Tag Archives: environment

Why am I standing as a Green Party local council candidate?

Some of my readers may have seen on Facebook, or discovered through a general Google search, that I am standing in Holywell Ward in Watford as a Green Party candidate. In this post, I’d like to outline some of my personal reasons for standing. They’ll be different for everyone and what follows isn’t official Green Party policy in any sense.

I’m a paper candidate, in the sense that I’m not seriously expecting to get elected – we are hoping to have Green Party councillors in Watford soon, as we have done in the past, but Holywell isn’t a ward likely to produce them. I’ll be going out leafleting with our team on the other side of town. But even paper candidates need strong reasons to stand, because it’s a public commitment and requires some networking and paperwork behind the scenes. I’ve got three reasons I am standing and one reason I reject.

I’m NOT standing against anyone. Some of the other council candidates in other parties are well known to me; one I would count as a personal friend. My aim in standing is not to see other people’s perspectives put down. I certainly disagree with some of them, but I want their voices to be heard equally with mine. The voting system we use here might make it seem like we are fighting one another, but my reasons for standing don’t include this.

I AM standing so that voters in my ward have a wider choice. Having more candidates to choose from, representing a wider range of parties, gives voters in Holywell ward the opportunity to express more nuanced political views and let everyone in the council, whether or not they got the votes directly, what matters to them. In Holywell ward this year we will have candidates from six parties, and to me that represents a healthy spectrum of debate.

I AM standing because justice and the environment are important to me. As a voter, the issues I want to raise are most closely aligned with those represented by the Green Party. I am personally concerned about inequality, climate change and the environment, and having made personal lifestyle changes to reflect this – such as doing voluntary work, not to driving a car, and eating mainly vegan – standing as a Green Party candidate is a next step for me in trying to make changes. To put this in my religious terms, standing as a Green Party candidate is part of my witness to the possibility of a better world and my dedication to helping to create it.

I AM standing because I can – because I have the vote, and because you could be involved too. Anyone can get involved in their local politics and make their voice heard. Voting itself is important, but there are also lots of other options. By standing for the Green Party, I make my views known and help others to do the same. There are lots of ways to get involved – every candidate needs ten nominations, and every party needs supporters, canvassers, fundraisers, and a wide range of other help. I’m getting involved – will you?

Carbon footprints: a number I do worry about

For all I wrote last week about not living life by numbers, there is a number which I do try and keep in mind as I make my day-to-day choices: the CO2 equivalent emissions.

In fact, it’s very hard to pin this down to a precise number for many things, because of the complexity of them, so usually I’m trying be aware of which things are higher and which lower, which raise my carbon footprint and which reduce it. Of course, carbon footprint is not related to quality: it may well be that my quality of life would be higher if I did things which produced more carbon dioxide, and the global trend at the moment – which is for the poorest in society to produce the least CO2 – might lead us to think that, to a certain level at least, we should all be entitled to a carbon footprint.

There are three problems with this. One is that the carbon footprint of something represents a hidden cost, to the environment and to other people. (In particular, some of those who will be soonest and worst affected by climate change caused by CO2 and similar emissions will be among the poorest.) Another is that carbon emissions, like the use of many other resources, are hugely unequal in distribution. Individuals in countries like the UK take up much more than their fair share of the carbon footprint of the whole population of the world. The third is that my ‘fair share’, the amount to which in an ideal world I would like to reduce my carbon footprint, is actually not mine, but emitted on my behalf by the government.

In 2012 I became a vegan, not because I thought it would improve my quality of life (although the quality of my life and my food hasn’t suffered at all, as it happens), but because I was ready – called – to do something to lower my carbon footprint. I’ve written about this in the past, but the point here is that worrying about a number, a difficult-to-calculate removed-from-my-observation but nevertheless relevant number, was in fact a big part of my motivation.

And it remains so. As I contemplate my choices for the future – places to work, jobs to work in, places to live, ways to live, participation in society – I am intending to try and keep that number in mind and let it affect my choices. I think that’s the right way to go about this because the ultimate aim of both exercises, letting go of some numbers and trying to remain mindful of others, is about awareness: being aware of myself in the world and the way things are. If I dropped the idea of the carbon footprint, as I can drop some other numbers, I would lose track of it altogether. I can get feedback on, for example, the time in other ways – my body, the sky, other people. The effects of CO2 are so removed from me that without a number, I could ignore it altogether, and that has been one of the chief causes of the problem.

E is for… Environment

We tend, actually, to group our environmental concerns under the term ‘sustainability’, but I didn’t want to wait until then to write about them. (I note, too, that when I wrote about Environment last year I meant it in quite a difference way.) In my mind, my environmental position has four aspects, one for each of the four most commonly cited Testimonies: Truth, Equality, Peace, and Simplicity.

The first step on a journey to sustainability is to care about, find out about, and support further research into the Truth about the situation. This is composed of the many truths which scientists establish by observation and experiment. If you’re not familiar with this body of work, I recommend starting with NASA’s page of evidence. In a world in which some people have not yet faced up to this evidence, are in denial about it, or just not sure what to think (or think that a snow storm in Yorkshire in January is somehow evidence that the polar ice caps can’t be shrinking or the globe getting warmer overall), it’s important to be clear about the facts: climate change is happening and human beings bear responsibility.

In responding to climate change, some people’s first instinct is to look after themselves. I’ve seen Transition Towns groups (generally a good idea) who wanted to only include the middle-class part of town. I’ve heard it said that because climate change will cause starvation in other parts of the world, we should tighten up our asylum laws and make sure we don’t accept too many refugees. I’ve heard a lot of people propose what the rest of the world should do about climate change (‘it’s no good unless the Chinese shut down their factories’, ‘we need to educate Africans so they don’t have so many children’).

I think, however, that in we need to hold on to our ideal of Equality – front and centre, even when facing the potential disaster that is climate change. We need to look at what we can do, as individuals and as communities: whole communities, for preference. We are actually all interdependent, and we need people to stack our shelves and people to study geology (to pick two jobs recently in the news). We need hairdressers and telephone sanitizers. We need politicians, too. I find it sometimes helps to hold my elected representatives in the Light while I write to them.

I’ve already hinted, I think, at how a commitment to sustainability will need us also to be committed to Peace. We will need to create peace in our communities if we are to work together, and the conditions created by climate change may lead to outright war over resources if we are not careful. Using those resources wisely, and being seen to share them fairly, will help, but it may need more than that. It worries me that even my Quaker community struggles with conflict (I’m not worried about us having conflict, there are always going to be misunderstandings and personality clashes, but that we struggle to handle it constructively). No wonder the wider community can’t cope!

Finally, Simplicity is perhaps the Testimony which people most readily connect with our Sustainability Testimony. Living a simple life goes along with trying to live in a more environmentally friendly way… except when it doesn’t. Don’t get me wrong, I think that often it does. Downsizing can be a move towards sustainable living (but remember, speaking, as we were a few paragraph ago, of equality, that not everyone can downsize and some people urgently need to upsize). Being focussed on what is important in life can lead to more sustainable living. Refusing to buy things to keep up with the Jones family next door can lead to keeping your life within a more reasonable carbon footprint. Going vegan or ordering an organic vegetable box (oh, the middle-class privilege!) can make life simpler and also be in line with environmental commitments.

I’m not sure, though, that fitting solar panels is simpler. It’s probably a good idea if you own a suitable roof, and it’s a very visible green statement. It’s complicated, though – researching the options and deciding what to do, the science and construction of the panels themselves, studies of shade and light to see how well your roof will do. Once you’ve got them, the electricity bills get more complex, too. Actually, a lot of things in this example can be generalised: it’s complicated to work out how to eat in the most sustainable way possible (fairtrade or organic? local supermarket, deliveries, home grown? Tetrapak or plastic bottle?), let alone buy anything else (new book already in this country or a second hand copy posted from the USA? DVD or cinema ticket? will my granny cope with my idea of a green present?). The things we buy are themselves complicated (parts made in many places, and usually travelled all over the country if not the world).

I’ve sometimes wondered whether the simplest things will last longest – setting aside foodstuffs, tools with fewer moving parts are easier to repair and maintain. The problem is that some complicated things are really useful. But if simplicity is ‘not having anything extraneous to your purpose’ rather than ‘the absence of complexity’, we might be allowed to keep our laptops and our solar panels while we are using them and source them responsibly.

E is for… Environment

Some people think that you can only worship in a sacred space – a consecrated building, for example.

Some people think that nowhere is sacred – that you can worship anywhere (or that worship doesn’t work and you can’t really do it anywhere at all).

I’ve heard it argued that the concept of sacred space doesn’t help us protect the environment. If we focus on saving the bits we call ‘special’, we’ll miss out lots of other important parts.

I think everywhere is sacred.

There are some spiritual practices which involved being thankful for, or accepting of, everything around you, even when it might be a problem. If you can get caught out without an umbrella, and say, “Thank heavens for rain”, or feel pain and still say, “I accept my body fully as it is”, that’s amazingly powerful. (Note: I said it was powerful, and I called it a practice. I didn’t say it was easy, or that I manage to do it.)

Everywhere is sacred.

Forests are sacred.

Gardens are sacred.

Cracks in the pavement with dandelions growing in them are sacred.

Houses are sacred.

Community centres are sacred.

Church halls are sacred.

Mosques, churches, synagogues, temples, and all places built for worship are sacred.

Recycling points are sacred.

Car parks are sacred.

Landfills are sacred.

And by the time I’ve typed all that, the word ‘sacred’ no longer looks like a word at all. I don’t know what it means anymore – but this is what it means to me now: an object or place which should be valued for its inherent nature, taking into account its function, its place in the life of the community of all beings, and treated with respect.

For example: I wish we didn’t need so many landfills, but they are important to the life of the community in which I find myself. Like death, they tend to be hidden and taboo; like death, we might learn a lot from looking them in the eye. I try to treat my local landfill with respect, sending her only what really needs to go to her.

For example: I don’t live near a forest anymore, but I visit and support and love the woodlands I can reach. (Some are best supported if I stay away; rainforests must be beautiful and amazing, but flying to see one is counterproductive.) I find it easy to call a forest sacred, and hard to call a building sacred, and very hard to call a rubbish tip sacred, and yet it seems to me that this is what we need to do.