Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Rewards for polluters, prison for climate campaigners

Writing in the Guardian recently, Andrew Simms asks why climate campaigners are being given prison sentences instead of medals for their bravery and public service. What if, instead of giving Marie Curie and Alexander Fleming Nobel prizes for their life-saving work on radiation and penicillin, they'd been thrown in jail? It would be perverse to return the favour of great, public works by depriving people of their freedom. Yet that is just what we're doing in Britain right now according to Simms. The contributions of the people above were remarkable, but how much greater is the challenge of preserving a readily habitable climate, and how thankful should we be to those prepared to throw their life's energy and creativity at the task? Climate campaigners have long been parodied as sandal-wearing tree huggers, veggies, lefties, greens and portrayed by the media as trouble-causing protestors. At the same time, the all-powerful corporations have sought to pervert proper science and put pressure on researchers to produce results that support the notion of climate change being part of natural cycle. Scientists who have refused to tow the line have been ridiculed and their credibility questioned. Remember The Climatic Research Unit email controversy when an unknown group hacked into the University of East Anglia’s server, and copied thousands of emails and computer files to various locations on the Internet? [Read more]

Monday, 22 April 2013

Ethical investments

Ethical investments are about placing money according to morals and beliefs, not simply profit at any cost. However, that doesn't mean that you have to compromise on returns; just that the investments are made more selectively and avoid environmentally damaging practices, trade with oppressive regimes and countries with poor human rights records, gambling, tobacco companies and the arms industry. “To honestly achieve a sustainable economy, humanity must step through a paradigm shift, as profound as the transition in the sixteenth century, when Copernicus showed that the earth is not the centre of the universe. Likewise, ecology teaches us that humanity is not the centre of life on the planet. Just as the Pope's henchmen refused to look through Galileo's telescope, some economists avoid looking out the window to see what keeps humanity alive: photosynthesis, precious materials, and concentrated energy.” - Rex Weyler

Bailouts, bonuses and immoral practices: should I switch my bank?

It is quite remarkable that, despite outrage at banker bonuses, taxpayer bailouts, mis selling scandals, rate fixing, branch closures, PPI fines and broken cash points along with a seemingly endless list of unethical and immoral practices, people still choose to stay with their existing bank. And that tends to be one of the big four. If people are not motivated to switch banks now, when will they ever be? Perhaps it is general lack of awareness of ethical banking alternatives and the perceived hassle of switching accounts, direct debits and changing over cards and cheque books. In a way it is frustration versus apathy. How far do the big banks have to push us to cause large scale switching? Switching banks is now easier than ever and brings many benefits. The first obvious benefit is knowing that your money will not be used to fund unethical pursuits, profit at any cost type ventures. These include destruction of the rainforests, funding the arms trade, drugs lords and rogue states, fossil fuels, dirty coal and oil, child labour and so on. That in itself is a strong reason to switch. Secondly, it is a vote against the current banking culture and greedy banker bonuses. Without customers banks cannot exist, the big four cynically rely on spending huge sums on television advertising and customer apathy for survival. Banks such as Triodos have no bonus culture, invest solely in ethical projects and screen against non-ethical investments. The Coop Bank has an ethical charter and invests only in ethical funds. It is becoming a bigger player and starting to challenge the big four. Building societies too, tend to be more ethical in nature and are owned by members. There are many alternatives. Ask yourself the question, if you switched your bank away from one of the big four today do you think that you will switch back again one day because you miss their service and respect for customers?

The environmental cost of technology

Computers, tablets, mobile devices and hybrid car batteries. They all contain rare earth metals. By extension, everyday life in the Western world relies on these rare earth metals. But why should this pose a concern for the environment? Well, there are substantial environmental costs associated with the use of rare earth metals. In the first place the metals have to be extracted by mining and then purified. Mining can be a dirty business creating topsoil loss and pollution of waterways, requiring road building infrastructures and causing degradation of natural environments. Often, miners have to work under dangerous conditions for minimal pay with scant regard to health and safety. Then there is the disposal of technological machines and gadgets. Today, people tend not to repair older electronic equipment. Instead they discard it and buy the newest model. How many people keep their current mobile phone more than a few years? Discarded electronics typically end up in landfill sites, where they create their own pollution problems as rare earth metals and toxins gradually seep out into surrounding soil. True, some electronics do go to recycling facilities. However, there are many unscrupulous operators in the third world where workers are paid a pittance and exposed to hazardous elements as they strip down these electronics for re-use. The whole process inevitably creates pollution and makes people sick. The solution? Repair or at least retain, rather than replace. Ethically sourced supplies should be made more readily available, and the industry should be subject to more intense oversight. Eco-friendly replacements for rare earth metals do exist but that would entail cost increases for consumers. A price worth paying? Companies that outsource or import labour to exploit people should be publicly shamed for what they do, whether that labour is in mines or recycling centres.