Category Archives: Green Living

Publishing and the environment

Publishing isn’t a terribly eco-friendly industry. Trees are felled for making paper, inks are full of damaging toxins. Big houses doing enormous print runs can end up pulping books they don’t sell, which is incredibly wasteful. Like anything else, printed material can end up in landfill. Just because it can be recycled doesn’t mean it will be.

I’m also a big fan of books, and this is the industry I work in so obviously I have mixed feelings. I think books are a valuable part of our culture and they can and should be dealt with in more environmentally friendly ways.

If you know you’re only likely to read something once, get it as an ebook. If you also buy a dedicated e-reader, you only need to read about a dozen books on it for it to have a lower environmental impact than buying those as physical books. It’s not just the book production, it’s also the impact of shipping them around and dealing with them once they are read. 

If the author is dead, buy their book second hand – they don’t need your money. If the author is so deceased as to be out of copyright the odds are good you can find their work online and read it for free, and entirely legally, as an ebook. 

If you buy a physical copy of a book, keep it in use. If you don’t want it, passing it to a friend is a good choice – authors actually benefit from this more often than not as it’s an effective, word of mouth way of gaining new fans. People passing physical books around like this doesn’t really hurt authors, not in the way that pirating books and giving them away online does.

The second hand book market – especially as it exists around charity shops – is known to have undermined the sales of new books. This has not gone well for authors. However, there’s still a lot to be said for keeping books out of landfill and supporting charities by buying from them. Not everyone can afford new books, which is also a consideration. There are no clear cut answers on this one, navigate as you see fit.

Libraries are a good choice in terms of getting free reading material while not disadvantaging authors. In the UK, authors can get small payouts for library loans, and borrowing from the library encourages libraries to buy that author’s books, so that can be a good thing.

While there are a lot of things wrong with Amazon, one thing it offers is print on demand publishing. That means books are only printed when someone wants one. Many self published authors and small publishing houses use this resource. It radically reduces waste and means books aren’t taking up space in warehouses, which occupy a lot of land. I wish the whole industry would switch over to print on demand, it would save so much waste and the energy of long distance transportation. We could eliminate warehousing for book storage – which isn’t a good use of land. There would be no excess books getting pulped.

Author incomes are dropping at all levels of the industry. Increasingly it’s the case that to write, you need an independent income source, the willingness and energy to work a second job alongside writing, or support from someone else. If writing isn’t going to be just a nice hobby for the affluent, then supporting authors matters. I really don’t want to live in a world where only the comfortably well off and able bodied can tell stories, I think we’d be culturally impoverished if that happened.

Beyond Sustainability

What does it mean to go beyond sustainability? As the title makes clear, it’s a concept I explore in my next published title from Moon Books. 

Much of the talk around climate chaos focuses on sustainability – which makes some sense. As a species we aren’t acting in a way the planet can sustain, and if we don’t get on top of that quickly, the prospects are grim.

The issue with this perspective is that it encourages us to see humans as only really capable of being a problem. We need to be able to imagine ourselves as being able to go beyond that. Getting things back on a more balanced footing isn’t really enough. If the current culture continues it would likely mean trying to live up to the edges of what’s sustainable, with a lot of non-sustainable things being greenwashed as somehow good. Just look at how we’re using the term ‘sustainable development’ at the moment for a sense of how this works.

Humans are capable of moving beyond the idea of being sustainable. We should be thinking about what it would take for us to be restorative. This applies both to our relationship with the planet, and to how we treat each other. So much of what humans are doing to each other right now is toxic. What would it mean to regenerate? What would happen if we started looking at the things we can do – in any area of life – to make things better than they have been.

Sustainability is mostly shooting for being adequate. What if we went further?

Beyond Sustainability is available from the 28th April from the Moon Books website It’s up for pre-order on most book selling websites now, and can be ordered from bookshops.

Enchanted reality

Recently I saw someone online comment that they felt reality is overrated. It stayed with me as a comment, partly because that’s just such a tragic way for a person to feel, and partly because I suspect it represents a much bigger issue. If most of your life revolves around work, travelling to work, preparing for work, recovering from work and maybe watching some television, reality can’t have much to offer. If you’re not working and are instead dealing with grinding financial pressures, it’s even worse.

We’re facing a climate crisis, and a human-driven disaster on a scale that it’s hard to think about. As a species we aren’t doing very well at resisting this to protect ourselves from looming calamity. But then, what are most of us fighting for? What is there about modern life for many people that suggests it could be worth saving?

Even at my most depressed, I’ve managed to stay a bit in love with the world. I have access to trees and green spaces, there’s birdsong outside my windows and a stream a matter of yards away. The wild world isn’t an abstract notion for me, it’s the world I live in, which is of itself a huge privilege. Urban spaces can be much more soul destroying. If all you’ve got is a few straggly bushes and a sad square of worn grass, it’s not going to be so easy to imagine the natural world as something to care for.

We’ve alienated the majority of humans from nature and the life of the planet. We’ve turned the wonder of existence into a depressing grind where the promised rewards are planet-harming things we can’t afford and won’t get time to enjoy. Is it any wonder that we aren’t collectively squaring up to the climate crisis in a meaningful way?

In some ways, this feels like a mobius band of issues, where tackling the climate crisis would call upon us to deal with our toxic consumerism and change our cultures. Without changing our toxic cultures, how can we find the means to respond to the disaster we’re creating? And round it goes, each feeding the misery of the other. How can we change systems that breed despair and apathy?

Small joys have never seemed more important. Small wonders, acts of kindness and moments of beauty that make life and reality seem precious, are key. We need re-enchantment, so that we can encounter our living planet with care and delight. Somehow, we need to lift the people who think reality is overrated and find the means to inspire them and bring them hope. 

Petticoat emergency!

My latest bit of upcycling. The white fabric came from some old shirts that needed repurposing. Last week I came home from the Gloucester event with a new dress – a decidedly rare occurrence. I knew when I bought the dress that I might well want a petticoat for it. Then at the weekend I found out that we are going to be performing at Stroud Goodwill Evening on Friday night, and I wanted to wear the new dress, and I felt the urgent need for the petticoat. 

And here we are. Quite a lot of hand sewing later. I like that it’s somewhat irregular. 

I seem to be being a bit more overtly femme at the moment. Although I’ll always be a scruffy sort of goblin, I might on occasion be a scruffy goblin in a nice dress and petticoats. As a much younger human I was more overtly gender fluid, moving between very distinct kinds of gender presentation, depending on mood. As I seem to be going through a bit of a reboot period at the moment it will be interesting to see whether any more of that comes back.

Part of this is definitely a consequence of gigging. It’s good to be visually striking and more theatrical, and we’ve all been digging in with the performance kit this year. James has really gone for it, and that’s been a real inspiration for me.

Repairing and re-enchanting

Some years ago, I made a cloak out of tiny wool scraps. I dug it out because I wanted it for an event, and found it had suffered significant moth damage. I wasn’t sure it could be saved, but decided to get in and try, taking one damaged section at a time. It worked. While I was repairing and stabilising the cloak, some words came to me, and then a tune. Of course it’s not just about fabric, it’s about a way of being in the world, which is where the re-enchantment comes in.


When everything’s worn out

And falling apart

I’ll be there with my scissors

My will and my art

And I’ll salvage the pieces

And patch up the rest

Remaking, restoring

Is what I do best.

I won’t throw anything away

If I can help it

I don’t give up in any way

If I can help it

I won’t stop trying if I can,

I’ll repair and rebuild 

This is who I am.

I’ll bring my needle

And I’ll bring my thread

I have glue I have patience

To raise up the dead

I’ll take the discarded

The lost and forlorn

Make something new

Where the fabric is worn.

I’ll bring my patience

And I’ll bring my heart

I have time and ideas

When things fall apart,

I can see futures

When threads come undone

Pick up the stitches

Where the knitting has run.

All I do is keep trying

Nothing too wrecked to be darned

All it takes for the mending

Is to undo the harm

Life wears the edges

I put them back in place

No one too worn to be rescued

Repair and rebuild, don’t replace.

Frivolous boots

It’s rare that I buy new things. Partly that’s about making greener choices and trying to live lightly. Partly it’s the habit that has come from many years of having little disposable income. When I do buy things they tend to be practical and I make them last. The dress I’m wearing in this photo is probably 15 years old.

In the last ten years I have only owned sensible boots. The sort of boots I can use as transport. I’ve had work shoes, trainers and sandals as well, all of them sensible and the sort of thing I can walk a few miles in. However, work these days includes performance and I felt on that basis that maybe I could have some frivolous boots. Here they are.

I’m not a fan of fast fashion at all, and I generally resist the idea that buying things is how to be happy. With the obvious exception of books. I try to focus on what I need and on what’s practical. Much of my sillier clothing is stuff I’ve upcycled rather than anything I’ve purchased. 

And yet…

The desire for decoration, for play and frivolity has been a thing for people for about as long as we’ve been people. Prehistoric people were really into decoration. One of the reasons I didn’t have frivolous boots already is that I’m really not good at this stuff. I don’t reliably feel entitled to play or do things just for the joy of it. I don’t reliably feel worth decorating and I’ve had a fair few periods of mostly wanting to hide. But, I’m getting back into the face painting again, and I have preposterous boots, and there is a growing urge in me to do more things that are silly and expressive.

Upcycling with bees

The sofa came to us second hand, and was used vigorously over the years. That use included the enthusiasm of several cats, and the damage they did to the arms. 

Sofas are preposterously expensive things to buy new, and throwing away a whole one creates an unacceptable amount of waste. So, we dismantled it and did what we could. The metal fold out part for the sofa bed went to the local tip where hopefully it can be recycled. Wood from the sofa was repurposed, and some of it has been kept for future use. The fabric covering went in the bin along with some of the foam padding, but we also re-used some of that foam in rebuilding the arms.

Two of the cushions were dismantled and used to solve a problem with a different piece of furniture. The sofa bed bit was replaced with a wood base – thanks to the generosity of a friend who wombled together something from material he had lying around. We bought a piece of new foam to fit it. Solid foam cushions were reshaped and covered with new fabric and are now leading new lives as different cushions. 

We threw very little out. We ended up with a sofa that perfectly fits the space, and has more sofa and less sofa arm going on. One side of the sofa is now a bookcase and inside the sofa there is more storage space. The whole thing is more flexible and can be arranged to serve as a bed for anyone under 6ft tall, as a sofa pillow fort for me, and as a leisure space. There’s also more room for the cat!

Stay warm with a jumper?

As the UK faces electricity price hikes that will push many into fuel poverty, advice for staying warm abounds. Far too much of it is coming from people who clearly have no idea what they’re talking about. The ‘just wear a jumper’ solution is a popular example of this. Without understanding how poverty impacts on people, we aren’t going to prepare well or help each other.

A jumper keeps warmth in, it doesn’t heat you. That works ok in cool temperatures, when you are moving around, or when your body can burn calories for warmth. Food prices are going up. If you can’t afford to heat or eat properly a jumper is of little use. The colder it gets, the less those extra layers can do to help you. In very cold conditions, the body distress over hours of being cold is immense. I’ve been there. People can and do die of hypothermia.

If you can’t afford heat, you are probably also going to struggle with the costs of doing laundry, which of course requires heating water. A jumper is a large item to wash. Even if you are really careful about trying to keep it clean, after a week or so of being worn all the time, a jumper will start to smell a bit cheesy, and then increasingly cheesy. If you think hand washing clothes in cold water is going to solve this, it isn’t. You don’t get clothes as clean in a cold wash, and this is punishing on your hands when your environment is cold. I have done it and I do not recommend it.

Then you have to get the jumper dry. Good luck doing that without using energy in a cold home that is already damp because that’s what happens in cold conditions. If you cannot dry your clothes fast enough they will rot – can you afford to replace them? If it takes 2 days to dry a jumper, it will smell like a wet dog. You might be able to hang it outside, but winter weather is notoriously bad at drying clothes.

The old ‘wear an extra jumper’ trick works much better with an open fire – which is something older people are more likely to have experienced. An open fire may not make your home super-warm, but it does tend to make for a drier home, and you can stick your laundry in front of it. I’ve done this too. It’s not optimal, but it is workable.

If you’re making fires and keeping them going and hand washing laundry then this of course is cheaper in terms of money. It’s expensive in terms of time. Back when this way of living was more normal, it was possible to run a home on one income. It’s not technically possible to fund a contemporary household through work while also doing as much domestic labour as an early twentieth century housewife. 

I’m all for re-skilling and using slower and less energy-intensive ways of doing things. But, you have to be set up for that. You certainly can’t do it alongside a host of other labour intensive things, and you can’t do it if you are ill or in pain. Wringing out a massive wet jumper by hand takes quite a lot of effort.

We need to resist these suggestions that the problem is people not trying hard enough and not being willing to put up with some discomfort. Cold, wet homes are a nightmare. Modern build isn’t designed for you to live how your great granny did. The extra jumper causes as many problems as it solves.

The hideous lawn massacre

Lawns in the UK are yellow and dead. If the heat goes on for long enough, the grass won’t survive to reboot. Lawns that are not all grass are doing slightly better, as are areas of grass that haven’t been kept desperately short. Grass under trees is having a far better time of it, thanks to both the shade and the way trees redistribute water.

The UK loves its tidy lawns. Except right now they don’t look tidy, they look awful. They are awful. They’re also far too easy to set fire to, which is not an attractive quality.

Lawns are awful. The shorter and neater they are, the more awful they are. Nothing lives in them. The more you do to treat and control them, the more harmful they become. We urgently need to get over lawns, they do no good at all. It is my hope that the current death of lawns will encourage people to rethink them and replace them with something that can both survive and support other kinds of life.

Partly what makes a lawn attractive is that they are expensive and hard work to maintain – all that cutting and tending and poisoning doesn’t come for free! So having a big green lawn with only grass in it is just the sort of thing to show off what an affluent member of the landed gentry you are, as you pay a few peasants to do all the hard labour for you! Except now we do it to ourselves, voluntarily, for reasons. It’s amazing what it’s possible to persuade people is good, desirable and an appropriate use of their time and money.

Meanwhile the astro turf is probably melting. However unpleasantly the grass might burn, I’m prepared to bet that astro turf going up is going to be considerably worse.

The people who did not mow and the people who grow trees have much more hope of a pleasant garden this summer, as their reward for having done less. I just hope it catches on.

Time for Ocean Aid

Today is World Nature Conservation Day. I’m sharing content from fellow Moon Books author Steve Andrews, who has written a book called Saving Mother Ocean – more about that over here He’s currently exploring the idea of Ocean Aid concerts.