April 2009 Archives

Vegetable patch Earth Day, the annual event on 22 April, was devised in 1970 by a US Senator from Wisconsin. Today the Earth Day Network has a global reach. 2009 marks the start of The Green Generation Campaign, leading to 2010, the fortieth anniversary of this important day. A billion people already participate in Earth Day activities, now the largest secular civic event in the world. It's time for us all to take the Green Generation route to the future.

Sustainability As If People Mattered.

We all have to 'Go Green'.... and even back in 1970 many of us knew it.

Whilst we in the UK were busily promoting the then very new Friends of the Earth - at the time perceived by some as a dangerously radical organisation - our eco cousins in the USA were going about their business, it seems, in a rather more formal fashion, via a proposal by Gaylord Nelson, a then US Senator, that there be a national Earth Day.

Today (22 April 2009) sees the thirty ninth anniversary of what has evolved into International Earth Day, with a network of more than 17,000 partners and organizations in 174 countries looking forward the fortieth such event, to occur in 2010.

The Green Generation
Now, the focus is on the new-wave Green Generation, a cohort with unambiguously ambitious aims:

* A carbon-free future based on renewable energy that will end our common dependency on fossil fuels, including coal.

* An individual’s commitment to responsible, sustainable consumption.

* Creation of a new green economy that lifts people out of poverty by creating millions of quality green jobs and transforms the global education system into a green one.

Sharing responsibility for sustainability
People of every sort have begun to recognise their responsibility for sustaining the future of our shared environment. Those who have their own challenges, living in a complex multi-cultural society, work together sharing a common resolve to make things better, just as others also do.

But the further you are from where decisions are made, the harder it is to get the support you need to do your part. Sometimes it's money and resources you require; other times it's the encouragement of family, friends and neighbours who don't always understand why wider environmental and community issues matter.

People at the grassroots can feel they have little power to change things.

Small actions are important
But every small effort is part of the greater scheme of things, with important ramifications.

Perhaps it's 'only' planting some vegetables with the kids in an urban space, or explaining to our children why they need to respect their environment - or indeed digging up the White House lawn to plant organically produced vegetables, as Michelle Obama has just done - but from these acts the idea can grow. We're all part of the same shared world.

The environmental movement is growing quite quickly now, even in inner cities. People undertake small projects - helping with a city farm, supporting older people who want to shop locally, or whatever - but over time the ripples of these activities will begin to overlap, as more and more people join in.

Individual initiatives become communal
You may start a small project almost alone but, as others start also do the same elsewhere, there is somehow a change in perceptions.

Through sharing ideas and action we begin to see why everyone must understand that there is only 'one planet' to live on, and that we all have to do our bit to save our environment. Big supermarkets or small traders, there is now an active acknowledgement green issues and eco-initiatives.

All together in common cause
But there's another important thing here too: It doesn't matter where you come from, or what your culture, gender or age is. We must all to 'Go Green', and quickly.

Different people from different places will start in different ways, but we all need to rely on each other. Nobody can 'save the planet' on their own: Environmental sustainability is quite a new idea, no-one rich and powerful 'owns' it.

The idea of sustainability belongs to us all. Here is something we can all contribute to.

A green leveller
The 'green agenda' is a great social leveller, because we are all part of the problem and likewise all part of the solution. Environmental actions, even tiny ones, are critical if we are to sustain our fragile planet; and, happily, sharing our concerns and our ideas for action can bring us together regardless of creed or nationality.

It's not easy to work, often unpaid and in small ways, protecting the environment and looking after the people in local communities. You can feel alone and perhaps unappreciated. But that work is vital and slowly it is being recognised - which is the first step to the work being properly supported.

With luck the Green Generation Campaign and the run-up to Earth Day 2010 will help to make that happen.


Read more about Sustainability As If People Mattered.

Terraced housing & cars The new economics foundation (nef) tells us that, as of today, the UK has used the levels of resources it should consume during an entire year, if it were environmentally self-sufficient. In 1961, nef calculates, the UK's annual eco-debt began on 9 July; by 1981 it was 14 May, but in 2009 it falls on 12 April, Easter Sunday. But how can we help people in their daily lives to address and cope with these frightening calculations constructively, rather than such information just causing further alarm? Science and 'facts' alone won't get us where we all need to be.

Sustainability As If People Mattered.

I'm not sure that those of us already concerned with sustainability approach these matters in the best way to engage others yet to be converted - nef* says Easter Sunday (eco-debt day 2009) is 'a day which for many has become synonymous with over-indulgence'. That's a pretty unempathetic perspective on one of the UK's few annual family holidays.

Sometimes perhaps the force of our convictions and fears about sustainability can make us sound a bit crass.

Offering hope, not inferring guilt
Inducing guilt and/or alarm is not often the most effective mode by which to gain mass support, in an open democracy, for complex and uncomfortable change. Personally, I'd rather see Easter as an occasion with a message, whether sacred or secular, of new beginnings and hope - an opportunity for positive reflection on the future.

Eco-protagonists and scientists are vitally important to our understanding of what's happening to the environment. But they're not always good at helping people in the wider community to face up to the enormous environmentally-related challenges which, we must urgently acknowledge, are already upon us.

Research findings and predictions based on rational calculation do not always translate as clearly as the scientists imagine into policy acceptable to the wider citizenry. To the person in the street it can all seem just too difficult and scary, well beyond the scope of 'ordinary folk'.

Engaging people for positive change
Nonetheless, the UK's increasing eco-debt is desperately alarming, and something we need to get everyone to think about, right now.

The question is, how?


[* Andrew Simms (2009) Ecological Debt: Global Warming and the Wealth of Nations, cited in Transition Network News, March 2009. Andrew Simms is nef Policy Director and Head of the Climate Change Programme.]

Read more articles on Sustainability As If People Mattered.

Sefton Park Liverpool Daffodils The past few days have convinced us that Spring is finally on its way. The daffodils in Sefton Park are a glory all of their own - the focus of hope in so many ways, at the equinox when people begin once more to populate our park's wonderful space, strolling by in chatty groups, with prams, on bicylces, running to raise funds for charity or simply stopping to enjoy. And then as the daffodils begin to fade, we see the promise of the next great gift of nature, the delicate blossoms of almond and cherry to delight us yet a while....

Sefton Park Liverpool Daffodils (29 March 2009)

Sefton Park Liverpool - first blossoms of Spring (30 March 2008)


See more photographs of Liverpool & Merseyside and read more about Sefton Park.