Steven Spielberg’s Oscar-nominated Lincoln (about the 16th US president, not the East Midlands town*) is released in the UK today. Simon Leadbetter argues that future generations will see our debate about the cause of, and response to, climate change in the same way we view historic arguments over slavery. There was only ever one valid conclusion and one course of action then – just as there is now.
The modern era is unusual in that it does not see slavery as tolerable. For the whole of our human history, trading people as property has been seen as an acceptable form of commerce. It predates written history and it is still with us even today. There are still 12 to 27 million people estimated to be living bondage.
Every single aspect of human progress has been fought for and hard won, and always resisted by powerful vested interests. Expanding the franchise to the poor, emancipating women, creating a framework of education, healthcare and equal rights, better working conditions, fairer pay and, of course, abolishing slavery, have all been resisted and still are to a certain extent.
There are still some today who, if they were completely honest, would say that society has deteriorated since the poor, women and minorities gained rights. Fortunately, for them, an eager media relishes demonising, sexualising and caricaturing these groups to ensure that their voices are regularly diminished.
Whenever someone proposes a ‘wild’ progressive idea, there are always those who raise, amongst other objections, economic concerns. It runs along the same lines every time: if we do this it will damage our economy, the downside is greater than the upside. There is a serious body of academic work on the economic reasons for and benefits of slavery. A similar body of work attacks expanding the franchise to the poor and women.
Oppression of any kind is certainly profitable for the dominant group. Readers of various investment magazines would be the first to applaud and invest in anything that led to profit maximisation, and oppose anything that limited it. If slavery was reintroduced, they would pile in to reap the handsome profits on offer – despite the cost in human misery and suffering.
“Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude… shall exist” – 13th amendment
Slavery in the UK was effectively made illegal by a 1772 case (R v Knowles, ex parte Somersett) and by statute in 1833, when the Slavery Abolition Act was introduced. Britain used its naval strength to hunt down slave ships. The US followed in 1865 with the 13th amendment, after a four-year long and very bloody civil war. Around 625,000 people were killed and 412,000 injured: representing 3% of the US population at the time.
Visionary, courageous and determined individuals, for moral and religious reasons, fought and won against those that profited from slavery. The Quakers and abolitionist movement sparked the ethical investment sector.
We started our slow realisation that commerce (in this case, the burning of coal) might be damaging the environment, and us, with the Great Smog of 1952. This severe and lethal pollution event coincided with a period of cold weather, windless conditions and lasted for five days. The number of fatalities is thought to have been 20,000, while around 100,000 were made ill. It still took four years to pass The Clean Air Act, imposing smoke control and encouraging the use of smokeless fuel. Progress was slow and smog struck again in 1962. Unfortunately, we had failed to learn the lessons of 1272, when Edward I banned the burning of sea coal in London, due to the problems of smoke.
“The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew and act anew. We must disenthrall ourselves, and then we shall save our country” – Abraham Lincoln
While there had been a nascent environmental movement throughout the industrial revolution, the Great Smog really provided the impetus for modern environmentalism, seeing the movement expand from the ‘60s.
The recent era has been dominated by the philosophy that growth is good and profit is the only goal, regardless of the cost to society and the environment.
However, the Earth’s resources and ability to regulate itself are finite and this imposes natural limits on growth. Industrialisation in the developed world gave birth to environmentalism, as people witnessed the damage being done first hand, and industrialisation in the developing world has made environmentalism an urgent necessity.
As living standards rise in the countries that have populations greater than Europe and the US combined, India and China, so the demand for energy, water, food and consumer goods rises inexorably.
Unless we recognise our planet’s constraints and how ignoring them is having a terrible effect on our climate specifically, and environment more generally, our future will look increasingly uncertain.
But today we are faced by senior politicians, columnists, rogue scientists and celebrities who argue against human-caused climate change or assert that the costs of doing anything would be ruinous for our economy. When you scratch the surface of any of these sceptics they either have no relevant scientific training or have a vested interest in the status quo.
Commerce and industry that threatens the climate is our generation’s slavery, and you either fall into the camp of progress, reaction or apathy. Tragically, the latter group is often the largest on most issues of progress, but are often very happy to reap the benefits of any change. As are the reactionaries, who once defeated seek new and exciting ways to profit from progress.
Slavery was abolished in the UK 180 years ago and we now recognise its abolition as a vital triumph of our nation’s character. One can speculate on how dimly and angrily the people of 2193, in another 180 years’ time, will view our feeble political leadership, indecision and inaction today.
Abolishing slavery took vision, courage and determination and was, put simply, the right thing to do. It birthed an enlightened investment community that rejected profit at any cost.
A sustainable future, one that we would want our great, great, great grandchildren to inhabit, needs people with the same vision, courage and determination to reject reckless and unethical investment and reject those rapacious companies that profit from polluting the Earth.
The way we invest today is harming our planet, its people and everyone’s prosperity. It’s time to say that neither reckless nor unsustainable investment shall exist.
“The struggle of today, is not altogether for today – it is for a vast future also” – Abraham Lincoln
* More’s the pity
UPDATE: Friends of the Earth has pointed us at an inspiring speech made by Labour peer Lord Puttnam on just this very subject in 2007. Read more here.
How Going Green Can Save A Company Money
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
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.
5 Easy Things You Can Do to Make Your Home More Sustainable
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 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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