Poverty is not sustainable

Living lightly, cheaply, sustainably and comfortably is easier to achieve in the UK if you aren’t poor. When you don’t have much money, there are a great many things you won’t do because they cost too much – which can reduce your carbon footprint compared to other people’s. But there are also a lot of things you can’t do to be more sustainable.

If you rent, you can’t insulate your home, or get solar panels. You can’t upgrade the windows to be more energy efficient, you may be stuck with inefficient heating systems and white goods with poor energy ratings. Making your home more efficient is not only a way to be more sustainable, it can save you money. A well insulated home doesn’t cost as much to heat.

Clothes made from natural fibers are usually better quality and longer lasting than synthetics. However, your budget might not stretch to them. If you live in an impoverished area, your nearest charity shops are unlikely to offer you sustainably sourced bamboo fabric skirts or hemp trousers. Being able to buy good quality second hand clothes depends a lot on where you live and the perceived demographics of the area. You can end up buying a lot of cheap, throwaway things that don’t last – which is expensive for you and for the planet in the longer term.

The loose food store, the farmer’s market, the veg box and so forth might well be entirely out of your price range. 

Growing your own food isn’t an option if you live in a flat and do not have a garden. Allotments aren’t available to everyone and can be tricky without a car. Growing your own food is not a free activity, there are setup costs, and costs in terms of time and energy required. If you’re new to gardening, there can also be the cost of failing to grow food.

Living cheaply in a green way is easier if you can make the upfront investments – the solar panels, the electric bike, the vegetable garden, the high quality clothes. It’s also easier to be a minimalist if you can afford to buy exactly what you need and aren’t having to make do with what you can cobble together. It’s easier to live lightly if you have time to think about your options and aren’t running round grabbing whatever will get you through the next few days. Thinking time is a luxury that seldom goes with poverty.

Being poor is hard work. It doesn’t reliably leave you with the mental, emotional or time resources to lovingly repair things, cook nutritious meals from scratch or tend to a veg garden. Sustainable living must not simply be a hobby for those who can afford nice things, and that can’t happen without some radical social changes.

About Nimue Brown

Druid, author, dreamer, folk enthusiast, parent, polyamourous animist, ant-fash, anti-capitalist, bisexual steampunk. Drinker of coffee, maker of puddings. Exploring life as a Pagan, seeking good and meaningful ways to be, struggling with mental health issues and worried about many things. View all posts by Nimue Brown

8 responses to “Poverty is not sustainable

  • Helen Bell

    I totally agree. I listen to stuff about electric cars, heat pumps etc and realise there’s no way I can afford them. And there are people a lot worse off than me. I guess at least we won’t be adding to the problems by getting on an airplane!

  • jswhite

    Yes. So much of wellness culture and green culture is saturated with unaddressed privilege. Mostly shown amd sold by Instagram and Youtube by obviously comfortable and well-to-do people. Everything’s pristine and sanitized, painted with toxic positivety or judgment when what you can do doesn’t “fit” what minimalism, “green/sustainable”, or “healthy” living should look like.

    • fitfordenton

      Sustainable living is a class privilege twisted by brands and corporations, green washed and virtual signalled out of all proportion. Real sustainability is cutting back, going without and putting back into the world less than you take out. That, in effect, costs nothing.

  • elizabeth chiara Silvolli

    you’ve nailed it again. Thanks.

  • helgaleena

    Reblogged this on Helgaleena and commented:
    Being poor is hard work. It doesn’t reliably leave you with the mental, emotional or time resources to lovingly repair things, cook nutritious meals from scratch or tend to a veg garden. Sustainable living must not simply be a hobby for those who can afford nice things, and that can’t happen without some radical social changes.

  • fitfordenton

    I agree with a lot of this. I would also say that a lot of ‘being greener’ isn’t about replacing things with other things. It’s about longevity of use and simply using less. I live a frugal life for several reasons. I try to keep everything to a minimum, but I wouldn’t describe myself as ‘poor’. If I was genuinely desperate, I wouldn’t go without or lose the roof over my head because I couldn’t pay my rent, and that’s the comfort blanket I have that people genuinely living hand to month don’t have the luxury of. That said, I do live in a rented flat so as you mention I don’t have the option to upgrade my property. Instead, I have many blankets, hot water bottles and I use candles instead of electric lights. I’ve learned to eat healthier on a small budget in a flat that didn’t even come with a freezer (go figure!) but I do think of myself as quite resilient. I think outside the box. I DIY things to make it work. Second hand counter top freezers and veg growing in tubs on my first floor window sills have become the norm. Using wartime recipes to eat well with few ingredients help me enjoy food with minimal outlay and without having to resort to poor quality ready meals. However, I am in a position of only having to look after myself. I don’t have to inflict my extremes on other people and I couldn’t do that, because it can be very extreme, It’s not for everyone but when the central heating is rationed to an hour a day, I know how that feels.

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