Nations in the red, it's time to go green
As the current economic climate forces many of us to tighten our purse strings, voters in Germany are starting to take the green option seriously - and so should we.
Germany's Green Party was founded three decades ago and has long been associated with the long hair and sandal-wearing movement which, until now, turned many potential voters off.
"People used to say 'we can afford the Greens when times are good, but when it's a matter of jobs and growth, it's not the Greens you need'," co-party leader Claudia Roth told Reuters.
Now that would appear to be changing. In an era in which Europe is paying the price for the excesses of recent years, many are realizing we can no longer live without limits.
"We have shown that economics and ecology don't contradict each other," says Roth.
Even Angela Merkel is an apparent convert to the "greening of German politics," says Reuters; since the disaster of Fukushima, she is in a hurry to shut down the countries' atomic power plants.
Pulling their weight in the German parliament, however, could depend on the outcome of the next general election in 2013. If the left-of-middle Social Democratic Party (SDP) is re-elected, an alliance would be their most likely option.
The SDP previously spurned such an alliance, though they may think twice second time round. Latest polls put Angela Merkel's leading CDU on 32% and the Socialists on second place with 30%. The popularity of Germany's Green party has rocketed in the past year, from 10.7% in 2009 to between 15-20% in the latest opinion polls.
Doing our bit
While politicians dilly-dally about whether to jump on the green bandwagon, there are plenty of actions we can take to as individuals by just staying informed. The number of organizations and websites now dedicated to saving the planet - and often our pennies into the bargain - is now almost infinite.
Living according to a green ethic, however, takes effort and implies more than just a trip to the local bottle bank.
In a throwaway society, several websites, such as recyclethis.co.uk, offer advice on how to re-use (not just recycle) materials, from used contact lenses to make-up sponges.
Another important aspect of being green involves being an ethical consumer. How many products and brands do we buy without questioning how it made it onto the supermarket shelf?
It is worth investigating, though be prepared for some disturbing discoveries about some of your favourite products. One of the UK's leading brands of tea scores a pitiful 1 out of 20 on ethiscore.org's ethical consumer guide, guilty on several counts of unethical trading, including 'unsustainable water usage'; 'workers' rights violations' and 'animal testing of non-medical products', to name just a handful.
Being green can have its upside too, though you may have to seriously rethink your consumer habits. The world is being rapidly stripped of its resources partly due to a penchant for cheap goods that don't last.
If you transform your wardrobe with the frequency of the changing seasons, think again: spend a bit more on well-made, quality items that will last you years. People Tree, Edun and Loomstate make fashionable, environmentally-friendly clothes and have excellent credentials in terms of ethical trading.
If you really are so fickle you need a frequent fashion revamp, you could consider ‘swishing'. Described as a 'global phenomenon' that began in the UK, swishing parties are now taking place in the US, China, South Africa and Brazil.
Basically, the rules are as follows: Everyone brings at least one item of quality clothing they no longer want and has half an hour to browse the offerings before swishing commences. When swishing does begin, participants attempt to take whatever they've had their eyes on (scratching, spitting or fighting strictly forbidden)!
A little goes a long way
How many times have we heard that making small changes can make a huge difference? But just what should they be? Here are a few suggestions for how to start:
Instead of buying expensive detergents, investing in Ecoballs could save you money and cut down on water usage. One kit of Ecoballs, worth somewhere in the vicinity of €40 (available to buy on-line even at Amazon!) can last you up to 1,000 washes.
Another alternative to washing powder is 'Sapindus mukorissi' or Indian Soapnuts. Natural detergent that literally grows on trees, they are an environmentally friendly, cheap alternative to conventional products.
Adding a 'Hippo' to your toilet cistern can help save water, while many are the number of car-sharing schemes one can now join by inquiring locally or showing a bit of initiative.
Lastly, as the festive season creeps upon us most of us will be hard pushed to avoid the excesses of the Christmas season. Before you draw up your gift list, why not consider giving a few ethical gifts this year? Charity Sightsavers¡ 'Gift of Sight' can be presented as a card which shows someone their gift has helped improve the life of someone with poor or no sight in the developing world.
Good gifts meanwhile has a variety of worthwhile presents which help make a difference, including a class trip to the theatre and 50 bowls of rice for children in Africa.