Category Archives: Green Living

Ethical horror for Halloween

At this time of year, the Halloween tat comes out and the shops are full of low quality, throw away rubbish for us to spend money on that we can’t really afford, and then send to landfill, which the Earth really can’t afford.

Here are some more (and less) sensible suggestions for spooky seasonal decor, without buying plastic rubbish.

Welcome those autumn spiders and let them make webs for you!  

Go a bit Miss Haversham with dried flowers and dead plant matter. Nothing says gothic like dead roses. Also these can be composted when you’ve had enough of them.

Actual bones. Source your dead things carefully and make sure they are clean because you maybe don’t want to go so far as actual maggots… but dead things are better for the environment than fake plastic dead things. 

If you like the colours, the patterns, the look – you can buy cotton fabrics with Halloween vibes online. Consider investing the time in making your own seasonal objects. Eldritch bunting is always a good look. Decorate with seasonally appropriate table or altar cloths made from natural materials, and re-use them next year.

Don’t buy cheap and nasty costumes made from synthetic fabrics. They don’t last, they will end up in the bin. Buy vintage, buy from people who make costumes, buy your own fabric and improvise wildly. 

Make a lantern out of a swede or turnip, these are cheap and proper hideous, and the more wrong they are the better.

Make disgusting food. Marzipan slugs. Worm and eyeball soup (noodles and small whole onions) use tomatoes and beetroot for blood. Smear raspberry jam about. Ice fangs onto things. 

Buy things from artists and artisans – it will cost more up front but you’re helping a creator survive and you’ll get something really cool that you will want to live with for many years. 

Horror doesn’t have to be mass produced and shipped around the world at a high environmental cost. Horror can be sustainable. You can source your horror ethically, you can make your own.


Urban Forests

There are plans to circle Madrid with a massive forest. Surrounding the city with trees would help fight climate chaos, and would have a cooling effect – cities are normally heat islands. It’s an excellent plan with the potential to help on many levels. I feel strongly that urban tree planting should be a serious consideration worldwide.

Planting trees in urban spaces means we aren’t taking farmland out of production and we aren’t messing up existing ecosystems. Unconsidered tree planting isn’t usually a good thing. For tree planting to be effective they have to survive. Turning otherwise barren urban spaces green by planting trees is a good choice environmentally.

Urban trees provide wildlife corridors. They create shade, which can reduce human energy use. Trees help with noise and air pollution, they help slow falling rain and reduce flooding. Meanwhile, they take up carbon from the air. We also know that trees improve people – we have better mental health when we have green spaces, we’re less likely to commit crimes or to be violent.

If people have to travel to access green space for relaxation, exercise and mental health, that travelling puts more pressure on the planet. If we can turn our cities green, or put greenbelts around them – especially if we can re-purpose derelict industrial sites when we do that – we can cut the need for travel, which will also help.

When it comes to wild and natural forests, there is much to be said for allowing natural regeneration and expansion where possible. But, in urban spaces we have nothing to lose and almost anything we do to introduce more plant matter is likely to bring benefits. 

Imagine that fifteen minute city where you mostly walk or cycle, or use electronic mobility devices, and you do so surrounded by trees. Instead of the massive amount of land given over to parking spaces, we could have so many pockets of life and vitality, we could add so much beauty to our lives and we could fight climate change while we do it.


Crafting in self defence

I get a lot of mental health benefits from crafting and most days I’ll have some textiles in my hands for at least a little while.

I upcycle a lot, so crafting helps me keep usable fabric out of landfill. This helps me feel like I’m doing something virtuous with my time and that can be a mood improver. I take in other people’s dead things and give them new life, and give away some of what I make, so that all feels good too.

Depression tends to bring feelings of uselessness. There are lots of simple ways of crafting that don’t call for a great deal of cleverness or concentration once you’ve picked up the skills. I benefit from being able to look at what I’ve made. Knowing there is something useful or pretty that exists because I made it, can help ward off despair. Making things that cheer other people lifts my spirits.

While I’m making things, my brain gets time to process stuff. This can help me deal with situations where I feel overwhelmed. If I’m trying to work something through, the rhythms of crafting can really help me with that. It also creates a space where much of my brain isn’t occupied, and things can just float to the surface. I find this really helps me with figuring things out. Distracting myself with craft actually lets me get important thinking done that I can’t do in a totally conscious way, and also can’t do if my brain is too busy.

For most of human history, most of us have been makers. When you think about the kind of work historically that went into meal making, textile creation, tool and weapon making, ornament making, ceramics making… it becomes obvious that it must have been normal to our ancestors to make stuff. It’s really only since the industrial revolution that the majority of people have stopped being makers. As an aside, Marx has some really interesting things to say about the psychological impact of factory work, of only making a part of a thing, not the whole thing. We become alienated from the work.

I find crafting restorative. I think we suffer when we spend too much time doing work that doesn’t produce tangible results. We’re too cerebral sometimes. We need to do things that result in something we can see, or hear, touch or taste. Craft gives you a meaningful relationship with physical reality, and for me that’s been a sanity saver on many occasions.


The end of the world

It is a curious thing to have to wonder whether your species has the political will to save itself. Here we are, with many places on fire, with floods killing people and drought purging life from landscapes and a clear report that we’re in a lot of trouble and must act urgently… and I do not know if the political will exists to do anything.

Already in the UK some of our politicians have started making noises to the effect that there’s no point us doing anything unless China does. Apparently no one is keen to square up to short term discomfort in order to fend off disaster in a few years time.

I don’t understand why anyone thinks there is any advantage to being rich if we don’t have a functioning planet. You can’t buy your way out of being on fire. There is no economic advantage that will get you a free pass to avoid all the consequences of climate chaos. Granted, the poor will suffer most, and are already suffering. But at this point, surely, enlightened self interest should kick in?

Apparently some 70% of the problem is caused by 100 companies. We know, and we have known for a long time that it is the richest 1% who urgently need to curb their consumption. Those who have most need to do most. Will they? Will the people who could do most to avoid us all watching life on this planet get wiped out, act? Or are we going to wipe ourselves out as a species by being too greedy and lazy to survive?

I spend a lot of time trying not to despair of humans trying not to think the worst of us and trying to imagine that we will do better. We’re running out of time. Today I am allowing myself to be angry and frustrated. I’ve spent years working to reduce my carbon footprint, which was never large. I know that if well resourced people had made more effort, we could have made a real impact without waiting for governments, big business and the 1% to get their shit together. But here we are, and I’m angry, and exhausted and frustrated and afraid.

All I can do is keep doing what I can. I refuse to give up. But dear Gods we could have done so much better, and should have done, and should be doing everything we can right now to sort things out.


Population and Planet

The human population has grown at an alarming rate, and clearly puts a strain on the world. We can’t grow forever. However, it’s really important to be alert to racist thinking around this issue. We tend to blame the poorest people in the world, who consume far less than the richest 1%. 

Given information about contraception, access to contraception and support to use it, most women will choose to have smaller families. This is an approach that promotes body autonomy for women, and that reduces poverty and suffering. We need to strenuously resist the cultural and religious pressures on women around the world to have a lot of babies.

We need to support people who do not want to have children at all. We need to make it easier for people to control their fertility in any way they like. That means education, access to contraception, and access to vasectomies and tube tying, not conditional on already having had children.

We need to look at our social structures and the politics of families. We need to create environments in which people don’t feel excluded or vulnerable if they don’t have children.

We need to stop focusing on motherhood as the central experience for women. We need to stop telling people who have wombs that this is their defining feature, and that making more humans is the most important thing they can do. We need to challenge right wing thinking that wants to reduce women to wombs, and deny anyone with a womb the opportunity to do anything other than raise kids.

The best way to reduce the population would be to stop coercing people into having children they don’t want. There is nothing but good in stopping that. Give women control of their fertility and the right to choose, and the rest will tend to follow. 

Part of population growth is due to people living longer. We might also ask questions about quality of life, and what we’re prepared to do to people to keep them alive.

And at the same time, there is a much more urgent need to curtail the excesses of the super-rich and to share out resources in fairer ways. People who live lightly, and whose landscapes are not pillaged for the benefit of someone else, are not going to overburden the Earth.


Resisting the fashion industry

Fashion is terrible for the planet. Tons of barely worn clothing finds its way into landfill every year. Plastic particles get into our water supplies from clothes washing. The actual clothes tend to be made in grim conditions by underpaid people. What can we do?

The easiest change to make is not to put wearable clothing in the bin. Give it away. We can all do that.

Most of us can improve how we do our laundry – wash at a lower temperature, air dry don’t tumble dry, use a more environmentally friendly detergent, and don’t wash things quite so often.

We can buy fewer clothes of better quality and keep them longer. Tricky for people in poverty who can’t afford the upfront extra cost. 

We can buy and be gifted second hand. This helps, but is not a solution, nor is it viable for everyone. If you aren’t average size, or you have an emergency around a key piece of kit, this doesn’t work. Plus we can’t do it forever, second hand depends on the fashion industry too, it just doesn’t put money into it directly.

I’ve been wrangling with all of this for a while, alongside issues about appearance, and identity. I’m too tall and broad to buy much second hand. I also don’t like the vast majority of clothing out there. I hate the kinds of textiles, prints, patterns and colours that show up in supermarkets. Clothes shops are rarely much better, and all of it involves exploitation. But, most of my clothes are now too big and/or worn out.

I’ve been dabbling in clothes making for a while, using salvaged fabric from otherwise worn out clothes. But I’ve long since used the available material. So I took the plunge and bought a few meters of cotton from my local haberdasher. That won’t put any plastic into the world, and no one has been exploited at the sewing stage. I made a couple of tunics. I’m not brilliant at sewing – I can’t use sewing machines, they stress me too much. I’m making patterns out of clothes I already have, and I’m improvising. I get to use strong, dark colours and plain fabrics – this has always been my preference, but is hard to find in clothes shops. 

I’m not going to be able to do this for everything I need, but I can do it for at least some of my new clothing. I can make things I like, and explore what I actually like and want rather than being limited by what’s for sale. The cost is low compared to buying new clothing, the fabric standard is higher than cheap clothing so it will last. I’m not supporting the fashion industry. I craft as a hobby anyway so I’m using hobby time to do this, and I’ve found it rewarding. As I can’t buy my way out of participating in the grim behaviour of the fashion industry, this seems like my best bet for non-participation.


Green, or Normal?

One of the biggest obstacles to living more sustainably, is our idea of what’s normal. This is something that impacts us at the personal level, and as wider societies and cultures. Normal is comfortable, and for many people, just imagining an alternative is difficult. We don’t automatically question things we think are normal, and we all tend to resist change away from what’s comfortable for us.

Most of us at this point are used to wildlife degradation. We’re used to seeing almost barren landscapes presented as beautiful. If we’ve never seen them covered in trees, or rich grassland, if we’ve never seen them complicated and thriving we won’t know that the thin covering of grass they now have is a disaster. We’re used to living with few songbirds, and not being surrounded by wildflowers. We don’t miss things if we’ve never known them. This means we are comfortable with situations that are actually grim.

If you grew up being driven everywhere, then cars are normal. You won’t think of your feet or a bicycle as modes of transport. You might not have shoes for walking or a body that can walk a mile or two at need. You won’t have an emotional relationship with walking and you will have an emotional relationship with your car. Changing this isn’t easy.

If you’ve grown up with foreign holidays and flying as normal, you may feel that you’re being asked to give up a lot in cutting back on that. If you grew up with throwaway clothes, and throwaway toys and an expectation that anything can go in the bin when you are bored with it, just the effort of recycling can seem like a big deal. Reducing, reusing, repurposing and repairing will seem very alien indeed.

We take ‘normal’ as a measure of goodness. We see the normality of the commute, and not how much of our time it wastes. We see the normality of the food we’ve been told is tasty and convenient, and not what it costs our bodies and not what it does to the planet.

It really doesn’t help that ‘normal’ has an advertising budget. Every day you are subjected to ideas and imagery in the form of adverts that reinforce a wasteful and consumerist society. Car adverts are normal. It’s hard to see these things when you are steeped in them.

It’s also easier to make changes if you can see what those changes would look like. It’s easier to re-think what we consider normal when you can see someone else doing differently. Doing all the mental work to deconstruct your reality and social norms on your own is not easy, and for many people it may not even be visible as an option.

This is why it’s so important to share what you do. The upcycling projects, the veg plot, the lower carbon choices… What we do on social media really can make a difference because it shows other people that ‘normal’ isn’t the only option.

This week I questioned the normality of the vacuum cleaner. The old one had broken, and was a cheap one so getting replacement parts would be difficult. This kind of device isn’t made to be repaired. I wondered what we might do that would be better. I prodded the internet a bit. Repairable and more efficient and eco friendly vacuum cleaners exist. Hurrah! But there’s also very expensive. It was only then that I started to ask why we needed this device specifically. We’ve bought a floor sweeper – it will pick up dust. The cat and I do not have to endure a noise level we both find stressful. It has almost no parts and those are repairable and replaceable, it uses no electricity, and there’s so much less of it that if it breaks irretrievably it represents a far smaller impact.

It’s all too easy to default to things because they seem normal. Questioning that is a constant process for me.


Kiss the Ground

If you care at all about climate chaos, you’re probably also experiencing depression, anxiety and despair. It all looks fairly grim out there and the politicians aren’t getting to grips with the issues anything like fast enough. Meanwhile Elon Musk adds to the pollution as he fires rockets into space and crypto-currencies use an alarming amount of energy. People with money and power seem hell bent on making everything worse.

Kiss the Ground is a documentary. It’s genuinely hopeful and offers what sounds like a real and realistic solution to de-carbonisation. It’s all about soil. The best thing is that no one has to wait for their government to get moving. Anyone with any land at all can take things on board from this and do something.

The solutions offered in this documentary benefit farmers. This is a way forward that offers lower costs, greater resilience and a better chance at making money – which is persuasive. It’s not a big ask to suggest people do something that will greatly benefit them. The solutions are low-tech for the greater part, so people in poorer parts of the world can get started without having to wait for help. The principles are easy to grasp.

We can keep a lot of carbon in the soil. We can add to it at a significant rate. Ploughing releases carbon, but we don’t actually need to plough to grow crops. If the soil isn’t bare, it takes in carbon, if it is bare, not only does it not take in carbon, but there are flooding issues, and earth becomes dust, topsoil is lost and we get desertification. Maintain plant cover and everything works better.

Here’s a trailer for the film, and if you get chance to see it, I heartily recommend it.

You might also want to watch this fantastic video on re-greening.


What if we ditched GDP?

Gross Domestic Product is used to measure wealth and growth. It focuses us on what we produce in terms of goods and services, while ignoring the impact of those things. It is massively problematic as a thing for governments to focus on because it goes with the idea of perpetual growth. We have economies built on the idea of perpetual growth and yet with finite resources this clearly isn’t going to work. Taking GDP as a measure of success also assumes that anything creating money is inherently a good thing.  This clearly doesn’t work either. What we measure and focus on informs policy and decision making. The speed of movement of money isn’t that useful a thing to obsess over.

What might we measure instead to establish how well a country is doing? Carbon emissions would be an obvious one, as we urgently need to reduce those, the more attention paid to them, the better. We can easily measure health, and this is a much better way to think about how well a country is delivering for its people.  Wellness is a meaningful measure of quality of life, especially when you include mental health in that. Happiness is a difficult thing to measure because it’s so subjective, but when you put people self-reporting on happiness alongside health considerations, you might have a meaningful sense of how people are doing.

Biodiversity would be an excellent thing to measure and monitor and put at the centre of decision making.  In the UK, tree cover would also be a thing to consider. Green spaces – and being able to access them – goes with good mental and physical health.

All of these things would shift us away from imagining that money/production for its own sake is a reasonable measurement of something.  By focusing on GDP, we priorities a notion of wealth creation over the actual wealth that is health and happiness. Money and product is of limited value when it costs your wellbeing. As the gap widens between the very rich and all the rest of us, money as a measurement of a country’s wellbeing becomes ever more suspect. Although it is worth noting that billionaires are the enemy of GDP – GDP is in many ways a measure of money moving around. Money hoarded by billionaires has been removed from the economy and is of no use to anyone else.

Ditching GDP would take us into the difficult territory of re-imagining our economies. We are either going to have to let go of eternal growth as a theory, or societal collapse will force that onto us anyway. We have to let go of the idea of always having more of everything, and replace that with ideas of sustainability, and staying at a level. If we focus on wellbeing rather than on making stuff and the movement of money, we might be able to see ourselves progressing in other ways, and that might make it easier to let go of this rather toxic narrative about what a successful country looks like.


What if we re-thought fashion?

The fashion industry is one of the most planet harming, carbon intensive, polluting of human activities. Clothes are often made in sweat shops, only to end up in landfill after one or two wears. We throw away tons of clothing. Unlike issues around transport, food and energy consumption, there’s nothing inherent in the fashion industry that either justifies the waste, or makes it technically that difficult to change.

There’s a lot we can do as individuals on this one – buy less, use clothing for longer, give it to charity shops when we’re done with it, upcycle. Simply by rejecting the idea that you might buy an item of clothing, wear it once and throw it away, we could collectively get a lot done on this one.

The fashion industry itself is a bit of a poster-boy for throw away consumerism. It’s hardly an issue for this industry alone, it’s a cultural issue and an issue inherent in capitalism. If we accept that new is always better, and up to date is important, then buying things to almost immediately throw them away might make sense to us. Replace those ideas with durability, inherent worth, and the desire to own things that are inherently satisfying and pleasing, and that whole edifice could crumble.

If we wanted lasting clothing that would serve us well, we’d perhaps pay more for it and that would help move us away from the terrible conditions in which clothing tends to be made. It has to be said that currently the price tag on the clothing is not an indicator of how well the maker was paid. Unless you are buying from a person who made the clothes, the odds are there’s exploitation in the mix.

I want to make more of my own clothing. It’s one way of resisting, and as I can sew, it’s an option I have.  I also very much like having clothing that doesn’t look like what everyone else is wearing! I aspire to being able to afford to buy things from makers, rather than mass produced things, but there’s a significant economic aspect to that, and it’s a bit beyond me at the moment.

We don’t need throwaway fashion. It isn’t life enhancing, and it’s not especially joyful. There’s much more delight to be had in clothing that can be re-worn, and that can be a friend on the journey. Clothing full of associations and memories can be life enriching. Clothing into which time, care and thought has been invested has a lot more to offer us than something bought cheaply and immediately forgotten.

We don’t need fast fashion. There’s really no inherent good in it. The whole process goes with a strategy of selling us dissatisfaction so that we keep spending money on new things. What if your wardrobe was fine and did not need updating? What if it made more sense to replace clothes when they wear out or you change shape, investing in things you can enjoy for years to come? Think how much time, energy and effort that would save people! Think how much more joy we could have by only owning things we really wanted and that we make part of our lives.

I’m enough of an animist to make friends with the things I own. My clothing has been on journeys with me and is full of stories. When it wears out, I salvage what I can and re-use it, meaning every now and then I find an old friend in whatever place they’ve been re-purposed to. That’s a nice feeling. I’ve got fabric that came from my grandmother, clothes that are twenty years old and more. I’ve got parts of my life in my wardrobe, and I like how that feels. There’s meaning in it, and significance, and companionship.