The gulf between the green economy and me

When I was 17, I fancied myself as a bit of an environmental activist.  I was devastated by the devastation of the Amazon, and choked by the choking of the oceans with plastic.  I joined Greenpeace and got an activist’s pack, including a stencil which I dutifully cut out.

But that was about as far as it went. I never sprayed my stencil onto anything, never did any flyering, and never chained myself to any railings.  It would seem my sense of self-preservation was a little bit stronger than my cares for the World’s preservation.  I’m a little ashamed to admit that, but I don’t really believe I am alone.  If I was in the minority, maybe we wouldn’t have the environmental issues we do, and I would be admitting a much more heinous crime of selfishness.

Would everyone in my position admit such self-preservation?  Not without producing a few excuses: we didn’t know; we didn’t know what to do; we didn’t know how to make a difference.  Not everyone wants to hijack an oiltanker to make a difference, and they shouldn’t have to.  For us to be able to deal with the climatic and ecological changes to our planet today, the baton must be carried by more than the few, fierce, selfless activists, but by all – as a part of everyday life.

UNEP’s World Environment Day (5th June), will address this issue with this year’s theme: ‘Green Economy: Does it include you?’

Like the majority of people in the UK, I am not intimately involved in forming our country’s economic policy, but I am environmentally minded. But what are the opportunities for an ordinary person to be green, without being an activist?

So I thought I would assess my own greenness, eight years on from my Greenpeace days. What has slipped unnoticed into my world?

Light bulbs: When I get home each night, I go through the same ritual.  I switch on the light in my room, and then I go and do something else for 5 minutes.  Why?  Because my house has been imperceptibly infiltrated by energy-saving bulbs, producing a laughably small amount of light when switched on, and taking hours to ‘warm up’. Apart from this very minor, first-world irritation, energy saving bulbs are one of the triumphs of subversive green policy making.  Have you tried to buy a tungsten bulb recently?  They might as well be illegal, for the trouble you have to go to.  Low energy bulbs are now made easier on the eye and on the pocket, and are a shining beacon of successful, if small, steps to greenness.

Green Energy: Wind turbines!  What a wonderful way to make use of Britain’s prevailing southwesterlies.  Personally, I find wind farms some of the most graceful, beautiful and striking examples of green engineering, but they attract a surprising number of antagonists – mostly on ecological grounds (surprisingly not on grounds of impending invasion). But are we close to meeting renewable targets, or are we even trying? Can I have my own wind turbine? Please?

Sustainable and Organic: Many foods and products now proudly tote logos proclaiming their sustainability. The Red Tractor for British farms, and FSC for sustainable wood are both fairly ubiquitous in the marketplace, offering green alternatives at no expense or inconvenience.  The Organic revolution is still floundering though, with organic goods prohibitively expensive for all but the lavishly rich or the more pressingly green-conscious.

This is a pretty small list.  Although it could be made longer, it would begin to include options, like organic food, that require a strength of will, awareness, or purse, that most people don’t have time or inclination to invest in.

Does the Green economy include me?  A bit, I suppose, if you count my light-bulb ritual and my love of wind farms.  But until all unfriendly solutions go the quiet but definite way of the tungsten lightbulb, I won’t hold my breath for willing or active advocacy.

This blog post is submitted as an entry to the UNEP/WED blog competition.

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