Category Archives: Green Living

Costing the Earth

Here’s a handy list of things to avoid if you want to reduce your carbon impact.

Don’t own or use private jets.

Don’t own or use massive private yachts. The kind of little yachts that have sails are fine.

Don’t own a large company that is involved with ecocide. Don’t extract fossil fuels, don’t frack, don’t cut down rainforests, don’t pay people to do those things for you. Don’t own a massive agrobusiness. Don’t steal water from people or poison their water supplies. Don’t use massive fishing nets and industrial fishing boats.

Don’t lobby governments on behalf of any of those ecocidal companies.

Don’t invest in cryptocurrency.

Don’t go on cruise ships.

Don’t own or drive an SUV.

Don’t throw your clothes away after only wearing them once.

The odds are of course that only the last four things on that list are even options you have. This is because the vast majority of us are not the ones doing the vast majority of the harm. However, not doing the last four is still relevant and important, and it’s always worth doing what you can do.

The biggest job, for the majority of us, is changing the culture that celebrates poisonous over-consumption and pushing for laws to restrict it, and to end ecocide. 

Food issues and my fainting couch

I’ve been ill a lot over the last couple of years. I’m also being knocked about by the whole peri-menopausal malarky, including having very heavy periods, some of them very close together. If I bleed every other week, I can’t get iron into my body fast enough to keep up, and the consequences are dire fatigue, and other, more serious unpleasantness with serious risks if it gets more out of control than it already is.

Iron is a curious substance. I’m not a chemist, which has made poking around in this harder going. The language I am going to use is not scientific, it’s illustrative. Almost all forms of life need iron – there are some bacterial exceptions, apparently. So in theory you can get iron from eating plants, but iron rich plants also often include things that inhibit the uptake of iron, which is unhelpful. There’s also a shape issue. The kind of iron you can get from eating meat is pretty much the right shape to stick in your own red blood cells and keep going. Plant iron is a bit different. Heme and non-heme if you want the technical terms.

I’ve seen a lot of information online about iron-rich plant sources. However, there’s also the issue of how much your body can extract and get into use and at what speed. For me, it’s not been enough and it’s not been fast enough. I’ve been taking supplements, I’ve been eating my iron-rich plants alongside vit C sources. I’m not winning. In fact it would be fairer to say that I have lost repeatedly, and badly, and I can’t go on like this. Many internet sites give the impression that plants have more iron in them than meat does and that iron without meat is easy. Technically this is true about the iron quantity, but if you struggle to get that plant iron out and struggle to turn it into something you can use, it doesn’t do much for you. It’s not a simple issue.

I’ve been a vegetarian for about 13 years at this point. Including a small amount of red meat in my diet would probably solve these problems for me. Eating beef is a really awful environmental choice and I have a lot of concerns about animal welfare, too. By the looks of it, the odd tin of beef soup – perhaps one a week – might be enough to turn things around for me. The alternative is massive uncertainty, and needing more medical support – which is in short supply in the UK as it is. I feel that the more responsible choice is to change my diet.

Yes, you can use medical interventions to manage periods, but that’s not a consequence free choice, either for my body or for the environment. 

Unless you’re dealing with something similar, I’d prefer not to have diet or medical advice in the comments and I thank you in advance for not doing that. I’ve spent a lot of time looking at this, and there are other issues with my body that impact on my choices, and I don’t want to get bogged down in those details. I’m taking this as an opportunity to flag up the issue that if you’re only giving this a few minutes thought, the odds are I’ve already considered it, and this is always true for other people’s health issues. Hearing from people who are dealing with the same, or similar, can be really valuable. 

My main reason for sharing this experience is because I’m tired of seeing it asserted that everyone has the same options and food choices available to them. I have really limited options at this point and none of them are good or happy choices for me. None of them are what I really want, and there are a lot of considerations in deciding which is most responsible. Being so ill I can’t function isn’t a responsible choice. I hope this is only temporary, because I’d prefer to be vegetarian.

Tree Targets

In the UK, the Environment Act became law in November 2021. This is the start of a process for the Government to set new environmental targets. Which in turn means that the government is currently asking for public views on which new environmental targets it should introduce. The Woodland Trust is saying that every target proposed needs to be improved if they are to make a real difference.

The UK is a really nature-deprived place. Much of our biodiversity is under threat. It helps if people make it clear that we want a natural landscape, that we want trees and biodiversity. Trying to squeeze maximum profit out of every landscape makes for a terrible environment – for humans and wildlife alike. It isn’t sustainable, or viable and we need long term thinking about regeneration.

One really good thing we could do is to enlarge and reconnect existing woodland. Planting trees isn’t actually enough to create ‘woodland’ because a wood is considerably more than its trees. We need all the other plants, the insects, birds, mammals, etc. We need the life of the soil, the fungi especially. Planting new woods often doesn’t do that. Connecting existing woods gives all those other vital species the chance to spread. 

Habitat fragmentation is a massive problem. Little pockets of beings who are cut off from their wider gene pool cannot flourish for the longer term. We need green corridors, and we need to make connections between fragments of trees in the landscape. 

If you’d like to help, there’s guidance for what to say on the Woodland Trust website and it doesn’t take long to make a few helpful points.

Greener winter warmth

The general wisdom is that in cold weather, you should put on a jumper rather than turning up the heating. With energy costs escalating in the UK increasing numbers of people won’t be able to heat their homes. It’s one thing turning the heating down a bit, but living in cold conditions creates health risks.

Some years ago I opted for a dehumidifier. It helps warm the flat, dries the laundry and generally deals with the damp problems we’d otherwise have. It costs less to run than the heaters, and is cheaper than a tumble drier. It’s a fine example of how much easier it is to make lower energy choices, greener choices and money saving choices when you can afford the initial outlay. Poverty is expensive.

How good a choice is the extra jumper? They take a lot of effort to wash. Synthetic fibers dry quickly and are cheap, but they release microplastics into the water. Wool takes some drying, and if you’re short of money for energy, getting a woolen jumper dry is going to be a problem. Also, dry a wool jumper too slowly and it can start to decay, and will probably smell like a wet dog.

I’m quite a fan of thermal underwear in cold weather. It takes less space to store when I’m not using it. If you’re economically disadvantaged, you probably don’t have much space for stuff. Thermals are easy to wash and to dry. There are, again, the issues of synthetics, but there’s at least less synthetic fabric in the equation to begin with. Also, thermals tend to be densely made in a way that means they shed far less material than jumpers do. Not having the bulk about my person is important when I’m working. 

A jumper is only helpful for keeping my upper body warm, but thermal longjohns also warm my legs. I find this really helps when I’m outside, walking for transport. Having the right gear makes getting places on foot a lot more realistic. 

Buying thermal underwear is an investment. It’s not an outlay everyone can afford. Being able to make good economic and/or environmental choices depends on having good options in the first place. 

Being cold is really undermining. It takes it out of you – I’ve been there. Being cold makes it harder to be economically active. It can make it a lot harder to think, or find the energy for anything else. These are not situations you can reliably budget your way out of if you’re starting from a bad place. Being cold makes people ill, and exaserbates illness. We should not be willing to tolerate fuel poverty, nor to tolerate the capitalism that has put so many people needlessly into states of distress.

Tentacles and dead things

I’ve been crafting again. This is the salvageable fabric from two otherwise dead pairs of jeans. The embroidery is inspired by Japanese boro and sashiko. Some of it draws directly from that tradition, but for this project I’ve been messing about with sealife and tentacles because I was making it for my son and thought he would like it (he did).

Small green victories

Some years ago I started making fabric bags for Christmas in the hopes of cutting down on waste. Given the land and water requirements for growing cotton, this only works if people re-use the bags – if they are thrown away, it is far more wasteful than using paper. You do need to re-use cotton a lot for it to offset what it took to grow the material in the first place. However, cotton isn’t putting out microplastics and wrapping paper often has too much plastic in it to be recyclable. The huge amount of paper used for festive wrapping and then sent to landfill definitely isn’t sustainable.

I think cotton bags can serve an extra function in that they can become a sustainability reminder built into the festivities. They don’t invite you to buy throwaway, single use presents or anything in a lot of packaging. fabric bags also remove the temptation for extra plastic decoration in the form of bows and whatnot.

The photo above was taken on Christmas day. Those are all bags I made in previous years, that came back to me this year. Several of them with stories about having been sent on to other people and then sent back again. They’re being used. We did not end up with a bin bag full of rubbish this year, which has happened in previous years.

It’s not entirely straightforward – most things aren’t – but this year felt like a substantial move towards having less waste and keeping usable things in circulation. The bags also make wrapping easy, sparing people the investment of time and energy in wrapping.

Contemplating gifts

The season of gift giving is a good time to think about how, and why we give gifts and the implications of what we give. For far too many people, Christmas gifting involves going into debt. The whole process involves a great deal of waste – the overpackaging, the gift wrapping, the single use plastics involved, and the unwanted or soon broken things that head rapidly to the bin.

There’s a lot of pressure to buy and to spend. Especially within families. If you are time poor, then gifting stuff can be seen as a substitute for spending time doing things with a significant person in your life. 

Gifting is an opportunity to display wealth and spending power. That can feel powerful, or disempowering, defending on whether you can afford it. The process may be unhappily competitive if you feel you have to out-spend someone else. 

Small, cramped living spaces make the whole process more complicated. I have nowhere suitable for storing gifts, which is part of why what shopping I do is last minute. I also have challengings integrating anything coming my way and have encouraged my family to not buy me stuff, because I have nowhere to put it.

I prefer gifting in entirely different ways. I’d rather give at the point when something is needed, because then it’s valuable to the other person. It’s good to give things because they turned up, and were perfect, and to do it when it makes sense rather than trying to do it all in one go. I’d rather focus on the people who are more in need of having stuff head their way.

Waste and overconsumption are destroying life on the planet. Permission to spend less at Christmas is of itself a gift worth giving, to each other, and to the Earth.

Authentic Living at a Time of Climate Crisis

Dear readers, I find myself rather unexpectedly writing a book! A few weeks ago, Trevor Greenfield, of Moon Books (where I already have a handful of titles) dropped me a line. He’d seen something on my blog and was rather taken with it, and asked if I could expand on it for the new Earth Books line.

Earth Books are small books. “The purpose of the series is to stimulate and help develop ongoing discussion on what is, of course, pretty much the most important topic anyone could focus upon today – the future of the planet.” – you can read more about the series over here –

I’m writing about the things that make for a meaningful and authentic life, and how that relates to sustainability. My own experience is that seeking authenticity will align you with living in more sustainable ways. It’s all about slowing down, and not being persuaded to buy things in response to emotional needs. We can’t shop our way to happiness. Once our basic needs are met, material wealth does very little for a person.

I’m hoping to have the book handed in by the end of February at the latest. It will of course take a while from there – with the editing and production process. In the meantime, anyone signed up at the Bards and Dreamers level on my Patreon will get work in progress from this book –

Like most writers, I don’t earn vast sums from writing – success in this industry can look like earning £10k a year, which frankly doesn’t look like success by any other measure! Patreon certainly helps – if you like my blog and want to support me, that’s always really welcome and I put up extra content there. I also have ko-fi for people who want to make one off donations. – and check out the store for books that are free/pay what you want.

I don’t recycle blog material for books, but I do share books on Patreon. 

I’m excited about this current project as it’s an opportunity to share a lot of ideas I’ve been developing and exploring in recent years. I hope it will help people step away from the consumerism and find more enriching ways to live. And yes, there’s an irony in trying to sell a book about not buying so much stuff, but one of my core principles is about investing in owning things we can truly value, and moving away from throwaway culture that values nothing.

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.

Noise Pollution and Wellbeing

I notice it most when I’m travelling – perhaps because most days I don’t get into a moving vehicle. Cars are loud, and all the other cars around you are loud too. Buses are really noisy. Trains are noisy, train stations are noisy. Extended journeys often leave me exhausted from the barrage of sound and vibration. I notice it a lot if I’m in a location with a lot of background noise. I find urban spaces difficult, overwhelming and exhausting.

If there’s a lot of background noise, many people have problems communicating. That can be about hearing, about being able to differentiate between sounds, or about getting distracted by the noise and not being able to concentrate. It’s difficult to be a human with other humans in noisy environments – at least if you are used to communicating verbally. It can be distressing and demoralising for people who are especially challenged by background noise, but it isn’t much good for anyone.

We are encouraged to think of noisy urban environments as being lively and exciting. There’s a lot of ‘louder is better’ thinking out there. Whether that’s louder music, louder fireworks, louder film tracks or louder environments, we get a lot of encouragement to feel good about it and to find it exciting. To deal with noisy spaces I assume you have to be good at tuning things out, ignoring your surroundings and not being bothered about communicating. These are not things I can do.

Even if you can successfully ignore the noise, it may still be harming you. There are apparently a fair few studies out there suggesting that over-exposure to noise – both loud noise and invasive background noise – impacts on our health. It is likely to increase stress, anxiety and depression. Other effects include sleep disruption and increased blood pressure. Tuning out the problem does not protect you from it, by the looks of things.

Mostly we only factor in the health and safety implications of sound insofar as really noisy stuff can damage hearing. There’s far more to it than that. We create horrendously noisy spaces for humans to exist in – much of it down to how we handle transport. Quieter transport solutions would do a lot to reduce noise pollution. Gentler ways of living would support us in having happier, healthier lives.