Environment Movement

C&S with Bill McKibben in Cancún #COP16

httpvh://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FRFgru1E1ng

Friends of the CSPA, Linh Do and Tim Hall interview Bill McKibben on the 28th of November in Cancún, Mexico before COP16, the UN climate change negotiations.

Bill talks about his work at 350.org and as a writer, before discussing the future of the environment movement, the virtues of young people and his expectations of COP16.

via YouTube – C&S with Bill McKibben in Cancún.

Green web awards: upwards, onwards

I’ve been invited to be one of the judges on the Green Web Awards, alongside Caroline Lucas, Green Party MEP, Adam Vaughan of The Guardian, Ed Gillespie of Futerra. Bonnie Alter of Treehugger and others. The Green Web awards were launched last year by Nigel Berman of nigelsecostore.com, so it’s a chance to figure out how much has changed in those 12 months.

Please get nominating.

Last year the standout winner for me was Freecycle, which won the Favourite Online Community award. It’s easy to forget what a quiet revolution that has been working on so many levels – building community, recycling tonnes of goods and  saving landfill.

By adding a Best Greenwash category the Awards also ensure that they get great national publicity. Last year Mattel’s range of Eco-Friendly Barbies sashayed straight into the top spot.

But 2008 seems a long way away.  Blogs themselves have lost some of their shininess in the intervening months. This is partly because the ADD-style attention span of the web has already moved on to social media, but I’m not sure if blogs themselves have grown as successfully as they should. While independent sites like DeSmogBlog are still lynchpins, and sites like Treehugger remain central, those of the major campaigning NGOs like Greenpeaceand WWF are looking sadly corporate and staid, as if their copy is part of a greater PR machine, rather than exuding the passionate intelligence that so many people who work for them have.

To acknowledge the shifting emphasis there’s a new category Social Media Hero. It’ll be interesting to see how that plays out. I do follow people like @revkin@sustainblog and@adamvaughan_uk, but I’m not sure the environment movement yet has its own Stephen Fry. Take a look at Mashable’s list of 75 green tweets and see how many you would really want in your Twitter window every day.

On the plus side, sites like Naresh Ramchandani and Andy Hobsbawm’s Do The Green Thinghave a real elegant simplicity to them and have proved continued to prove that the web is a brilliant tool for behaviour change.

But as these projects integrate with the social web, I suspect we’re on the verge of harnessing something quite spectacular. RSA Projects like Design Behaviour and The Social Brain tell us again and again we behave better when we act together.

We perceive it’s hard for us to lower our energy use on our own, but when we start comparing our use with our friends and neighbour’s, we suddenly start finding new ways forward.PriceWaterhouseCooper’s Carbon Bigfoot app on Facebook is one great new tool which does exactly that. Pachube is another fantastic mash up of technologies to create a live online community energy use comparison site.

I’m sure you have your own favourites.

I’d be particularly interested in seeing nominations for sites that aim at reaching the “other half” who are the least engaged in environmental issues.

And of course should anybody want to nominate and vote for us…

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Environmentalism: towards civilisation, or “uncivilisation”?


The environment movement is failing because it has only a negative vision of the future. Discuss.

That’s the nub of the argument suggested by Josie Appleton of the Manifesto Club in her essaythat we published last week, and one echoed by Emma Ridgway’s recent article for theRETHINK exhibition catalogue. Environmentalism, the argument goes, is about limiting possibilities. It’s about what we shouldn’t do. Appleton believes that art has a visionary role in thinking beyond this drought of possiblity; humanity must instead accept its place as the species that transformed the earth – we must take on that leap of consciousness when we start to think of solutions and not start from the romantic baseline of earth as a wilderness, despoiled by man. We must move forwards, not back.

A radical idea. And the polar opposite to another radical idea proposed recently by poet/writer/activist Paul Kingsnorth and Dougald Hine. For them and their Dark Mountain Project, human civilisation itself is the toxic factor that has plunged the earth into crisis. In the blink of an eye – the five thousand years or so  in which  humanity has accelerated towards modern civilisation – we have so stamped over the intricacies of nature that the wheel is now flying off the machine. We must prepare our exit from civilisation, for “uncivilisation”. In the visual arts, this has echoes in the recent work of Heather and Ivan Morison, whose How to prosper in the coming bad years discussion takes place in The Black Cloud (see above) next weekend in Bristol.

Art, a place where the imagination can roam to extremes, is an excellent laboratory for ideas.  The Dark Mountain Project finds its inspiration in literature, particularly in the poetry of Robinson Jeffers – the Californian who shared a romantic vision of wilderness with environmentalist Edward Abbey, referred to below. It was Jeffers who had first suggested the idea of  “inhumanism” that  inspired the Dark Mountain Project. Human civilisation was, Jeffers suggested, always too self-centred to understand the complexity and beauty of the world around it. The Dark Mountain Project also plant their flag in the literature of Joseph Conrad and his “heart of darkness”.

There have been some interesting responses to the Dark Mountain provocation. In the New StatesmanJohn Gray responded to the Dark Mountain provocation by demonstrating that literature has in fact been much more successful at showing the catastrophic results of “uncivilisation” than eulolgising it. There is nothing romantic about the crumbling of civil society. Gray too cites Joseph Conrad, to make the point that Conrad, like J G Ballard – shows the genuine  horror of what a society in disintegration actually looks like. Both Conrad and Ballard were witness to the atrocities that happen when the crust of civilization is removed.

(On a sidenote, Paul Kingsnorth and I have disagreed elsewhere about whether Cormac MacCarthy’s The Road is a novel primarily about climate change. Gray’s line of argument  reminds you that MacCarthy’s book, in which baby-eating survivors scavage the land,  displays the awful consequence of uncivilisation.)

But as both suggest, it’s time to rexamine the givens. Environmentalism hasn’t produced the major shift in culture that the global warming era requires. Something radical has to shift.  Appleton’s idea is that to save civilisation we need more civilisation, not less:

The anthropocene is here, and there is no way back. To wish that we could retreat is the mythical fantasy of wishing that we never ate the apple or stole the fire. It is a wish that we were children again, back in a former stage of history. We cannot reverse out of the anthropocene but only go forward.

I doubt John Gray would quite see eye to eye with Appleton’s thesis either. Gray’s book Straw Dogs was a vigorous assault on the idea of that idea of human centrality in nature. Appleton’s argument is unashamedly anthropocentric; in fact the very notion of the anthropocene, by definition, is a human-centred concept. Gray follows James Lovelock: such assumptions of human supremacy over nature are fundamentally arrogant and hubristic.  Myself, I find the technological postivism of Appleton’s approach hard to embrace. Above all, I don’t believe, as she does, that, ” The climate moves slowly; we have time.”

The Black Cloud by Heather and Ivan Morison (Bristol, 2009)photographed by ac (y su camarófono)

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Charles Clover: “environmentalists are very boring”

How 2009 became the year of the campaign movie from RSA Arts & Ecology on Vimeo.

Charles Clover energised the campaign to alert the world to approaching fish stock collapse earlier this year with the film The End of the Line. It was a great example of how a single coordinated attack using the right media can produce a quantum leap in awareness. I spoke to him and  the Guardian’s Environment Editor John Vidal about how an imaginative, passionate and above all clever approach can galvanise action and force suppliers and politicians to rethink their strategy.

But he’s scathing about how the broader environment movement has failed to grip the public imagination. Responding to a recent IPPR survey that said the public were “bored” with climate change:

It’s because environmentalists are very boring, he says. They used not to have jobs when I got into this business. They had something very burning and interesting to say which quite a lot of people wanted them not to say, and people tried to shut them up. They were very exciting people to know, and they didn’t have a pension fund. Now they have pension funds and sit around in offices and try and think of something interesting to say, and not a lot of them achieve it.

Has the professionalisation of the climate movement creating a beast that feeds itself? Is that part of the reason the public finds climate activists, in the words of the report “smug”?

Charles Clover and John Vidal were in the house to discuss The End of  the Line at a screening organised by RSA Events who run the best public lectures series you’ll find in London – and you don’t have to work here to think that. Follow them on http://twitter.com/RSAEvents

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