Thursday, 8 October 2009

Kingsnorth retreat

The good news today is that E.ON has, for now, decided not to build a new coal fired power station at Kingsnorth in Kent. This was the site Climate Camp marched to last year in objection to the lack of sufficient carbon capture and storage (CSS) in place which would be needed to get on track with our carbon emissions target. E.ON attribute their policy reversal to a recession induced drop in electricity demand, which will be a factor, but the factor you would point to if you want to ignore how a public campaign against your brand might affect your sales.

Clearly we want clean, renewable energy sources, less and significantly more efficient energy and material use, and reforestation at the core of our climate strategies, locally, nationally and internationally. ‘Clean coal’ appears to be a possibility and not something to rule out completely, despite it being used as a vehicle for green wash and a sloppy re-branding of business as usual. It isn’t ready yet, at least not on an industrial scale, and won’t be for a while. But dismissing carbon capture and storage as part of a strategy for reaching our carbon targets could mean missing out on research funds from the private sector which wouldn’t otherwise be diverted to renewable energy research. Pilot power stations with which to make this technology workable may still jeopardise UK carbon targets but could also prove a good investment if it can then be used in economies already dependent on coal who would be continuing to burn it under or over their carbon caps.

Activists can polarise debates and the public with mixed effect, but this time they seem to have put enough of a spotlight on the poor regulation of government and bravado of the energy sector to force a retreat from a dangerously under-theorised and rushed approach in Kingsnorth. The difficult task for activists now is to support a nuanced debate on carbon capture and storage to develop without dissmissing its potential outright and alienating potential allies across the public, scientific community and energy sector. This is a small victory, one which should be celebrated today, but tomorrow we need to get on with the bigger picture, which could mean being open to down-playing our own political influence and previous Kingsnorth-specific assertions. Just hopefully not too much.

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Signing up to 10:10 - a fantastic idea in theory...

I just signed ChiC up to 10:10 - a new and already rather popular campaign that looks to unite different sectors of British society to achieve a 10% cut in the UK's carbon emissions by 2010.

10:10's overall aim - that of reducing the UK's total emissions by 10% by the end of 2010 - is something that ChiC can wholeheartedly sign up to. You can sign up here too.

However, when looking at the individual responsibility of the organisation in signing up - that of cutting the organisation's own emissions by 10% by the end of 2010 - the problems start to arise.

Currently, ChiC has a pretty low carbon bumprint, with the biggest contributor probably being the electricity required to host the site (in Kansas, by 1and1). I don't know the exact ghg emission figures for our scale of web activity, but I can't see how it could come anywhere close to the emissions resulting from an office, staff or travel budget that most established organisations have.

The main reason for our low carbon impact is because we are a small-scale voluntary organisation in the very early stages of development. However, like most early-stage organisations, we have ambitions to grow.

Unfortunately, even with the most careful of energy efficiency plans, it will be impossible to increase our activity and get more people involved without increasing our carbon emission levels in some way. (Let alone reducing them by 10%!)

So what are we to do? Should we avoid signing up to the 10:10 campaign as an organisation and simply encourage our members to sign up as individuals?

Or is it enough that we encourage our members to sign up, and attempt to provide the support to enable them, as well as the wider UK public, to find effective ways to make the cut?

ChiC can't be alone in this. If you are involved with an organisation in the same situation, do let us know what you ended up choosing.

...Also, if anyone knows the calculations for average tonne CO2 / MB of web hosting, we'd be most grateful to hear them.


Thursday, 2 July 2009

So, I front a behaviourial change environmental organisation and I'm thinking of flying to New York...

That's my dilemma.

The other day, after a ChiC meeting, I went for a meal with two friends - an old school friend and a new activist friend. Over our noodles, we were discussing the difficulty of behavioural change and questioned whether or not flying would ever be justifiable.

My activist friend explained how, after only a year since she was flying regularly for 'travels', now how alien even the process of getting on a plane had become to her. She reasoned that if she was willing to get arrested for her beliefs, flying couldn't really be on the cards.

I then admitted somewhat sheepishly that I was planning to fly to New York in the autumn for a council meeting of an organisation I am involved in - the World Federalist Movement. This confession was followed by my much loved school friend revealing that he would 'genuinely think less of me' if I flew there just for a conference.

Now, I'm not writing this for sympathy (or accolade) for the 'plight of the do-gooder'. There's plenty of both around for all of us in the scene to gorge ourselves silly on. But I will admit I was disturbed. For the first time my actions and legitimacy were being called into account by someone I had deep-rooted respect for, and I realised I had to seriously consider whether I could actually make this flight.

It struck me that there were two issues. One was whether or not the benefits of going to the meeting could really be argued to outweigh the physical damage caused by the carbon required to take me there. The other was whether, by fronting ChiC, I had a further obligation not to go because I would be destroying the legitimacy of ChiC's work as a behavioural change focussed organisation.

The first issue is pretty hard to calculate. It is a four-day annual conference in which the members of the WFM Council come together from across the world to discuss the direction of the projects WFM is responsible for, as well as the furthering of world federalist ideas in the current global landscape. The projects are pretty amazing and include the Coalition for the International Criminal Court, and Responsibility to Protect. However, what difference will I actually make by being there?

In my corner is the fact that I am one of few women on the council and one of few under-30s (and the only one of both). In the stay-at-home corner is the power of Skype. It is now the case that conferences can be adequately recreated using the power of t'internet. As well as that, I never say that much during the meetings themselves - I feel most of my value is in listening and saying the few things I feel appropriate. So, in all honesty, my physical attendance probably wouldn't make that much difference to the outcomes of the meeting.

However, as anyone who's been to a conference knows, revolutionary ideas don't come out of the meetings themselves. They come three hours into a conversation (usually over a few glasses of wine) with animated people you rarely get to talk to. And, unfortunately, until we have Star Wars (Ep I-III) style Jedi Council gizmo, this just can't be recreated over Skype.

The second issue is even harder to calculate. It's less about weighing up pros and cons, and more about the symbolism and long-term significance placed on this one decision. My school friend made it clear that it was because I ran ChiC that it was indefensible for me to fly. He himself later confessed on the tube on the way home that he will be flying twice to Europe before Christmas, 'just for the hell of it' (and endured mild violence for intentionally making me feel bad).

Despite his brazen cheekiness, my hypocritical friend's point still stood. Well, sort of. Not exactly in the form that he put it, though. ChiC has never told people what they must or mustn't do. We aim to help people to make more informed decisions, not to say what those decisions must be. Therefore I don't believe that my bad decisions make me a hypocrite. I'm fully aware that I'm just as crap at the environment as many other not-so-earnest types.

So, it's not because I run ChiC that I deserve more censure for flying than anyone else. However it is true that people who consider their flights 'justified' are often the most likely to fall behind when it comes to making significant behavioural changes. And when it comes to 'justified' flights, NGOs and politicians top the list.

There's no doubt in my mind that once the tipping point of true realisation of the severity of climate change is reached, it may well be the private sector who are the first to significantly adapt, and not those who have been caught up in the fight to get this severity realised.

Add to this the worrying belief amongst some idealists that changing individual choices is irrelevant because it's all about changing the system. When actually, fundamentally, it's about both. Which is something we in the do-gooder trade need to realise just as much as those we demand change from.

So, my options:

Either, I stay home, find the best skype equivalent program and follow the meeting the best I can, in the knowledge that choosing to address the growing need to replace global travel with global communications (something that we in the NGO world demand from corporates and scattered loved ones) will be more significant than idealistic conversations about changing the world.

Alternatively, I go to New York, having identified exactly what I want to get out of it, ensure I make the most of it, and try and meet ChiC-minded New Yorkers while I have the chance. I discuss with the council my dilemma and ask their advice and opinion on what the future options for us could be.

Stay or go? You decide.*


*no guarantee can be made that the final decision will reflect any or all of the comments added. However, all responses are considered highly valuable and will be gratefully received.

Tuesday, 13 January 2009


...and rather shiny, too.

Greenpeace have put together EffienCity - their ideas for a climate friendly town.

Have a play.