Category Archives: Green Living

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.

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Making pledges to show the love

I’m a big fan of making pledges in rituals with other people. It’s a simple, powerful act to do it alone, but when you are witnessed by your community, it adds weight to the pledge. Humans are better at feedback than Gods. Also, hearing other people’s pledges is often inspiring, and being able to come back and say how those pledges are going, affirms the work undertaken and helps you keep going.

I’ve made space for pledge making in ritual circles, and have seen the process in action. People who are new to all this will pledge things like growing herbs, or being more diligent with the recycling. Those further along the path to living lightly make more radical pledges. Over a few seasons, the people who were aspiring to recycle will become more involved too.

It is a powerful thing to speak to whatever you hold sacred and make a promise. If you’ve been having trouble really making the effort with something, pledging as a sacred act can give you the focus to see it through. It’s one thing to let yourself off the hook for making small car journeys when you could have walked, and very different to have promised your Gods, your ancestors or the land that you would do this differently. It’s also different when your community of people has heard your pledge. We like to look good for each other. We get a lot of emotional rewards from the good opinion of others. Ritual with humans tends to make us want to offer more impressive pledges, and to see them through so that we can tell people we saw them through.

Radical green change to enable sustainable living can feel a bit hair-shirt. If we feel we’re suffering by sacrificing, there’s less incentive to keep going. Emotional rewards from your human community can really help offset this. If people are impressed by you, then what you’re doing becomes more meaningful. The trouble with being green is that we tend not to see any immediate consequences of it – because most of us don’t see landfill sites, or plastic islands in the ocean, and we have no personal measure of air pollution or carbon excess. And even if we did, our own bit would be hard to spot in the grand scheme of things. That our efforts are both tiny and important is hard to work with.

If you want to make sacrifices to your Gods, (or anything else you hold sacred) then your sustainable life choices are some of the most powerful things you can offer up right now. If the Gods can smell your incense, they can also smell the fumes from your car. If you recognise the Earth as a sacred being, or as a mother Goddess, then the landfill, the plastic and the air pollution are what we do to her sacred body. We honour her when we pledge not to harm her.

If you’re looking for inspiration, try the spinner on this website – https://www.theclimatecoalition.org/spin-the-love

If you don’t have a ritual space to share your pledges in, use the internet. Talk about what you are doing. Inspire other people through your action. Watch out for #showthelove during February.


Saving the planet

When I hear people talking about saving the planet, I worry. Certainly there’s a great deal that must be changed if we are to survive as a species and not take even more of our fellow creatures down with us. However, we do not need to save the plant. We need to stop harming the planet. For me, it’s an important difference.

Imagine a scenario in which you have left a person tied up inside a building you have set fire to. You run back in time to ‘save’ them. This is the kind of ‘saving’ we are talking about when we talk about saving the planet. We urgently need to recognise that we are the ones who have caused the problems in the first place. If we stopped tying life to metaphorical chairs and setting fire to our actual home and habitat, we wouldn’t be in this mess.

We’re good at taking human agency out of the conversation. We talk about pollution, not the fact that humans are polluting the earth, air and water. We talk about extinction, not the fact that human activity is directly responsible for killing many of our fellow life forms. Terms like environmental degradation, habitat loss, deforestation, climate change, conservation, emissions – these words and many others like them all have one thing in common. There’s no direct reference to human activity here. We talk about all of these things as though they are things that are happening, not things we are causing. This in turn helps us ignore our personal and collective responsibility.

It would be nice to save the planet, wouldn’t it? But we’re not superheroes, we can’t ask huge things like that of ourselves and actually expect it to work.

If we talked instead about stopping trashing the planet, we might notice our own involvement in what’s wrong. Stop causing pollution. Stop cutting down trees. Stop killing other creatures. Stop dumping our crap in the oceans. It all has a very different ring to it – one that foregrounds the harm we do and our responsibility to do differently.

We need to stop talking about saving the planet, and start speaking in a way that recognises exactly what’s causing the problems in the first place.


Food choices and climate change

Food choices are always a really emotive subject and I try to stay out of that side of it as best I can. My starting point has the potential to offend everyone: I’m not ideologically opposed to meat eating, dairy, or eggs. I am deeply uncomfortable with how factory farming works and how we treat the living beings in our food chains. I am absolutely clear that whatever you eat, eliminating food waste should be your priority, because if we tackled that we would get to grips with reducing suffering, and reducing the climate impact of meat.

Animal products for human consumption, and the methods by which we ‘grow’ these are harming the planet. If we want to survive as a species, we have an obligation to cut back on what we consume and to support and encourage others in doing the same. If you eat meat, consider having some meat free days in a week. Vegetarians can consider having some vegan days in their weeks, and vegans, you still have to wrangle with food waste.

You can also look at reducing the food miles in your food if you have the means. If you can source from local producers with better cared for creatures, then do that. If you can’t afford to eat more kindly, cutting back is also a good choice. If you go vegan, depending on where you live, you may have a hard time cutting food miles – beans, nuts and soya products tend to come to the UK from overseas. There are no perfect solutions here, but make whatever moves you can to cut the carbon imprint of your diet.

I’ve pushed towards veganism before and found it difficult. Sourcing affordable protein is an issue, although I can manage it. What’s turned out to be a real problem, is fats. What dairy remains in my life is as much a fat source as anything else, and it is the need for fats in the diet that has thus far, thwarted me. It’s easy (especially if you have a penance aspect to your food choices) to view fats as bad and a diet light on them as good. In practice, neither my skin nor my brain work well without them.

To reduce the animal products in my diet I have to figure out an approach to food that sorts out the need for fats. Where in the food prep process the fats go, is a question I need to answer and I think it will take me away from the food approaches I am used to. My current project is to figure this out, and introduce the solutions gently so that I can change my relationship with food. I’ve replaced milk with substitutes with no trouble at all, and when there are vegan options I often take them.

I don’t think absolutism is the solution for all of us. Finding what works for you and how best to reduce your carbon footprint is a question to ask. Mine is pretty low as it is (carbon calculator over here – https://footprint.wwf.org.uk/ ) but I want to do better.


New Year Resolutions

Yesterday I blogged about making radical green resolutions. So, you may well ask, what are mine? I already don’t own a car, a fridge, a freezer, a television or a microwave or washing machine. I’m already committed to not flying, and I’m already vegetarian. I can’t do much more to eco-fit my home because I live in a block of flats. I can’t grown my own food or compost my own waste for the same reason. My scope to make radical changes is not as big, as a consequence.

I am looking at strategies to reduce the amount of animal products in my diet. I’ll be blogging about this as I go.

I’m looking at how people drive because of me, as an extension of car use issues.

I’m going to invest more effort in persuading people to live more as I do, and I’m going to do that this year as part of a project to talk more about how to be happy. I get a lot out of my relatively low impact life and I think other people could, too.

Last year brought a lot of changes and challenges for me, but it’s made me think a lot about what I want in all aspects of my life. I’m rethinking where I am creatively – more on this to follow. I’m set on focusing more on how things work day to day, rather than being too long term about anything. I don’t have any long term goals at this stage in my life that don’t depend more on luck than my own efforts. How I live day to day has more impact on me than where I might be going.

This last year has taught me to rethink a lot of my relationships with people. Every time I’ve held my boundaries and said no, it has really paid off for me. I’ve asked for help – something I find difficult, but I’ve clearly asked the right people and have had help that has made a huge difference. I’m going to go forward more aware that help may be available, and more willing to ask for it.

My major intention for 2019 is to make more time for daydreaming. I’ve still got a lot to figure out. I feel like I’m in an in-between place, not really ready to set firm intentions for a calendar year, but needing to put in time on how I want to change and grow. Daydreaming has always been an important imaginative tool for me. I use it to test ideas, seed creative projects and figure out who and how I want to be. I need to dedicate more time to it.

I hope whatever you plan for yourself for this year, that you can do it in a way that serves you. I’ve tried resolutions as penitence and self-punishment and they don’t achieve much. I’ve done much better with them since I shifted to setting intentions and looking at my trajectory and needs. I can heartily recommend this as an approach.


Make radical green resolutions

This is the year to make radical green resolutions. Change your life, and help reduce the amount of harm we’re doing to the planet.

The most important areas to look at are energy use, transport, your home, your plastic use and your diet.

Where possible switch to a greener supplier or source.

However, many of these things can’t be dealt with by just buying a greener option. If for example we replaced all the single use plastic packaging with some other material, the scale of use means there would still be a massive environmental impact. We have to cut back, radically. All of us. Those of us who have most have to cut back most.

We have to question everything we do, everything we use, everything we buy. If you’ve been justifying to yourself something you know isn’t sustainable, now is a good time to re-think it. If you can’t give it up entirely, cut it back as much as you can. If it’s something you can’t solve personally, make a commitment to campaigning for change.

Make a New Year’s resolution that involves radical lifestyle change. Do it for the planet. Do it for yourself. Do it to start building a better and more sustainable life. Do it because it’s the right thing to do.


Unwanted gifts

You may at this point in the year have one or two gifts that are neither use nor ornament. Sending these to landfill is the quick and easy option that adds to the obscenity of waste we collectively create over the festive period.

Give it away. Take it to a charity shop. Find your local freecycle or freegle group. Sell it on ebay.

Then, if you’re feeling brave and radical, talk to the people who give you gifts that you don’t really want or need. Talk to them about consumerism, and waste, and the environment. Talk about how less can be more, and you’d rather they didn’t spend their money on things you don’t want and can’t use.

This of course means risking offending people. They meant well, and you probably don’t want to hurt their feelings. Except that this kind of well meaning behaviour supports our consumerist, capitalist society. If we’re all too worried about each other’s feelings to talk about how much pointless tat floats about each midwinter, we’ll keep pillaging the world for the raw materials, making that into the useless tat – using energy, buying said useless tat, wrapping it in paper, giving it to each other and finally throwing it away. Profits are made for some, and the costs to the environment are huge.


Broken it already?

How many children’s toys don’t survive to the New Year? How many go into landfill, adding to the enormous amount of waste the UK generates around midwinter?

If you have broken toys to deal with, rather than putting them in the bin, why not see if there’s a Repair Cafe near you? https://repaircafe.org/en/

Repair Cafes operate all year round, and fix all kinds of broken things to keep them out of landfill. My local one ran a toy hospital before Christmas, and is doing a broken toy session again in January.

Broken toys are also an opportunity to play, create and mess about. If the toy is broken, it’s not a risky activity. You might be able to Frankenstein it into something new. If your kids are old enough to be unleashed, why not let them remake the broken things into new, fabulous, hideous designs? So much of what’s available to children is pre-imagined for them and connects to existing TV shows, so objects all too often come with their stories in place, narrowing the space for imaginative play. By turning broken toys into new toys, you give them a chance to create their own worlds.


Dealing with a dead tree

In the aftermath of Christmas, a great many trees will be burned or sent to landfill. I blogged earlier in the season about alternatives to cut trees (still better than plastic trees). However, we’re now at the point where you’ll be thinking about what to do with the tree, if you have one.

If you don’t have a tree, well done! Please feel virtuous and easy of conscience at this point because you’ve already done the most environmentally responsible thing you could do on this score.

If you are in the UK, your local authority may well have a tree collection point for chipping and deployment – chipped trees can be used to help maintain paths, and this kind of re-use reduces their impact.

In some areas, charities are collecting trees for a donation, and then recycling them as chippings.

Find a responsible way of dealing with your dead tree. Don’t send it to landfill.

And really, Pagans, if you’ve killed a tree to celebrate midwinter, you might want to have a think about this.


Re-use or recycle your cards

I’ve seen estimates of a billion cards going in the bin after Christmas. I’ve seen estimates of several hundred thousand trees needing to be felled to make those cards in the first place. I’ve not tracked down any definite figures online, but it doesn’t take much thinking to consider how many cards might be sent, and what it took to create them and come to the conclusion that it’s a very high environmental cost, regardless of the precise figures.

At this point, you may have cards. How you dispose of them will make a difference.

You could cut them down for reuse, as gift labels. You could use them in future crafting projects. You could give them to a charity that can make money recycling them. You could recycle them if they aren’t covered in non-recyclable things.

For the longer term, you can think about buying recycled cards to reduce impact on trees. Buy smaller cards that use less material and create less waste. Consider not giving cards.

Cards are an example of things we think of us just a bit of seasonal fun and goodwill. How much harm is it ok to cause for the sake of a bit of fun and festivity?