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Climate Week's Kevin Steele: 'We must focus on solutions, not problems'

Matilda Lee

13th March, 2012

This week thousands of groups and communities will ACT on climate change as part of Climate Week. Founder Kevin Steele speaks to the Ecologist about what it takes to maximise momentum in the climate movement

Kevin Steele, founder of Climate Week, knows how to talk numbers. When asked about the success of the first Climate Week, he launches into the stats: ‘Last year it involved half a million people attending 3,000 events, with 1,000 pieces of media and 28 per cent of the British population aware it took place.'

Where other climate campaigners may focus on particular wins: policy changes, exposing corporate bad practice, or even the more nebulous ‘awareness raising' Steele clearly believes actions - no matter how small - taken together add up to something greater than their parts.

‘The Climate Week model clearly worked and it's well along the path to becoming the national occasion that we hoped it would. It showed that there is a substantial layer of people in Britain who care enough about climate change to come out and take action. As far as we know, it was the biggest environmental occasion in Britain,' he says.

He strongly believes we need to stop focusing on the problems and start focusing all our energy on the solutions. Hence, the Climate Week Awards which are aimed at painting a picture of what a low carbon Britain could look like.

Climate Week Awards' 14 categories recognise exemplary achievements across society - from local councils, businesses, governments, even artistic responses to climate change.

The three finalists in the 'best technological breakthrough' category, for example, are Pelamis Wave Power for its giant 180 metre long metal snake which converts wave energy into electricity; a non-GM drought resistant maize already helping small farmers in Africa cope with extreme weather and Nexeon's Silicon Anode, a rechargable power source which has the potential to hold 10 times as much electricity in a battery.

New this year for Climate Week is a focus on food and the launch of ‘Climate Week cuisine'. ‘We wanted something that anyone could do at work, school or in their own home. We are encouraging people to eat at a minimum one low carbon meal during Climate Week. In practice this means three things: using up leftovers, using local or seasonal ingredients and eating less meat and dairy,' he says.

Climate Week's ‘play in a day' bring together nationally-recognised actors to devise, write, rehearse and perform 15-minute plays about climate within 24 hours. These will run in London's carbon neutral Arcola Theatre

Other notable events include an inter-faith meeting held at the Lord Mayor's house, 'to talk about the religious response to climate change'.

Well over 200 national organisations and celebrities such as Paul McCartney and Sienna Miller, are involved.

‘The approach of Climate Week is that the climate crisis that we are facing is so huge and important and the need for action so urgent that the only way to address is it to involve all sections of society. This includes mobilising the power and effectiveness of large companies and governments. It's not going to be solved by NGOs,' he says.

But it is this inclusiveness that has drawn criticism from activists, angered by what they see as free pass for polluting corporations to green their public image.

‘We have good positive dialogue with both Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth,' he responds when asked about relations with other big climate campaign groups.

Most NGOs are all too aware of how damaging it is to be associated with all but a select few of big corporations, but Steele revels in the idea of joining up with household names.

'Our sponsors are all doing tremendous work in promoting the low-carbon agenda. Tesco has committed to reducing the carbon content of supply chain by 30 per cent by the end of the decade'.

About another of their four supporting partners, EdF, he says, 'EdF has a long standing climate change agenda and is the biggest producer of low carbon electricity'.

H&M -the biggest buyer of organic cotton in the world - have joined up with eco designer Katharine Hamnett on a limited edition 'Save the Future' organic slogan t-shirt sold at selected H&M stores during Climate Week.

Nissan's LEAF car has the highest possible credentials and is 100 per cent electric. 'It has the potential to demonstrate the power of the green collar economy as it will be built in Sunderland, an area in need of economic deveopment,' he says.

SodaStream, another sponsor, eliminates single use water bottles with its carbonated drinks machine saving one person an estimated 2,000 bottles and cans.

‘Taken together we think they represent tremendous business practice,' he adds.

This year, the success of Climate Week, for Kevin Steele, will be judged by the sheer number of people that get involved - and how it compares to last year. For that, he has a call to action - he wants people to register anything they are doing on the Climate Week website. ‘Social and environmental movements need to be visible to gain momentum. If you are running something during the week don't forget to register it online'.

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