Ethical consumerism

This is a guest post by Rachel Maurice for Aberdeen Climate Action

If you are an active and knowledgeable customer, you can make fair and sustainable choices. If you don’t and passively accept little or no information on your potential purchases, you can make these choices, so the exploitation of our world will continue. I believe we can change this, all it takes is a little knowledge.

By trying to make more ethical choices in my daily life in general, I have actually started to buy, and thereby consume, much less. And I still eat and drink, don’t worry! It’s only recently that I understood how zero waste lifestyles allow you to get rid of what isn’t serving you, and focus on the important stuff. The products I do buy are better quality, and overall, it might even come out cheaper in the end, not to mention healthier!

For instance, a lot of the food I buy is local and organic, whether I get it from wholefood shops like Foodstory, or from farmers markets (see list on Sustainable Living website: https://sustainableaberdeen.com). One of my main targets in my journey to a more sustainable way of life is… PLASTIC!!! Plastic definitely has its purpose, but plastic trash is pervasive, you’ll find it wherever you go. It is unsightly, gross and unsustainable especially as a single use “throw away” material. Luckily, there are ways out of plastic! Or just about…. When I first thought about cutting down plastic use in my life, I looked around and lost count of the amount of plastic items surrounding me. The dream to live plastic-free seemed daunting and unachievable, but, taking one step at a time, I gradually changed my habits (and my partner’s!) and my lifestyle.

When I shop at the local shops and farms I mentioned, I take my own jars and tote bags to fill them with many staples.

This new way of consuming has brought its share of creativity into my life, which I love!! I bake much more often those lovely shortbread that my partner devours instead of the packaged store bought biscuits. I also cook a lot more from scratch and, although I wasn’t fond of cooking initially, I have uncovered new culinary skills and found easy and handy strategies to save time and as well as money while taking care of my health and that of the planet.

If you want to find out more practical tips for a lower waste way of life, join us during Climate Week North East on Wednesday 20th March at the How to Go Green event. Hope to see you there!

Are activists’ voices heard? An example from Bialowieza Forest logging

This is a guest post by Magda Strzala for Aberdeen Climate Action

GOVERNMENTAL DECISION TO LOG BIALOWIEZA FOREST IN POLAND
The Bialowieza Forest in eastern Poland has been named a UNESCO World Heritage Site and classified as of ‘outstanding universal value’. Home to wolves, lynx, bison (25% of the world’s European population), and a rich array of birds and beetles, Bialowieza is Europe’s largest remaining lowland old growth forest. In Belarus the entire woodland is recognised as a nature park, but in Poland, unfortunately, only a small part is protected (16% of Polish Bialowieza Forest).

In 2016, Jan Szyszko, then Polish Minister of the Environment, approved a tripling of industrial logging in Bialowieza, asserting that it was necessary to combat an outbreak of spruce bark beetles. Environmental groups disagreed, claiming that it wouldn’t defeat the beetle and would lead to more harm than good. WWF highlighted that bark beetle outbreaks and dying spruce trees are ’natural processes’ that have been forming the Bialowieza Forest for centuries and its biodiversity depends on richness in dead wood. The real reasoning behind the government’s decision, I believe, is more to do with financial as opposed to ecological gain: it was an excuse to allow the state-run logging regime access to pristine old growth wood and benefit the budget.

Unsurprisingly, the Polish Minister’s decision met with fierce opposition. I am so glad that citizens across the country took on the authorities – and eventually won. Unfortunately from 24th May 2016, when logging operations started, until its cessation it is thought that at least 10.000 trees were felled in Bialowieza.

ACTIVISTS INVOLVEMENT IN PROTESTS AGAINST THE LOGGING
If you believe that the voices of individuals protesting against governmental decisions have no chance of being heard and listened to then a counter argument can be found in the circumstances that lead to the cessation of logging in Bialowieza.

In May 2017, activists set up a permanent camp in the village of Bialowieza to protest the logging through direct action and engagement with the local community. Protesters ran several projects; one of which was visits from biologists organising walks in the forest to teach anyone interested in Bialowieza’s particular trees, plants and biodiversity. The location of the camp in a village was intentional – the environmentalists wanted to peacefully cooperate with locals and raise their awareness on the significance of protecting the woodland.

More importantly, activists were involved in patrolling and monitoring the forest and areas in danger of being logged. A lot of effort was put into gathering data on places where logging took place as well as a scale of it. This data was then used in the media to evidence the current status and impact of the logging and in again lawsuits against the government. The European Commission, as well as UNESCO, was interested in what was going on in the forest; they needed reliable information and, luckily, there were hundreds of people who devoted their time and energy to collect relevant data and then provided them to the authorities.

WHAT HAPPENED NEXT?
ClientEarth and other environmental groups filed a complaint with the European Commission, which took the case to the European Court of Justice in 2017, alleging that Poland was in violation of EU laws to protect habitat and birdlife. Eventually, the EU’s highest court ruled in 2018 that Poland’s logging in the UNESCO-protected Bialowieza Forest was illegal opening the door to potentially multi-million-euro fines.

Szyszko was fired from his Ministerial role in early January 2018 as part of a Cabinet reshuffle intended to improve relations with the European Union. The new Minister of the Environment, Henryk Kowalczyk, confirmed that Poland will respect the verdict and, hence, logging in Bialowieza Forest was halted. Additionally, he assured that all lawsuits against the protesters would be withdrawn.

POSITIVE LESSON FOR FUTURE ECO-ACTIVISM AND PROTESTS
I believe that protests, such as those in Bialowieza, do not only directly impact on the physical environment (for example lead to logging being stopped) but also indirectly change society’s attitude towards environmental issues. Such actions catch the media’s attention and attract influential people to get involved and openly speak about these issues. Public opinion is affected; those, who previously ignored climate change, start to think about it, they hear more about environmental dangers and crimes and, hopefully, learn how serious that problem is. I can see this process first-hand because many of my friends from Poland are becoming more and more aware of ecological dangers.

There is an increasing awareness of the need to protect our environment and urgency to take actions. On 15th February hundreds of children missed school to protest against the biggest threat to their future – Climate Change. The more people get involved, the louder and stronger our voice becomes and in that way we can stop logging, force local and national governments to ban plastic bags or to abandon plans for new coal plants, just to name a few actions that had already succeeded in the past.

As more and more people are lifting their voices to be heard on stopping climate change and creating a better, greener future, let us not forget the importance of activism and the initial voices that spark a movement. We should never forget how important the voice of an individual is. Let’s think how much else can be improved if we all speak out loud?

Polish dependency on coal and possible routes that Poland may follow in the future

This is a guest post by Magda Strzala for Aberdeen Climate Action

WHY DOES POLISH ECONOMY RELY HEAVILY ON COAL?

Opening the COP 24 UN summit, Polish President Andrzej Duda boasted that Poland is sitting on 200 years’ worth of coal supplies and ‘it will be hard not to use them.’ These words uttered by the Head of State surprised and outraged many, particularly in times when the EU actively calls for cutting greenhouse gas emissions.

Currently, there are 90 coal deposits in Poland which produced above 140mln metric tons of coal in 2012, providing 55% of that country’s primary energy consumption, and 75% of electrical generation. Poland is the ninth-largest coal producer in the world and second in Europe.

International Energy Agency 2016 Review provides that productive capacity of 62% of Polish coal mines is older than 30 years. Such coal mines are around 20% less effective than the more modern ones, burning more coal and emitting more greenhouse gases.

Despite the lack of sufficient redevelopment in that area, the coal mining industry in Poland became a source of identity and national pride, especially in the southern Silesian area. Coal mining has historical value in that region, as well as cultural and political connections.

Many fears that weakening the coal industry or diversifying the energy mix will lead to an economic disaster. This, together with above mentioned almost ‘mythical status’, has led to a heavy reliance on the highly pollutant fossil fuel that remains Polish main energy source.

Polish CO2 emissions constitute around 1% of the world’s emissions. If all countries (regardless of population and economy) emitted as much as Poland- global emissions would double.

NEGATIVE SIDES OF POLISH ‘BLACK GOLD’

Coal, known in Poland as ‘black gold,’ has helped the country gain its energy independence. But, that high-polluting fuel has been linked to serious diseases and premature death.

Of the 50 most polluted cities in the EU, 36 are in Poland, causing nearly 50,000 premature deaths a year, according to the European Environment Agency. Cracow Smog Alarm proved that benzo(a)pyrene level in the city was 8 times above the recommended limit. Each resident’s exposure to the toxin is equivalent to the damage caused by smoking around 7 cigarettes a day. Similarly, according to data collected by Quartz, in one day in January 2017, the levels of air pollutants registered in Warsaw reached 437 micrograms per cubic metre – with the average norm established by the EU being 50
micrograms per cubic metre.

In the 70s in Poland there were around 4 days in a year with a temperature above 30 degrees; in the last 10 years, there were on average around 13 days with such temperature. The last two decades have shown that more frequent precipitation has negatively affected the risk of floods, water erosion and landslides. Disastrous floods occurred in Poland in 1997, 1998, 2001, and 2010. There is also a serious threat of drought in the vegetation seasons (major droughts occurred in 1992, 2003, and 2006) which impeded the country’s ability to feed itself.

CAN POLAND OVERCOME ITS COAL DEPENDENCY?

During the last UN summit talks, due to increasing pressures, Poland promised to reduce its reliance on the fossil fuel. However, with 100,000 coal-dependent jobs in the country, switching to alternative sources of energy may carry great economic risk.

Recently, 17 Polish cities joined a zero-carbon coalition. According to a survey by Greenpeace, a proposal to phase out coal by 2030 has the support of 69% of Poles. On the other hand, currently governing party the Law and Justice won the 2015 parliamentary elections on a promise to keep the coal industry as the country’s main energy source. Politicians are aware that the mining industry plays a crucial role; weaning Poland off its coal reliance may lead to a decrease in support from those involved in this sector. Hence, the government should ensure that during that process benefits packages should be offered to those adversely affected by necessary transformation of the Polish energy sector.

Those politicians who have tried to introduce changes are struggling, according to Mateusz Klinowski, the former mayor of Wadowice located in Silesia. He lost office in an election after trying to cut pollution and wean the city off coal. ‘But even if I tell them the planet is dying and I will give them 50% of the cost of a new heating system, they think it’s just green bullshit and not necessary. We need to change the state government and do it at the top level.’

One of the main coal mining cities in Silesia – Katowice – has partly reinvented itself as a cultural centre, conference hub and university city, but the resistance has been fierce from the left and right of the old economy. The Solidarity union, representing tens of thousands of Polish miners, has joined with the
right-wing US lobby group, the Heartland Institute, to dispute the climate change.

But it is not just Poland ignoring the problem. Coal is on the rise in Japan, Indonesia, India, Vietnam and Russia. In China, the world’s biggest producer, output has increased after several years of declines. Ottmar Edenhofer claims that planned new coal investments in the world would add 330 gigatonnes of CO2 to the atmosphere.

Jennifer Morgan of Greenpeace concluded the COP 24 held in Poland: ‘A year of climate disasters and a dire warning from the world’s top scientists should have led to so much more. Instead, governments let people down again as they ignored the science and the plight of the vulnerable. People expected action, and governments did not deliver. This is morally unacceptable.’

I do believe that Poland can move away from coal dependency. But what is needed is active involvement of the government. Politicians can change the attitude of society towards climate change. Individuals do speak up and raise awareness but, unfortunately, it does not suffice; especially when we talk here about transforming the energy sector. Right now, I do not know if I should be optimistic about the future of the Polish energy sector. On one hand, concluding COP 24, Poland’s presidency sought to highlight the issue of a “just transition” for workers away from fossil-fuel jobs. But I do not see any decisive steps that the government would take. I hope that this inaction will end and that our politicians will finally be concerned not only about profits but also about our planet. How long do we need to wait? Well, future will tell; let’s just hope that it will not be too late.