In the seventies it was vogue to dance around barefoot to John Lennon and campaign to save the world – nowadays people seem to have given up and thrown their maracas away. It is common knowledge that apathy is on the rise, even among young people who traditionally embody the greatest social idealism. Indeed students form a large proportion of the forty per cent of the UK population that doesn’t even turn out to vote.
Yet a newly published book entitled Change the world for a fiver, argues that it is not that people have lost their social conscience but rather that the insurmountable ‘scale of the problems induces a state of paralysis’. This statement rings true. Despite the fact that the government’s chief scientific advisers have pinpointed climate change as a far greater threat to our planet than international terrorism, it is easy to become numb to this reality, even when we can actually see great chunks of Greenland falling into the ocean. The thought of becoming ‘environmentally friendly’ can not only conjure up the unpleasant image of living in a tree and weaving your clothes out of recycled hemp, but also the disquieting possibility that perhaps we are all too insignificant and too late to make a real difference to our world.
After all crusading to save the planet alongside trying to save your degree and enjoying your youth is a pretty tall order. Not many students have the time or the finances to install a solar powered generator to their James College en-suite, or buy a car that runs on vegetable oil. Yet Change the World for a Fiver with its ‘fifty actions to change the world and make you feel good’ aims to provide easier and more affordable solutions to going green.
The book is created by the We are What we Do movement and it’s philosophy is simple; ‘We aim to show the power of a simple shift in attitudes and day-to-day behaviour’. As it argues, people ‘think we have to leave change to governments or big business even though we also know that we elect governments and that our spending is what creates big business. Surely the question is not whether we should act alone but how we can act together’.
So if you are up for it, how can you change the world for a fiver? The first thing that the book suggests is simply to carry a shopping bag and ‘decline using plastic bags wherever possible’. It sounds small but ‘every person in the country uses an average of 134 plastic bags every year. That’s 8 billion bags all together. All of which take 500 years to decay’. And anyway you will look so much more chic and continental carrying your carrots in a nice wicker number, than in a rather passé Costcutter original.
Other small acts include turning off unnecessary lights and using energy saving lightbulbs. In fact the book estimates that energy saving lightbulbs can save you around £65 in the long run. Furthermore merely turning your central heating thermostat down by 1° and switching off electrical applications at the mains can really reduce a household’s energy consumption. According to We are what we do, ‘a video recorder on standby uses almost as much electricity as one playing a tape.’ Not only do such actions save energy but they also save money; reducing the temperature on your thermostat can actually cut your heating bill by £25 per year.
Another surprising fact is the amount of waste that is generated simply by leaving the tap on while you are brushing your teeth. ‘It wastes up to 9 litres of water a minute, or 26’000 litres of water per household, per year. This means your street alone could fill an Olympic sized swimming pool every year.’ Furthermore, so much power and water could be saved if people only used less water in their kettles, and this has the added benefit that it saves you hanging around for your caffeine fix.
Recycling is a really easy way to make a difference, yet it is something that very few people do. Most of York’s JCRC’s provide recycling facilities for glass, paper and plastic goods. However, if you live off campus you may be in one of the lucky zones that has access to a kerbside recycling scheme, or if not recycling banks shouldn’t be too far away. See www.york.gov.uk/waste/recycling for more information.
However there are also less obvious products that you can recycle too. Many people don’t realise that ‘15 million mobile phones are replaced in the UK every year. This equates to 1500 tonnes of landfill. That’s about the same as burying a World War 2 Destroyer’. However if you go to www.fonebak.org you can recycle your old mobile and stop it becoming part of the problem.
The Computer Recycling Project in Grimston house will also happily take old or broken computers and donate them to a worthy cause.
Furthermore, if you have empty printer inkjet cartridges, Tommy’s, a baby charity will recycle them at no cost, just call 0800 435576 to order some free envelopes. Recycling books is also a good idea and this can make you money too, Your:Books normally offer a rebate of at least 45% of what you paid for a book originally. Another nice thing to do is to donate your old glasses to a charity like www.vao.org.uk who send them to people in developing countries who cant afford them – ‘200 million people around the world need spectacles every year’. Recycling these kind of things really can make a difference to people’s lives.
The book goes on to advocate many other ideas that would change society for the better, such as sticking to the 30mph speed limit, building links with your neighbours, smiling at strangers more and spending time with different generations. Admittedly at times it can be a cheesy read that was quite possibly written by a bunch of vegans in a room full of dream-catchers, Enya and idealism. However at the same time even staunch cynics cannot deny that the suggestions the book makes are so easy to do and can actually save you money to render it worth a shot.
Understandably most students feel disillusioned by the knowledge that just because they do the decent thing and recycle their vodka bottles every week, this will probably not counter the damage caused to the environment by the millions of petrol guzzling Chevrolet drivers over in Kansas. It is true that the future of our environment will largely be dictated by the decisions made by major world leaders, such as those meeting at the forthcoming G8 summit in Scotland. However despite all of the reasons encouraging passivity, anyone who reads ‘Change the World for a fiver’ cannot help being inspired and empowered by its suggestions. It is perhaps because this book really shows how people can do their bit and take responsibility for their piece of the world, however small that might be, which lies behind its appeal.