Category Archives: Green Living

Small Space Living

I spent 2 years on a narrowboat, which, when you have three people and a cat, and two of the people work from home, is a very small space indeed.  Currently I live in a fairly small flat – a grand and luxurious pad compared to the boat, but still less space than is considered normal for three people and a cat, especially given that two of the people work from home…

I’ve learned a lot from small space living – particularly about what is important to me and what I can do without. I continue to miss having a garden. I have an enduring gratitude for toilets that do not need emptying and water supplies that do not need filling up from a tap. I have a much keener appreciation of reliable electricity and internet, and places to dry wet clothes. I’ve learned to give things away because I can’t keep everything, and I’ve learned to be fussy about what I keep and why.

Small spaces require massive cooperation. Just to get two people working together in the kitchen takes attention. To move people and stuff round in a small space, to share it feasibly – it all takes thought, mutual awareness and care. I’m very glad we’re the sort of household that can do this. We don’t depend on being able to get away from each other.

Smaller spaces make for greener living arrangements – you occupy less ground. Small spaces take less energy to heat, there are fewer spaces to light, the lack of space creates a pressure not to buy stuff. However, there are no two ways about it – this is easier to do if you can afford to pick out the best things to fit the space. Small space living is easier for people who have more money and do it by choice, but more likely to be what happens to people who can’t afford a bigger space and can’t afford to be fussy about furnishings.

There are things you can’t do in a small space. I have no spare room to put up visiting friends, or to rescues anyone in crisis. I can’t have large parties. I can’t host a meeting, or a jamming session, or a rehearsal. I can’t do any large art of craft or DIY projects. I can’t stash things for crafting to any large degree. I depend on borrowing spaces and on more public spaces – pubs and libraries especially. I have good resources in walking distance, but for many people, small space living has a serious social impact.

I look at the vast houses up in the Cotswold hills, and I wonder about what they cost to maintain, heat and light. I wonder how many, or how few people live in them and for how much of the year. It is greener to downsize or share space with more people, but I note that the people who most need to do that are clearly the ones least interested in living a bit more lightly.

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Transition Towns for Pagans

This May, the Pagan Federation online conference was green themed, and during the planning phase, Debi asked if anyone could talk about the Transition Towns movement. As it happens, Stroud (aka home) has a hefty transition community all working in many different ways towards sustainability and reduced carbon use. Our district council aims to have the district carbon neutral by 2030!

This is the film I made about my experience of being a small part of that…

Find out more about The Transition Network here – https://transitionnetwork.org/


How being smart harms the planet

The fashion industry has been under some scrutiny of late for the environmental harm it does. A lot of clothing gets worn once and sent to landfill, and the notion of fashion is held to blame. However, there’s also the issue of looking smart, and what we now imagine that to mean.

Smart clothes are new clothes. There are no marks, no worn bits, no faded bits and no repairs on smart clothes. My son’s school is big on the idea of ‘smart’ and clear that a visible mend isn’t good enough. This wasn’t always the way of things and for much of the past, clean and neatly mended was smart enough for most of us.

New clothes speak of money. New clothes announce that you do not need to make do and mend, you can afford to throw away and replace. To look smart is to look affluent. However, the planet can’t afford us to keep going with this idea of richness.

It helps that I don’t do the kind of work where people will expect me to look ‘smart’. Authors are renowned for working in their pyjamas. We’re allowed to look a bit eccentric at events. It’s not unusual to find people at Transition meetings with old paint on their clothes, upcycled gear, things mended, and repurposed. I recall a fabulous hat made out of a child’s jumper… Equally in steampunk gatherings, remaking has kudos to it. I can go into those places wearing a skirt made out of offcuts from worn out shirts, and any judgement I get will tend towards the affirmative.

When we focus on smart, we also tend to focus on what we can buy readymade, which in turn means conformity, fitting in, having what everyone else has. Readymade means unoriginal, bland, lacking personal expression – and these might be good ways to push back against the smartness that harms the planet. If we prized innovation and originality more, then we’d be more up for upcycling and re-purposing because it would be all about showing off personal skill and cunning.

The current notion of smart, is modern. Our Viking and Saxon ancestors, I gather, took great care of their kit and meticulously patched damaged clothes to keep them going. When your culture says that your smartness is measured by how deftly you can make repairs, then that’s how you focus yourself. When your culture says ‘smart’ is a poor quality garment you throw away after a couple of wears, that’s apparently what we do.

Conventionally smart clothes are boring, unsustainable, and involve little or no personal creativity. Keeping usable fabric out of landfill leads to much more fun, innovation, skill, delight and scope to be unique.


Living without a fridge

I’ve mentioned many times that I live without a fridge or freezer. It’s not something everyone can do, but I thought it might be helpful to give a sense of the things that make this feasible. If you need a fridge to keep medicine, clearly this isn’t for you.

You need a cool box or other cool storage space – older houses sometimes have these. If you put frozen things in cool boxes, they can stay cool for some time (depending on outside temperatures and what else you have in the box).

I’m in the UK, which is cold or mild for most of the year. I manage in hot summers, but it can be a challenge. If you live somewhere really hot, this may be too difficult. However, it’s worth seeing what traditional solutions are/were for your part of the world.

I don’t think you can do this and store raw meat. If you are an omnivore and want to do without a fridge, you’d have to buy meat and cook it pretty much straight away. This is possible, but you’d have to be organised.

You can’t do big weekly shops in the way people do when they’re able to load up fridges and freezers. You have to buy less and more often and stay alert to what you have and how long it will keep. If you can’t do this without a lot of extra car use, it may not be a sensible trade-off.

This may seem counter-intuitive, but I hardly ever have food go off – I don’t buy things that won’t keep unless I’m intending to use them straight away.

Many things don’t need a fridge. You only need to refrigerate plant matter if it’s been cut already. Fruit and veg keep well. Dried goods – pasta, rice, oats, flour, beans and fruit etc do not need a fridge. Things in tins and jars do not need a fridge. Bread is perfectly happy in a cool box. Margarine, I have learned by experimentation, keeps a disturbingly long time. Mammal milk can be kept overnight if it’s not too hot. Plant milks will keep indefinitely when they haven’t been opened, and last a couple of days when open. Cheese bought in modest amounts will keep for a couple of days.

You can’t do a vast amount of storing leftovers for later use. If you need to prepare food in batches and store it, you can’t do it this way. If you live somewhere that makes bulk shopping/delivery a practical necessity, fridgelessness won’t work. If you are able to produce and store food you may find it makes more sense to have a freezer.

As with most questions of greener living, the answers are complicated and depend on other factors in your life. However, if you’re a vegetarian or vegan, or occasional meat eater, if you are urban living with easy access to food, and you can sort out your food on a day by day basis, you might not need a fridge. Doing without one can save space – a significant issue for those of us living in small spaces. It will save you money both on the fridge and the electricity it uses. Your reduced energy use, reduced materials use and reduced use of environmentally harming chemicals is all better for the environment. It’s not for everyone, but it might be for you!


Druidry, language, the good and the bad

How we label things has a great deal of power. What do we name as desirable, attractive, appealing? What do we tell ourselves is rubbish, useless, second rate? That winter holiday in the sun is generally framed as ‘good’ along with long dry spells in summer. What would happen if we stopped calling long sunny spells ‘beautiful’ and started calling them ‘droughts’?

In the context of climate change, how we talk about the weather is ever more important. Firstly because we are causing weather extremes, and secondly because how we respond to those, can add to the problem. Jetting off in search of winter sun is a case in point here. I grant you, it’s no fun being cold, but if you can afford to fly, you can probably afford fluffy socks and sufficient heating.

Air conditioning with its hydrofluorocarbons and electricity use is a response to hot weather that adds to the climate change fuelling the hot weather. No one enjoys being hot but the question of when to start using energy to cool down, and how much energy to use is an important one.

Extreme heat and cold both kill people, and other living beings too. If we’re increasing the problem when we try to improve our own comfort, we really aren’t winning here.

To be a Druid means, in part to be in service to the land and the wild world. How exactly you phrase that and express it will vary, but this is nature based religion and we have a duty of care to the natural world. It’s also at this point a matter of enlightened self interest – if it was your personal home that could easily end up either on fire, or frozen, you would act to avoid that.

One of the ways in which Druidry, and Paganism as a whole is well placed to help people rethink climate change responses, is through the language of cycles. Accepting the wheel of the year, the seasons and the natural changes in weather makes us better able to live with them. If you are honouring the seasons, it gives you a better basis for working with how things are. Rather than seeing good and bad weather, we can just see weather and look for appropriate responses. We can reframe good weather as weather we can live with, and bad weather as extreme weather that can kill us. If we talk about the dramatic weather climate change is causing, that alone helps. So many people are still in denial about both our role in this and our power to change it.

It’s worth exploring how you talk about climate, and where you describe things as good or bad, problematic or desirable. It’s well worth looking at how our feelings about the weather then translate into our choices about technology we use, and carbon we release into the atmosphere.


Where do dreams come from?

Whether we’re talking about what happens when we sleep, or what happens when we daydream, dreams are significantly informed by our every day experiences. What we’re exposed to gets in. This means what is around us in our immediate environment. People we spend time with. Stuff we do. Things we watch. Books we read. It all goes in. From it we weave the often irrational seeming dreams we have at night, and we also create our ideals, hopes, aspirations and desires.

It’s worth pausing now and then to see what is coming in and where it comes from. What are you feeding your mind with? How much of that is advertising designed to sell products? How much of it normalises western consumer culture? How many of your daydreams come from what your society encourages you to want – fame, fortune, the fast car, the white carpet in the immaculate living room, the exotic holiday…?

Are you dreaming, and daydreaming as a Pagan? If you look at the imagery of your dreams, you’ll find the answer soon enough. If you can see your Paganism in your night time dreaming, it’s a good indicator that you are living it while awake. That doesn’t have to mean deities and mythic content – in my case it means that my dreams are full of landscape. Often when we analyse dreams, the temptation is to try and find meanings in specific symbols. However, it can be well worth looking at dreams over time, to pick up trends. The overall shape of your dreaming over a period of weeks or months can tell you a lot about what’s influencing you. A dream diary can be a good way of exploring this.

We’re being sold commercial dreams designed to lock us into patterns of work, consumerism and frantic, carbon guzzling leisure pursuits. These advertising-induced dreams keep us working, struggling, getting into debt, running after things we can’t have, and destroying our home and habitat as we go along. Reclaiming our dreams is part of how we change this. Taking back control of our longing and desire, and taking back control of what feeds our unconscious dreaming gives us a lot more options.

Perhaps one of the key things here, is how we handle instant gratification. Often, instant gratification – in the buy now pay later mode – is offered as a bad thing. But, life is now. It’s not next year, or when you retire. The dreams we are encouraged to aspire to are so often set just out of reach. When we get the promotion, the pay rise, or some other distant thing happens, then we can have the stuff we really want. The simpler our desires are, the easier it is to gratify them. An afternoon pottering in the garden, a night out dancing, a meal with friends – these are things you can have quickly. These are the kinds of things a good life is made of. If we’re always working towards some big dream, we may never get round to being happy in the moment, satisfied with what we have, or able to enjoy life.

Your dreams – especially your night dreaming, are in some ways very natural. That doesn’t mean dreams are immune from human influence. Dreams are made of what we absorb. Dreams can tell us a lot about what we expose ourselves to and what effect that has on us. Question your dreams and make sure they really are yours, and not someone else’s marketing strategy.

More about dreaming in my book, Pagan Dreaming, available from most places that sell books…  https://www.bookdepository.com/Pagan-Dreaming/9781785350900


Dreaming differently

What would happen if our dreams were not driven by the desire to consume? What if we weren’t drawing our inspiration from adverts, and weren’t being fed a constant consumerist narrative about what we need to own in order to be happy? What would we daydream about then?

We might stop dreaming about new cars and kitchens and carpets and start dreaming about how to live at our hearth and in our homes. Dreams of community and time spent with people we care for, and who care for us. Not the look of the kitchen itself, but the scope to make good food and share it with good people. Life changes dramatically when you’re less focused on how a home might look and more concerned with what you can do in it.

Equally, if our gardens don’t have to look like something off the telly, we might dream of wildlife havens instead. We might plant trees and welcome insects, birds and small mammals to share the space with us. We might dream of the summer humming of bees and the beauty of butterflies. We might want a space to just chill out and watch the clouds go by – dreaming of a space in which to dream.

We might indeed dream of holidays, but not of planes and other countries. We might dream of having the time to really get to know the land we live on, or having more time for the people who come into our homes or the wild things in our gardens.

We might dream of changing our bodies, but not through the misery and seldom successful methods of commercial dieting, and not by purchasing a new look from the planet trashing fashion industry. We might dream of the things we can joyfully do with our bodies. We might aspire not to thinness or fashion, but to grace and delight. We might start listening to our bodies and let our dreams come from the needs our bodies have.

Rather than dreaming of fame and fortune, we could dream instead of the things we want to achieve. The book we want to write – not to be famous, but to say the things we need to say. The art we want to make. The dance styles we want to learn. The courses we want to study. The things we want to create with our hands. We can make space to dream up ways of re-using rather than throwing away. We can get excited about our own creativity.

We can dream about how good it would feel to know we are living sustainably. The pleasure of not harming the living planet, and of knowing we’ll leave it in good shape for those who come after us. We can dream of a world in which life and beauty flourish, rather than profit and greed. And the more we dream this, the more we move towards it. The more we share these dreams and draw other people into them, the more feasible it all becomes. Dream it and talk about it, and see who you can co-dream with, and then see what you can co-create as those dreams turn into ever more viable possibilities.

(And I can recommend the Transition Towns movement as an excellent place to find inspiration and turn dreams into action – https://transitionnetwork.org/ )


The joys of walking for transport

I’ve never driven a car, and I’ve not lived in a household with a car since my mid twenties. I’ve walked to shop, and carried groceries home. I’ve used trains and buses, and occasionally I get lifts, but mostly I’ve walked, or cycled. I don’t really enjoy cycling so these days I mostly get places by walking to them. Where I live was picked out with that in mind.

Most of the time, walking for transport is a joy. I get outside, I get exercise, I see wildlife, I meet people. While I’m walking, I get time to process ideas and feelings and come up with ideas. If I’m walking to work or to meetings, I get time to ready myself. I arrive calm and mentally prepared and I am never held up by traffic. At the end, I get to do my digesting on the way home, and I usually arrive home calm and on top of things.

I do not have to do radical things to feel adventurous. Every now and then I end up having to walk in adverse weather conditions – in snow, and ice and heavy rain. I have the kit for this, although as downpours increase in violence, I get soaked through more often. I do not need to seek out mountains to feel a bit heroic. Some weeks, all I have to do is handle the regular shopping in the conditions around me. I do not have to challenge myself with grand gestures to feel alive. I feel alive every time I’m going somewhere.

Often, the green answers are presented as losses. Could you give up your car? Could you do without it? As though the car makes us better off, and poverty is what we get in its absence. I’ve spent enough mornings walking past lines of traffic, seeing the faces of people stuck in their cars. None of them are smiling. I’ve got stress free easy movement, peace of mind, lower expenses and a healthier body because I walk. Every time I walk past a traffic queue I am reminded of the riches inherent in my choices.

There is so much freedom and independence to be had if you can set of from your own door and head out into the world on your own two feet. We could leave the roads for those who need them – for those who do not have the privilege of being able to walk, for the emergency services, for the movement of stuff too heavy to carry about on shoulders. We could empty our roads and fill our pavements, and put calmer human interactions into our days. We could improve our air quality and our personal health. It remains a mystery to me why more people don’t see the freedom and wealth inherent in walking as more desirable than the cost and stress of being in traffic.


The narratives of meat

Diet is a very emotive subject, so let me be clear – this is not a blog post about food choices, this is a post about the stories we tell around our food choices. It’s about a set of perceptions that are so normalised, so taken for granted that we might not even notice them. We tell stories about what it means to eat meat, and those have a powerful effect on us, even though we have more up to date stories that suggest high meat consumption isn’t good for your body or for the planet.

Meat is high status food. It costs more to produce, and always has, so we can go all the way back to the Celts and the hero’s portion at feasts. At any period in history, the poor have tended to eat little or no meat while the rich have eaten a lot more of it. Meat equates to wealth, meat consumption equates to wealth. Eating meat is part of the story our culture tells itself about what it means to be wealthy. It is feasts with whole roast swans, still with their feathers on, or Henry the 8th throwing bones over his shoulder for dogs to pick up.

Meat is seen as macho – red meat especially. So eating red meat is to be seen as masculine. To not eat meat is often seen as effeminate. Meat consumption is associated with sexually powerful heterosexual masculinity. It’s also associated with muscle building and physical strength, even though you can do that with any kind of decent protein sources. I think some of this has to do with the way our feudal history has constructed both masculinity and hierarchy. We’re back to that Henry the 8th image again.

Part of that macho red meat narrative taps in to ideas of man the hunter. Now, most men are not hunting down wild cows in order to get their steaks, but even so, there’s an emotional association that suggests to people that if they are eating red meat, they are the sort of person who could have hunted it. It’s an emotional effect that links feelings of power, competence and mastery with the consumption of meat, perhaps especially potent when the person in question has done nothing to earn those feelings.

How we feel about something often has more impact on us than logic or evidence. What we eat is part of our sense of self. The stories we tell ourselves about what our food means reinforces our food choices. The stories around eating meat are stories of strength and power, of dominance, and importance. I suspect that the less actual power you have, the more affecting those stories are.

Vegetarians and vegans tell stories about being healthy, living kindly and having less impact on the planet. There’s a different kind of power here, it’s about the power to make change rather than power over other beings. These are stories that help a person feel kind and virtuous, and worthy – all of which is also very attractive.

I find it interesting the way ideas of what is ‘natural’ enters these stories as well. As far as I can make out, everyone views their food choice as natural, but does not necessarily think everyone else’s food choices are also natural. Everyone thinks their own food choices are good and appropriate, but may well not hold the same beliefs about other people’s food choices. Food choices that supposedly make you powerful can result in some very fragile and defensive behaviour. Food choices that supposedly make you kind can result in some pretty aggressive and unkind behaviour. Our food stories can divide us into tribal groups, feeling conflict with those whose stories are different.

While we stay focused on the stories and the emotions, we aren’t looking properly at the science, the evidence and the climate impact of how we live.


Tree love

Each February, the Climate Coalition’s Show the Love campaign invites us to talk about what we love.

I love trees. I grew up on the edge of the Cotswolds, with hanging beech woods right on my doorstep. Beeches remain my favourite tree, although I’ve yet to meet a tree I don’t like. I’ve been a supporter of The Woodland Trust for more than ten years, and a volunteer for a couple of years now, in a modest and online sort of way. My love of trees makes me want to stand up for trees, and speak up for them.

Every now and then some bright spark will suggest that we need technology to get carbon out of the air and tackle climate change. We don’t need technology, we have a solution. Trees! Trees take carbon out of the air and store it. If we plant trees, we can store carbon.

Trees are also very good at managing water flows. Plant trees, and rain gets to the ground more slowly, reducing the risk of flash floods. Root systems keep soil in place where it might otherwise be washed away by excess water. Trees put water gently into their vicinity so in dry weather, trees can make a landscape more hospitable for everything else.

Trees cut down noise pollution, and air pollution. They improve our mental health.

Usually, when an answer is simple, it is wrong in some way. Magic bullets that easily fix complex problems are rare. However, trees are a real answer to many human problems and needs. Re-forestation is a solution we can crack on with right now. Protecting the trees we still have will be effective. Planting more trees will make a difference. Trees are here for us, and they may yet save us from ourselves, if only we give them the space to do what they do best (be trees).

Love trees. Plant trees. Speak up for trees. Protect trees.