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07 August 2008

The Age of Change?

Last week I called everyone Stupid. Which was rude, but I was desperate to get people's attention. The Planet is calling. Are you planning to answer, or just hang up?

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Last week I called everyone Stupid. Which was rude, but it was also a desperate ploy to get people's attention.

I then challenged myself, and anyone else I hoped might be listening, to stop whingeing, debating, denying, scolding or fretting about climate change and the environment, and rather just DO something.

You know: A little less conversation, a little more action.

We started this month with an EnviroHealth experiment called the Pledge to Change: making small, incremental, realistic lifestyle changes – an approach which generally works well for improving personal health – in a bid to improve planetary health and thus deflect our headlong trajectory towards the End of the World, no less.

It turns out the UN's Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, also chose August to launch a similar project, providing us with a handy illustration of what one small significant act can mean:

Ban Ki-Moon and the new UN cool
Mr Ban's “Cool UN” Campaign kicked off at the organisation's New York headquarters this month (where it is, of course, currently summer) by simply raising aircon thermostats in the Secretariat building from 22˚C to 25˚C.

In just one month, this should keep 300 tons of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere – and save the UN $100 000.

If they keep the campaign going for a year, and include lowering thermostats in winter, savings could be around $1 million.

Impressive. But what I really enjoyed about this story were some of the other, more immediate benefits. Ban, a self-confessed suit-and-tie kinda guy, also relaxed the dress code in the building and himself breezed in with short sleeves and open collar.

So in addition to some seriously useful environmental action, the Secretariat has lightened up, loosened up and freed itself from the tyranny of formal wear (only a good thing); and reminded employees that they live, not in an artificially regulated terrarium but the real world, which is often hot and getting hotter.

All achieved with a tiny, manageable 3˚C tweak of the thermostat.

The point being that change is more entertaining than stasis. As Ban puts it (admittedly a little stiffly, but remember the man was still trussed up in a tie just last week): “Let us have some fun – while at the same time we make a contribution to reducing global emissions”.

Voices from the cyber void
A direct appeal to readers to smarten up their environmental behaviour is not an approach I've used much recently; I’d decided that the only way to get green issues published and read was to sneak them in under cover of other jucier topics. I assumed that the primary effect of the phrase "climate change" would be to cause readers' eyes to glaze over.

So when our Call for Change across the wastes of cyberspace was initially met with dead silence, I shrugged, stopped checking the EnviroHealth forum and, as I recall now somewhat hazily, went home in a funk and consumed a fair quantity of alcohol.

I was roused by Health24’s forum manager telling me that something unexpected was happening: one by one, readers were Pledging to Change - from solemnly swearing to drink more organic wine, to walking to work, to planting a tree.

And from the authority and familiarity with which many of them spoke about the issues and offered tips for others, it’s clear that there are a lot of people out there who really do give a damn after all that we go down in history as the Age of Change rather than the Age of Stupid.

Check out the pledges that have come in so far on the forum. Pick up on one of these or find one you like better, and post a message - let's keep this momentum going!

- Olivia Rose-Innes, EnviroHealth, Health24, August 2008

Information sources:
New ‘cool’ initiative to slash UN’s own emission of greenhouse gases. United Nations press release, 30 June 2008
Ban dresses down to 'cool' the UN. United Nations press release, 1 August 2008

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