Category Archives: Green Living

Climate Strike

Today, a great many people are striking for the sake of the climate. I won’t be out there – as a self employed person my striking would be almost invisible and I’m not very good at crowds. I am however writing in solidarity and encourage everyone else who can’t join in physically to do the same.

We need radical change, and we need it now.

We need to be willing to make radical changes in our own lives. There’ s a fair amount that we can do individually right now, but the biggest thing will be our collective willingness to adopt massive changes when we’re enabled to do so.

We need clean, green energy. We need a farming industry that doesn’t harm the environment and that provides everyone with affordable food while paying farmers a viable living. We need to radically change how we do work and transport, to eliminate commuting and get cars off our roads. We can’t simply replace fossil fuel driven cars with electric ones because there are too many resources needed to make them. We have to radically cut back on flying and we have to entirely change the fashion industry. We have to largely eliminate single use plastics.

It won’t be easy, but it’s that or go extinct, taking a lot of innocent life forms with us. This year, people seem to be waking up to the climate emergency and becoming more willing to make changes and demand changes.

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The Juniper Award

A letter came last week. I checked in to make sure it’s ok to talk about the contents, and it is, so here we go…

Those of you who have been sharing my journey for a while will have noticed that I do a fair bit of talking about The Woodland Trust, tree love, tree protection and so forth. I’m a longstanding Woodland Trust supporter and for the last few years I’ve been doing some online volunteering.

The letter that arrived at the weekend says: “I am delighted to inform you that you have been nominated for the Juniper Award in The Woodland Trust Volunteer of the Year Awards 2019.”

This came as a bit of a surprise.

I’ve not been overwhelmed with awards during my adult life. Being nominated in this way means a great deal to me – it’s deeply validating of the work I’ve done, and cheering as well.

One of the things that comes with suffering depression is the ongoing feeling that nothing I do is good enough or makes enough difference. To have something I’ve done recognised in this way makes a lot of odds to me.  It encourages me to think that my love of trees is doing some small good in the world.

I’m going to dedicate this year’s inktober to tree and leaf drawings.


Flight Shame

In the last few weeks I’ve seen the words ‘flight shame’ used to describe the motivation for people flying less. I can’t point at any sources off the top of my head, but people are flying a bit less in Europe by the sounds of things, and this is being attributed to flight shame. It’s also worth noting that (and I got these stats from MEP Molly Scott Cato) 70% of flights are taken by 15% of fliers, so if those people cut back it will have maximum impact.

Flight shame is clearly a good thing. Flight shaming is not something I’ve managed to do. I have a fair few friends who fly – some for leisure, some for work, some because their families aren’t all in the same country. I don’t call them out when they tell me about it. I do not flight-shame them and I am undecided as to whether I should. Flying is so desperately bad for life on Earth. But, if we did it a bit more modestly, it might be feasible. If those who had most took less, it would perhaps be viable for some people to spend the odd few hours in the air now and then. The flight-shame of people who seldom flew anyway might not be a game changer.

My suspicion is that the people who are most easily persuaded to be uncomfortable about their less-sustainable choices are the people who weren’t so very bad in the first place. It’s the folk who jet off regularly who are least likely to feel uncomfortable with their choices – I suspect. I have little evidence aside from the way, this morning, I’m seeing people with a lot of money proclaiming their lack of flight guilt as Greta Thunberg sets off to cross the Atlantic in a boat.

But perhaps that need to assert the ‘no guilt’ over flying shows that flight-shame is creeping in. You don’t have to speak up to justify something that doesn’t need justifying.

The greatest harm to the planet is caused by the smallest number of people. Many of us are living within the planet’s means already. Many of us who are not living in a passably sustainable way would not need to make massive changes to achieve that. How can it possibly be tolerable that those who have most are allowed to take so much at such a cost to life as a whole? When that becomes shameful behaviour, and when we treat it with derision rather than admiring it, things may change. We could do this quickly. I’m not generally into using shame as a way to change behaviour, but we’re talking about people with monstrous levels of privilege who are choosing to do obscene amounts of damage – and they really should be ashamed of that and pressured to change.


Limits to second hand sourcing

In a recent blog post about clothing I mentioned buying second hand, and inevitably didn’t say a great many things about the limits of second hand shopping. In the effort to reduce the appalling impact of the fashion industry on the planet, many people are committing to only buying second hand clothes. It’s good if you can – but not everyone can, and that needs talking about.

If you have an average sort of body shape and proportions, then second hand clothing is a lot more realistic. If you are unusual in any way, the chances of walking into a second hand clothes shop and finding an item that will fit you, is not high. If you need a specialist shop to source things that will fit you, second hand shopping is a limited option – you might be able to do a little bit online now and then.

If you have a minimal wardrobe either to save money or as a green choice, then if a key piece of kit becomes un-wearable, you will need to replace it quickly. You might not be able to afford to wait until something turns up. Equally, if you walk or cycle for transport or work outside, there will be key pieces of kit that you can’t manage without and you won’t reliably be able to source second hand. Greener living choices will inform what kind of clothes you need.

Second hand shopping takes time. Not everyone is time rich. Other greener ways of living are also more time intensive – walking for transport, handwashing your clothes, shopping on foot, growing your own veg, cooking everything from scratch… these things all take time. Finding suitable clothes in charity shops takes time. You might not be able to do all of it. Not being able to find the time for some greener activities because of the time it takes to do other green activities is not something to feel awkward about.

Not all new clothing is created equally. If you are supporting artisan creators, fair trade sellers, handmade creativity, local independent shops, locally sourced materials and the like, this is very different from buying cheap, throwaway fashion.

I potter into charity shops often enough to have a good idea what to expect. It’s rare that I see anything I like and that would fit me – I’m fussy about clothes and only buy things I’m confident I will want to wear for years to come. Inevitably, a large percentage of what’s in the shops is that bland, supermarket stuff that does nothing for me. Clothing is an important form of self expression, and for many of us is how we create and express identity. Wearing stuff that doesn’t feel like you, is miserable, and thus not sustainable. It would be good if more people who can afford to bought more of the good quality, handmade, original stuff and then sent that on to the charity shops!


Wear it thirty times

I saw online the other day the excellent advice that if you are buying clothes, ask yourself if you are going to wear it thirty times. The fashion industry contributes an obscene amount of carbon, waste, and stray plastic in the environment. Our clothes choices have massive impact, and many of us could do better. If you’re going to wear an item thirty times or more, you are going to wear it over several years, in all likelihood. These are the terms on which we should consider clothing.

Of course there are exceptions – you might need something for a specific activity or event and know that you won’t get much further use out of it. These items should be sold on, given to charity shops or otherwise kept in circulation. There’s nothing wrong with using something once and passing it along to someone else.

If something has to be worn thirty times or more, it has to be durable. This is where poverty becomes an issue. Cheaply made, poor quality, low cost clothing won’t necessarily survive that many rounds of being worn and washed. If poverty is a barrier, second hand is often a better way to go – you can sometimes pick up higher quality clothing with better life expectancy. Also, if you’re buying second hand, you don’t need to think so much about those thirty wears because some of the wearing has been done already.

It’s as well not to assume that price will equate to durability. It’s possible to have expensive things made out of shoddy materials. You may be paying for the label, the design, the outlet carrying it and not for the intrinsic worth of the garment. On the whole, natural fibres and fibres that are a high percentage natural are the best bet – better for the environment and often harder wearing than synthetic alternatives. Here it pays to do your research – Rayon sounds like a synthetic for example, but it is actually made out of cellulose. Viscose is only semi-synthetic despite sounding like it was made out of old car tyres. Only if you need waterproof gear does synthetic material make more sense.

With practice, you can tell a lot about a fabric by touching it. This is time well spent. So often we shop by looking – as with all online clothes shopping, rather than shopping by texture. When it comes to the experience of wearing a garment, how it feels matters a great deal. Natural fibres are less sweaty to wear, warmer in cold weather and cooler in hot weather than synthetics. So in turn, if you get this bit right, you may be able to reduce your environmental impact in other ways. If your clothes truly help you deal with temperatures then you won’t need the heating or the air con quite so much.


Living Wages, Green Wages

Depending on who exactly you ask and where exactly you live, a living wage in the UK is £9 -£10.55

The minimum wage in the UK for people over 25, is £8.21 per hour. The government website tells us ‘An apprentice aged 22 in the first year of their apprenticeship is entitled to a minimum hourly rate of £3.90.’ https://www.gov.uk/national-minimum-wage-rates – There are clearly working people in the UK not earning the minimum wage.

So, first up, it’s important to acknowledge that people under 25 get a minimum wage that isn’t the same as everyone else’s and is a long way short of the living wage. Self employed people can’t (speaking from experience) always earn minimum wage and as companies seem ever more inclined to turn employees into self employed freelancers, that wage pressure increases.

How is the living wage calculated? According to https://www.livingwage.org.uk/calculation  “MIS asks groups to identify what people need to be able to afford as a minimum. This is fed into a calculation of what someone needs to earn as a full-time salary, which is then converted to an hourly rate.”

The first obvious point to make is that the living wage is based on the idea of the minimum needed to live – so the minimum wage set by government falls short of that for everyone – with massive implications – and for the under 25s to a degree that is alarming. Many people are not earning enough to live on, with all that this implies for their quality of life and their scope to choose. Also, if you can’t work full time – caring commitments, poor health etc, you probably can’t earn enough to live on, because that hourly rate depends on the assumption that you are able to work full time. If you’re on a zero hour contract, you may well not be working full time every week.

What people need to be able to afford as a minimum will not allow you to buy organic food – which is always more expensive. It won’t allow you to always pick out the more expensive fair trade and plastic free options. For this money, you will not be able to afford a state of the art electric car easily. You may have no choice but to buy clothes that aren’t so good for the environment. Things that will last longer and are more efficient may well be out of your price range. A living wage is not a green wage, it is not enough money to be able to make all the best ethical choices and still live.

If we want to pursue a green agenda, it is absolutely necessary not to have people priced out in this way. Environmental justice requires social justice. You can’t pay over the odds for greener goods if your income only covers the basics, or doesn’t even stretch that far.

I’ve been looking online to see if anyone has calculated the minimum wage for affording to live greenly – I’ve not found anything. If you know of any good sources, please leave comments.


Resisting 5G

There are some wild and alarming thoughts about the latest development in mobile phones out there. I honestly don’t have the scientific know-how to make much sense of it. I can say with confidence that I’d like to see a lot more counter-content from mobile phone companies reassuring us that they’ve done loads of testing and that everything will be fine. The absence of that is not reassuring. Queries so far have simply sent me back to the pro-5G content light pages on mobile phone websites.

I also asked my phone company about the impact on urban trees and they didn’t answer, which makes me think that this technology will indeed require the cutting down of urban trees.

There are some things I am sure about, however. Putting thousands of new satellites into space will have a massive carbon impact. Encouraging people to ditch their old phones to buy new 5G ones is not an environmentally friendly action. The carbon cost of making all the new phones will be high. In our state of climate crisis, I can’t see how we can afford 5G phones.

This is what happens when business is protected by law, and the right to make money is internationally upheld, while ecocide is not a thing. We need a radical rethink, such that a new product with such a high impact can’t happen anymore. More about ecocide here – https://eradicatingecocide.com/

And in the meantime, ask your phone provider (if you have one) what the estimated carbon cost of 5G is an how many urban trees they think will need to be cut down to facilitate it.


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.


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.