Thousands of people are dying prematurely from the toxic air they are forced to breathe every day. But now, as part of a new innovative project featuring the University of the West of England (UWE Bristol), people across Europe will be asked to share their opinions on how to reduce air pollution and improve public health in six cities across the continent by using a virtual game.
In an innovative approach to addressing air quality, residents will use a specially-created game on their smartphones, tablets and laptops to suggest how their home cities should develop in future.
Responses gathered from players will form a ‘people’s vision’ spelling out to civic leaders exactly how the cities should be shaped over the next 35 years – and what measures need to be taken to improve air quality, reduce CO2e emissions and diminish negative health effects.
Named CLAiR-City, the four-year project features 16 partners including the pilot cities of Bristol, Amsterdam, Aveiro in Portugal, Ljubljana in SIovenia, Sosnowiec in Poland, and the Liguria region in Italy.
UWE Bristol’s Dr Enda Hayes, Technical Director of CLAiR-City, said a bold approach was being taken because all other efforts were struggling to combat air pollution, a problem responsible for the deaths of more than 400,000 people in Europe every year.
Up to a third of Europeans living in cities are exposed to pollutant levels exceeding EU air quality standards, with approximately 90 per cent affected according to the World Health Organization’s more stringent guidelines.
Dr Hayes, Associate Professor and Director of the Air Quality Management Resource Centre (AQMRC) at UWE Bristol, said: “Air quality management is failing in many cities around the world. This is an exciting and innovative project to try to address one of the key issues – how do you empower citizens to define their own solution?
“Using game technology as an engagement platform means everyone’s voice and opinion is valued. If you run traditional workshops or surveys it can be that the quiet voices get lost and the reach can be limited. With our game, everyone’s voice is equal and we can all be experts on our own city.”
Funded by the European Commission Horizon 2020 programme, the project is aimed at creating a major shift in public understanding towards the causes of poor air quality – encouraging a focus on people’s everyday practices like commuting and shopping rather than technology such as cars, buses and HGVs.
Dr Hayes added: “To date, air quality policy has primarily been focussed on technology and technological solutions. Instead of apportioning the pollution to the technology (e.g. cars), this project will apportion it to people and our behaviour (e.g. why do we use our cars).
“By apportioning pollution to behaviour and practises, we want to give people a better understanding of how their behaviour generates pollution. If they change their behaviour it can have a substantial impact on a city. The innovation lies in how we are bringing social science into our data analysis and then engaging city citizens with that data to help them visualise and define their city’s future.”
The game, being developed by UWE’s in-house gaming studio PlayWest, will give the player the chance to outline how they would like to live, behave and interact in their city up to 2050. Responses from players will lead to the creation of a ‘citizen-led future city scenario’ which will be delivered to city leaders as a ‘policy package’ document setting out what changes they would eventually like to see introduced.
Dr Hayes said: “We wanted to empower citizens to define their futures and use that to influence policy. We are using game technology to engage a wider population and to envision what a city looks like in 2050 so the project is particularly relevant to younger people.
“Also involved in the project is UWE Bristol’s Science Communication Unit, whose internationally-recognised expertise in public engagement and dissemination will help enhance the reach of the study.”
The project will also involve detailed data and policy analysis, with a study of existing evidence on themes such as energy and transport at a local, national and European level. It will explore six cities in detail but will also generate data which could be utilised by all EU cities with a population of more than 50,000.
The 16 partners include universities, cities, small and medium sized enterprises and research organisations.
Ten members of staff from UWE Bristol – which has received over £980,000 (€1.25m) of the total funding – will be involved including members of the Air Quality Resource Management Resource Centre, Science Communication Unit and PlayWest.
Jeroen van der Laan, of economic policy consultancy Trinomics and the project coordinator, said: “We are very excited to start implementing our CLAiR-City project over the next four years with the excellent group of Europe’s leading research organisations and frontrunner cities we have in our consortium. CLAiR-City will develop innovative approaches and means of communication to inform European citizens about the air quality in their cities and engage them in forming ideas and pathways on how their living environment should look like in 2050.”
Professor Jim Longhurst, Assistant Vice Chancellor for Environment & Sustainability at UWE, said: “CLAiR-City is a great example of how different expertise can be blended together across the university, and indeed Europe, to build imaginative and effective responses to the profound environmental and public health challenges we face.”
Two Ancient Japanese Philosophies Are the Future of Eco-Living
Our obsession with all things new has blighted the planet. We have a waste crisis, particularly when it comes to plastic. US scientists have calculated the total amount of plastic ever made – 8.3 billion tons! Unfortunately, only 9% of this is estimated to have been recycled. And current global trends point to there being 12 billion tons of plastic waste by 2050.
However, two ancient Japanese philosophies are providing an antidote to the excesses of modern life. By emphasizing the elimination of waste and the acceptance of the old and imperfect, the concepts of Mottainai and Wabi-Sabi have positively influenced Japanese life for centuries.
They are now making their way into the consciousness of the Western mainstream, with an increasing influence in the UK and US. By encouraging us to be frugal with our possessions, (i.e. using natural materials for interior design) these concepts can be the future of eco-living.
What is Wabi-Sabi and Mottainai??
Wabi-Sabi emphasizes an acceptance of transience and imperfection. Although Wabi had the original meaning of sad and lonely, it has come to describe those that are simple, unmaterialistic and at one with nature. The term Sabi is defined as the “the bloom of time”, and has evolved into a new meaning: taking pleasure and seeing beauty in things that are old and faded.
Any flaws in objects, like cracks or marks, are cherished because they illustrate the passage of time. Wear and tear is seen as a representation of their loving use. This makes it intrinsically linked to Wabi, due to its emphasis on simplicity and rejection of materialism.
In the West, Wabi-Sabi has infiltrated many elements of daily life, from cuisine to interior design. Specialist Japanese homeware companies, like Sansho, source handmade products that embody the Wabi-Sabi philosophy. Their products, largely made from natural materials, are handcrafted by traditional Japanese artisans – meaning no two pieces are the same and no two pieces are “perfect” in size or shape.
Mottainai is a term expressing a feeling of regret concerning waste, translating roughly in English to either “what a waste!” or “Don’t waste!”. The philosophy emphasizes the intrinsic value of a resource or object, and is linked to hinto animism, the notion that all objects have a spirit, or ‘kami’. The idea that we are part of nature is a key part of Japanese psychology.
Mottainai also has origins in Buddhist philosophy. The Buddhist monastic tradition emphasizes a life of frugality, to allow us to concentrate on attaining enlightenment. It is from this move towards frugality that a link to Mottainai as a concept of waste can be made.
How have Wabi-Sabi and Mottainai promoted eco living?
Wabi-Sabi is still a prominent feature of Japanese life today, and has remained instrumental in the way people design their homes. The ideas of imperfection and frugality are hugely influential.
For example, instead of buying a brand-new kitchen table, many Japanese people instead retain a table that has been passed through the generations. Although its long use can be seen by various marks and scratches, Wabi-Sabi has taught people that they should value it because of its imperfect nature. Those scratches and marks are a story and signify the passage of time. This is a far cry from what we typically associate with the Western World.
Like Wabi Sabi, Mottainai is manifested throughout Japanese life, creating a great respect for Japanese resources. This has had a major impact on home design. For example, the Japanese prefer natural materials in their homes, such as using soil and dried grass as thermal insulation.
Their influence in the UK
The UK appears to be increasingly influenced by thes two concepts. Some new reports indicate that Wabi Sabi has been labelled as ‘the trend of 2018’. For example, Japanese ofuro baths inspired the project that won the New London Architecture’s 2017 Don’t Move, Improve award. Ofuro baths are smaller than typical baths, use less water, and are usually made out of natural materials, like hinoki wood.
Many other UK properties have also been influenced by these philosophies, such as natural Kebony wood being applied to the external cladding of a Victorian property in Hampstead; or a house in Lancaster Gate using rice paper partitions as sub-dividers. These examples embody the spirit of both philosophies. They are representative of Mottainai because of their use of natural resources to discourage waste. And they’re reflective of Wabi-Sabi because they accept imperfect materials that have not been engineered or modified.
In a world that is plagued by mass over-consumption and an incessant need for novelty, the ancient concepts of Mottainai and Wabi-Sabi provide a blueprint for living a more sustainable life. They help us to reduce consumption and put less of a strain on the planet. This refreshing mindset can help us transform the way we go about our day to day lives.
How to be More eco-Responsible in 2018
Nowadays, more and more people are talking about being more eco-responsible. There is a constant growth of information regarding the importance of being aware of ecological issues and the methods of using eco-friendly necessities on daily basis.
Have you been considering becoming more eco-responsible after the New Year? If so, here are some useful tips that could help you make the difference in the following year:
1. Energy – produce it, save it
If you’re building a house or planning to expand your living space, think before deciding on the final square footage. Maybe you don’t really need that much space. Unnecessary square footage will force you to spend more building materials, but it will also result in having to use extra heating, air-conditioning, and electricity in it.
It’s even better if you seek professional help to reduce energy consumption. An energy audit can provide you some great piece of advice on how to save on your energy bills.
While buying appliances such as a refrigerator or a dishwasher, make sure they have “Energy Star” label on, as it means they are energy-efficient.
Regarding the production of energy, you can power your home with renewable energy. The most common way is to install rooftop solar panels. They can be used for producing electricity, as well as heat for the house. If powering the whole home is a big step for you, try with solar oven then – they trap the sunlight in order to heat food! Solar air conditioning is another interesting thing to try out – instead of providing you with heat, it cools your house!
2. Don’t be just another tourist
Think about the environment, as well your own enjoyment – try not to travel too far, as most forms of transport contribute to the climate change. Choose the most environmentally friendly means of transport that you can, as well as environmentally friendly accommodation. If you can go to a destination that is being recommended as an eco-travel destination – even better! Interesting countries such as Zambia, Vietnam or Nicaragua are among these destinations that are famous for its sustainability efforts.
3. Let your beauty be also eco-friendly
We all want to look beautiful. Unfortunately, sometimes (or very often) it comes with a price. Cruelty-free cosmetics are making its way on the world market but be careful with the labels – just because it says a product hasn’t been tested on animals, it doesn’t mean that some of the product’s ingredients haven’t been tested on some poor animal.
To be sure which companies definitely stay away from the cruel testing on animals, check PETA Bunny list of cosmetic companies just to make sure which ones are truly and completely cruelty-free.
It’s also important if a brand uses toxic ingredients. Brands such as Tata Harper Skincare or Dr Bronner’s use only organic ingredients and biodegradable packaging, as well as being cruelty-free. Of course, this list is longer, so you’ll have to do some online research.
4. Know thy recycling
People often make mistakes while wanting to do something good for the environment. For example, plastic grocery bags, take-out containers, paper coffee cups and shredded paper cannot be recycled in your curb for many reasons, so don’t throw them into recycling bins. The same applies to pizza boxes, household glass, ceramics, and pottery – whether they are contaminated by grease or difficult to recycle, they just can’t go through the usual recycling process.
People usually forget to do is to rinse plastic and metal containers – they always have some residue, so be thorough. Also, bottle caps are allowed, too, so don’t separate them from the bottles. However, yard waste isn’t recyclable, so any yard waste or junk you are unsure of – just contact rubbish removal services instead of piling it up in public containers or in your own yard.
5. Fashion can be both eco-friendly and cool
Believe it or not, there are actually places where you can buy clothes that are eco-friendly, sustainable, as well as ethical. And they look cool, too! Companies like Everlane are very transparent about where their clothes are manufactured and how the price is set. PACT is another great company that uses non-GMO, organic cotton and non-toxic dyes for their clothing, while simultaneously using renewable energy factories. Soko is a company that uses natural and recycled materials in making their clothes and jewelry.
All in all
The truth is – being eco-responsible can be done in many ways. There are tons of small things we could change when it comes to our habits that would make a positive influence on the environment. The point is to start doing research on things that can be done by every person and it can start with the only thing that person has the control of – their own household.
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