We’ve all seen those slick adverts where the suave George Clooney is turned down by a series of beautiful women who are more interested in the coffee machine than him. What you may not know is that Clooney has used the large cheque he received from Nespresso to pay for a satellite to spy on Sudan.
The Satellite Sentinel Project is designed to track the movements of Omar al-Bashir, the Sudanese war leader by using maps to identify the build of military equipment like tanks. In response Bashir has put out a statement asking Clooney what it would be like if a camera was following him everywhere. “Well welcome to my life” was Clooney’s witty reply.
As well as spying on Bashir, the project if slightly modified would also be very useful for monitoring a Practical Action project in Sudan. This is designed to help limit the rate of deforestation, a major environmental problem across the country, the extent of which is not easy to monitor on the ground but it is from space.
To help counter this Practical Actions low smoke stove project is delivering ten thousand cook stoves to women in El Fasher in North Darfur. This will allow them to replace their traditional wood and charcoal fires with modern, energy efficient and cleaner burning Liquid Petroleum Gas cook stoves, in the process saving precious forest cover
Clooney’s satellite maps could show the impact of the project on the ground and so help preserve Sudan’s scant forest cover. It could also help boost Clooneys female fan base as it is being delivered in co-operation with the Women’s Development Network Association which represents over 50,000 women in Sudan, roughly the same number who log on to Clooney’s ‘official’ Facebook page each day.
The project has recently issued its first carbon credits, just in time for the start of climate week. The 35,359 credits are the first to be issued in Sudan and have been certified by the Gold Standard Foundation in Switzerland. They are also the first to be issued using new rules developed for verifying projects in conflict zones and refugee camps.
In Sudan charcoal costs a household around £20 ($33.50) per month, while using LPG costs roughly £7 ($11.70) per month. But the initial cost of the stove and the LPG canister are beyond most families so they continue to use charcoal and cut down the forest and scrub land. To overcome this Practical Action has introduced a micro-loan scheme operated by the WDNA. There is a loan repayment rate of over 90%, very high for an area ravaged by poverty and war.
The project was started in 2007 with the finance put up by Carbon Clear who are also selling the credits. The project will save more than 300,000 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions over 10 years and will ensure that climate finance reaches some of the world poorest people. It will also improve their health by cutting down on smoke, another issue close to Clooney’s heart as he grew up on a farm and is the grandson of tobacco farmers.
Clooney thinks climate change issues are important but told the Guardian “I’ve been in a private jet (I imagine more than once) and once you do that you pretty much undo any good”. So if he wanted to offset all those flights Clooney now knows who to contact. The women of Sudan would drink to that.
After 5 series one of the best programmes on the BBC, Toughest Place to be a, will shortly come to an end. A one off return featuring the London cabbie Mason McQueen heading back to the chaotic streets of Mumbai is currently being filmed. However, after that the executive producer at the BBC in charge of Toughest, Sam Bagnall, has confirmed that no more will be commissioned.
The programme which took a bus driver, binman, fireman, nurse and a fisherman among other professions to do their job in a developing country under some of the toughest conditions in the world was compulsive viewing. It was also one of the few programmes on the BBC showing what life is like for really poor people, many of whom exist on less than 2 dollars a day. You can see some memorable clips from the series here.
When I met Sam last month he confirmed that the BBC are now looking for a new programme which will be a worthy successor to Toughest. To help in this process Sam, who also produces This World and the wonderful Simon Reeve travelogues, has asked people to send him ideas for a new TV format.
Speaking at an International Broadcasting Trust event in London he told me “Working on Toughest Place to be a was a great experience. It also really helped to highlight the plight of poor people living under very difficult conditions. I was particularly proud of the programme we made about overfishing in Sierra Leone. As a result a patrol vessel was donated by the Isle of Man and the scourge of illegal fishing there has been almost eradicated, transforming the lives of local fishermen . I would welcome ideas on a new format which would work for us. Showing what life is really like for poor people around the world in a way which is both informative but also entertaining is challenging but I’m determined to do it ”.
To help people come up with a format which works I’ve put together a few criteria which I’ve run by Sam
- Like Toughest Place To Be has got to make good television (think Reithian principles to entertain, inform and educate in that order)
- Needs to be documentary based with very strong human interest stories (some of the most innovative recent formats have been reality TV)
- Can’t be too expensive: it’s the BBC after all!
- Needs to be a format a mechanic or solicitor would enjoy, not just someone interested in development issues
- Has got to deal with the big issues but from a surprising and different angle
- Ideally it would show developing countries in transition or challenge a stereotype we have about them
If you have an idea for a new TV format which meets these criteria I would be delighted to send it directly to Sam.
Have you ever wanted to write for newspapers or magazines? I’m an environmental scientist by training but I’ve also been a freelance journalist for over 10 years. I started writing letters, then wrote articles, did some news reporting for Daily Telegraph and I now write for the Guardian. Over the years I’ve had articles published in most of the national newspapers and a wide range of magazines. I write about what I know best: the environment, community relations and the history of world war two.
So over the next ten weeks I’m going to be taking an evening course in writing for publication at my local college in Stratford-Upon-Avon. The course will cover a wide range of subjects including generating ideas, what makes a good article, writing for an online audience, interviewing, developing a specialism, editing, pitching and most importantly getting paid! Interested? Drop me or the college an email.
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