Category Archives: Green Living

Ephemeral things in a gift economy

I’ve blogged a lot about the idea of gift economy, because it appeals to me and because I think it’s a meaningful way of tackling some of the problems inherent in capitalism. Also, I just don’t want to put a price tag on everything I do.

One of the problems with capitalism is that free work isn’t recognised or respected – and traditionally much of that free work is done by women. We still do the bulk of it. Childcare, domestic working, providing care for ill relatives, emotional labour. Economies depend on this unpaid work, and it’s hard to imagine a system that could pay fairly for it. However, a system that values and respects essential unpaid work would be a much better one it be part of. A system that encourages us to share out the unpaid work, too.

We also tend to prioritise objects when it comes to value. An object has an obvious value, you can use it, see it, touch it. Gift someone an object and they know it’s a gift. Ephemeral things – time, care, advice, help, listening, and so forth aren’t so obvious, so we don’t always recognise the value.

What many of us have to give isn’t tangible, and doesn’t easily equate to currency. It’s important to recognise those gifts. From my own experience, people who give time, care, support and inspiration have a greater impact on my life than people throwing money at me, or objects. Once a person’s basic needs are met, it’s the ephemeral things that are the most important. Loneliness is a killer. Most of us crave recognition.

It’s worth looking at what you give that isn’t money, or objects, and also at what you are given. It’s all too easy to take for granted things that turn up with no price tag. To make a gift economy work, you have to perceive the gifts.


The Green Pauper

It wasn’t so many years ago that I got into a conversation with someone about food choices. They drove to a farmer’s market. I cycled to a supermarket. There wasn’t anywhere else I could reach by cycling to buy food. I couldn’t afford the bus, and I most certainly couldn’t afford the farmer’s market. I came out of that conversation with the sense the other person thought I wasn’t really trying hard enough.

There are a great many ways of being green that cost money. I’ve never been able to buy all organic food. I’ve had conversations with people who have assumed that I *must* have more income I could free up and thus am just making unethical choices, or am lazy. There are a great many ways of being green that take time – and I do a lot of those – walking for transport, hand-washing clothes, make do and mend. You’ve got to have time and energy for those, and not everyone does.

If you are a pauper, the odds are you are greener than the person who drives their car to the farmer’s market. You won’t rack up many air miles. The odds are you live in a smaller space, buy far fewer things, make everything last longer. You won’t be profligate with lighting and heating and you won’t waste food because you can’t afford to. People obliged to count how many slices of bread are left don’t have mystery items rotting in the back of the fridge. You don’t drive unless you have to, if you even have that option.

I’ve dealt with people who felt that every purchase and every action should be properly researched to find the greenest option. It assumed a luxury of time and energy, and not being in a position of also having to try and get the very best economic value for money you can out of a tight budget, or the cheapest thing you can find that will do the job, from no budget, or going into debt.

With all of this in mind, I have some suggestions. Firstly, it is easy to shame and harass a person for not being green enough while ignoring the realities of their situation. It is easy to tell someone else they have choices, and much harder to see those ‘choices’ when you really are short of essential resources – time, health, money. It’s easy to say ‘my organic vegetables are a good thing’ and ignore the big car you drive, or the big house you live in, or the foreign holidays. We are better off spending our time looking hard at our own choices and options rather than harassing other people over what we imagine their choices and options mean.

Rather than knock someone down, why not offer them help? Buy them the moon cup you want them to have, the washable nappies, the pedal bike. If you think spending money on objects is the green answer to problems, why stop at your own possessions? Unless of course spending money on green things is simply another way to demonstrate wealth. And I’m afraid there are people for whom that’s true.

Radical change, with everyone able to make the greenest choices imaginable, depends on more economic freedom than most of us have at the moment. We would need infrastructure changes – more affordable public transport, decentralisation so that you don’t have to drive to access essential things, and a more flexible work culture allowing people to work from home where appropriate. Less financial pressure would mean fewer people commuting. Not everything can be fixed by individual action, and the people who are most vulnerable and closest to the edge financially are the ones least able to go ostentatiously green. We need to work on helping each other, and not accept a culture in which green spending power becomes the new bling to show off.


Frankenstein clothes

I tend to wear clothes until they die. Faded, stained, ripped, or going threadbare it’s often the case that by the time I want to retire an item, it has no re-use value to anyone else. This is what brought me to the joys of Frankenstein clothing. Sometimes, when an item is very dead, the answer is to cut it up for rag rugging. However, as fans of The Princess Bride know only too well, there’s a big difference between mostly dead, and all dead.

I’ve a number of skirts and tops that are a consequence of taking things that were mostly dead, and seeing what could be rescued. At time of writing, I’m doing my most overt take on this to date – Frankenstein’s T-Shirt. I have three t-shirts that my son has mostly killed, and have been removing bits of them and reassembling them into a single, undead t-shirt. There will be no attempt on this occasion to make it look anything other than like a fiendish cobbling together, and all being well, that will be a key part of its charm.

A lot of energy and resources go into the production of clothes, which we tend to treat as disposable. Anything that can be passed on, should be. For the rest, there are crafting options, and people like me who will take in mostly dead things and breathe uncanny new life into them. Also, if you’re learning to craft, the fabric from dead clothes is free of cost, and it doesn’t matter if you cock it up while learning. There are a number of traditional crafts – quilting, rag rugging, appliqué, that can happily turn your mostly dead things into lovely new things. So rather than throwing away a dead t-shirt, you get a no cost crafting opportunity and a whole new something.


Pot-lickers of the world, unite!

Like most people (I suspect) I was brought up knowing that there were rules about eating food. One of the rules was not to run your finger round the plate afterwards. Nor should a person sneak out to the kitchen and carefully run their fingers around bowls, saucepans etc.

I grant you that it doesn’t look charming, and ups the risk of getting food on clothes. But at the same time, it’s a manners system that tells us it is preferable to waste food by washing it down the sink, rather than run a finger round the pot and eat what’s there.

Every morsel of food out there exists as a direct consequence of the death of a living being, except perhaps for milk and eggs, where the death of living beings is indirect, but still part of the equation. Anything that had seeds in tends to be the death of future plant life before it’s had chance to get started. For me, this makes it difficult to cheerfully wash that life away. If life is sacred, then surely, the careful running of a finger over a plate to make sure none of that life is thrown away disrespectfully, is a sacred act?

Anything we wash away has to later be cleaned out of the water. Down the sink is not ‘away’ really, it’s just a problem for someone else to deal with.

My guess is that the underlying reason for the manners of not licking the pot, is not wanting to seem that desperate. Getting every last scrap off the plate might look like poverty and desperation, and humans will go to remarkable lengths to convince themselves, and each other, that they aren’t that desperate, even when they are. However, there are many ways of achieving a feeling of abundance, it’s not like food residue is our only option.

So, I am putting my hand up to say that nothing goes into the washing up with edible food on it when I’m around. I don’t care what it looks like and I don’t care if anyone feels moved to judge me. I feel very strongly that we need to change our collective attitude to food waste – because what we collectively throw out is obscene and we’re killing a lot of things just to chuck them in a bin or wash them away. We need to show our food more respect.


Life without a fridge

I’ve been fridge-free for over five years now. Instances of throwing away edible food – zero. Food going off is pretty rare and tends to be because we’ve bought fruit that was reduced to clear and didn’t eat it all in time. Sometimes, the consumer goods that look like they are helping us, are not as helpful as they seem.

In order to do without a fridge, we buy little and often, which means there’s a plan for anything bought, but we can also respond to whim and bargain. We gave up cow’s milk when we started this – it just doesn’t keep well enough. Everything else does just fine in the cool box.

No doubt our diet makes this easier – two vegetarians and one omnivore, and I don’t buy raw meat, so that’s far more manageable. We eat a lot of fruit and veg, a lot of dried rice, pasta and pulses lurk on the kitchen shelves. Much of this doesn’t go off quickly and can easily be spotted when it does.

Having lived with fridges my whole life, I was obliged to change tack while on the boat – they just take too much electricity. Other boaters advised the switch to a cool box. It proved easy – far easier than I’d expected. The absence of a fridge means having to be aware of what fresh food is around and how long it will last – variable with temperature and whether anything frozen has gone into the box recently. The attraction of a fridge is that you can put a lot of things in it and not feel a need to think about them, but this is how the unspeakable horror at the back of the fridge comes to be.

Having been fridgeless for a good five years now, I do not see fridges as a quality of life improver. Expensive, yes. Big consumer items that take up a lot of space. Energy I don’t have to use. Taking the fridge out of the equation has given me a better relationship with food. I can’t say it would work for everyone, but I can say it’s always worth questioning the apparently essential things, because you may well find some of them aren’t so vital for you after all.


Climate Change and green hearts

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The Climate Coalition’s latest ‘Show The Love’ campaign launched this February. Lots of people will be making, wearing and sharing green hearts today to show their love for nature. It’s not too late to get involved. We need to talk about climate change and the things we love which could be lost.

The UK has seen an incredible resurgence in recent years, with otters back from the brink, crane, boar and beaver making a return. But we’re also dealing with ash die-back, potential hedgehog extinction, and we don’t know what climate change will do to our landscape or the delicate ecosystems within it. Climate change means uncertainty. We’re seeing far more drama in our weather systems, and we don’t know what’s coming.

The UK has lost much of its wetland – but wetlands are a great way of managing excess water and storing carbon. We’re losing our highland habitats to grouse moors, where the heather is burned off so that grouse can eat the new shoots, and then themselves, be shot. This increases flooding risk for others. We’re seeing building on flood plains, still. We’re seeing a lack of political will to keep fossil fuels in the ground despite all of the evidence that we really can’t afford to keep burning them. Destructive and toxic fracking seems preferable to cleaner, greener energy.

If we wait for government and big business to lead the way, we could be waiting a long time – too long for vulnerable species. We have to do this ourselves. We can tackle climate change at a personal level. We can choose more sustainable ways of living, we can source our power from green energy companies, we can support charities who are leading the way. Here’s some suggestions if you’re in the UK:

The Woodland Trust

The Wildfowl and Wetland Trust

Local wildlife trusts

Green Electricity Marketplace


Green hearts show the love

“The Climate Coalition, a group of over a hundred organisations working together to call on government to commit to action on climate change. They are dedicated to limiting the impact of climate change on the people, places and life we love at home in the UK and around the world. It’s a positive movement to highlight just how much we all care about the challenges we and future generations face.” (taken from The Woodland Trust Website)

The Woodland Trust is part of the climate change coalition, and as a volunteer for The Woodland Trust, I’m spreading the word.

So, what can we, as ordinary individuals do to help? We can help build awareness, and momentum. The more people are visible in caring about climate change and its impact on both humans and our environment, the more scope there is to get people with power to make real change.

Create a green heart to wear, share or show. Whether its crochet, card or a drawing, share them on social media with #ShowTheLove and #TreeCharter. Get some inspiration and print-outs to use from the For the Love Of website.

Do you have a story or cherished memory of a tree? Could it be threatened by climate change? You can share your own story by writing it on a green heart and hanging it on a tree. Why not go one further? Tell us your story online by the end of February and help build a Charter for Trees, Woods and People.

I’ve taken some Green Hearts from the For The Love Of website to decorate this blog, but I mean to make some of my own as well… watch this space!


How to be an activist

With the world as it is right now, we need as many people as possible involved in activism, but we also need to do it well. Badly handled activism can put people off a cause. Worse, it can emotionally undermine people so they feel powerless and unable to keep contributing. Activism done well lifts and inspires people so that they want to get involved, and stay involved, and know that they can make real change.

Shock tactics may grab attention, but after a while they create apathy. There’s only so many abuse images a person can take, and the kind of activism that shows ghastly suffering – human and animal – can desensitise. It is tempting to use powerful images to get an important issue across, but the cumulative effect is that we all end up tuning stuff out just to cope, or pulling away to protect ourselves. Show me a live, happy dolphin and tell me it needs my help and I’ll go sign the petition. Tell me in words what the problem is, and keep those words bearable.

It’s also easy to fall into habits of blaming and shaming, trying to induce guilt to make people act. This can have a short term impact but over the longer term it demoralises people. The worst thing to do is take people who showed up wanting to help, and have picking holes in their choices be the main focus of the activism. Allies you don’t perfectly agree with are far more valuable than no allies, and infinitely more useful than enemies. Willingness to work with people who are not like us can be key – it was, after all, the otter hunters who first raised the issue of dwindling otter numbers in the UK some decades ago.

One of the reasons I love volunteering for The Woodland Trust, is that it’s all about soft activism and encouraging people. I’ve been a member for many years. They regularly send me news about their work, photos of landscapes they’ve bought and saved, and requests for funds for the next projects. I find it uplifting. We don’t win everything, we don’t save everything, but by focusing most on the better news, it’s easier to stay engaged. I know that my support for them makes a difference, so rather than getting ground down by what’s wrong, I get uplifted by the wins.

Activism needs to be underpinned by the idea that we can make a difference – because we can, but if we don’t believe that we’re not going to get very far. We need to stay hopeful, stay inspired, stay energised, and morale is key here. There will be lots of times when we have to talk about bloody awful things, but the focus has to be on what can be done, and how, rather than just hand wringing. We can change everything, if we help each other to do it.


Seeing stars

Last week some people with hard hats came and took away our orange street lamp bulbs, and replaced the units with new ones. Instead of the orange glow, we have a much nicer light, and none of it comes in through the windows.

Light pollution is so normal that we often don’t consciously notice it. The invasive orange glow has permeated every conventional home I’ve ever had. When we lived on the boat it was possible to moor up in dark places and be free from direct street lighting, but that made the orange glow of nearby towns very obvious.

Orange street lights block out the stars – not only for the people nearest the streetlight, but for miles around. The night is made small by light pollution, we’re locked into the little orange bubble of human civilization and we don’t see or know the darkness.

I’m wholly enchanted by the new lights. I can look over the top of the streetlight, and see the stars. The orange bubble has burst, and in its place, I have the magic of the night sky without having to step outside – and on a cold, wintery night, that’s a real blessing. It’s also much easier to achieve proper darkness, and thus proper rest.

I don’t think technology is the magic answer to everything, nor do I think it is an evil we must escape from to get back to nature. Technology used wisely, is a blessing.


Life lessons from your mediaeval monarch

With the mediaeval king as your spirit guide, everything looks different!

I’ve been blogging recently about the role of abundance in our lives and the importance of recognising the good that we have. Most of us have things in our lives a mediaeval monarch would envy, so, with tongue only a bit in cheek, take the king as your spirit guide and journey into new ways of seeing.

Have you got windows? Do they have glass in them? Can you see out through the glass? Your mediaeval king envies you.

Own more than three books? Your mediaeval king is a bit in awe of your wealth and scholarship.

Oranges all year round? A steady supply of almonds and spices? He’s hoping you’re going to marry his daughter.

Got some mode of transport at your disposal? A bicycle? Access to a bus or train? (Don’t get him started on cars). Your mediaeval king can only get places by getting on a horse and travelling along muddy roads. There are no road signs where he is going.

Got a phone? The fastest way your medieval king can get a message out is to get some other person ride a horse down the unsignposted barely roads at top speed. It counts as the ‘information superhighway’ when he’s got something faster than a donkey.

Worried about your love life? Sadly lacking in the contraception department, your mediaeval king is trying to stop his illegitimate children killing off the ones born in marriage, and the ones born in marriage all hate each other, and hate him, and all want the crown sooner rather than later. Also he has to contend with a set of holy days that rule out large chunks of the year for getting laid without offending God. He lives in a time when de-lousing someone is an act of courtship.

Yes, he has the power of life and death and a crown and a lot of other bling and some castles, and knights and horses and whatnot, but he can’t get a cup of coffee of a morning.

It’s surprising how effective it is to picture yourself being envied by a mediaeval king when you’re feeling down about things.