The zero emissions communities of Gandhi, Fidel, Thatcher and Chomsky

This morning I had pancakes with a few friends and as we sat there eating I thought about how different we all are on fundamental levels: values, ideas, experiences, ambitions and priorities. We most likely fall in different quadrants of this political compass:


The challenge my generation faces: getting the contemporary versions of Gandhi, Mrs. Thatcher, Fidel and my favourite, Noam Chomsky, to cooperate and work towards the collective goal of limiting global warming to 2 degrees celsius. But no pressure.

“Successfully transitioning to a low-carbon economy will require unprecedented global cooperation” states the 2014 report Pathways to Deep Decarbonisation. Well, that sounds daunting and overwhelming. How will my generation come through with that feat? To mobilise people towards the same goal in a way that has never been documented in history. I don’t plan to have lots of children, I advocate carpooling and I’m not a big meat eater, but to mobilise 8 billion people towards limiting global warming to 2°C… there’s no way, right? Let’s look at what we learned in week 7 of the MOOC.

Firstly, we learned about two important facts: a) we have to act right now to adapt to the future climate since we’ve already released enough carbon dioxide into the atmosphere to change the planet as we know it today and b) we not only need to drastically reduce further CO2 emissions, but mitigate global warming through CO2 removal strategies. The pivotal moment this week, however, was acknowledging that limiting global warming is a multidimensional problem with a difficult but essential aspect: humans! You and I, full of different opinions, lovers of freedom, self-determination and autonomy. Procedural justice (honesty and transparency) and place attachment (sense of identity) were two elements that research indicates will push towards the ‘think global, act local’ attitude that will help us deal with climate change through community-based energy.

I’ll amuse myself by picturing Mahatma Gandhi, Margaret Thatcher, Fidel Castro and Noam Chomsky as leaders of their own distinct communities but each one of them powered by renewable energy sources and zero CO2 emissions. Gandhi most probably would applaud this idea of energy self-sufficient communities as he campaigned economically self-sufficient communities in India. Margaret Thatcher would be motivated too since she opened the Hadley Centre for Climate Prediction and Research. What about Noam Chomsky? He would probably not only lead a zero emissions community but the members of his group would understand how and why they work together. Finally, Fidel knows well climate change really doesn’t care about political affiliations and has been vocal for years on supporting emission reduction efforts by the U.S.

In all seriousness, are communities the answer to get individuals to separately work towards the same goal regardless of where they lie in the political compass? Are communities key for climate change adaptation and mitigation?

The category Cool Initiatives is a space where I like to briefly summarise and highlight projects and programmes in agriculture that work towards increasing food security and that I find cool. It’s important to say, cool for me means many things. From implementation of important theories, such as participative action research, to the use of novel tools to support old traditions, cool can mean different things but in each post I make sure I highlight why is the theme in question: “cool”.

As I mentioned in last week’s post, working to limit global warming to 2ºC is not an easy feat. It requires we work hard for the rest of our lives. In this post I want to go through a few of my personal lifestyle habits to figure out if the things I enjoy contribute to climate change and explore what can I realistically do about it.


Chemtrails – 16 x 23” Oil on board. An imagined skyscape generated as a reaction to the idea that geoengineering can be a solution to climate change, and specifically questioning the view that we can use aerosols to control the weather and adapt to man-made climate change. Copyright © Louise Frances Graham, 2014.

Everyday I blow dry my hair or style it with some heating tool. I buy a lot of grooming products made out of plastic bottles. I use a tablet, a cellphone and a portable computer which all need to be charged once or twice each day. I live on the top floor of student accommodation and the heat released by rooms below me rises and warms mine enough so I barely turn on my heating and I have to open the window at night because It feels like a sauna. When I walk I always try to use the revolving door if the building has one. My food is sourced locally and internationally, I rarely check because I’m guided by what my student budget can accommodate. I buy clothes that are most probably made in sweatshops in Asia because I buy from massive online retailers, however, I never waste a single piece of clothing, all the clothes I no longer use are being worn by friends or have been given to charity. I buy frequently from Amazon and I have my groceries delivered twice a month because I buy boxes of eggs and soy milk that are very heavy to carry. I don’t eat meat because the texture freaks me out, “I’m chewing an animal’s thigh”, “what’s in my mouth use to walk or swim” “eeeeewww”. I recycle when it is convenient to do so, when there are clearly labelled bins: cardboard, plastic, organic or landfill. I have never driven a car and use the public transport system in Exeter twice a month on average to avoid a 30 minute walk in the cold or rain. I travel on coaches at least once a month to nearby cities for tourism. I constantly carry a reusable water bottle to fill it up and try to avoid buying plastic bottles and canned beverages. I’m from Colombia and if I were to visit my parents over Easter (which I won’t), according to this calculator my air travel would release 3.57 tonnes or carbon dioxide into the atmosphere:

Screenshot 2015-03-08 13.56.24

I like to think that because I don’t drive a car, eat meat or turn on the heater I’m doing my part, but I can do more. Here is my 2015 pledge:

  1. Apparently blow drying my hair each day for 20 minutes releases half a pound of carbon dioxide. I will save time and energy by taking this out of my daily routine and saving it for special occasions.
  2. I need to figure out how to buy less packaged stuff or for now go out of my way to recycle, even when it’s not convenient.
  3. Stop buying online stuff that I don’t need, especially because it’s made in other countries with mined materials and supports low paid workers in poor working conditions – all fuelled by non-renewable energy.
  4. Offset travelling miles, if I can afford to visit my parents with a £550 ticket, I can afford to offset the carbon released with £16 – it’s 2.9% of the ticket cost. Why isn’t carbon offsetting just included into every single flight ticket by law? Yes, it will be 2.9% more expensive but that’s incredibly cheap for getting to see the world, travel, learn about different cultures and not contribute to the gradual decay of the planet.

In addition to these individual actions, I can be proactive about climate change by pressuring leaders to transition towards an economy based on renewable energy, this can be done in many ways. From acts of civil disobedience to participating in a collaborative art project like this one led by the same artist who made the paintings featured throughout this post. It involves patchwork, hence the title of this post. I strongly encourage you to participate, I know I will.

Pail and Insignificant

Pail and Insignificant – 24 x 26” Acrylic on canvas. A still life symbolising world food shortages and the devastating impact of climate change. Maize was chosen because it forms the basis of a staple diet for a large number of people. The galvanised pail represents drought and flooding – two of the main challenges of extreme weather brought on by man-made climate change. Placing the dead plants within the pail represents our dependence on water to grow our food and the insignificant growth of the plants shows the fragility of this relationship. Copyright © Louise Frances Graham, 2014.

The leader of this collaborative patchwork project is an English artist called Louise Graham who has been motivated by the climate change MOOC. If you are interested in learning more about Louise including her contact details or a reference relating to her artwork, here is her CV.

A prediction

A Prediction – 36 x 24” Mixed media (acrylic paint; tape; permanent marker) on canvas. A semi-abstracted piece capturing the feelings of anguish that the world is continuing as usual despite unequivocal evidence that the consumption of fossil fuels is causing our climate to change and leading us towards a terrifying future. Copyright © Louise Frances Graham, 2014.      


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