, water, and air. Going green means using products and resources that will not contaminate or pollute the air. It means being educated and well informed about the surroundings, and how to best protect them. It means recycling products that may not be biodegradable. Companies, as well as people, that adhere to going green can help to ensure a safer life for humanity.

The first step in going green

There are actually no step by step instructions for going green. The only requirement needed is making the decision to become environmentally conscious. It takes a caring attitude, and a willingness to make the change. It has been found that companies have improved their profit margins by going green. They have saved money on many of the frivolous things they they thought were a necessity. Besides saving money, companies are operating more efficiently than before going green. Companies have become aware of their ecological responsibility by pursuing the knowledge needed to make decisions that would change lifestyles and help sustain the earth’s natural resources for present and future generations.

Making needed changes within the company

After making the decision to go green, there are several things that can be changed in the workplace. A good place to start would be conserving energy used by electrical appliances. First, turning off the computer will save over the long run. Just letting it sleep still uses energy overnight. Turn off all other appliances like coffee maker, or anything that plugs in. Pull the socket from the outlet to stop unnecessary energy loss. Appliances continue to use electricity although they are switched off, and not unplugged. Get in the habit of turning off the lights whenever you leave a room. Change to fluorescent light bulbs, and lighting throughout the building. Have any leaks sealed on the premises to avoid the escape of heat or air.

Reducing the common paper waste

paper waste

Shutterstock Licensed Photo – By Yury Zap

Modern technologies and state of the art equipment, and tools have almost eliminated the use of paper in the office. Instead of sending out newsletters, brochures, written memos and reminders, you can now do all of these and more by technology while saving on the use of paper. Send out digital documents and emails to communicate with staff and other employees. By using this virtual bookkeeping technique, you will save a bundle on paper. When it is necessary to use paper for printing purposes or other services, choose the already recycled paper. It is smartly labeled and easy to find in any office supply store. It is called the Post Consumer Waste paper, or PCW paper. This will show that your company is dedicated to the preservation of natural resources. By using PCW paper, everyone helps to save the trees which provides and emits many important nutrients into the atmosphere.

Make money by spreading the word

Companies realize that consumers like to buy, or invest in whatever the latest trend may be. They also cater to companies that are doing great things for the quality of life of all people. People want to know that the companies that they cater to are doing their part for the environment and ecology. By going green, you can tell consumers of your experiences with helping them and communities be eco-friendly. This is a sound public relations technique to bring revenue to your brand. Boost the impact that your company makes on the environment. Go green, save and make money while essentially preserving what is normally taken for granted. The benefits of having a green company are enormous for consumers as well as the companies that engage in the process.

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




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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