Earth Hour 2014

This is going to be short and sweet, so please read it.

Earth Hour LogoLooking back through the archives, I was a little shocked to see that I had never posted about Earth Hour before. Earth what I hear you cry! If you were tuned in on Monday you would have seen my attention grabbing untitled post, which linked to the Earth Hour about us page.

Today I give you a challenge, join millions of people around the world in turning off your lights from 8.30pm to 9.30pm.

From 8.30 tonight, turn off all your non-essential lighting for one hour, to show your support for WWF’s Earth Hour. If you work at an airport, take heed of the non-essential bit and keep the runway lights on!

Big Ben Clock Tower, The Eiffel Tower and The Empire State Building with lights off for Earth Hour

Lights off around the world for Earth Hour.

There are all sorts of fantastic projects that now take place because of Earth Hour; an event that only started in 2007. Here are just a few of the great projects that you can sponsor:

  • Protect villagers in Bangladesh from tigers by installing solar lights
  • Support rangers who help to prevent poaching
  • Help bring power to remote villages
  • Fund corral reef protection awareness

Show your support tonight, be a hero. :-)

Useful Christmas Gifts

In some parts of the world Christmas is well on the way, and shoppers are happily spending the bank’s money in shopping centres to buy presents for their loved ones.

In my family we have a different approach, and I would like readers to consider the model. It might possibly go some way to improving the welfare of many and the health of the global community at large.

The charity OXFAM offer a wonderful service called Oxfam Unwrapped. Why not buy a present for someone but have it delivered to someone who really needs it? I like this system, although I have some suggestions that I will make later.

So each year I buy my brother a set of school books for English language teaching through Oxfam. My brother speaks good English however, and so Oxfam send the books to a school in Malawi, where they serve a full class of bright and eager Malawian kids. My brother receives a card directly from Oxfam letting him know that his gift from me of 26 school books has been delivered by Santa to the school.

Everyone is happy.

The Unwrapped service offers all kinds of gifts, but I would stick to inanimate objects, project funding or education rather than live animals, although this is just a personal choice. The introduction of a live animal might cause problems to a family though (only my personal idea), as circumstances might not be ideal for their arrival.

I must admit that even living in affluent Cambridge Massachusetts, the arrival of a cow or even a couple of chickens or goats would not be too easy to manage, and I am sure that other situations exist that might not be improved, albeit through good will, by addition to the family. I am sure Oxfam know what they are doing though, they have been working in this field for many years.

Another possibility is to donate to research, projects or product development.

I like the idea of sending something to benefit others, and there are many ways of doing this. Just for a single example take a look at these coffee mugs. Each mug has the logo of the beneficiary printed on it, and 50% of the price is donated directly to the organizations.

Or donate to a project that is working to improve lives. The Liter of light project I wrote about earlier in the year is in need of funds, and there is another local project that is close to my heart that involves playing football (soccer).

A group of Harvard University students (women) had an idea a few years ago that has finally come to fruition. They have designed a football that can convert the energy created as it is being used into electric power. So the ball has a small socket within its cover, an inductive coil mechanism turns the kinetic energy into enough power to run a light for 3 hours after just 15 minutes of play.

Socckett powering a light

Soccket powering a phone

After a full match the ref can charge his or her mobile phone.

Soccket, as the ball is called, is currently under trial in South Africa, and they could do with some advance orders to help its development. They are giving the balls away for free. You can buy one at the company website, and they will give it to someone on your behalf. They also have a skipping rope (jump rope) that works in the same way as the ball, so if football is not your sport of choice you can still join in the fun.

If we all diverted a portion of the money we spend this Christmas to projects whose goals are to improve lives, we could make a lot of difference. We could avoid battling other shoppers, buying needless things, creating thousands of tons of waste and modify an extremely wasteful and destructive economic system.

We could all do a little bit of good, and as William Shakespeare once said “How far that little candle throws his beams! So shines a good deed in a weary world”.

Blog Action Day 2013

Blogs all across the world are talking about human rights today. For the fourth year in a row I am taking part in Blog Action Day.

Blog Action Day's logoThis year the topic is human rights.

I am going to share with you might thoughts on the relationship between the Internet and human rights.

Imagine what it would be like if every day, a cloaked figure followed you around, observing your every action and taking notes. It would be a bit creepy wouldn’t it, not to mention the privacy issues.

Back in 2011, I wrote a post asking whether everyone should be entitled to use the Internet and whether in fact it should be a human right. Founder of Facebook Mark Zuckerberg believes that it should be; make your own decision as to whether this is only because he wants more business for his site.

So, imagine what it would be like with Mark Zuckerberg following you around all day, taking notes on what you do, invading your privacy… hold on, if you are on Facebook, he kind of does.

See how I linked that. ;-)

I am no stranger to complaining about Facebook, but it isn’t the only culprit, Google is also a huge threat to online privacy. It stores all information it collects about you for at least 18 months. Why? In the words of Hungry Beast, because “Google wants to know who you are, where you are and what you like, so it can target ads at you.Check out Hungry Beast’s video to scare yourself.

So to get to the point, I don’t believe access to the Internet need be a human right, (not yet anyway) however I do believe that the right to privacy online should be. The United Nations logoArticle 12 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights states:

“No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honour and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.”

Why does this not cover our online lives too? Should Google, Amazon, Facebook, Yahoo and Apple (and others) be allowed to monitor us so much?

I shall keep this short and sweet and leave you with those thoughts.

The power of the social networks and the media

Many people take a very negative view of the media. In the UK, there has recently been a press standards enquiry, which looked into the unethical practices some media organisations (specifically newspapers) were using.

Many people also take a negative view of social networks. Twitter has been in the firing line a lot lately, helping to break super injunctions and spread rumours at amazing speed.

I think sometimes we forget that the press and social media can also be a force for good, and so in this article I am going to talk about something positive that only happened thanks to the power of the media and social networks.

The Story

Martha Payne is a nine-year-old girl from Argyll and Bute, (Scotland) who started a blog in May this year called NeverSeconds. On the blog she wrote about her school dinners, under the alias of Veg. She took a camera into school and photographed her school dinner. When she got home, she wrote about it, posted a picture, and then rated each meal.

She gave the food a rating out of ten on her ‘Food-o-meter‘ scale, detailed how many mouthfuls it took her to eat it, what courses it was (i.e. starter and main or main and dessert), how healthy (out of ten) she rated it, the price, and how many pieces of hair she found on it – and yes, one day she did find one!

Martha Payne's first blog

Martha’s first image on her blog – pizza, croquet, sweetcorn and a cake, a meal she rated 6/10 on her food-o-meter

Martha set up a link on her blog to the charity Mary’s Meals, with the aim of raising £7,000 for the charity, through donations from those who read her posts.

All was going well for Martha, until her blog featured in a local newspaper. Here’s what happened in Martha’s words:

“This morning in maths I got taken out of class by my head teacher and taken to her office. I was told that I could not take any more photos of my school dinners because of a headline in a newspaper today.

I only write my blog not newspapers and I am sad I am no longer allowed to take photos. I will miss sharing and rating my school dinners and I’ll miss seeing the dinners you send me too. I don’t think I will be able to finish raising enough money for a kitchen for Mary’s Meals either.

Goodbye,
VEG”

So that was it. Martha Payne, a nine-year-old girl who ran a blog with the aim of raising some money for charity, and developing her language skills through writing about her school dinners, was no longer allowed to blog.

It was actually the local council that had told the school to ban Martha from posting, as they were unhappy with the coverage of the story in the local paper. It was alleged that the article had made catering staff fearful for their jobs.

The publicity generated from the local paper reporting on the blog helped Martha to reach nearly £2,000 in donations for Mary’s Meals, an amazing achievement, which is why it is such a shame that the blog had to be shut down.

A sad end to the blogging career of a little girl with good intentions.

But it didn’t end there.

The news reached the council leader who was unhappy with the action taken, and as a result instructed senior officials to lift the ban.

Martha could blog again!

This was now a big story, and national media organisations were keen to publish their account of events. The Telegraph, The Guardian and BBC news were some of the most notable media organisations to cover the story. Most notable, the BBC article received well over 1,000 comments, and tens of thousands of social shares!

Going Viral

Martha Payne from NeverSeconds

Martha Payne – NeverSeconds Author

First it was just a story. Then it hit the media. Now it was the turn of Facebook and Twitter. Within hours of the BBC publishing their article, tens of thousands of people had shared it, and the NeverSeconds blog hit counter soared from a few thousand views to over a million! Martha was soon trending on Twitter.

The story was so inspirational, many people wanted to pay tribute to Martha’s fantastic work, and did so by donating to the charity she supported – Mary’s Meals. Martha smashed her £7,000 target in a matter of hours, as donations to the charity flooded in. Overnight, Martha became the top fund raiser for Mary’s Meals on the JustGiving website.

By the end of the week, (in just 4 days) donations had topped £50,000! This prompted even more publicity, as the media reported on the remarkable story of the girl who raised tens of thousands for charity, by writing about her school meals.

The NeverSeconds site hit counter now reads in excess of eight million and the donations to Mary’s Meals are over 1750% of Martha’s £7,000 target – currently standing at £123,969.32.

Martha has since been out to Malawi to see one of the projects her fund raising efforts went to help. For more information on her trip, have a read of this BBC news article.

Martha has been named as the Human Rights Young Person of the Year, for her outstanding work, and continues to blog over at NeverSeconds to this day.

The Streisand Effect

This story is a fantastic example of how the media and social networking can be a force for good, and encourage people to think of others. It is also a good example of the Streisand effect in action, the concept whereby attempting to cover something up, thanks to the internet, leads to that very thing getting greater publicity.

Smile today for the story of NeverSeconds :-)