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Politicians from seven parties call for citizens’ say over Britain’s constitution

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Senior figures from all the main parties are coming together to call for citizens to have a greater say over the constitutional changes sweeping the UK.

The high-profile politicians – including Dominic Grieve MP, Suzanne Evans and Caroline Lucas MP – will be speaking together on Wednesday at the Parliamentary launch of the final report [1] of Democracy Matters, the UK’s first ever ‘Citizens’ Assembly’ on local democracy and devolution [2], funded by the Economic & Social Research Council [3].

The report, Democracy Matters: Lessons from the 2015 Citizens’ Assemblies on English Devolution’ (link live at 14:00, 12th April) shows a growing appetite among the public to be involved in shaping Britain’s changing democratic make-up – particularly local devolution, which the Electoral Reform Society have criticised for ‘excluding the very people it will affect – local citizens themselves’.

A major conclusion of the report is that ‘citizens are ready, willing and able to take part in participatory and deliberative forms of democracy’.

The report also concludes that ‘Citizens want stronger devolution with more public involvement. They want to feel part of ‘the revolution in devolution’ and not simply to have change imposed upon them.’

The final report being launched is available here from 14:00, 12th April

 Event: Wednesday 13th April, 3.30-5pm, Committee Room 2, Palace of Westminster

 Journalists are invited to attend the report launch event in Parliament – contact Edward Molloy on Edward.molloy@electoral-reform.org.uk or 02037144071

 The speakers on the panel are:

  • Dominic Grieve MP (Conservative)
  • Graham Allen MP (Labour)
  • Tommy Sheppard MP (Scottish National Party)
  • Lord(Paul) Tyler (Liberal Democrat)
  • Jonathan Edwards MP (Plaid Cymru)
  • Suzanne Evans (UKIP)
  • Caroline Lucas MP (Green Party)

Katie Ghose, Chief Executive of the Electoral Reform Society, said: “It is fantastic to see politicians from all the major parties come together to address urgent need to involve the public in the huge democratic changes taking place in the UK.

“English devolution is the biggest shakeup to local democracy for decades – yet voters have been left out of the conversation, unable to shape how their areas are changing. A top-down model for devolution simply won’t last, so this report and event will be central to changing the debate and finally letting the public in.”

Professor Matthew Flinders, Principal Investigator for the Democracy Matters project and Founding Director of the Sir Bernard Crick Centre at the University of Sheffield, said: “Forget the pessimism that usually surrounds public attitudes to politics. What the Democracy Matters project really revealed was a public appetite for opportunities to learn about public policy and to engage with politics. It also revealed the capacity of the internet to deepen and broader democratic engagement and also how ‘doing politics differently’ can actually be quite fun!”

Dominic Grieve QC, MP for Beaconsfield, said: “I am pleased to be able to take part in the Democracy Matters event. If we are to create a country that responds to the needs of its inhabitants, then we have to listen to what they are saying about the constitutional framework that would best suit them.  The responsibility still lies with politicians to try to craft appropriate solutions, but it is pointless attempting it without an understanding of the breadth of public opinion.”

Graham Allen, Labour MP for Nottingham North, said: “The people of Britain are crying out for a constitutional convention with people of every party and none participating. Democracy Matters shows that we need millions of founding mothers and fathers to write a democratic settlement ahead of the 2020 Parliament. Let’s get on with it.”

Tommy Sheppard MP, SNP Shadow Spokesperson for the Cabinet Office, said: “An 84.6% turnout in Scotland for our Independence Referendum proved that there is an appetite for political engagement if people feel their vote can actually change things. Citizens’ Assemblies could dramatically improve our democracy if they give people a stake in shaping our society.”

Lord Paul Tyler, Liberal Democrat Lords Principal Spokesperson for Constitutional and Political Reform, said: “For two centuries all political reform has required both popular pressure and national leadership.  A Citizens’ Assembly brings them together. And with the present Government supported by less than a quarter of the eligible electorate the need is urgent.”

Jonathan Edwards, Plaid Cymru MP for Carmarthen East and Dinefwr, said: “We are living in a time of rapid political change as direct two party Westminster political control over the territory of the UK loosens.  Any political system experiencing rapid change needs to respond to reflect the wishes of the people it serves if it is to survive. I welcome this report as a major step forward in increasing public engagement in how the peoples of the UK are governed.”

Suzanne Evans, UKIP Parliamentary Spokesperson, said: “We need fundamental change to reconnect politics with the public and UKIP in Parliament is fully committed to making that happen. Citizens’ Assemblies are a great first step towards embedding new forms of political engagement at both a local and a national level: cutting through the understandable apathy of those who feel their voices aren’t being heard is crucial, and when we achieve that, politics can only benefit.”

Caroline Lucas, Green Party MP for Brighton Pavilion, said: “People are increasingly fed up with Britain’s archaic and undemocratic political system. It’s clear that our constitution needs updating – but that process must not be the sole responsibility of people in power. This project is hugely exciting because it aims to devolve power to local communities, and allow people a real say on the issues which affect their lives.”

 

Energy

7 New Technologies That Could Radically Change Our Energy Consumption

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Energy Consumption
Shutterstock Licensed Photo - By Syda Productions | https://www.shutterstock.com/g/dolgachov

Most of our focus on technological development to lessen our environmental impact has been focused on cleaner, more efficient methods of generating electricity. The cost of solar energy production, for example, is slated to fall more than 75 percent between 2010 and 2020.

This is a massive step forward, and it’s good that engineers and researchers are working for even more advancements in this area. But what about technologies that reduce the amount of energy we demand in the first place?

Though it doesn’t get as much attention in the press, we’re making tremendous progress in this area, too.

New Technologies to Watch

These are some of the top emerging technologies that have the power to reduce our energy demands:

  1. Self-driving cars. Self-driving cars are still in development, but they’re already being hailed as potential ways to eliminate a number of problems on the road, including the epidemic of distracted driving ironically driven by other new technologies. However, even autonomous vehicle proponents often miss the tremendous energy savings that self-driving cars could have on the world. With a fleet of autonomous vehicles at our beck and call, consumers will spend less time driving themselves and more time carpooling, dramatically reducing overall fuel consumption once it’s fully adopted.
  2. Magnetocaloric tech. The magnetocaloric effect isn’t exactly new—it was actually discovered in 1881—but it’s only recently being studied and applied to commercial appliances. Essentially, this technology relies on changing magnetic fields to produce a cooling effect, which could be used in refrigerators and air conditioners to significantly reduce the amount of electricity required.
  3. New types of insulation. Insulation is the best asset we have to keep our homes thermoregulated; they keep cold or warm air in (depending on the season) and keep warm or cold air out (again, depending on the season). New insulation technology has the power to improve this efficiency many times over, decreasing our need for heating and cooling entirely. For example, some new automated sealing technologies can seal gaps between 0.5 inches wide and the width of a human hair.
  4. Better lights. Fluorescent bulbs were a dramatic improvement over incandescent bulbs, and LEDs were a dramatic improvement over fluorescent bulbs—but the improvements may not end there. Scientists are currently researching even better types of light bulbs, and more efficient applications of LEDs while they’re at it.
  5. Better heat pumps. Heat pumps are built to transfer heat from one location to another, and can be used to efficiently manage temperatures—keeping homes warm while requiring less energy expenditure. For example, some heat pumps are built for residential heating and cooling, while others are being used to make more efficient appliances, like dryers.
  6. The internet of things. The internet of things and “smart” devices is another development that can significantly reduce our energy demands. For example, “smart” windows may be able to respond dynamically to changing light conditions to heat or cool the house more efficiently, and “smart” refrigerators may be able to respond dynamically to new conditions. There are several reasons for this improvement. First, smart devices automate things, so it’s easier to control your energy consumption. Second, they track your consumption patterns, so it’s easier to conceptualize your impact. Third, they’re often designed with efficiency in mind from the beginning, reducing energy demands, even without the high-tech interfaces.
  7. Machine learning. Machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) technologies have the power to improve almost every other item on this list. By studying consumer patterns and recommending new strategies, or automatically controlling certain features, machine learning algorithms have the power to fundamentally change how we use energy in our homes and businesses.

Making the Investment

All technologies need time, money, and consumer acceptance to be developed. Fortunately, a growing number of consumers are becoming enthusiastic about finding new ways to reduce their energy consumption and overall environmental impact. As long as we keep making the investment, our tools to create cleaner energy and demand less energy in the first place should have a massive positive effect on our environment—and even our daily lives.

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Environment

Two Ancient Japanese Philosophies Are the Future of Eco-Living

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Eco-Living
Shutterstock Photos - By Syda Productions | https://www.shutterstock.com/g/dolgachov

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

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.

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