Category Archives: Green Living

Unfashionably Green

Fashion depends on the idea that we throw things away as soon as they are out of fashion and replace them with newer, trendier things. It particularly applies to clothes and accessories, but the logic of it permeates our lives – how our homes look, what’s in our kitchens, our gardens, and all the rest of it. If you can buy something, then you can buy it newer and more fashionable.

Pre-industrial revolution, fashion was mostly the concern of the wealthy. Most of us made do with what we could cobble together and kept it going for as long as it would last. Mass production introduced the idea of fashion to the population as a whole. Mass media exposes us to images of what the wealthy are doing and wearing and seeds in the rest of us the desire to have what they have, live as they live. This is part of the mechanism that helps keep the poor driving the economy, helps keep us in debt and always running to keep up.

Imagine how different the world would be if we didn’t celebrate consumerism in this way. What if the media routinely critiqued the unsustainable excesses of the rich? Would we be so keen to emulate them if they weren’t celebrated so much? Fashion doesn’t reliably give us beautiful things, or for that matter useful things. What would happen if we sought beauty and utility rather than a sense of being on trend? What would happen if we were more interested in durability and sustainable sourcing? Everything would change.

I think some of what we have at the moment is the cultural backlash that came after the rationing and the aftermath of the Second World War. A cultural desire for easy good things and not having to make do and mend. Perhaps understandable, but not liveable with.

In recent weeks I’ve seen some media acknowledgement of how grossly wasteful the fashion industry itself is. We throw away an obscene amount of clothing each year. It doesn’t help that cheap mass produced fashion isn’t made to last – it wears out and falls apart at depressing speed. Being in a position to compare the longevity of modern clothes with older clothes, I notice a vast difference. Items I’ve had twenty years and more endure while things bought recently fall apart. As someone inclined to make do and mend, I find modern fabrics are very hard to keep going.

Fashion is a story we have told ourselves about what’s desirable. We could have other stories. We could value originality more than keeping up with the crowd. We could value use and durability more than this year’s must have look. We could buy things that are better able to last and not be afraid to keep wearing them for years afterwards. We could be more creative.

One of the things I’ve noticed while pondering this blog is how bland most people look. Supermarket clothes, in fading fabrics and banal styles certainly have a ‘timeless’ quality in that they always look boring and always will. I see my nearest supermarket suggesting we freshen up our wardrobes for Christmas, while offering the same bland sort of shit, plus ridiculous jumpers. I think we’ve got to the point that what we’re being told is the new look isn’t even that, it is as old and tired as anything we bought last year. If what the people around me are wearing is anything to go buy, fashion is an idea that has already past its sell by date anyway.

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Druids for trees

There is no separating Druidry from trees. It’s there in what little written history we have, with ancient Druids cutting mistletoe out of oaks. It’s there in every etymology attempt on the word itself. It’s there in our history, ancient and modern, of celebrating in groves.

Like many Druids, I am deeply disturbed by the way short term financial gain is always put ahead of the needs of the landscape. All too often when we want to build in the UK, tree loss will be dealt with by offset. As though a wood is nothing more than a replaceable cluster of trees. A wood is much more than its trees. It’s the fungi in the soil, the insect life, the undergrowth, the resident birds and mammals. Each wood is a unique interaction between precise local climate, underlying geology, and the bringing together of many different species. Ancient woodland, with its huge biodiversity, takes centuries to form. You can’t just recreate that by sticking a few saplings in what was previously a field.

Challenging developers means engaging with your local planning department to make a case for the trees. It helps if you can speak a language the planners recognise. To this end, The Woodland Trust has developed The Planner’s Manuel, which can be used in a number of ways.

It’s good information for activists to use when talking to planners.

If your area is developing a local plan, you can use this to find ways to get tree protection into that plan.

There’s also the possibility of getting in ahead of a problem and raising awareness of ancient woodland issues with your local planners before you need to protect a specific piece of land. There’s a lot to be said for being in first, and for having the space to raise awareness when you aren’t trying to fight a specific battle at the same time.

In the UK, planners working at a local level are usually are the ones making the decisions that can make or break the future of an ancient wood or veteran tree. Sometimes, as we’ve seen with fracking, local decisions can be overturned, but nonetheless, local is where to start with this. The Woodland Trust’s aim with the Planner’s Manuel is to educate and encourage planners to help them make the right decisions for our irreplaceable habitats.

I don’t know how useful this will be for anyone outside the UK, but it is a place to start if you don’t have other resources you can draw on.

Find out more here – http://bit.ly/PlannersGuide


Ten not so green bottles

I admit that in the last month, due to a miscalculation about how much water to carry on a hot day, I ended up buying a bottle of water. It’s something I generally avoid. I have a reusable drink bottle that won’t leach plastics into my water, and I take it with me on warm days. It saves money, and of course it means I’m not disposing of as much plastic as I otherwise might.

According to a recent newspaper article, we get through a million bottles a minute, and much of it is people buying water. This worries me. It worries me in terms of the massive waste and recycling issue, but that’s not all.

It wasn’t so long ago that Nestle were telling us that access to water should not be a human right.

The more money there is in bottling water, the more pressure there will be to let water bottling companies make a profit. We’ve already seen this in action. It means depriving communities of drinking water. It means moving water bottles about by road rather than people sourcing their water more locally. It means taking something that is a common, is a necessity for life, and turning it into a commercial opportunity. It’s a logic that puts money ahead of life and planet.

Of course drinking water is considered healthy, and any kind of spring water or mineral water is marketed as extra healthy, so it’s easy to buy this stuff and feel virtuous. It would be better to demand safe, drinkable water on tap for everyone, at prices everyone can afford.


Talking about activism

Most forms of activism are about communication. It’s the business of educating and informing, challenging, sometimes even demanding. Activists identify things that need to change, and, by word and deed, attempt to get others on board with that change. It may be about changing views held in the dominant culture, changing laws, changing behaviour and it can be needful in any aspect of human activity.

I’ve been involved with all kinds of activism for most of my adult life, and I notice there are ways of doing it that work better than others. I know there’s a widespread feeling that too much negativity doesn’t serve any cause, but this is going to be a blog all about the negatives. Much depends on context, and on working out what serves the situation, but some things never have much mileage in them.

  1. Alienating people who could have been persuaded to get onside. Most often I see this with people who moved towards, trying to understand and needing help. We alienate them by demanding they already know, demanding they educate themselves, or putting them down for not being good enough allies. This does not tend to turn them into allies, and may breed resentment.
  2. Focusing on the wrong things – mostly this means focusing on people with little power and influence who are easy to harass rather than going after the difficult ones who can change things. Blaming people who have no more power to change things than you do can be cathartic in the short term, but does not get results.
  3. Letting ego take over from the message. People who spend a lot of time talking about what fantastic activists and allies they are, not actually doing any of the work of being an activist or an ally. If the activism is propping you up and not the other way round, you’re doing it wrong!
  4. Noise, not difference. Talking about things can feel like good activism, but if you’re talking in an echo chamber, nothing is changing. If you’re picking over whose making the tablecloths for the post-revolution party, and not working towards the needed change, it’s more daydreaming than activism. There can be some culture shift gains from just talking about stuff, but they often aren’t as big as we think they are.
  5. Not walking the talk. If your life doesn’t express your values, then your values appear pretty hollow to anyone looking. No one will be persuaded by this. Don’t ask other people to make lifestyle changes you haven’t made yourself. Don’t ask other people to solve problems you are not personally working on solving as well. Offering solutions is more effective than just demanding change.
  6. Not taking into account other people’s limitations. Poverty, disability, lack of education, lack of opportunity and the like can make it difficult for people to do what you think they should be doing. Activism cannot be a middle class hobby, real change has to be viable for everyone, so make sure the change is inclusive, and don’t bully anyone for not having the resources to do things your way.

 


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