Simple and practical actions may sometimes speak louder than words. It is hardly a mere coincidence that Gandhi span and mined salt, Berliners hammered at the wall, the nuclear weapon’s opponents made cranes out of paper. These simple matter-of-fact actions helped activists recruit supporters, reach their objectives and simply made history as symbols of entire epochs. In Russia, Ukraine, Georgia and Tajikistan, growing anti-climate change movement finds its symbols in solar collectors, eco-roofs, bicycle chargers and arboreta made by people and for people.
Enter climatic urbanists
This week saw the end of the contest of practical eco-initiatives by a civic campaign “Climate Workroom” initiated by 350.org. 33 local groups from 6 countries in Eastern Europe, Caucasus and Central Asia submitted descriptions of their project ideas aimed at the greenhouse emissions reduction and, at the same time, developing more comfortable urban and rural environment. We had the pleasure to get to know lots of really useful and well-designed eco-urbanist inventions: from the restoration of lighting in war-damaged villages through to the complex city transport infrastructure planning. Although the contest lasted only 15 days and surely couldn’t cover all existing projects, in the aftermath it is hardly daring to say the solutions for climatic crisis do exist and people begin to realize their accessibility.
Choosing just one project the Workroom could afford to support financially was very hard. In the end, we decided to award the idea entitled “Hot running water on top of the world” by “The Little Earth” organization from Tajikistan. This team will work in a remote highland village of Nisur to install a solar thermal collector that will heat running water in a public building. This will enable them to reduce the use of firewood for water heating, and will not just cut the CO2 emissions and save meager vegetation around the village but also free some time for the countryside women and children picking wood to heat water. If the dwellers welcome the project and stimulate further advent of the renewable energy, it will mean more time to do other things and less harmful smoke from the primitive stoves. All in all, a highly useful idea under all viewpoints. Follow the news from the Tajik team on the Climate Workroom website (in Russian).
Do you dream of a babushka with a Nokia phone?
In the meanwhile, the community of climate masters takes shape and grows. To begin with, we asked the projects’ authors what inspired them to do what they did. Here are some answers. They do turn us on too, what about you?
“We were inspired by the great usefulness of our project for nature, society, individual participants, for the development of our organization and us volunteers.”
“The possibility to make the city better, turn it from a noisy, dusty and car-crowded mega-city into a really comfortable and safe one, a city for people. When a street turns from a highway-like main road into a real street… where kids play on the pavement which is no longer a car park; where traffic is made up by 30 per cent of cyclists not drivers… where the stops are served by a quiet low-floor 5-unit tram instead of a packed lemon shuttle bus… where the central square is a place to seat on the grass and not to park cars… where trolleybus drives faster on its separate lane than do cars in a traffic jam; where students ride bicycles to the class and schoolchildren can ride to school instead of paying 4 hryvnyas (0.3 US) for a shuttle bus… Something like this…”
“Projects just like this one stimulate people’s two motivations simultaneously: a) purely consumerist and practical one, meaning that people acquire some useful and needed thing; and b) moral one – the people feel they contribute to the preservation of nature and climate stabilization.”
“Both adults and children will see that life can be changed for better.”
“Helping those suffering from hostilities, showing them that it’s not just the government which wants to help them but that also ordinary citizens want to help them return to life as usual, while now also using green technologies.”
“The most inspiring thing is to involve people from other cities who either plant oak trees themselves in their region or donate acorns to our project. Eventually, new partnerships are formed and entail other projects. Acorns changing hands, people participate in the creation of a park in the town of Dobropillya, and they follow the results with huge interest. This is really cool to feel such an enormous support.”
“Informing people that energy efficiency is possible and even lucrative, and using ‘the energy of social support’ for the implementation of energy saving measures in houses. If the energy research results in economic feasibility study of the necessary energy efficiency measures, then it will be easier to bring in the energy companies to more costly projects with longer payback period.”
“The project is not just green but also social (it creates extra recreational zones for the people who can’t go to a park) and economical (it extends roof usage life three- or fourfold and places additional orders with local businesses).”
“Such a trend will make our city more attractive for tourists! Many countries have already supported the movement and it means that we’re moving in the right direction!” “All that is done for the young generation, its nature-concerned upbringing, its environmental education, inspires us, invigorates us and makes us happy!”
“Our main idea is to move from the use of fossil fuels to a life based on renewables as we learn to limit ourselves without infringing our interests. In other words, to live in unity with nature. For example, the idea of unity is shown in the ‘Avatar’ movie in a slightly different aspect.”
“For us, it is the excitement like in the old tale: cooking a stone soup. How a small $1000 investment and our own stubbornness can send cycling movement in our city to a new level. What inspires us a lot is also our work with different people (novices and old supporters), developing horizontal ties which can be later used as a foundation of a strong public cycling movement.”
“The most inspiring thing for us is our argument in favor of renewable energy as a quotidian fact that has to be present in our world right now rather than as jokes and fairy tales. We’re almost seeing her, a babushka [an older lady or a grandmother in Russian, – translator] sitting on our energy bench, charging her Nokia 200 and explaining to her grandson that energy can be obtained just out of the clear blue sky without wires)))”
Surely, as isolated projects such initiatives alone won’t solve the global problems of climate change, poverty, and inequality. Yet they give their participants and society hope and understanding of their power in the face of global problems. They let their participants speak the language everyone understands. It’s not unlikely that guerilla gardening and electricity-generating bus stops will in the near future become universal and practical symbols akin to Gandhi’s spin that united entire India. Perhaps their help to launch action in the right direction will stimulate not only ordinary citizens but also those responsible for the problem solution at the urban, regional and national levels.