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

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After a successful debut in the 2010 general election campaign, Vote for Policies is back for 2015. Its creator Matt Chocqueel-Mangan is on a mission to help people in Britain – and eventually around the world – find their voice in politics. 

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

Mention politics to most people, and the response you get will likely either be one of apathy or anger. They’re all the same, politicians are liars, my vote won’t make a difference. It’s difficult not to have sympathy with such views – particularly in times of austerity when certain decisions made at the top can be the difference between some people eating or going hungry.

Another problem is who to vote for at a local, national and European level. For some people this decision is easy – they stick with the same party they’ve voted for previously or the one their parents vote for. For others, it’s a bit more difficult. On top of their indifference with politics generally, the mainstream parties are often very similar on many issues. This somewhat explains why voter turnout numbers continue to be poor in anything but general elections (which itself only attracted two-thirds of the population in 2010).

Actually understanding what a party stands for is becoming increasingly difficult. Between the Hollywood-style leaders’ debates and the biased national press offering piecemeal bits of information at best, how does someone really vote for what they believe in?

Step forward, Vote for Policies: an online blind taste test that strips away the ideologies, personalities and squabbling associated with party politics, and instead allows people to choose parties based solely on what they stand for. Party logos are cast aside and users are encouraged to select which policies best align with their personal beliefs. Born out of creator Matt Chocqueel-Mangan’s concern that he didn’t really understand the difference between any of the parties, nearly 370,000 people completed its survey ahead of the 2010 general election.

Its results were fascinating – not least because it was the Green party’s policies, with 24.74% of the votes, that came out on top. Labour (20.26%) and the Lib Dems (17.28%) were second and third respectively, while the Conservatives – the party that actually went on to scoop the most votes in the actual election – was fourth with 15.06%. There is clearly a mismatch between politics and what people believe in.

Matt Chocqueel-Mangan, founder of Vote for Policies

When setting up Vote for Policies, Chocqueel-Mangan, who has been creating websites since 2000, approached the issue of voter engagement as he would in his day job. “In my line of work, when there’s an engagement problem, you don’t blame the user, you blame the usability”, he says. Rather than assuming people don’t want to take part or are unable to express an opinion, I found a way to make it easier.”

Interest in his enterprise rocketed in the weeks leading up to the election in 2010 – so much so that the website’s servers crashed because of the volume of traffic (Chocqueel-Mangan reckons the site would have doubled its users without the technical problems). Meanwhile, his concept was praised by the Financial Times, the Guardian and Channel 4 News, among other news outlets.

Perhaps the biggest question is whether the Vote for Policies survey results actually influenced voting habits when it came to polling day. Chocqueel-Mangan recalls one woman who used the site and who – to her surprise – came out most closely aligned to the Green party’s policies, despite having voted Lib Dem previously. Determined to vote according to her beliefs this time, she set off to the polling station. On the way there, she saw an orange poster and decided to vote for the Lib Dems again instead. “In that moment, I learned just how entrenched our voting behaviour can be”, Chocqueel-Mangan says.

Anecdotally, he says that over half of the people who took the survey were surprised with their result – like the Lib Dem voter who came out Green and Chocqueel-Mangan himself, who went on to vote for a party he hadn’t voted for previously. Meanwhile, he believes a higher percentage selected the policy of a party that surprised them greatly. One of the improvements planned ahead of 2015 is to ask this question specifically, as well as following up with users to see if they voted according to the survey. However, it will continue to stress that its surveys are not recommending users vote for that party; they’re simply saying that people should start with a meaningful, rational basis on which to make a decision.

Chocqueel-Mangan says, “If you don’t feel that the party can deliver those policies, or actually there are other policies that they may deliver but you feel strongly against, that’s up to you. You may not believe in their leader, for example. But until you understand what their policies are, don’t even think about choosing a party based on the personality of their leader.”

Asked about why the Greens fared so well in the survey, he adds it could have been any party that led the way – though there is a clear trend with people choosing progressive policies and parties. What the results showed as well was how crucial party manifestos could be if voters actually took the time to read through them.

As for the parties themselves, Chocqueel-Mangan had helpful responses from all but Labour and the Conservatives. The Greens, understandably, were very active and used the results in their pre-election PR. Meanwhile, someone associated with the BNP – though not necessarily an employee – actually took the time to fill in bogus surveys as a means of fixing the results. Chocqueel-Mangan recalls seeing the party race into fourth place one day, quickly realising it was a hacker. He took the results out and blocked the IP address – but not before a screenshot of the temporary result had appeared on the BNP’s website.

The 2015 election may be the next big event on the Vote for Policies calendar, but Chocqueel-Mangan has big plans to widen its scope – starting with making it financially sustainable. His long-term goal is to transform the election-only survey into an online service for non-governmental elections, whether that’s clubs, schools, universities, membership organisations or charities. Ultimately, it’s about making democracy more accessible and representative of views. He concludes, “People actually do care and do want to get involved – and they do have their own opinions. It’s just about helping them find that voice.”

Photo: Garry Knight via Flickr

Further reading:

If we voted for policies at elections, and not parties, the results might surprise us all

Sustainability could hold the key to 2015 general election result

The people’s manifesto

Green policies beat Brown’s (reds, blues and yellows)

The Guide to Sustainable Democracy 2014

Editors Choice

2017 Was the Most Expensive Year Ever for U.S. Natural Disaster Damage

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Natural Disaster Damage
Shutterstock / By Droidworker | https://www.shutterstock.com/g/droidworker

Devastating natural disasters dominated last year’s headlines and made many wonder how the affected areas could ever recover. According to data from the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the storms and other weather events that caused the destruction were extremely costly.

Specifically, the natural disasters recorded last year caused so much damage that the associated losses made 2017 the most expensive year on record in the 38-year history of keeping such data. The following are several reasons that 2017 made headlines for this notorious distinction.

Over a Dozen Events With Losses Totalling More Than $1 Billion Each

The NOAA reports that in total, the recorded losses equaled $306 billion, which is $90 billion more than the amount associated with 2005, the previous record holder. One of the primary reasons the dollar amount climbed so high last year is that 16 individual events cost more than $1 billion each.

Global Warming Contributed to Hurricane Harvey

Hurricane Harvey, one of two Category-4 hurricanes that made landfall in 2017, was a particularly expensive natural disaster. Nearly 800,000 people needed assistance after the storm. Hurricane Harvey alone cost $125 billion, with some estimates even higher than that. So far, the only hurricane more expensive than Harvey was Katrina.

Before Hurricane Harvey hit, scientists speculated climate change could make it worse. They discussed how rising ocean temperatures make hurricanes more intense, and warmer atmospheres have higher amounts of water vapor, causing larger rainfall totals.

Since then, a new study published in “Environmental Research Letters” confirmed climate change was indeed a factor that gave Hurricane Harvey more power. It found environmental conditions associated with global warming made the storm more severe and increase the likelihood of similar events.

That same study also compared today’s storms with ones from 1900. It found that compared to those earlier weather phenomena, Hurricane Harvey’s rainfall was 15 percent more intense and three times as likely to happen now versus in 1900.

Warming oceans are one of the contributing factors. Specifically, the ocean’s surface temperature associated with the region where Hurricane Harvey quickly transformed from a tropical storm into a Category 4 hurricane has become about 1 degree Fahrenheit warmer over the past few decades.

Michael Mann, a climatologist from Penn State University, believes that due to a relationship known as the Clausius-Clapeyron equation, there was about 3-5 percent more moisture in the air, which caused more rain. To complicate matters even more, global warming made sea levels rise by more than 6 inches in the Houston area over the past few decades. Mann also believes global warming caused the stationery summer weather patterns that made Hurricane Harvey stop moving and saturate the area with rain. Mann clarifies although global warming didn’t cause Hurricane Harvey as a whole, it exacerbated several factors of the storm.

Also, statistics collected by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from 1901-2015 found the precipitation levels in the contiguous 48 states had gone up by 0.17 inches per decade. The EPA notes the increase is expected because rainfall totals tend to go up as the Earth’s surface temperatures rise and additional evaporation occurs.

The EPA’s measurements about surface temperature indicate for the same timespan mentioned above for precipitation, the temperatures have gotten 0.14 Fahrenheit hotter per decade. Also, although the global surface temperature went up by 0.15 Fahrenheit during the same period, the temperature rise has been faster in the United States compared to the rest of the world since the 1970s.

Severe Storms Cause a Loss of Productivity

Many people don’t immediately think of one important factor when discussing the aftermath of natural disasters: the adverse impact on productivity. Businesses and members of the workforce in Houston, Miami and other cities hit by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma suffered losses that may total between $150-200 billion when both damage and sacrificed productivity are accounted for, according to estimates from Moody’s Analytics.

Some workers who decide to leave their homes before storms arrive delay returning after the immediate danger has passed. As a result of their absences, a labor-force shortage may occur. News sources posted stories highlighting that the Houston area might not have enough construction workers to handle necessary rebuilding efforts after Hurricane Harvey.

It’s not hard to imagine the impact heavy storms could have on business operations. However, companies that offer goods to help people prepare for hurricanes and similar disasters often find the market wants what they provide. While watching the paths of current storms, people tend to recall storms that took place years ago and see them as reminders to get prepared for what could happen.

Longer and More Disastrous Wildfires Require More Resources to Fight

The wildfires that ripped through millions of acres in the western region of the United States this year also made substantial contributions to the 2017 disaster-related expenses. The U.S. Forest Service, which is within the U.S. Department of Agriculture, reported 2017 as its costliest year ever and saw total expenditures exceeding $2 billion.

The agency anticipates the costs will grow, especially when they take past data into account. In 1995, the U.S. Forest Service spent 16 percent of its annual budget for wildfire-fighting costs, but in 2015, the amount ballooned to 52 percent. The sheer number of wildfires last year didn’t help matters either. Between January 1 and November 24 last year, 54,858 fires broke out.

2017: Among the Three Hottest Years Recorded

People cause the majority of wildfires, but climate change acts as another notable contributor. In addition to affecting hurricane intensity, rising temperatures help fires spread and make them harder to extinguish.

Data collected by the National Interagency Fire Center and published by the EPA highlighted a correlation between the largest wildfires and the warmest years on record. The extent of damage caused by wildfires has gotten worse since the 1980s, but became particularly severe starting in 2000 during a period characterized by some of the warmest years the U.S. ever recorded.

Things haven’t changed for the better, either. In mid-December of 2017, the World Meteorological Organization released a statement announcing the year would likely end as one of the three warmest years ever recorded. A notable finding since the group looks at global land and ocean temperature, not just statistics associated with the United States.

Not all the most financially impactful weather events in 2017 were hurricanes and wildfires. Some of the other issues that cost over $1 billion included a hailstorm in Colorado, tornados in several regions of the U.S. and substantial flooding throughout Missouri and Arkansas.

Although numerous factors gave these natural disasters momentum, scientists know climate change was a defining force — a reality that should worry just about everyone.

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Environment

How to be More eco-Responsible in 2018

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eco-responsible
Shutterstock / By KENG MERRY Paper Art | https://www.shutterstock.com/g/kengmerrymikeymelody

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.

energy efficient

Shutterstock Licensed Photo – By My Life Graphic

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

eco-friendly

Shutterstock / By Khakimullin Aleksandr

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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