This year there was a big focus on sustainability and climate change following Rio+20, and in the lead up to COP18 in Doha. But increasingly these global forums are facing criticism because of the perceived disconnect between the political process and the ecological imperative for action.
A few weeks ago I was invited to a green growth forum which is seen as an agenda-setting precursor to the COP18 talks. Despite the positive intentions and impressive turnout of presidents, policy makers and finance executives, I could not help but feel that there was a gap at the table: for the ecologists and environmental activists; for the entrepreneurs and the innovators who toil at the interface between us and the planet and who are trying to reconcile this relationship. The remarkable individuals who are out there now, all over the world, actually doing something, not just talking about it.
When we search for stories on earthrise we are looking for genuine solutions to the long list of environmental challenges that we all face. Often these are so-called ‘bottom-up’, grassroots projects that are the result of individuals or communities who are capable of imagining a cleaner, greener future and are using ingenuity, collaboration and hard work to make it happen.
But how do these grassroots solutions emerge and grow?
It starts with the ‘Big Thinkers’ – those who have a big idea that they cannot keep to themselves – like lawyer Polly Higgins who is on a mission to have ‘ecocide’ recognised by the UN as an International Crime Against Peace.
This law, if ratified, could hold heads of state and CEOs personally responsible for damage to the environment inflicted by companies or countries over which they preside.
|The arid New Mexico desert is home to a cluster of unusual buildings called ‘earthships’ [Al Jazeera]
Or rebel architect Mike Reynolds - a proponent of radically sustainable living for the last 40 years and the creator of earthships, off-grid homes made from waste materials that act like living systems capable of supporting human life without costing the earth.
It is through action that these big thinkers become ‘Local Heroes’; inspiring individuals such as New Orleans tree planter Richie “don’t call me an environmentalist” Blink, who is out there right now planting mangrove trees and restoring New Orleans’ storm defence on the Mississippi Delta.
Or Welsh dairy farmer Wyn Evans, whose concerns about rising sea levels and the effect of climate change on his grandchildren’s generation drove him to adopt renewable energy units that put him 30 years ahead of the curve.
When we get behind these walking, talking catalysts we see genuine solutions beginning to emerge – community-led change which in many cases would have been impossible to effect from the top down.
For example, community energy initiative Brixton Energy is succeeding precisely because project director Agamemnon Otero is not from the council and does not represent an energy provider. Agamemnon is in the community knocking on doors, encouraging people to invest in a rooftop solar array that is enriching their community, and not just in a financial sense.
In the inner city of Detroit, amid the burnt-out houses and abandoned streets, there are the likes of community leader Mark Covington who we met when making Motown to Growtown. He and hundreds of other residents-turned-city-farmers are breaking the law by creating an urban agriculture movement to grow fresh, lower carbon produce in parts of the city where people must travel miles to get to a grocery store.
|Earthworks is a highly productive 0.8 hectare urban farming hub in Detroit that provides would-be city farmers with everything they need, from support to seedlings [Al Jazeera]
Time and again we have seen green initiatives that also make financial sense, and that is when things really get moving.
Sweetwater Organics’ inner city Aquaponics farm provides Milwaukie with vegetables and fresh fish - reducing pressure on depleted ocean stocks and cutting down on food miles and storage costs. And Veta La Palma, a truly sustainable
Spanish fish farm that looks more like a nature reserve, and benefits the environment while making an outstanding product.
In Return of Elvers we saw fishermen and conservationists working together to safeguard a species. By maintaining thecommercial fishery, they ensure the survival of the market for eels, which in turn funds their myriad efforts to conserve the species.
At Gemasolar Concentrated Solar Power plant in southern Spain, we met the energetic entrepreneurs who have created the first commercial-scale concentrated solar plant – one that works 24/7 and saves 30,000 tonnes of CO2 per year in the process.
Gemasolar’s success would not have been possible without considerable investment and favourable feed-in tariffs (subsidies) from the government. Their support paved the way for increased private investment, which will in turn drive further advancements in the technology.
Reallocating scarce public finance is key is to catalysing private investment; because ultimately, without policies to divert investments away from carbon intensive development and into green growth, environmental projects will always be piecemeal.
As journalists and filmmakers it is within our power to give a platform to the big thinkers and grassroots activists who are already making change happen. By giving a voice to the visionaries we can help them share their innovations and experiences, and in doing so perhaps inspire more people to follow their example.