25 June 2013

Check out the news in any one week and you will find a range of stories, reports and issues that would attract the attention of members of Friends of the Earth: climate change, peak oil, water consumption and conservation; clean energy including the contentious issue of fracking as safe, clean, ethical, efficient, affordable, and the advisability of biofuels; the role of renewables, waste and recycling; pesticides, industrialised farming and GM crops/food; ethical investment, sustainability… the list is long, and after years of campaigning by a range of environmental groups, now familiar.

The expansion of research has illuminated the connections between issues previously seen as separate social and political concerns, Friends of the Earth have increasingly sought to highlight the links between scarcity, poverty and exploitation within a ‘one world scenario’ where concern for the environment now includes human rights issues and issues of social justice. Ethical values and environmental considerations merge into one another in a dialogue that must in turn inform our politics, how we organise as a society and as an international community. It’s not just a question of how or whether we keep the lights on in the UK, but who gets to keep their lights on.

The problems arising out of our ‘occupation’ of this planet became more obviously visible once industrialisation exploded onto the scene. Human exploitation, poverty, disease in ‘overcrowded’ cities without sanitation led to the development in the UK of what came to be known as public health [as an idea, profession and politics]. These social and economic changes speeded up our impact on the earth and changed the relationship between it’s inhabitants, within local communities and internationally. 

Industrialisation has been notably intensified by the popular political ideas of the last 30+ years, that have promoted competitiveness, individualism and hyper-consumerism as both virtues and goals, as if resources were infinite and ours to plunder. This particular set of values is new and while it appears to have delivered rising living standards for many (but for what looks like a quite short time), it has also proved to be literally devastating and destructive for nature, societies, communities and individuals. Societies now face dealing with the consequences of this economic jamboree.

In addition, the monetisation of more areas of human life, where if you cannot put an obvious economic value on something or someone (i.e. buy or sell), they have no value or status, and are as a consequence consigned to the under-resourced, undernourished margins of societies. This is producing isolation, desolation, despair, and individual and social breakdown, as this political idea sets us all at each other’s throats, the better to profit from our disarray and lack of power.

This briefly is the complex context within which FoE and other environmental organisations now operate. But much good work has been and is being done to make a positive difference and rescue the environment and our communities for future generations.

At the international level, Sustainable Development Goals have been proposed by the Stockholm Resilience Centre that stress the link between poverty eradication and the protection of Earth’s life support. Check out their six goals on their website.

Nationally, the government’s climate change minister promotes its Green Deal, claiming to be ‘the greenest government ever’, but the Executive Director of FoE, Andy Atkins, challenges this claim, arguing that ‘more tax breaks are needed’ (Guardian 12 06 2013) if we are to transform heat-leaking homes (the UK has some of the worst in Europe). “Cold homes that make people ill are a disgrace”, says Andy, which is why FoE helped found the Energy Bill Revolution, the biggest anti-fuel poverty coalition the UK has ever seen.

Locally, LFoE has in the past supported influential national FoE campaigns that have involved distributing information, interacting with the public on the street and at local fairs, and collecting signatures on petitions for change. And we have also engaged with the City Council in the past over environmental issues and sustainability values.

Currently, we are focusing on Liverpool City’s proposed bid to be European Green Capital City. This involves a process to monitor and make changes in our City that will prove our commitment as a healthy and environmentally sensitive City. This is potentially a great opportunity for the City to remove obstacles to inequality and ill health, and to expand its green economy, creating jobs and opportunities for individuals, communities and local businesses.

This process will draw in communities and individuals across the city region, not just activists, as democratic participation is at its root and intrinsic to a successful future bid. For the moment, we are prioritizing issues that we feel we can explore and support, such as waste and recycling; improving cycling facilities within the City; and meetings and discussions towards the development of a convincing sustainability strategy in the City. 

As a local group, we decide our priorities, actions and events democratically through discussion and debate. Each year several of us attend FoE‘s annual national residential conference, and it is always a great boost to meet and discuss with other members from across the country. Locally, we liaise and collaborate with other groups and organisations as appropriate.

Our regular meetings take place at DOES, fourth floor in the Gostins Building, Hanover Street, in the city centre, on the third Wednesday of each month at 6.30pm. This venue is fully accessible, with ramps and lifts.

Fracking Futures is at FACT until 15 September as part of the Turning FACT Inside Out exhibition.