Category: Guest blogs (page 1 of 2)

SPA takes itself to task on sustainability

Laura Westwood SPAThis week’s guest blog comes courtesy of Laura Westwood. Laura is an Internal Auditor within the Directorate of Strategy, Planning & Assurance.

(The views presented do not necessarily reflect those of King’s Sustainability.)


The last couple of months have seen a proliferation of posters and a new recycling bin in the Directorate of Strategy, Planning & Assurance.  Handily located at the tea point, the new bin makes each coffee break an unavoidable opportunity to do our bit – and we’ve additionally committed to using only eco-friendly coffee pods.

Before the bin arrived, we had to walk to the kitchen across the corridor to recycle waste.  Hardly an onerous task, I admit, but when one lunches al desko on rainy days, absent-mindedly favouring the nearest receptacle can become a habit.  I have rescued several stray banana skins from the floor under my desk this week, as I habituate to our personal bin ‘cull’!

When our Directorate Sustainability Champion, Sian, came to the Internal Audit team meeting, the information she shared with us showed that some of the choices we make with good intentions may in fact be ill-informed.  I had been convinced that rinsing my cup under the tap was preferable to leaving it in the dishwasher, but Sian explained that if we avoid using sinks and run one dishwasher cycle per day, our energy efficiency will improve.

My personal good news story is that, confronted with the information on one of our new office posters that King’s produces ten tons of waste each day, I logged into Papercut for the first time and resolved to curtail my printing activities.  I find it much easier to absorb information when I read it on paper, but I’ve made a concerted effort.  My first zero-printing week occurred this month, and I hope for many more.

The next step for the Strategy, Planning & Assurance sustainability team is to advance our ideas for contributing to the local community.  Talks are underway with local organisations to build on the success of previous years’ clothing collections by welcoming homeless guests for a hearty meal served by King’s staff and students.   New and nearly new clothing and accessories are planned to be collected and displayed in ‘retail’ style, so that guests can browse at leisure and select pieces to take away.

All in all, the drive for sustainability in SPA has pushed me to fully accept my duty to demonstrate sustainable behaviours at work.  However insignificant our individual ‘oops’ moments may seem amongst an 8000-strong staff population, they add up to serious environmental impact.  I can no longer gloss over my environmental footprint, because with Sian’s help, it has been laid out in front of me – and I’m thankful for that.

Laura Westwood is an Internal Auditor within the Directorate of Strategy, Planning & Assurance. 

Sustainability Champions- Culture at King’s

This weeks guest blog comes courtesy of Culture at Kings, who tell us about some of the great initiatives they have been carrying out over the last few months as well as their upcoming sustainability plans.

“If you know where to look, you can find many great green initiatives at King’s. There’s an Urban Garden Project, a Cycling Club and there’s even talk of having a bee hive on the roof of the Strand building. It’s fantastic to see how many people across the University are concerned with the environment and we at Culture at King’s wanted to be a part of that of course, so we signed up to the Sustainability Champions scheme with a team of six.

We worked through our workbook and ticked the boxes for a greener office: printing double-sided, wearing jumpers instead of turning up the heating, drinking Fairtrade tea, and shutting down equipment that’s not in use. But soon we started to change things in our personal routines as well. We realised we were eating less meat, we wouldn’t buy products with excessive wrapping, at least two of us have a 4-minute-shower-challenge timer, and we started bringing spare fruit and veg into the office to share with colleagues to reduce our food waste.

Plant-cultureStella Toonen signed up to receiving a bagful of organic vegetables every week, an initiative run by PhD student Roger Hallam in the CMCI department to offer an alternative to buying groceries from supermarkets. Yvonne Castle attended a Bee Hotel Workshop led by Urban Bees, a free event which was part of the Northbank Festival. She made a little bamboo hotel for solitary bees and learnt lots about the different types of bees pollinating London flora. And Kate Dunton helped out at her local organic community allotment and planted bee-friendly flowering herbs in her own garden.

So with all the support we received from colleagues we decided we could take it a bit further and started organising bigger awareness initiatives. We set up an ‘Air Con Free Fridays’ pilot in the office for July and August, which is going very well. And we’re planning to organise a ‘Buy British Week’, in which we encourage staff to buy products grown close to home and celebrate their achievements with a picnic on the last day of the week.

Staff enjoying the breeze at our first Air Con Free Friday

Staff enjoying the breeze at our first Air Con Free Friday

It looks like we’ve got exciting ‘green’ things coming up, and (perhaps subconsciously) our work across King’s also seems to include some great initiatives too. Our Science Gallery London team at Guy’s campus has been promoting the benefits of eating insects through our Fed Up season about food, and as part of our Cultural Institute’s Utopia 2016 season we’re already having great conversations with artists about visualising a perfectly sustainable world. As Sustainability Champions we’d like to think we had something to do with it.”

A Clash of Titans: The Principal’s Debate on fossil fuel divestment

[This guest post comes courtesy of Justin Fisher, a former Masters student and alumni member of KCL Fossil Free. The views presented do not necessarily reflect those of King’s Sustainability]

Last Wednesday marked an important day for King’s as President and Principal Ed Byrne hosted his first Principal’s Debate. This was in response to King’s Fossil Free campaign, which has for more than a year been increasing support for its motion asking the College to divest Debate_Pic_1itself from the fossil fuel industries. For those who have not followed the progress of the campaign, it really kicked off in October with the submission of a 1200 signature petition to the university administration. While that number has since increased to over 1400, the university finally declined the divestment option formally in mid-February. However, much to King’s credit, the Principal’s Debate went ahead as scheduled, and it made for a most lively and engaging evening, and further demonstrated the scope of the passionate support for divestment at King’s.

The question at hand was, ‘Is divestment from fossil fuel companies a useful policy tool to bring about action on climate change?’ Representing the College on the ‘no’ side were King’s VP of Research & Innovation Chris Mottershead and King’s Professor of Climate & Culture Mike Hulme. Speakers on the ‘yes’ side included Mark Campanale, co-founder of the Carbon Tracker Initiative, and Mark Horowitz, a PhD candidate in neuroscience at King’s and one of the initiators of King’s divestment campaign. Each speaker was allowed to make their case before fielding questions from the audience and making some final rebuttals.

Chris Mottershead has been in close contact with the campaign for months, and it was to him that the petition was given back in October. Interestingly, Mottershead has spent the majority of his career working for BP, and he has perhaps unsurprisingly been weary of endorsing divestment at King’s. In his remarks he focused attention on the role of governments in owning and controlling the majority of carbon reserves, seemingly trying to make the case that fossil fuel companies are not the ones driving fossil fuel extraction, and the role of consumer demand. He was also careful to focus on the global need for fossil fuels, and reiterated time and again the need for consistency in the ways King’s invests. However, he admitted that he does not believe that King’s has any current investments in renewables. One of the most powerful concessions of the debate came when an audience member bluntly confronted Mottershead with the question of whether his three decades of experience working with BP created a conflict of interest with the divestment question. Mottershead responded that it ‘probably’ did. He also compromised his position when he claimed, late in the debate, that fossil fuel companies don’t actually have much political power, which drew loud jeers from the audience. Clearly the crowd was not buying what Mottershead was selling, though few would deny the importance of government action. Indeed, that is one of the primary aims of the divestment campaign.

Professor Hulme proved a welcome and intriguing addition to the panel. A Nobel-laureate for his work with the IPCC, his experience working with climate change is beyond question, and his academic approach to the topic provided a lot of interesting debate and easily provoked the majority of the questions from the audience. Hulme carefully explained the importance of economic development in the poor world and technological innovation in mitigating the worst impacts of climate change, and continually reiterated that reducing the question of climate change to carbon emissions is an oversimplification. He offered a reminder of the range of challenges brought about by climate change, and explained why he preferred a broad approach with multiple targets. He was also fixated on the semantics of the question, as he reiterated time and again that he did not believe that divestment was a useful policy tool, nor did he believe that it would bring about what he believed to be the necessary range of actions to address the myriad problems posed by a rapidly changing climate. However, when he eventually conceded that divestment may well be a useful tool for social mobilisation, there was a noticeable buzz of excited exasperation from the crowd. Indeed, it seems as though few of Hulme’s points were incompatible with the aims of the fossil free campaign, and he did offer an important reminder of the complexity and diversity of the issue.

Mark Campanale offered a level and analytical approach to the question, which is not surprising given his role in helping to found the Carbon Tracker Initiative. It was Carbon Tracker that first coined the term ‘carbon bubble’ and explained its implications; if the world takes action to limit global warming to below 2°C, in any form, then as much as 80% of Debate_pic_2known carbon reserves will be left in the ground. Given that fossil fuel companies are valued largely on the reserves they hold, these so-called ‘stranded assets’ would rapidly sink such companies and lead to a crisis similar to that when the US housing bubble burst in 2008, only far worse. That bubble was worth a staggering $2.8 trillion. The value of the carbon bubble? An unfathomable $28 trillion. Campanale explained carefully the financial folly in continuing to invest in companies whose future projects are all but guaranteed to lose money, providing a sound financial case for divestment.

Mark Horowitz was the final speaker and he made the most of his time, deftly covering a range of issues from scientific projections of the effects of increased carbon emissions to the advent of grid parity in much of the poor world (where renewable power has become a more affordable option than fossil fuels) to the political obstruction of fossil fuel companies undermining climate regulations. He patiently explained that the position of the campaign is not a radical one; rather, that of companies’ intent on burning far more carbon than is known to be compatible with life on this planet is as radical as it gets. He offered an impassioned and logical approach and against Mottershead and Hulme’s assertions that fossil fuel companies provide a social good, asked at what point does the negative begin to outweigh the positive, bringing about the need for a change in the balance of power? Horowitz asserted that perhaps the decades of experience on the other side of the table had fostered a complacency towards the status quo when what is needed more than ever are fresh perspectives.

The most engaging part of the evening were the audience questions that came after each speaker made their case, some of which have been alluded to above, which lasted for more than an hour. The general mood of the room was encapsulated in an assertion from an audience member that they had no doubt that King’s would eventually divest, and the real question was whether it was going to be a leader or a laggard. Indeed, with other London universities such as SOAS and LSE setting formal processes to work on the question, King’s is already looking more like a follower than a global leader.

The debate ended with Ed Byrne asking the audience to show its support for one side or the other by way of applause. The thunderous racket in support of divestment, accompanied by a visual show of support with audience members holding the Fossil Free logo, boisterously summed up the excited pro-divestment sentiment of the crowd. The debate offered a tremendous platform for both sides to explain their stance, and a lot of genuinely useful dialogue was generated as a result. At the end, though, one could not help leaving feeling as though support for divestment is growing. It was good of King’s to participate in such an event, and we shall now wait and see how well the administration was listening.

Sustaining our climate: taking the initiative

[This week’s guest blog comes courtesy of Joanna Peasland, a first-year Geography undergraduate. The views presented do not necessarily reflect those of King’s Sustainability]

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2nd October 2014. Copenhagen, Denmark. The IPCC Synthesis Report is released.

The Guardian’s article: “IPCC: rapid carbon emission cuts vital to stop severe impact of climate change” contextualises this latest release of the Panel’s current state of affairs with regards to global environmental change with an unambiguous sense of urgency.

The overriding message is not a new one, but demands to be received with more gravity than it has previously: the effects of climate change are becoming increasingly pervasive, and pose irreversibly dangerous risks unless we reduce carbon emissions to zero and rapidly integrate sustainable energy sources into society. Moreover, the technological and the economic feasibility of switching to alternative sources of energy is now being justified by this united global voice in preparation for much anticipated climate talks in Paris next year.

It goes without saying that release of the most comprehensive report on climate change since 2007 has pushed this environmental issue to the forefront of media coverage. Governments, institutions and populations are divesting in fossil fuels and investing in renewables. This ultimately has one of the two consequences for the future: our planet will descend further toward catastrophic changes or it will benefit from the mitigation of such changes. What follows is a selection of some of the items that have caught my eye during the first semester of the academic year – paved with problems but equal promise. They highlight some of the more ambitious movements towards a revolution in energy policy and a more sustainable future, at a time – seemingly to me –  when the debate about global climate change has never been so exhilarating!

Wind power

Browsing through various newspapers’ online ‘environment’ sub-sections led me to an inspiring read on Denmark’s progression in transforming their energy economy in the New York Times by Justin Gillis; A Tricky Transition From Fossil Fuel: Denmark Aims for 100 Percent Renewable Energy. Gillis discusses the feasibility of the country’s target of eliminating fossil fuels from the energy mix by 2050: a goal which really does set the benchmark for carbon emissions reductions worldwide. This is a country where already, more than 40% of their grid is fed by renewables. These targets however, do not come without their costs. I picked up on one point in particular: Gillis writes of a somewhat imposing ceiling on the Danes’ smooth sailing to sustainable success – the economics of it all. Intermittent wind power makes the country potentially extremely vulnerable, therefore some traditional power plants are favoured as a support system in the event of a blackout that are propped up with various subsidies. These power companies cannot sustain this because their profits will eventually stagnate. International imports of energy bring additional predicaments in the form of the simple ‘ripple effect’ of relying too heavily on outside sources and a potential monopoly game that could play out with increasingly asymmetric power relations. As Gillis suggests, a re-design of the workings of the energy market is required. Perhaps this is as important as the switch to renewables itself. Much like new models of manufactured goods, its accessories, its ‘supporting infrastructure’, must adapt and progress also in order to harmonise with changes of the product itself.

It would be foolish not to mention the agreement pledged by Mr Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping, aiming to reduce carbon emissions below 1990 levels back in November. A deal well received by a wider community; US climate negotiators (apparently) received great applause for it during the climate talks at Lima in early December. Tim McDonnell’s piece for Climate Desk –  Obama’s Deal With China Is a Big Win for Solar, Nuclear and Clean Coal – offers a useful appraisal. China is now compelled to firmly hold its place as the world’s frontrunner of the renewable energy sector, through a requirement to source an amount of energy equivalent to the entire electricity grid of the States, entirely from renewables by 2030, as it now has commercial backing from the US. Coupled with caps on emissions and further cuts in the US, this progression will clearly be mutually beneficial for both countries and for the greater good of the environment.

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An implication of the new deal is undeniably the eventual rise of cost for the US as a net energy importer as the stock prices of solar power will escalate as it is integrated into China (exactly when and how much by is largely undefined as of yet). But, to grossly oversimplify the situation, the US has now publicised its seemingly increased support for China’s technological advancements, thus the optimist in me is hopeful for the future energy relations between the two powerhouses. With massive carbon capture and sequestration and nuclear plans also on the agenda, McDonnell writes of the hoped geopolitical ease of this deal relative to global scale, legalistic treaties.

Of course, there is internal contention brewing within Congress. Appropriately dubbed ‘climate deniers’, Republicans have reacted badly as their bone of contention claiming that China is unwilling to take steps to cutting emissions has all but been demolished in the wake of news of the talks. The Guardian writes of the backlash such as threats to implement continual legislative walls to Obama’s green promises by the likes of Republican speaker of the House John Boehner. There is certainly no easy route to changing the national behaviour and organisation of the US energy system, to put it lightly.

As I write, the year (2014) is drawing to a close yet anticipation for change is hanging high. News of daily developments flood my social media timelines as leaders in governance from all corners of the globe have spent two weeks negotiating climate at the UN 20th Conference of the Parties in Lima, Peru. The Green Climate Fund has reached its first milestone with vast contributions from both some of the most advanced and emerging economies alike. Even Australian leader, Tony Abbot, pledged 200 million dollars (AUS). The fund is a “start” to addressing the problematic relationship between developing nations and exploitation of fossil fuels, writes The Climate Reality Project activism blog. My question is how exactly it will be distributed and who will be the most favoured recipients of this fortune?

Does the hype surrounding such global efforts cloud worrying developments that directly combat sustainable initiatives? In the UK, George Osborne’s autumn statement favoured advancing the dreaded Shale Gas industry, granting 31 million pounds of taxpayers’ money for research drilling and an additional few million on “public engagement” writes Damien Carrington for The Guardian. Burying our heads in the sand, for better use of a cliché, and pursuing ‘less conventional’ fossil fuel route is neither clever nor safe – on many levels.

North Sea oil rig

An issue this pervasive is bound to leave me ignorant to the great complexities of the political and economic implications of these crucially needed sustainable initiatives. Rush the transition to renewables and entire industries come crashing down, not to mention the jobs within them, yet must we accept that sacrifice to some degree may be inevitable however we approach it? Problems are likely to greet us at every corner. However, these simple but beautifully witty and fiercely blunt words of Dr. Guy McPherson stay with me and reaffirm my attitude: “if you really think the economy is more important than the environment, trying counting your money while holding your breath”. The pragmatism being, of course, that climate change could not be more inconvenient to the economy. But it is this very inconvenience that makes it most certainly in our long-term interests to transform our energy habits. And transform we must.

– Joanna Peasland (joanna.peasland@hotmail.co.uk)

Photograph: Danny Lawson/PA, United States Government, Hakan Dalhstrom, UNISDR Gallery

A journey around the Dark Mountain

[This week’s guest post comes courtesy of the Sustainability team’s own Justin Fisher, who recently completed an MA in Science, Technology & Medicine in History. It is a guest post because he didn’t write it at work. The views presented do not necessarily reflect those of King’s Sustainability. See?]

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The beautiful Vol. 6. Photo credit: dark-mountain.net

Recently I had the good fortune to attend the launch of Dark Mountain Vol. 6 at Farringdon’s Free Word Centre. If you’ve not heard of the Dark Mountain project before, you’d be forgiven. Project co-founder Dougald Hine quipped at the event that when he asks people how they found Dark Mountain the answer is typically: ‘Well, it was late at night, and I was on the internet…’ Dougald admitted that this is exactly how he came to know the project’s other founder, Paul Kingsnorth, and I can confirm that this was the case for myself one night last December. It all might sound rather sinister. Launched a little over five years ago with a manifesto entitled ‘Uncivilisation’, Kingsnorth and Hine explicitly reject the dominant narratives of our society and are trying to facilitate the creation of new ones. Dark Mountain has become a powerful collective of artists and writers aggressively exposing the absurdities and contradictions of how modern society frames its relationship to nature. Above all else, it is showing the power of words and images in framing how we interpret and understand the world, and our place within it. They’re trying to tell new stories. They’re trying to destroy the ‘myths’ that sustain our society and drive our present crises: growth, progress, nature and civilisation. ‘We tried ruling the world; we tried acting as God’s steward, then we tried ushering in the human revolution, the age of reason and isolation. We failed in all of it, and our failure destroyed more than we were even aware of. The time for civilisation is past.’ Harsh words, indeed. But, are these not harsh times?

Before moving to London a little over a year ago I was broadly concerned about a number of environmental issues, and I made a conscious effort to do my part and encourage others to do theirs in reducing the environmental impacts of our lifestyles. I did the usual things like ditching my car for my bike, championing recycling and composting and ensuring that all lights and computers were turned off at work after every shift. But true change was surely beyond my grasp and not even on my radar. I was a History graduate working at a bookshop, not a climate scientist. As far as I was concerned, and as silly as it sounds to me now, environmentalism was a thoroughly scientific endeavour – one that I was deeply interested in, but not one that I could do very much about. And that was okay because I had some great scientifically-minded people in my life to take care of it. All I had to do was worry about it.

Then I began my MA at King’s last autumn, and, given my sympathies, the first module I enrolled in was environmental history. I had never encountered this before and was intrigued by what it might entail, and I quickly discovered what an important role the arts and humanities have to play in confronting the problems that we face. It was revelatory. I began to realise that as important as the science is, stories are equally so as they completely inform the way we interact with the world around us. One of the jobs of environmental history is to scrutinise these stories; to frame, un-frame and re-frame them; to examine how we have affected and been affected by our surroundings and what has driven that interaction. Finally, I felt like I had a place in this struggle, a way in, an angle that I understood. Graphs are great – I have some scientist friends who are giddy at the sight of them. But they don’t quite do it for me; I like words.

Dark Mountain

Photo credit: dark-mountain.net

Dark Mountain, as I understand it, is all about words. And images. And sounds. It’s about casting off our assumptions, our pretenses and our underlying denial. It’s about re-framing our world. And it asks really tough questions. In an intriguingly titled article published by Orion magazine in 2012, ‘Confessions of a Recovering Environmentalist’, Kingsnorth took aim specifically at modern environmentalism, and especially its focus on ‘sustainability’. He asserted that sustainability, as it is commonly thrown about, ‘means sustaining human civilization at the comfort level that the world’s rich people—us—feel is their right, without destroying the “natural capital” or the “resource base” that is needed to do so.’ He went further:

This is business-as-usual: the expansive, colonizing, progressive human narrative, shorn only of the carbon. It is the latest phase of our careless, self-absorbed, ambition-addled destruction of the wild, the unpolluted, and the nonhuman. It is the mass destruction of the world’s remaining wild places in order to feed the human economy. And without any sense of irony, people are calling this “environmentalism.”

I have struggled with that article ever since reading it. It’s hard to not take what Kingsnorth says straight to the heart. But, here I am, working for the Sustainability team. And so I sympathise too with George Monbiot, a friend of Kingsnorth’s who has been openly critical of Dark Mountain and what he interprets to be climate-defeatism. In fact, I have an abundant amount of hope for what this crisis means for humanity and our world, despite the powerful interests in opposition, seeing it as an opportunity to completely shape our future – an opportunity that doesn’t come around often. It’s beyond clear that the way we operate cannot continue, and we undoubtedly need to figure out how to live sustainably. But it is indeed important to question what narrative is driving that push for sustainability. Is it a desire for business as usual, minus the carbon? If so, then Kingsnorth has nailed it – it’s a futile exercise. If, however, it’s taken as an opportunity to re-orient our understanding of the world, and of our place in it, then there is plenty to be hopeful for.

So yes, the science is clear. And it’s very scary. Yet we still hesitate to change. What’s the missing link? The stories we tell – of growth and development, of humans and nature – must have something to do with it. What does this mean on an individual level? I’m not entirely sure yet, but I suppose to start with it means questioning the stories that are driving my own life. It means asking what is truly most important to me, and what I can do about that. It means not accepting that there is only one way forward, but many choices ahead.

I think it means we can change.

– Justin Fisher (justin.fisher@kcl.ac.uk)

Educating Green Change

[This week’s guest post comes courtesy of Emily Shovlar, a third-year English Language & Literature student and enthusiastic EcoSoc member. The views presented do not necessarily reflect those of King’s Sustainability]

Let’s call this post, in honour of one of the organisations it features, ‘a story of things going right’.

That’s how the 10:10 project’s website describes the hashtag it created. #Itshappening is a Twitter treasure trove of sustainable action, mostly in the uplifting form of smiling primary school children and their new solar panels. It’s also a story of community efforts to combat climate change and progress towards a green future. What better way, then, for the Environment Society at King’s (EcoSoc) to show its rapidly increasing numbers and momentum than by hosting a panel event entitled ‘#Itshappening: how educators and organisations are bringing about green change’?

On 25th November, EcoSoc gathered in the Franklin-Wilkins Building to have our hearts and minds made brighter by five brilliant speakers. We assembled a hot water machine, organic fair-trade tea and biscuits, rows of chairs, the speakers and ourselves. It was our second panel event of the semester, and there was a general feeling that we were getting rather good at this. The stage was set for inspiration.

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Mal’s enthusiastic arm span

The first speaker, tying perfectly in with #itshappening, was from the 10:10 project itself: Malachi Chadwick, its Communications Manager. Mal, his arm span enthusiastically growing with every statistic, described his work with the Solar Schools project, as documented on Twitter, in which 10:10 organises crowdfunding for primary schools to buy solar panels. There are now 66 ‘solar schools’ in Britain, funded by over £430,000 of community donations, with places for 20 new schools each year. The project is a success not only for the schools, some of which are entirely self-sufficient for power on sunny days, but for the whole community. Mal told us that 70% of online donors said the project made them feel part of a community, and that 45% of volunteers were keen to take part in more community projects afterwards. Even better, he pointed out that of the people who volunteer with the solar schools, 71% have changed their behaviours to save energy, and 29% have installed renewable energy in their own homes. By the time he got to these galvanising statistics, Mal’s arms were as uplifted as his audience.

This development of community is vital to sustainability: it’s all about localising, not globalising. It seems obvious to start with the education system if we want to instil green thinking, since, as Mal rightly said, schools are at the heart of their communities and connect to hundreds of adults and children alike.

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The inspiring David Dixon, sustainable headteacher

Our second speaker expressed this connection from his own position within education. David Dixon is Head of Mulgrave Primary in Woolwich, a deprived and highly multicultural school. He is a truly inspirational headteacher: under his care the school has improved its Ofsted ratings, encouraged more community cohesion (especially after the nearby Lee Rigby incident in 2013) and embarked on a curriculum of Education for Sustainable Development (ESD). More impressive still, he completed a doctorate while Headteacher, focusing on a ‘green leadership model’. He asked: what do leaders of sustainable primary schools have in common? He found: they had childhoods immersed in nature, they had strong communities and support networks, they were confident and go-getting and were happy to be disruptive to the education system. David feels strongly that “Improving the understanding of the connections between nature, a man made world and social justice is the way to develop less destructive citizens”. His work on ESD lets children choose how they live, and think about what it means to be a green individual.

Third up was Yolanda Barnas. She was a special invite from EcoSoc’s own Annie, whom she taught in her role as Languages teacher at the Ellen Wilkinson School for Girls in west London. Passionate like all the best teachers, she showed us the outdoor classroom she’d created at the school, from a semi-landfill wasted space, and described her efforts over the years to make the school greener. These included a wildlife garden in a little-used space against a school building, and a silver sustainability award for the school’s travel arrangements. What she really showed us, at King’s, was how one diligent person can transform an organisation or even a system. Her efforts might be small-scale, in that they only affect one school, but the sustainability movement is founded upon such green-minded individuals who change their own communities. Her dedication is exactly what we all need.

After Ms Barnas came Simon Goldsmith, Head of Sustainability at the University of Greenwich. Greenwich is brilliant at sustainability: this is recognised by its awards including Outstanding Contribution to Sustainable Development, and by its top-ten position in the university Green League for the last five years. His stance is that since universities are brimming with future citizens, it’s vital to embed sustainability within them (EcoSoc couldn’t agree more). Simon, like Mal, offered an armful of brilliant statistics: Greenwich has reduced its carbon footprint by 22% since 2005 and plans to cut it by a further 40% by 2020. It’s installed 200 solar panels in student accommodation, and put power-down software on every single one of its computers. For those of us who took part in the King’s Blackout, switching off hundreds of unused computers, the last statistic in particular is a worthy goal.

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Simon Goldsmith sharing Greenwich’s sustainability secrets and plans for the future

Speaking of King’s, our final speaker was Tom Yearley, our very own Energy Manager, who featured recently on this blog. He only joined King’s in September but admits happily that his ultimate joy would be leaving the job, because King’s had woven sustainability into its ethos to such an extent that Tom became surplus. He gave us his vision for the coming years: student workgroups on sustainability, to make sure our voices cohere with his own plans; and large grants to improve efficiency in what is, we’re painfully aware, an un-green place of study.

Tom is guaranteed to encounter EcoSoc again, even more than the other four speakers – but it was a true privilege for us to encounter them all at once, in an evening of inspiration which confirmed all we hope to do to make ourselves, King’s, London and the UK greener. It was sustainably grown and articulately honed food for thought, and it was most certainly ‘a story of things going right’.

– Emily Shovlar (emily.shovlar@kcl.ac.uk)

Tales of an Aspiring Sustainable Citizen

[This week’s guest blog comes courtesy of Robert Zlokower, a MSc student in Sustainable Cities. The views presented do not necessarily reflect those of King’s Sustainability]
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Humble beginnings

The rainy monsoon season.

This was when the ancient ‘sangha’ – as the Buddhist community was and still is called – would settle down, coming together in huts or shelters to meditate and study together.

We are like them. The rainy season marked a change in the climate. And the settlement is like our campus. But rather than paralyse from fear or deny the climate, the sangha used it as a time to grow together. The same applies to today.

Climate change is the best thing to happen to humanity.

At no other time have we had such a clear knowledge of our potential apocalypse than now. When past speculations may have been based on visions and scriptures, today’s predictions are based on scientific evidence. So we really know what we’re up against.

So too do we know the solution: a society based on sustainable principles and technology. A society based not on war, but on working together for the common good. Technology that we actually already have, but just hasn’t been diffused enough yet. The sun’s increasing UV rays are actually a golden chance for humanity to band together. In order to save ourselves, we must commit to the biggest act of selflessness – that is saving nature.

This obstacle is an opportunity.

The 1968 photo of Earth from space ignited consciousness of humanity as ‘global’ and fuelled environmental movements. For sustainability, action is taken not only on a global scale, but also at national, city, community and citizen-levels. To be completely upfront, I’m only in the humble beginnings of sustainable citizenship. My desire started out of frustration when I went to B&Q home supply a few years ago to get a solar-PV panel for my shed, and the staff replied, “a what panel?” I was working in media at the time, managing a forum for the world’s opinion-leaders to debate sustainability, climate change and dwindling resources. I wanted to put these global problems into practical on-the-ground solutions.

Much of my activity is actually daydreaming. Any D-I-Y I undertake generally results in excessive man hours made up of swearing and broken timber (both accidental and purposeful). And as an impoverished student, I can barely afford a discounted pint at the student union, let alone investment in low-carbon technologies. Still, I’ve been inspired to have a go, so at least that’s a start. Here’s what I’m personally looking into as an aspiring sustainable citizen….

The boat life

I recently moved off-grid onto a narrowboat in the canal. I cruise along the Regents Canal and Lea River.

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The rooftop solar-PV array

I had the boat fitted with solar photovoltaic panels to charge my on-board batteries. This in turn powers my lights (mainly LED), water-pump and most appliances. To conserve energy, I try to keep to 12-volt appliances, and I leave my fridge off in the winter (I cool perishables either next to my water tank or on my deck). I periodically take on board drinking water from water points along the canal. I’d like to look into collecting and filtering rainwater from my roof. So with limited electric and water on board, I need to be consciously frugal with my resources. Or use my resources wisely – for example, when I cruise the boat, the engine heats the water tank, so it’s the perfect opportunity to later take a shower and wash the dishes.

My engine, apparently the same as in a London taxi, runs off of diesel. At some point, I’d like to explore an alternative fuel, for example used Cooking Oil. In the meantime, every time I run the generator for a high wattage appliance, I’m reminded by the noise and fumes that I’m sucking up fossil fuels. When you turn on your electric iron, are you aware that a power plant somewhere in the distance is guzzling up in 2 and a half minutes a finite resource that took a 2 and half million years to produce?

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And the beautiful rooftop garden

For heat, I have a solid-fuel stove. I collect wood chips for kindling from the rubbish heap of a woodcutter at a local hardware store. And I saw spare wood from a local city farm in exchange for volunteering as a gardener. The volunteer work also garnered me a discount with the locally-sourced vegetable service.

I got a composting toilet fitted, so I don’t need water to flush and I can convert the waste to fertilizer. I also have bokashi bins to compost food waste. Eventually I would like to use these wastes to fertilize the canal towpath or my garden on the rooftop, where I also store my bicycle (Btw, King’s College buildings have showers, which helps after long-distance cycling!). I’d like to explore building a small chicken-coup into the front deck of the boat.

Living the canal life means I’m usually surrounded by nature – marshes, woodland, fields, swans, geese, ducks, fish. It helps me as a city-dweller appreciate planet earth. And without a TV on board, I’m no longer brainwashed from TV commercials to buy useless junk that wouldn’t even fit in my little abode anyway!

I’m interested in applying for a mooring at a sustainable narrowboat community in a basin in East London. In the meantime, due to canal regulations I must change moorings every 2 weeks, which actually pushes me to explore a different neighbourhood every time (perfect for a KCL geography student such as myself!).

My goal with this boat is to get as close as possible to being an off-grid self-sufficient microcosm. I also own a house in East London that I’m renting out, but I eventually would like to convert it into a carbon-neutral bed & breakfast – replete with solar-PV panels and batteries, rainwater collection, composting toilet and composting boxes in an urban garden and whatever else I can do to make it off-grid like the narrowboat. A friend warned me I should watch out that someone might steal my ideas. I say bless the thief! If he can kick-start some sustainability quicker than me, then my hat’s off to him!

I’m inspired by Dick & James Strawbridge’s “Practical Self Sufficiency: The Complete Guide to Sustainable Living.” But to be honest, I really could do with a bit of help! At least it’s an opportunity to make some friends and have fun getting creative.

Sitting here in the boat typing this blog post, the rain pattering my steel rooftop, I’m reminded of the sangha, settling from sweeps of rain splashing their huts. I look out my window; a swan floats along night-time waters. Does the swan think about climate change the same way I do? Does she realise it’s a chance for unselfishness, compassion, camaraderie and fun?

The swan dunks her head into the water.

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– Robert Zlokower (robert.zlokower@gmail.com)

Gorilla Warfare: conservation in warzones

[Our second weekly guest blog comes courtesy of Richard Milburn, a PhD student in the Department of War Studies. The views presented do not necessarily reflect those of King’s Sustainability]

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Eastern Lowland Gorillas in Kahusi-Biega National Park. Picture courtesy of the Pole Pole Foundation, a Congolese charity working to protect eastern lowland gorillas in the DRC and promote the sustainable development of surrounding communities (www.polepolefoundation.org)

Many of the world’s most iconic and endangered wildlife species are affected by war: tigers by ongoing insecurities in Assam, India; snow leopards by conflict in Afghanistan; and elephants and rhinos falling victim to conflicts all over sub-Saharan Africa. The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), where wars of different intensities have raged for the last two decades and which remains insecure to this day, is home to the Mountain Gorillas, the rare Okapi gazelle, the Bonobo and the world’s second largest tropical rainforest after the Amazon. Even outside of warzones, the effects or organised criminal poaching for the illegal wildlife trade is causing large losses of wildlife and creating insecurity for the people living around those animals, a situation which is perhaps best exemplified by rhino poaching in South Africa.

While war can be very damaging for wildlife and the environment as a whole, it can also be a most effective form of conservation. Areas such as the Korean Demilitarised Zone, where humans fear to tread, have become de-facto nature preserves. In such places, peace is more of a danger to the environment than war, for when peace comes intensive resource extraction often follows both to rebuild nations in the aftermath of war and to exploit previously inaccessible resources.

In spite of the many links between conservation and war, it remains an often overlooked topic. To help address this, the Marjan Centre for the Study of Conflict and Conservation was established in the War Studies Department. In addition to publishing articles and offering an MA module on this topic, the centre holds regular talks delivered by conservation and conflict experts and experienced practioners, and each year presents the Marjan-Marsh Award, in partnership with the Marsh Christian Trust, to an exceptional conservationist working in a region of armed conflict.

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War-damaged gorilla statue in Bukavu, DRC. Picture courtesy of the Pole Pole Foundation

Outside of the College, November 6th has also been set aside by the UN as the International Day for Preventing the Exploitation of the Environment in War and Armed Conflict to highlight the damaging effects of war on the environment, such as: the use of the defoliant Agent Orange in Vietnam; the burning of oil wells in Iraq and Kuwait; and the ongoing impacts of war on the environment around the world, which are summarised in a very good recent article by the Guardian. Work is also underway to try to establish ‘ecocide’ as a war crime, and to generally improve the protection of the environment during times of war.

For those interested in conservation, protecting the environment during and after war is critically important. While arguments about the moral case for protecting the environment during war are often presented, these arguments regularly fall on deaf ears. Given the toll of human suffering as a result of war, arguing for the preservation of the environment can be difficult. For instance, around 5 million people have died as a result of war in the DRC over the last two decades, so dedicating resources to protecting gorillas or forests in that country might strike many people as a waste of resources. While the moral arguments for conservation are still valid, they are often not effective, and so more anthropocentric arguments need to be put forward, focusing on the importance of the environment as a threat to security and a tool for promoting post war recovery.

The loss and degradation of the environment undermines the natural resource base upon which many poor people in countries such as the DRC depend. Additionally, the sale of illegal ‘conflict-timber’ and ‘conflict-ivory’ may provide funds to actors in the conflict; Charles Taylor used conflict timber to finance the war in Sierra Leone and the illegal ivory trade has been linked to rebel and terrorist outfits such as the Lord’s Resistance Army and Al-Shabab. Further, since climate change has been identified as a ‘threat multiplier’ to international security, the preservation of large areas of forest in warzones, which act as carbon sinks, is vital.

While the exploitation and degradation of the environment may contribute towards armed conflict, it can also help to bring an end to war and support a resilient post war recovery.

‘Peace Parks’ are being established to support peacebuilding between countries previously at war. These are trans-border national parks where countries cooperate over their management and use that cooperation as a mechanism to help establish trust and create a platform for peacebuilding. Additionally, some ex-rebel soldiers are being given jobs as park rangers, helping to provide alternative jobs as part of the disarmament and reintegration process in the aftermath of war.

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Sunset over Lake Kivu, DRC. Picture courtesy of the author and the Pole Pole Foundation

The environment also provides a host of economic benefits. Forests help to anchor soil and improve its fertility, and also provide an array of valuable ecosystem services to support agriculture. Additional revenue may be generated from carbon offset schemes, such as the UN’s REDD+ scheme, that can generate millions of dollars for countries that protect their forests. Tourism may also provide revenue and improve the image of a country emerging from conflict.

However, in spite of the many potential threats to security and the support for post war recovery provided by the environment, it is important to stress its limitations.

The environment is rarely, if ever, a direct cause of conflict. Environmental loss and degradation may place stress on weak institutions and increase ethnic, religious or other divisions within society, but it will not cause conflict by itself. Additionally, illegal trades in wildlife and timber are rarely the sole, or even main, source of finance for actors in conflict; resources such as diamonds, gold and coltan that are easier to extract and transport and which have a higher value will tend to be more readily exploited.

Similarly, with post war recovery, Peace Parks have been shown to offer some benefits for peacebuilding, but this has usually occurred at a low level and not translated into broad-reaching effects. The economic benefits are also often intangible and difficult to generate revenue from. Ecosystem service valuation remains fraught with difficulty and is often poorly understood by people on the ground. Tourism takes time to establish, and even a well-established industry can be destroyed by any renewed outbreak of conflict or a fear of insecurity.

Clearly, then, conservation is not the main issue in warzones. However, it is still an important component of the causes of war and the processes required to build peace. Effective conservation work can reduce the likelihood of conflict breaking out, prevent exploitation of the environment to fund conflict and help promote post war recovery. The key is to ensure that the value of the environment is realised and that it is seen as a core component of preventing war and promoting peace.

– Richard Milburn (richard.milburn@kcl.ac.uk)

King’s College London – An Unlikely Setting for a Superhero Showdown

[Our first weekly guest blog comes courtesy of Fossil Free KCL, a student-led campaign urging King’s to divest its holdings from the fossil fuel industries. The authors are Titus Michaud, a master’s student in Public Law, and Mark Horowitz, currently pursuing a PhD in Neuroscience. The views presented do not necessarily reflect those of King’s Sustainability]

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The Fossil Free movement at King’s seems to have ventured into cartoonish superhero and supervillian territory of late. It was supposed to be a cut and dry campaign, reliant on diligent spreadsheet work and rational pleas for long term prosperity and safety.

It was not to be.

The Fossil Free movement at King’s has been growing rapidly towards resolution. Our petition to demand that our university sell its shares in the biggest polluters on earth has soared to 1200 signatures, we have assembled some of the most vibrant and passionate young men and women of the university into the campaign, and together we have gathered the energy to lead our university into a sustainable 21st century.

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Fossil Free handing over their petition

At its peak, however, Fossil Free ran straight into a concrete block of status quo twentieth century thinking in the form of our Vice-Principal, a man who spent thirty years of his career at British Petroleum (BP). So it was to an ex-executive of BP that we made our case for the university to sell its shares in BP. Not surprisingly, we were told that the university would not divest and were given a series of rationalisations as to why business-as-usual was the best course of action. We think this supervillian’s chief power is his ability to slow down action under the banner of ‘pragmatism’. He is global warming’s answer to Mr Freeze from Batman: locking us into business as usual trajectory to runaway climate change.

As in any good cartoon, for every supervillian there is a superhero. When it comes to Fossil Free there is one global superhero shoulders above the rest – Bill McKibben. Like Superman, he has a Clark Kent side. He began life as a journalist for the New Yorker, The New York Times, The Atlantic and the Boston Globe, focusing on environmental issues. He wrote the first book about climate change for a popular audience in 1989, The End of Nature, and spent the next twenty years writing about threats to the environment, hoping people would be compelled by his lucid communication of the science and do something about it.

It took him two decades to admit the Clark Kent act wasn’t working. So he ditched the glasses and founded the 350.org movement, the first ever global grassroots environmental campaigning organisation. It takes its name from the concentration of carbon dioxide in the air (in parts per million) compatible with a safe environment (today the concentration is 400ppm!). If people weren’t paying attention to his books, perhaps they would pay attention to 5,200 rallies in 181 countries. This was what the organisation achieved on its first day of planned demonstrations in 2009. Since then the movement has moved from strength to strength as the pent up frustration of people around the world appalled at the lack of political action on climate change has found an emergency valve in the form of collective demonstration and direct action.

In fact, the more appropriate superhero is Captain Planet – this is very much a story of our powers combined doing far more than we could ever hope to achieve by ourselves. 350.org took on the Keystone XL pipeline, descibed as“the fuse to the biggest carbon bomb on the planet”, and has successfully prevented its completion for four years. Bill and 350.org also realised the environment would never win if they were to just play defence – protesting against every new oil pipeline and every environmentally destructive development. We would also have to play offence.

So Bill and 350.org launched the Fossil Free divestment movement – a way to bring increased awareness of the influence of the fossil fuel industry on the direction our world was travelling. It would not be able to financially bankrupt the industry – it is simply too big, too rich, and too strong. But institutional leaders around the world – including universities, churches, charities and ethically minded businesses – could vote with their investments to show that we no longer condoned what these companies are doing and their plans for the future (more – much more – of the same). Perhaps this would create a viable context for political action at a national and international level and a much needed price on carbon would be set.

It may have sounded fanciful three years ago but today no one is laughing. A paper from Oxford University released last year found that it was the fastest growing divestment movement in history. More importantly, out of the 41 divestment movements that it analysed – concerning pornography, tobacco and Apartheid in South Africa – every single divestment movement had produced the outcome it sought in the form of political action. Univerisities, churches and institutional investors around the world are divesting their shares in fossil fuel companies – totalling 50 billion dollars so far – with new commitments emerging each week . There are thousands of active campaigns across four continents. Exxon Mobil, the biggest oil and gas company in the world, is not laughing – it has just launched a public relations attack against the campaign.

Although we are but one dot in a world wide map of campaigns we were hurting a little after meeting a tentacle of BP wedged into the leadership of our university. What we needed was a little boost and out of the sky that boost came in the form of Captain Planet himself. Last Tuesday he visited King’s to lead a flash mob sit-in to stress the importance of univerisities leading the way in this important movement.

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Sophocles looking particularly stoic

So we sat outside the Great Hall of the Strand Campus, decked out in festive manner with balloons, banners declaring that ‘Real Leaders Divest from Fossil Fuels’, with both Sappho and Sophocles in solidarity in their Fossil Free shirts listening to Captain Planet tell us that King’s would inevitably divest, it was only a matter of time, but that they would need a push.

He emphasised the point that as important (and necessary) are the individual actions we take to reduce our environmental footprint, ultimately what is needed is collective action to affect political change. We had an opportunity as members of a globally visible and respected university to make a change with global effects by going no further than our own campus. King’s 8 million pounds invested in BP, Shell, and Exxon Mobil might only be a drop in the bucket but its decision to divest would have a huge effect on the conversation around the world about what sort of planet we want to live on. Even our very own Mr Freeze acknowledged our campaign was pushing conversation in the right direction.

You may have seen our mildly amusing poster alluding to the strong support for the campaign by King’s most famous alumnus, Desmond Tutu. Bill McKibben made the point that the university can’t continue to ignore the voice of the man who face greets you at its front door.

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Professor Planet imparting some words of wisdom

At his speech at LSE later that evening, one thing Bill said was that, as an introvert and writer, organising was not really his thing. He did not think he was good at it and had bumbled through. He had decided that the urgency of the situation demanded that he do things he wasn’t exactly comfortable with.

I think a lot of us sitting there were pleased to here this from a global superhero – actually, given his nervous, halting way of speaking and his academic bent, perhaps Professor Planet is more appropriate – that he didn’t quite know what he was doing. Because we sure as heck don’t!

However, like him, we are determined to keep bumbling along because we think the importance of dealing with climate change means that we have to do what we can, even if we are not superheroes.

We know how this comic book story ends but it seems our spreadsheet powers alone won’t do it. If you would like to help – whether superhero or not – we can be contacted on facebook at Fossil Free KCL.

– Titus Michaud and Mark Horowitz

First Sustainability Forum 2014: Sustainable Start-ups

King’s students were given great ideas about social enterprises and how to start their own businesses last Thursday at the first Sustainability Forum.DSC_0005 small

The Sustainability Forum, which was held in Pyramid Room of Strand Campus, hosted two talks from Ento and Elephant Branded, a pair of university start-ups that are now innovative businesses based in London.

After a lively introduction about the Fossil Free campaign by Mark Horowitz, Sarah and Olivia opened the forum by explaining who the Sustainability Team are and what they hope the forum will achieve.

Ento (Japanese for insect) were the first to speak and argued that as the world’s population grows and countries become richer, other sources of food will be needed. Insects like grasshoppers and caterpillars could be the solution, as they are a more efficient food source than meat such as beef.

Ento is aiming to make eating insects more appealing to mass audiences by finding new ways to present them as food. They hope to slowly change the culture around insect food and introduce them into our everyday diet. Ento has partnerships with a farm in Spain who breed insects for human consumption, and organised a successful pop-up restaurant in 2013. They also sell products at speciality events and are planning to create a commercial product using crowdfunding.

The next speaker was Tim from Elephant Branded. Elephant Branded was started at university in 2011 and sells accessories hand-made by Cambodian communities using recycled cement bags. For every item Elephant Branded sells, a school bag or stationary kit is given to a needy child in Africa or Asia to help with their studies. In the past year Elephant Branded has snowballed, becoming more recognisable and selling in shops such as John Lewis. All of their profits currently go straight back into the business in order for them to expand the brand, with the founders not yet taking a salary.

Tim gave lots of advice to the students attending the forum, emphasising how important it was for universities students to take risks, especially on business ideas. Tim also stressed the point that Elephant Branded was not a charity, but a business, stating that “The more you make, the more you give away.” This highlighted the importance of financial sustainability: a social enterprise won’t last long without good foundations.

King’s students had lots of tough questions for the two companies, asking Ento about the appeal of their product, and Elephant Branded whether social products could ever challenge big brands. This helped for the discussion session which focused on how business could incorporate sustainability. This led to a livley debate about the nature of business and how monetary practices can be used to encourage certain types of behaviour.DSC_0008 small

Richard Milburn, a PhD student in war studies, who attended the forum said: “It was really good. My opinion is that business is the solution to the world’s problems. At the forum, you get interesting debate and multiple viewpoints. These examples of university start-ups are useful as it is encouraging. It provides inspiration and enables students.”

Sarah and Olivia were both pleased with the first forum, stating that “It was great to see two examples of how to transform a great idea into a practical enterprise, which is really useful for students.”

Overall the event was a great success, and the sustainability team were pleased to see so many students attend and are grateful to both sets of speakers. The next Sustainability Forum will be held in November and addressing the theme of ‘Well being, mental health and green spaces’.

Guest writer: Luke Graham

 

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