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Last Updated: Thursday, 31 August 2006, 21:49 GMT 22:49 UK
Green Room: Our writers talk back
Over recent weeks, a number of leading voices in the environmental debate brought you their views on a range of issues in the Green Room.

This week, we have offered the writers an opportunity to respond to your comments.


Peter Gibson
Peter Gibson

John Manoochehri
John Manoochehri

Aubrey Meyer
Aubrey Meyer

Jane Bickerstaffe
Jane Bickerstaffe

Tadesse Dadi
Tadesse Dadi


PETER GIBSON - Greens must come out of the woods

The reason I contributed to the Green Room was to highlight how environmentalism was perceived in the UK, in the hope that it would make readers think about why we are portrayed as "cranks."

Spoof eco-warriors Cyderdelic (Image: BBC)
Environmentalists; seen as saving this planet but on another one

The views expressed were those of the British public. So, sorry Dave Hand, it isn't misinformation or stereotyping, many people in the UK really do think that greens are hippies, loonies and anoraks.

Such criticism stings but the desire to listen, learn and truly connect shone through in the responses and says much about environmentalists. From a personal point of view, the feedback from the article has made me aware of some wonderful projects around the world that are helping those in greatest need. Thank you for inspiring me!

I would also like to pick up a couple of points. At no stage did I say that poor people make more mess than anyone else. I simply reported back on a UK survey that showed that needy neighbourhoods were the dirtiest - with poor council services and the attitude of visitors not helping matters.

Nick Easton's point about graffiti enhancing neighbourhoods was an interesting one. Research in England revealed that the vast majority of graffiti was juvenile scrawl and studies showed that people did not want it on their property or defacing public buildings.

I suspect the same is true elsewhere in the world - otherwise why would cities such as Melbourne and Philadelphia have organised such high-profile clean ups?

Finally, Manchester sees through the crank image and votes green. Given that this is the city where people laid down their lives for worker's rights (Peterloo) and endured hardship rather than uphold slavery (the Cotton Famine); I am not surprised it is leading the way in political thought.

Three guesses where I live?

Peter Gibson is head of communications for the independent national charity Keep Britain Tidy

JANE BICKERSTAFFE - In praise of a hidden household hero

It is interesting that the plastic carrier bag can produce such passionate debate.

The overall response of readers seems to be that the real solution is to simply remember to take your own bags with you when you set out for the shops, which is exactly the point I began the original article with.

Plastic bags (Image: AP)
Only the carrier bag, which is 0.3% of our rubbish, is typically reused in the home

I was not intending to promote the use of such bags, merely to point out that their environmental impact if they are used is relatively small.

In the UK, we generate 30 million tonnes of municipal rubbish a year, 10% of which is plastic - sticky wrapping from meat, fish and cheese; old toys; washing up bowls; toasters; bottles; black rubbish sacks; biros; cigarette lighters; CD cases - and carrier bags.

Only the carrier bag, which is 0.3% of our rubbish, is typically reused in the home, for lining bins or for wrapping rubbish. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) says over 80% of households reuse their carrier bags.

Advocates of a bag tax will say that the bag symbolises our throw-away society. Well, so do mobile phones, trainers with flashing lights in the heel, four wheel drive vehicles and holidays abroad. Who has called for more tax on those? The current obsession with carrier bags seems disproportionate.

If a tax was going to genuinely help the environment by reducing littering or saving resources, I would support it. Taxing bags in Ireland has not stopped them being littered. Littering is a social problem and can only be addressed through education and legal penalties.

If we really hate waste as much as we claim, why not be more careful with our food, instead of throwing away vast quantities each week? Throwing away limp lettuce or stale bread also wastes the energy that went into growing, processing, transporting and storing the crops and the materials needed to package them.

What's more, things that degrade such as bread and lettuce give off greenhouses gases in landfill, whereas plastic carrier bags do not rot - a fact often criticised as a negative aspect of plastic bags, but surely if the big problem facing us is climate change, things that don't rot have the edge.

Thanks for all the comments; just to help Simon in London - SuperQuinn is a well-known Irish supermarket chain, where, of course, plastic carrier bags are taxed.

Jane Bickerstaffe is director of Incpen, the Industry Council for Packaging and the Environment, in the UK. Incpen aims to analyse and minimise the environmental and social impacts of packaging

JOHN MANOOCHEHRI - The end of the beginning?

My article evoked a general agreement that debating environmental stuff needs to take a turn towards solutions. There was a painful irony in the contrasting essence of the first and last comments.

Compare: "There is still the reality that many people don't understand the dire situation our valuable planet is in," with the profound observation: "It seems to me that environmental issues are non-issues."

My point is not that basic environmental education is unnecessary; it is that it is not the stuff of mainstream debate.

The BBC does not need to have basic arguments, either for or against environmental sustainability in a Green Room context; it can present the mainstream environmental science and policy, and practical information for real people, as a background.

Then the "forum" can be dedicated to really getting into the fascinating detail of how to achieve sustainability. Some of this is taking place, for example: what is the role of nuclear in future energy supplies? But even these debates would be better conducted with a clear bedrock of background information.

President Bush at a hydrogen fueling station (Getty Images)
All of us should look for solutions, says John Manoochehri

Overall, my article was one that invited real verve, style, excellence, simplicity and "do-ability" into the environmental debate, standing on the firm ground of past debates won and cases proven.

Too much of the Green Room, and mainstream media comment on the environment, is given to "shock, horror!" stuff, or, irritatingly offered to whining contrarians making a name by attempting to unwind, or at least nitpick, established arguments on the environmental direction we all need to head.

A lot of the comment echoed this motivational intent: "why not set targets for reduction and thus undermine the dogma of growth without limit?", "Where's the down side? Get going, people". Obviously I'm on your side. I too want more solutions in the media.

It has been time for action for 40 years. It is now time to leave the contrarians to build their own movement and debating platform, and use the media and public discourse to whip up a frenzy of creativity for sustainable solutions.

John Manoochehri is an associate fellow at Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm, researching methods for measuring the resource efficiency of industrial societies

TADESSE DADI - West must take Africa's climate burden

The worst effects of climate change are already being felt by millions of Africans whose livelihoods are directly dependent on the weather.

As a number of you have pointed out, poor farmers also face the effects of deforestation, lack of good governance, and rapid population growth.

Soil erosion (Image: Jim Loring/Tearfund)
The future of the planet for our grandchildren is at stake.

I do not deny that we Africans are as much to blame for not getting our acts together and using our resources to address these self-inflicted issues ourselves.

Climate change, however, involves all of us as we share the same atmospheric resources. The question is are we ready to give our lifestyles a critical look and see if we are causing damage to our neighbours and the generation that is to come after us?

I think there is a question of justice to consider here. The "polluter pays" principle has been successfully applied in western countries to discourage pollution by heavy industries. Why can't we apply these same principles on a global level?

The high living standard enjoyed in the West today is the result of a century and a half of industrialisation, primarily driven by the consumption of fossil fuels.

There is no denying the fact that these industries have contributed to the CO2 emissions that have been blamed for the "greenhouse effect". With its low industrial base, Africa contributes just 4% to the global total of CO2 emissions, whereas the USA accounts for 20%.

I agree with one reader who said appropriate solutions such as dry land agro-forestry are needed. Such an approach not only restores the forest cover, but also ensures that people get products they can harvest and earn income from.

I believe that helping poor farmers cope with climate change now will prevent future humanitarian disasters. As the western countries have led the world into industrialisation, I urge them to take the lead in adopting lifestyles that are less damaging to the environment, particularly the atmosphere.

The future of the planet for our grandchildren is at stake.

Tadesse Dadi is a programme support advisor for the charity Tearfund in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

AUBREY MEYER - The fair choice for climate change

Well focused reaction to any solution or "policy framework" to avoid dangerous rates of climate change is not possible without first making a judgement about the scale of the problem of climate change itself.

Some of the evidence underpinning the case for the urgent adoption of Contraction and Convergence (C&C), and support for it, can be found on the Global Commons Initiative's website.

There is a growing number of people in favour of C&C, and some recent views are very robust.

Australian coal-fired power station in full spate.  HO/AFP/Getty Images
Coal powers Australia - but climate change is global

A leading Liberal Democrat politician in the UK said recently: "The logic of C&C is morally compelling."

To me this sentiment is commendable but, as in all "moral" debates, it implies there is a choice. If there are alternative choices, what are they?

The Archbishop of Canterbury recently took a tougher view: "Anyone who thinks that C&C is utopian, simply hasn't looked honestly at the alternatives".

Joke Waller Hunter, the late executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), took this view: "To achieve the objective of the UNFCCC inevitably requires contraction and convergence."

These are very focused reactions to climate change and driven above all by a sense of urgency. Those who disagree need to come up with something better.

Aubrey Meyer is director of the Global Commons Institute (GCI), an independent group concerned with the protection of the global commons


The Green Room is a series of opinion pieces on environmental issues running weekly on the BBC News website


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