Blog - Birmingham Friends of the Earth Birmingham Friends of the Earth exists to advance the principles of sustainability and positive environmental change. Thu, 02 Oct 2014 00:18:11 +0000 Joomla! 1.5 - Open Source Content Management en-gb Big Green Debate After several Big Green Debates about specific environmental issues we’re having a debate about campaign tactics this issue. Zarqa Mahmood and Sawsan Bastawy are debating the merits of online activism, i.e. clicktivism or slacktivism to its detractors. A powerful campaigning tool or so easy to use it’s meaningless? Read on and make up your own mind! 

Yes - Sawsan Bastawy

The pejorative term ‘slacktivism’ (meaning activism that takes little time, effort, or involvement,) is used to challenge the worth of online activism, and question whether or not it accomplishes anything bar giving people a sense of satisfaction.

The terms clicktivism and slacktivism are oft used interchangeably; and therefore the anti-slacktivist and anti-clicktivist backlash are often indistinguishable. However, clicktivism and slacktivism are, and should be seen as, distinct. The internet provides a platform for activists to speak. It assembles audiences and creates spaces that are hard to find in the real-world or mainstream media for a message to be shared.

Petitions are considered a slacktivist action and have received significant negative press because they require little effort. However, petitions often have phenomenal global effects. It is therefore impetuous and lazy to say all online actions that require little physical effort are valueless, and worthy of a derogatory term like ‘slacktivism’.

Clicktivism, unlike slacktivism, encompasses all manner of online actions, quick and easy to long-term and labour-intensive. Volunteering your skills online is great for people who want to donate their time and skills to a cause they care about, or to a cause that is geographically distant. The United Nations Online Volunteering Portal is an excellent example of this.

It goes without saying that criticisms of clicktivism and use of the term slacktivisim in a pejorative or derogatory way overwhelmingly originate in the West and/or are directed at Western clicktivism. In some countries, liking or creating a Facebook page is a tremendous display of strength against a dictatorship, particularly when we consider that people are routinely arrested for Facebook posts and tweets in some countries.

We can acknowledge that clicktivism has potential problems, and that it can lead to lazy activism, but this does not mean that it does not have value and that it does not constitute real activism. While few would likely claim that clicktivism is the best form of activism, it is certainly a valuable form of activism, and has the potential to challenge real-world campaigns in terms of efficacy and impact. We simply need to develop tools and strategies to make sure that a dangerous culture of ‘slacktivism’ isn’t born as a result. 

No - Zarqa Mahmood

Today the internet is streaming with so called ‘clicktivism’, as it is considered to be cost effective, fast and easy to use. However, this form of online activism should not be regarded as activism, it is merely a slacktivist method activists use for their political means.

The concept of slacktivism refers to activities that are effortlessly performed. They are considered more effective in making a participant feel good about them self rather than achieving the stated political aims.

Online petitions are a prime example of slacktivism, as there is little effort put into generating a petition, sending it out via online channels, and it spreading to mass audiences. The idea of it reaching a big audience is phenomenal; however getting signatures via a click is simply lazy and this should not even be considered as real activism.

A recent example of slacktivism is of the ‘no make-up selfie’ to support Cancer Research. The ‘no make-up selfie’ was a hash-tag trend started by a member of the public, who posted a picture of herself with no make-up on and nominated others to do the same. Soon the trend became viral and the individuals who joined in felt they were doing their bit for the charity. Were they really? After a massive viral spread Cancer Research got involved by suggesting those who took selfies could do something meaningful and donate £3 via text. Soon after, people started to screenshot their donations and it went viral, showing the possibilities of people donating merely to make themselves feel good and to look good in front of their peers.

Clicktivists may argue they utilize the internet as a catalyst to promote and arrange events in order to show support for a certain campaign and it can be extremely cost-effective. However these are just ‘virtual activists’, who fail to recognise that real activism (offline activism) is completely different to the online world. Overall online activism is argued to be clicktivism however, it actually displays pure slacktivism. 

]]> (Sawsan Bastawy; Zarqa Mahmood) Blog Wed, 02 Jul 2014 14:09:10 +0000
From basecamp with love

Somewhere between a festival and a conference is Friends of the Earth’s Basecamp; an annual event gathering local groups from across the country alongside staff members and a wider network of interested parties. From hard-core environmental activists to the eco-curious. Held outside the village of Castleton in the Peak District and with sessions predominantly held in yurts, getting away from it all and connecting with nature was high on the agenda.

Friday night kicked off with the Earthmovers awards ceremony – always a highlight – celebrating personal and group achievements from across the country. I always find it inspiring to hear about the breadth of work that is going on in different local groups, although when talking about our nominated project ‘Citizen Science’, I was stumped for an answer to the question ‘what was the most embarrassing moment of your campaign?’ when collecting our certificate.

There was a packed programme of different events and I participated in workshops and discussions about topics such as the general election, strategy and governance, and diversity within the network. I also learnt to shim sham and ate some cheese and wine with the Land, Food and Water Team. Food was a positive theme and one meal was cooked for us by the local Real Junk Food Project entirely from food that would otherwise have been thrown away.

The night-time festivities included a ceilidh and after the bar had closed a potentially hazardous walk through the woods to the campfire. The bar (in a yurt, naturally) was staffed by Young Friends of the Earth and my elation at discovering they were serving real cider was only matched by my disappointment when it sold out early on the Saturday night.

There was a full programme of events for children as well and the culmination of the weekend was a theatrical extravaganza where a group of solar-powered kids fought off a giant puppet personifying fracking. Being with so many committed people doing amazing things across the country and beyond was rewarding and inspiring, and it all went to show that environmental campaigning can be interesting, it can be varied, and it can be a lot of fun.

]]> (Roxanne Green) Blog Wed, 02 Jul 2014 14:00:44 +0000
Cyclists are doing it for themselves

In August 2013, Birmingham City Council started their Cycling Revolution - to make it easier and safer for people to cycle - with £24.3 million from grants and self-funding. As a keen cyclist, who has cycled all over the world yet finds her home town one of the hardest places to cycle, I welcomed this. So the cancelling of the traffic free and family friendly Sky Ride due to no suitable date being available, left me asking ‘eh’? Was this really the action of a council committed to cycling?

After the initial ranting, I remembered that one way cycling can have a higher profile is in increasing the amount of cyclists. Of course there are concerns, but the more cyclists there are, the more there will be.

This ‘critical mass’ idea led to, well, Critical Mass rides. Starting in San Fransisco in 1992, rides have taken place in over 300 cities worldwide1. A non-formalised ride, usually on a Friday evening, with cyclists (and other forms of non-motorised transport!) riding through their city together. It isn’t an organisation, more ‘an idea allowing people to reclaim cities by getting together and outnumbering the cars on the road’2. A celebration of bike-ness, it’s a fun alternative to car culture.

Another group getting out and about are the North Birmingham based road riders, the Boldmere Bullets Cycling Collective. Tom Swinbourne, one of the founder members, said the group was set up to create a stronger cycling community in Boldmere and raise the profile and visibility of cycling. It now has over 200 members since starting at the beginning of 2014. Tom would like to encourage other likeminded cyclists to replicate this fresh approach to getting communities on their bikes throughout the city: a group of cyclists getting together for social and harder road rides, as wanted.

So, yes, rant at the council, I have, but do we need them to tell us where and when we can cycle? Or should we do it for ourselves, get on our bikes and go for it?

Critical Mass rides: first Friday of every month, 18.00, Pigeon Park (St. Philip’s Cathedral)

Boldmere Bullets: Rides posted on Strava and Facebook. Socials every other Sunday, 7pm. Meet Dubella Lounge, Boldmere Road.


]]> (Cath Palgrave) Blog Wed, 02 Jul 2014 13:40:17 +0000
BFoE meets Phil Bennion MEP

On the 13th May, we received a visit from Phil Bennion MEP, who came to our offices to talk about our campaigns and discuss his views on some of the key environmental issues that BFoE is camapaigning on

The meeting was a positive one, full of lively discussion, and Mr Bennion spoke with enthusiasm about his passion for decarbonisation and tackling air pollution.

Mr Bennion said he was in favour of government action on the carbon footprint of vehicles, and has been working with vehicle manufacturers on lorries that have a shape that are less likely to create fatal crashes/accidents and are better for fuel consumption. In addition, Mr Bennion fully supports action on air quality and is likely to support the tightening of air quality regulations in line with World Health Organisation (WHO) regulations. At the EU level, Mr Bennion has worked on pollution from vehicle exhausts and earlier this week received a Clean Air Award for his work on tail-pipe tests.

Despite his belief that the UK can meet the EU's 2020 targets on air quality if sufficient time and resources are dedicated towards this, Mr Bennion expressed serious doubts about the UK's ability to meet the 2015 targets on air quality.

On the subject of low emission zones, Mr Bennion made some interesting points. Overall he is in favour of low emission zones as long as they are not prohibitive to occasional visitors to the city, like rural-dwellers, for example; and is not against charging zones, such as congestion charge zones.·

Mr Bennion was outspoken on the issue of neonicotinoids. He feels there is not sufficient quality research to demonstrate that the effects of neonicotinds on bees is such that it warrants a ban; calling the ban "unscientific."·He believes that there needs to be more research into the circumstances in which neonicotinoids harm bees and work towards making sure those circumstances do not exist, as opposed to banning substances outright. He believes that we have a clumsy approach to banning pesticides, and banning chemicals is not practical when they are beneficial/not proven to be dangerous- possibly threatening world food supply. He didn't seem to say that the ban would be foreshortened, but did at least agree that now we have it, it should be used to conduct proper research.

On issues of waste and recycling, Mr Bennion called for·more research efforts into finding better ways of recycling so that the recycling is good quality (e.g. not just low-grade recycling), rather than simply enough to meet targets

Scientifically, Mr Bennion is pro-GMO, and feels that now we have extensive gene-maps, we can make sure there are no problems with GMO. However, Mr Bennion did note that there can be a problem with GMO's, but there is no scientific problem with GMO's being generically problematic; ultimately claiming that objections to GMO's are not scientifically based.

Mr Bennion also noted that nobody has tested whether Monsanto's bundle of seed and sale of produce will stand up to European law and suggests a court case may be necessary to determine whether bundling is consistent with European law, as it is consistent with European law not to allow such a contract. In most sectors bundling is considered to be anti-competitive and Mr Bennion expressed the belief that anti-competitive bundling should be illegal in this case if it is not already.

Overall we felt it was a positive meeting. Mr Bennion said he is willing to demonstrate support for actions in favour of the environment as long as there is significant research and a scientific basis for the findings, and was interested to work with us in the future on areas we where agree.

]]> (Sawsan Bastawy) Blog Thu, 22 May 2014 12:05:40 +0000
BFoE meets Will Duckworth On the 19th of May we received a visit from Green Party deputy leader Will Duckworth who is the lead candidate for the Green Party in the West Midlands for Euro elections.

, Mr Duckworth main priorities on the EU are climate change and pollution, workers’ rights and human rights, and animal welfare. He is also committed to fighting fracking and wants EU countries to leave as many fossil fuels in the ground as possible, ultimately believing that climate change is best tackled at EU level. However, Mr Duckworth is clear that Europe should not stop UK from nationalising energy and that UK should maintain sovereignty over energy. Will also believes that there may be sufficient funding from the EU to bring down air pollution levels, and that it is just not being spent correctly at the moment.

In terms of more local issues, Mr Duckworth supports the 20mph limits with BFoE that where it has been done well, it has achieved good results. On the subject of HS2, his position is clear- HS2 should be scrapped and the money used for local infrastructure.

Interestingly, Mr Duckworth expressed some scepticism about the efficacy of low-emission-zone's (LEZ) in the long term, saying that they are useful locally but cannot be a solution to air pollution and climate change nationally and globally. He cited an example in which high polluting vehicles that were oft used in London were sold to Essex following the implementation of a LEZ in London; ultimately creating lots of pollution in Essex- demonstrating that single LEZ's can be counter-productive.

On the subject of neonicotinoids Mr Duckworth believes that the evidence demonstrating the danger to bees is sufficient for a ban; however, he agrees that further research is needed in order to convince sceptics of this. He also feels that large monoculture farms have produced problems, as well as the perception that GMO’s are neccessary.

Mr Duckworth felt we should aim to reduce, reuse and repair before we recycle; and that producing less waste is more important than recycling it, as it is not sustainable to recycle waste compared to reducing or reusing it. He also stated that long-term contracts mean councils have no reason and limited ability to get rid of incinerators, and noted that Hereford is building an incinerator based on a 25 year contract with a private company. Will suggested that government should research ways to tax the producers of the waste, and that money from taxing waste producers should go into general tax money.

Mr Duckworth spoke of the dangers of TTIP (Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership) and his concerns of the ability of the EU to minimise damage caused by TTIP, which he believes will mean a situation where governments are have to pay out millions to private companies if they reverse decisions. He gave the example that HS2 could not be stopped by future governments under TTIP.

On the issue of Food security and seed-patenting, Mr Duckworth is firmly against GMO and GMO being allowed into the UK. He also expressed his concern about companies like Monsanto owning seeds and selling them to poorer countries, showing some agreement with the position that GMO technology is not the problem- it is how it is applied that is the problem- e.g. when it is used in sub- Saharan Africa, creating enormous food security problems.

Overall it was a positive meeting we look forward to being able to work with Will Duckworth in the future

]]> (Julien Pritchard) Blog Tue, 20 May 2014 00:00:00 +0000
What politicians say and what they really mean For something a little different this issue, we invited Robert Pass to write a piece about politicians and what they say. This is a personal view which may or may not reflect the views of others in Birmingham Friends of the Earth. Enjoy the satire!

I will create real change: My political party gets its funding from people and organisations that are doing very nicely out of maintaining the status quo. My main goal is ensure I keep them sweet. My paymasters have given their blessing to change the curtains in the spare room of Number 10 with the freedom to choose any colour I like.

We’re going to be the Greenest Government Ever: Cut the green crap! First, we’ll sell off the forests, then we’ll slash the feed in tariff, give big tax cuts to the fossil fuel companies, and encourage wide scale fracking of the countryside.

I take Climate Change seriously: If you think I’m going to fund a proper Green Investment Bank, you must be joking! Let’s make the tax and planning changes which will put Britain at the forefront of exploiting shale gas.

We’ve increased spending on flood defences to record levels: We’ve cut spending on flood defences by £247 million since 2011 and we’re going to sack 1550 people at the Environment Agency.

I’m tough on terrorism: I will use the fear created by constant rhetoric on terrorists to grab more power for the government at the expense of personal liberty and democracy.

I’m for the 99%: It’s all about the 1%, stupid! I can’t wait for the next Bilderberg Group meeting…

I’m on the side of hard working families: I’m on the side of the elite interests that bankroll my party and will ensure I get lucrative consultancy positions in the private sector when I leave office.

Unemployment has fallen: Thanks mainly to the fact that we now count people who work zero-hour contracts in Poundland as employed.

I believe in Freedom: Freedom to watch mindless telly, Freedom to go shopping, Freedom to make money, regardless of the environmental or social costs.

There is simply no alternative to austerity: There is a very obvious Keynesian alternative to do exactly the opposite of what we are proposing, but that would involve increasing taxation on my super-rich friends and redistributing the wealth. Not on my watch!

Too big to fail: Remember the maxim - privatise the profits and socialise the losses.

We’re all in this together: LOL!

]]> (Robert Pass) Blog Tue, 01 Apr 2014 11:45:50 +0000
Where does all the tinsel go? Twelfth night has been and gone and probably so have all the piles of ripped wrapping paper, discarded cards and tinsel that has seen better days. For many, Christmas already seems like long time ago as we settle into the old routines and look forward to the next celebration and holiday. But as we still may have a little resolutionary spirit left, now is a good time to reflect on what Christmas has left us with and what we could do about it.

We consume, and ultimately throw away, loads of tat at Christmas, and a quick search on the internet will bring up lots of facts and figures about the amount of waste generated. Instead of simply printing a list of statistics I thought I’d examine that most shiny of decorations – tinsel.

Modern tinsel is made from polyvinyl chloride (PVC) film coated with a metallic finish, sliced into thin strips1 and assembled into garlands. Although, theoretically, everything can be recycled, the complexity and cost of separating these compounds outweighs any benefits. So, to the landfill it goes. PVC doesn’t readily decompose, and as it degrades it leaches a number of toxic chemicals. This is the single worst plastic according to several health organisations2. It also produces dioxins (carcinogenic chemical compounds also likely to cause developmental disorders and damage to immune systems) in its manufacture. Not so shiny now.

This is just the tinsel tipped iceberg. I haven’t started to look at the excess food, packaging, unwanted presents etc. that seem to accompany the festive period. Before we hang our glittery festooned heads in shame, let’s get back to the resolutions. As well as trying to get rid of that extra Christmas Cake weight, how about trying to rid ourselves of other excesses too?

That mantra ‘Reduce, Reuse, Recycle’ holds true. Do we really need another garland? Could we make do with what we already have or recycle other things as decorations? Christmas and other festivals can be a great time for celebration, but let’s extend that to celebrating the Earth and think about what we are presenting it.

A sustainable lifestyle may be for life not just for Christmas after all.

Catherine Palgrave



]]> (Catherine Palgrave) Blog Mon, 10 Feb 2014 14:54:20 +0000
Trip to Majorca I was recently lucky enough to take part in a sustainable building internship with a Majorcan organisation called Artifex Balear. The founder is a wonderfully eccentric man called Miquel Ramis. You can start to see what I mean by watching a YouTube video of him called: ‘This guy can make anything out of anything’. He has practiced stone masonry as a hobby for most of his life and quit his job in marketing to create Artifex; a stone masonry, sustainable building, alternative education and general green innovations organisation.

He has based all this in a disused military barracks in the industrial town of Inca in Majorca. The council gave him the building for free as he agreed to renovate it so that it could be used after he left it.

There is a great Majorcan saying, ‘poc-a-poc’ , which means little by little. It describes the way of life of the people who live there and is the perfect description for Artifex Balear.

The workshop is around eight years old and is still a derelict building with holes in the floor and no windows. What has changed is it now has exquisite handmade vaults and arches, sporadically placed around the building. There are beautiful statues and mosaics just dotted about and then there are pieces of half-dreamed up projects filling every bit of space in-between.

To some it might sound like a nightmare, but you rarely get the chance to work in such a free and creative environment; any idea for any of the projects you saw you could run with and see what happened. I created a heliostat powered by a clepsydra, which is an ancient water clock as done by the famous engineer Al-Jazari. My two friends created a cinva-ram, which is a machine that compresses earth into useable bricks.

The only limitations were that the projects used recycled materials, that they were economically viable and that they were useful for the community. It’s this sort of back garden shed engineering that should be encouraged, to get away from a wasteful society of replacing rather than fixing. Hopefully, this sort of thinking can spread and there is no greater satisfaction than bringing a machine back to life but, as the Majorcans say, poc-a-poc.

Jacob Williams

]]> (Jacob WIlliams) Blog Mon, 10 Feb 2014 14:44:06 +0000
Guest Article- Equality West Midlands It’s been recently reported that even David Cameron now believes that global warming is responsible for the spate of storms that wreaked Britain over the last month. There are many explanations for the development of global warming but arguably at the root of the problem is a structural issue.

Most of the world adheres to capitalist economics, a system that encourages excessive consumption of every commodity imaginable. In the Western world especially this has led to a massive fixation with consumerism (only 330 shopping days until Christmas 2014!). This system not only harms the planet but also has a severe impact on human societies.

In countries such as the United States that expel a lot of carbon emissions, much research has found that there is also much more income inequality. In the UK, still a massive producer of carbon emissions, the top 10% of richest British citizens possess more than 850 times the amount of wealth held by the poorest 10%. ‘The Spirit Level’- by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett- demonstrates in eye-watering detail how a society with high levels of income inequality does much worse in almost all facets of life. Their recent work shows how life expectancy can differ by 25 years depending on whether you live in a rich or poor London borough. Among their conclusions, Wilkinson and Pickett argue that properly tackling environmental problems would contribute to the abatement of income inequality - and this abatement would also help us to save the planet.

Upon its publication in 2009, ‘The Spirit Level’ received widespread acclaim. In response, the authors established The Equality Trust to carry on their hard work. Local affiliate groups were also established, including in Birmingham. Since 2011, Equality West Midlands has raised awareness of income inequality and connected issues amongst politicians and the general public. Among our activities, we were proud to take part in the A41 Project that showed, through photography, the disparities between communities across the country. In 2014, we are looking to further develop our profile and would welcome the opportunity to work with anyone who, like us, is concerned by the harmful impact of income inequality on everyone’s lives.

To get in touch, please email or find us on Facebook, Twitter and Wordpress.

Tom Pratt

]]> (Tom Pratt) Blog Mon, 10 Feb 2014 14:25:55 +0000
A New Year Another PEG The New Year brought another meeting the Partner Engagement Group at Centro. As I have explained in a previous blog what these are and what Centro is, I wont go into great detail about this on this occasion.

This meeting touched on a number of issues including Centro's budget for the forthcoming year, Birmingham City Council's Birmimgham Mobility Action Plan, and London Midland gave a presentation on their latest news.

We kicked off by talking about Centro's budget.  This is under pressure (as with all budgets these days) because the Councils which fund Centro have cut the funding to the body.  This means that they are are having to look to make savings.  The proposals included dropping or charging the free add-on for pensioners in the West Midlands so they can use the train, reducing the subsidy for child concenssionary fares, and reducing or cutting Dial-a-ride services.

These are not the only proposals, but are the ones discussed at the meeting. Apparently, ITA Chair John McNicholas and other ITA members have had a lot of lobbying on behalf of pensioners, but less on behalf of children in terms of the concessionary fares. Schools were contacted but apprently didn't respond. The point was made that schools are quite busy and attempts should be made again. 

The other thing to bear in mind is that there's no-one sticking up for school children. This can only be bad news for them. The middle class kids, whose parents can't afford (or don't want to pay for) increased fares, will end up being driven to school, with all the extra congestion that that will cause, whilst the poorer kids will have to walk or simply won't be able to get to school. John McNicholas said they were trying to account of people's views but also didn't want to just react to who shouts loudest.

Next we moved onto a presentation from Birmingham City Council on theBirmimgham Mobility Action Plan. You can find out a bit more what's in it as well as what we think, in this article, so I wont go into that detail again.  I did ask the question about reducing the need to travel, and received a less than convincing response about how we couldn't supress the need to travel. It's not about surpression, it's about reducing people having to make journeys, rather than reducing people wanting to make journeys.

After that the final main agenda item was a presentation from London Midland on how they're doing. Apparently the news is that reliability is getting better, which will probably be news to many on the Cross-City Line. They're other news is that training new drivers to reduce shortages, and are buying new trains so they can have more on the Cross-City Line to have 3 trains an hour to Redditch.

After that we wrapped up the remaining items on the agenda, and finished at what I think is a record 7.30pm!

]]> (Julien Pritchard) Blog Thu, 16 Jan 2014 19:32:09 +0000