The Glasgow Effect: Waste of Money or An Opportunity?

By Edwina Cramp on Friday 8 January 2016

It’s only the first week of January and already controversy has hit Glasgow. The topic of office banter on Tuesday morning was Ellie Harrison and her Glasgow Effect project being awarded £15k by Creative Scotland. The artist will not leave the greater Glasgow Area for 1 year (except in the event of the ill-heath / death of close relative or friend), and it’s already caused a storm on social media.

“By setting this one simple restriction to her current lifestyle, she intends to test the limits of a ‘sustainable practice’ and to challenge the demand-to-travel placed upon the ‘successful’ artist / academic. The experiment will enable her to cut her carbon footprint and increase her sense of belonging, by encouraging her to seek out and create ‘local opportunities’ – testing what becomes possible when she invests all her ideas, time and energy within the city where she lives.”

Personally I find it hard to criticise a project that hasn’t produced anything yet, especially when I don’t know anything about the artist and her intentions. So I looked her up to find out more and discovered she has a strong interest in climate change, political activism and big data.

According to the Herald, and Ellie herself the project was initially called Think Global Act Local and is not primarily about poverty or deprivation in the city, as many people have assumed, but about exploring the benefits and practicalities of localism for artists and communities. And, so with COP21 fresh in my mind I can’t help hoping that some of this project’s outcomes will shine a light on how local communities can start to address the many challenges of keeping global warming at or below 2°C.

The COP21 agreement signed in Paris at the end of last year was a declaration by all 196 nations of the world to pull together and attempt to reduce carbon emissions, thus limiting the onslaught of global warming and reducing air pollution worldwide. While undoubtedly the biggest difference will be made by big business and governments, see our founder Don’s views on this, I also believe that each and every one of us must also do our bit by changing the way we live, work, travel and think; no matter where we are from or how rich we are.

I don’t normally take directly from another source but this article in Envirotech resonated so well I couldn’t rewrite. Here are just some things it suggests you can do to reduce air pollution in your area and curb climate change on a global scale.

  • Conserve energy. It might sound obvious, but turning off lights when not in use, switching off appliances, taking shorter showers, only boiling enough water in the kettle for your purposes, etc. – all of these things add up to dramatically reduce your carbon footprint. If you live in Glasgow City you can use the Energy App we developed for the City Council as part of its Smart City initiative.
  • Get some exercise. Walking or cycling to and from work or to the shops is not only good for you, it also means one less car on the road! This means one less exhaust spitting out harmful fumes and one less contributing factor to air pollution.
  • Take public transport. For longer distances, the British network of buses and trains is sufficiently developed to offer flexible routes to most destinations, especially in larger cities. Taking the bus can also be far more cost-effective than owning and maintaining a car, especially when petrol prices are factored in.
  • Drive responsibly. If you really must take the car, ensure you drive it in a responsible manner. This means cutting out unnecessary idling, increasing fuel efficiency by driving at optimal speeds, keeping the pressure on your tyres inflated and generally conducting routine maintenance.
  • Recycle and reuse. Instead of buying a new item when the old one becomes worn or dysfunctional, try to repair it. Recycle as much of your consumed produce as possible. Before throwing away, consider whether it can be reused.
  • Buy environmentally-friendly. Steer clear of products which contain many chemicals, solvents or volatile organic compounds (VOCs), choosing water-based paints and other cosmetics and environmentally-friendly approved products in general.
  • Make your voice heard. Take part in environmental protests, sign petitions and join campaigns to lobby for more environmental practices in your local community, in government and among big business.

The thing is, communities can and are coming together to make a difference, whether through local generation schemes, car-pooling, community gardens or many other like-mined programmes. And there undoubtedly must, and will, be more opportunities in the future for communities to take a bottom up approach to becoming more sustainable in the way we approach energy-use, waste and life in general.

Ellie’s original project title is in some ways far more accurate, but most people wouldn’t have looked twice at a project named ‘Think Global Act Local’. The phrase has been used in various contexts, including planning, environment, education, mathematics, and business, and even has its own Wikipedia page. It makes absolute sense when you apply it to climate change – it’s a global problem, but there’s action that can be taken by us all at a local level to combat it – thinking globally and acting locally.

In the end, I might not like the work Ellie produces for the Glasgow Effect, we will see. But for me it’s already been an opportunity to reflect on the role of local and community in our lives and has introduced me to projects and ideas I wouldn’t ordinarily have come across – Ellie’s own Radical Renewable Art + Activism Fund (RRAAF) to use a wind turbine to generate renewable energy and fund a ‘no strings attached’ grant for art-activist projects and a big bang data exhibition she was involved in. Both of which resonate personally and professionally.

So hate it or support it, Ellie’s Glasgow Effect project has stirred up a lot of feelings, debate and unfortunately abuse. It has also inspired a lot of social media ‘art’ in retaliation and hopefully also made us stop and think a bit. Where will it go from here, who knows, but I’m certainly interested to find out.