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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

Environment

How to be More eco-Responsible in 2018

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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

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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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Energy

Top 5 Changes You can Make in Your Life to Reduce Your Carbon Footprint

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Saving money and reducing your carbon footprint? What isn’t to love? - Image from Shutterstock - https://www.shutterstock.com/g/thodonal88

In a world, where war rages and global warming threatens our very existence, the inhabitants of earth need to be extra vigilant in their efforts to go green. This includes reducing your carbon footprint on the earth and leading a more sustainable life.

Many homeowners feel perplexed by all of the options available to reduce their carbon footprint. They may even feel (falsely) that making their household more green will fail to make that much of a difference in the fight to save our planet.

Even a single home going green has a massive impact on the environment. We can win this battle on home at a time. If you’re interested in accepting the challenge of making your household a green home, read on below for a few of the top changes you can make in your life to reduce your carbon footprint. We all stand to benefit from making the earth safer for future generations – and your wallet won’t complain when you start to see the savings in annual energy costs.

Switch From Dirty Energy to Clean Solar

The ION Solar reviews tell it all–solar is the best way to go. Whether your goal is to slash your energy bills, or to reduce your carbon footprint, the sun is a fantastic source of renewable energy.

It’s important to get past the hype from solar installers. Instead, listen to the plethora of impartial customer reviews that mention everything from a $20 energy bill, to the incredible feeling of knowing that you are doing your part by going green and minimizing harmful emissions in to our atmosphere.

The average investment is $15,000 to $30,000 for installation and purchase of solar panels. Optional battery power packs can help provide consistent power during both night and day. And many government agencies provide federal, state or local grants to help offset upfront investments in clean energy.

Depending on which installed you choose, your household may qualify for low-interest or zero interest loans to cover the up-front cost of your installation. And the loan payments are usually less than your current monthly power bill.

It really is a win-win, as home buyers are looking for homes that feature this technology – meaning solar power installation improves the resale value of your property.

Home Modifications

And there are a number of additional home modifications that can help improve the energy efficiency of your home. A programmable thermostat can better manage energy consumption from home cooling and heating systems while you’re away from home. And weather stripping your doors can help keep cool air in during the summer, and warm air in during the winter.

Of course, energy conservation starts at home. And this includes setting a powerful example for your kids. Teach your children how to close windows, strategically keep doors open or closed based on airflow, and encourage them to leave the thermostat alone – opting for adding or removing layers of clothing instead.

Unplug Appliances and Shut Off Electronics

Unplugging your appliances when they aren’t in use, such as the toaster and the coffee maker, has more of an impact than you might think. Set your TVs and stereos on sleep timers, instead of letting them run around the clock. The cumulative impact of wasteful electronic device usage is horrible for our environment – putting unnecessary strain on our electrical grid.

Recycle

One of the simplest and easiest ways to reduce your carbon footprint is by recycling. You are already throwing this stuff away anyway, right? It doesn’t take much more effort to just put recyclables in a separate container to be recycled, now does it?

Oh, and did I mention that you can earn money for recycling? Yes! Many cities and towns have recycling centers that will purchase your clean plastic and glass bottles for reuse.

Minimize Your Water Usage

Water is one of the easiest things to forget about when it comes to reducing your carbon footprint. Preserve water by turning off the faucet while brushing your teeth. Shorten your shower by a few minutes and turn down the heat on that water heater. You’ll be surprised at how much lower your water bill and your energy bill will be.

Saving money and reducing your carbon footprint? What isn’t to love?

These are just a few of the top ways that you can reduce your carbon footprint and start living a greener lifestyle. And we aren’t factoring in all of the advantages that we’ll reap from public investments in a smarter energy grid.

From decreasing your water usage, to switching to solar for your home’s energy needs, you will feel good at the end of the day knowing you are doing your part to save the future of this planet for generations to come!

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