Category Archives: Green Living

Green-ish, but at what cost?

It would be better for the environment if more of us travelled by train. Does this mean that destroying pockets of ancient woodland for the sake of more trains is an environmental solution? HS2 offers us just that. Trains are better environmentally than cars, but trees are better environmentally than no trees and ancient woodland cannot be replaced.

I had similar arguments more than a decade ago with an MP who thought a Severn River barrage was a good idea. Save the planet with green energy! But at the price of destroying a unique habitat. She felt it was worth the trade-off. I didn’t.

Every time we get into one of these, what we’re really saying is that carrying on as normal is worth destroying something for. If we used less energy, we wouldn’t need to mess about with the Severn River. If we didn’t travel so much, there would be no justification for destroying woodland for the sake of trains. If we tell ourselves we’re making the more sustainable choice, it’s amazing what we can justify.

We need imagination. We need the willingness to make radical change. We need to recognise that we cannot keep consuming at our current rates. We have to use less. Sacrificing some aspect of the natural world so we can carry on as usual is not a sustainable choice.


Worth and convenience

Modern western lifestyles are underpinned by a notion of convenience. We’re told how much we want things to be quick and easy, but how often do we stop to do any real cost-benefit analysis? The cost of our convenience increasingly includes environmental disaster, which will be highly inconvenient for all of us. So, I thought I’d explore some of those convenience stories and see what else might be said about them. If you have specific needs that put you in a different relationship with these issues, that’s a different matter.

It is convenient to do big shopping trips and stock up on food and it is not convenient to buy food every day, or every few days as used to be the way of it. Of course, to do this you need a car to bring the stockpile home and you need a fridge and freezer for storage. You’ll probably buy things you don’t use and that will go off because the longer term your shopping is, the harder it is to get this exactly right. All of this will cost you money, requires energy (fuel, and electricity) and the maintenance of costly items (fridge, freezer, car).

It is more convenient to buy ready-made food than make it yourself. This of course increases the amount of packaging you’ll have to recycle or throw away. Ready-made food is often bland and predictable, and not always that great nutritionally. It reinforces the idea that we have to be on the go all the time and shouldn’t expect to have time or energy for basic self-care. Making and sharing food can be a pleasure and does not have to be a chore, but if you’re run off your feet, it may be too much. Maybe not being run off our feet would be more convenient.

It is more convenient to buy ready-made clothes. Of course it takes time and skill to make your own clothes, and it costs a lot to have someone with time and skill make clothes for you. The convenience means we mostly wear clothes that don’t quite fit, that are bland and make us look like everyone else. Alongside this we’ve lost a lot of repairing skills so for many people, small damage can make a garment unwearable, which also has a cost.

Cheap disposable things are convenient. Except that they aren’t, because you keep having to deploy time, effort and money replacing them. They cost more in the long term than things that last longer. They break down and leave you missing kit you wanted or needed. They let you down.

It is more convenient to drive everywhere. Except the freedom of the open road is often the freedom to sit in queues, suffering immense frustration and breathing in pollution. Sometimes it is faster to walk or cycle, and it’s often a good deal more pleasant. The convenience of personal transport needs weighing against the cost of noise and air pollution, jammed roads, the cost of the car, and the environmental damage. Dying prematurely from car-related air pollution is not something any of us find convenient.

Flopping out in front of the television is convenient for relaxing at the end of your working day. And here they get you with adverts and images of how your home should look and yet more pressure to buy stuff. Convenient, low effort entertainment robs us of real human interactions, and all that we might find emotionally sustaining. We end up bored, lonely and unfulfilled.


Changing our eco stories

There are a lot of stories being put about right now about what it means to live responsibly. For the examples below, I’ve taken words from stories I have encountered. Nothing here has been made up.

There are people who will tell us that talk of the climate crisis is fearmongering, brainwashing and not to be believed. They ask what we are afraid will happen. I’ve taken to answering this by pointing at the things that are happening – the fires and floods, the tens of thousands who die from air pollution each year, what plastic does in the oceans, that it is in our bodies too, and so forth. Climate denial is a dangerous story that is going to kill a lot of people.

Then there are the people who say things like ‘you can’t possibly care about the environment if you eat chocolate.’ There are many variations, but the gist is that if you aren’t 100% carbon neutral and ethical in all things then you have no right to suggest anyone else try harder. Of course most of us who care can’t manage to do everything in economies that are set up so badly in the first place. It is good enough to do the best you can, and realistic to expect that you may be stumped by some things.

People who find an eco change easy to make can be unhelpfully intolerant of people not also making that change. This often comes wrapped in a lot of privilege. Of course everyone can go a year without buying new clothes? Well, maybe not if a medical crisis and dramatic weight gain/loss means you own nothing that fits. Of course everyone can give up plastic packaging! Except that’s really hard to do if you are living in poverty. Of course everyone can give up their car! Which may be totally unfeasible if you have serious disability and so forth. Humiliating people because their lack of privilege makes something hard for them really isn’t the way to go.

There’s the story that living lightly will mean ‘going back to the stone age’. As though our lifestyles are so gorgeous and glorious that it’s not worth giving anything up for the sake of not trashing the planet.

The idea that we can carry on in much the same way and just source things more greenly is a subtle and persuasive story. We can’t just switch over to electric cars – those require resources, too. We can’t just replace energy with renewable and keep consuming at the same rate. We can’t just replace plastic packaging with something else. We use too much, and we have to cut back, and any story that tells us otherwise is setting us up to fail.

There’s also the story that there is no point trying. My one change isn’t big enough to matter. My country is small, what does it matter if we aren’t onboard? This is utterly counterproductive and encourages everyone to do nothing as though it is someone else’s job to fix things.

We need a radical re-think, and we need stories about how to do that. How to change our lives. How to live lightly and want less and be happy. We need to fundamentally change what we do and how we do it – both individually and collectively and to do that, we have to build it as an idea and reject the stories that stop us from making real change.


Reducing Plastic

The trouble with a lot of advice about reducing plastic is either it’s very basic – take your own shopping bag level of stuff – or there are privilege issues. I’ve been giving some thought to ways of reducing plastic that don’t depend on your health or your income too much.

Avoid overpackaging. It’s not always easy to tell the first time you buy something if it will turn out to have layers of plastic on the inside, but once you know, these are easily avoided. Overpackaging is most often a feature on snacks – multipacks of crisps, cake bars, sweets and whatnot. These are hardly essential. If you’re desperate for snacks, there are options with less packaging.

Carry a water bottle or a thermos flask – this has the bonus of saving you money. If you can’t afford a fancy water bottle, re-using bottles is workable. Keep your bottle cool to reduce the risk of it leaching plastic into your water. If you have to buy a drink, there’s a lot to be said for a re-usable cup in a cafe if you can afford it. Failing that, fruit juice in tetrapacks is worth a thought – better than paying someone to extract and bottle water – which is a preposterous thing. You can then re-fill the pack with water – I’ve done this at events.

Re-use packaging – jiffy bags, bubble wrap and all that sort of thing can be re-used, saving you money at the same time. If you end up with a lot of it, give it to a charity shop so they can re-use it when people buy breakables.

Check the price for weight on fruit and veg. Unhelpfully sometimes loose stuff is sold by the item not the weight, so you may need to give it some thought. Sometimes the loose stuff is the same price, or occasionally even cheaper than the bagged produce. Also consider the food miles though – loose mangos and pineapples may not be as good an idea as apples in a bag…

Clothes made from synthetic fabrics release plastic particles when you wash them. Try to wash a bit less frequently and/or on gentler cycles, or going over to handwashing (I do this, synthetics are easy to handwash).This will reduce the amount of plastic you put out. It also increases the life-expectancy of your clothes, which saves you money, and saves you money on water, electricity and laundry soap – which also improves your sustainability. Win all round.

Car tyres are another source of plastic particles in our environments. If you have to drive, then going at lower speeds, cornering and braking to reduce wear and tear on your tyres will save you money on replacing them, and save you money on fuel consumption and that all helps with being greener as well. If you can do without the car of course that’s even better from both an environmental perspective and a body health perspective. For those of us who can, walking and cycling is healthier.

Picking up rubbish is a good way of helping if you have the time and energy. Plastic bags and other detritus end up in our water systems, and then get out to sea and into the bodies of marine creatures. Plastic breaking down in wild places can strangle and choke wildlife. It doesn’t solve the existence of the plastic in the first place, but you can at least reduce the harm.


Making the connection

A guest post by Avril A Brown

 

Statistics from the oxymoronically-named Humane Slaughter Association (https://www.hsa.org.uk/) indicate that every year in the UK approximately 2.6 million cattle, 10 million pigs, 14.5 million sheep and lambs, 80 million fish and 950 million birds are slaughtered for human consumption.

That’s an awful lot of blood on human hands.

I was prompted to research these statistics on animal slaughter after a recent visit to the Tribe Animal Sanctuary Scotland (https://tribesanctuary.co.uk/).  After following them on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/updatesTASS/), I knew that I wanted to visit the sanctuary.

Nestling in Scotland’s Clyde valley, the 11-acre site is home to around 100 ‘food’ animals rescued from slaughter, neglect or abuse. The sanctuary was set up 2.5 years ago by tattoo artist Morag and her husband John as the culmination of a long-held dream.

Morag told me that she has been vegan for 25 years. Her activism has matured in that time. Less the ‘angry vegan’, she prefers now to help people make the connection between the meat on their plate and the animals that she cares for.

Making the connection is the TASS mantra. Morag and John firmly believe that the pigs, sheep, goats, Highland cows, chicken, turkeys and donkeys have just as much intelligence and personality – and therefore intrinsic value – as all the cats, dogs, rabbits etc that we currently celebrate as pets. However, most people never get to meet one of these creatures, let alone see those sides to them.  That’s why TASS encourages visitors to come and meet the animals in the hope that by being able to look into the eyes of a sheep or a chicken, then people will be able to make that connection that will allow them to forego meat in future.

TASS is a peaceful place, relaxed and full of love.  None of the animals are required to ‘perform’ or to earn their living; they are simply allowed to ‘be’.  The joy and the satisfaction that they bring is obvious as Morag’s face lights up when she talks about them. I asked her if she had a favourite species or animal among her crew, “They are all so different, so special in their own ways that I love them all and couldn’t possibly choose just one. Every animal at TASS has a name and they all have their own story.”

My visit to TASS certainly left me with a lot to think about.

Being neither vegan nor even vegetarian, I have no particular axe – metaphorical or otherwise – to grind over how or even what other people eat. What I have been increasingly conscious of, however, is the impact of animal husbandry on our increasingly fragile ecosystems.

Whatever your own stance may be on meat consumption, I doubt that anyone can argue that much needs to be changed in the world of the intensive agriculture industry that so damages and wastes as much as it produces. At the very least, food animals must no longer be considered as ‘product’ so that they can enjoy better lives.

The rewilding project at Knepp in West Sussex (https://knepp.co.uk/home) shows how ecosystems can recover if left to nature. However, in the short term it is unlikely that such projects will feed populations, particularly in areas where poor soil quality (eg the Scottish Highlands and islands) has led to a dependence on animal husbandry that would be hard to justify let alone unpick.

In the meantime, the very least we can do as individuals is to significantly reduce our consumption of animal products, to support compassion and welfare in farming and to purchase ethically wherever possible.

 


Sustainable, revolutionary gifting

Midwinter, season of over-commercialisation looms. Here are some tips for making your gifts more sustainable.

  • Ask people what they want. Surprises may seem attractive, but unwanted gifts can end up in landfill.
  • Listen to what people tell you they want, especially if you think it’s boring. For the person who can’t afford new socks, new socks are brilliant.
  • Start conversations about budgets. Don’t risk anyone feeling pressured to spend on gifts when they can’t afford to.
  • For the person who has everything – give them gifts that will make their gardens more wildlife friendly. Plant a tree in their name. Donate to a charity on their behalf.
  • Ask people not to use wrapping paper. Tell people that more than anything else, you’d like a waste-free Christmas. Start early on this.
  • Give re-usable things. This is especially powerful for people who have no choice normally but to by the cheaper, throwaway options. You’ll save them money and help the planet.
  • Give less. A few really well chosen gifts that will be loved and valued are far better than a sack full of plastic tat.
  • If there are children in your life, talk to them about consumption and waste ahead of Christmas. Many of them are very aware of the climate crisis and may feel happier doing the festive season in a more sustainable way.
  • Consider debunking Santa. The story of the big sack of toys is part of the commercialmass agenda. It’s not ‘the magic of Christmas’ it’s a tool to emotionally blackmail parents into buying excessive gifts. Consider talking about this with your family if that’s relevant to you.

How to Save the Planet – a review

How to save the Planet is a small book by Luke Eastwood. Luke is an established Druid author, and while the content here is unequivocally suitable for Druids and Pagans, the book is not written specifically for us. It’s written for people who want to do something and don’t know where to start or what would be best.

This is a no-nonsense, no punches pulled ten step guide to living in a way that is viable for the planet. It’s full of interesting bits of information about what kinds of impact different activities have, their history, their place in our culture and how the alternatives work. It’s all very readable and digestible.

Given the subject matter, this is surprisingly comfortable reading. There’s no blaming or shaming for your average, ordinary person, just clarity about where we are and what has to change. The lifestyle changes Luke calls for are reasonable and realistic. They aren’t going to be easy or comfortable for everyone, but, we are long past time for people who have more than they need taking more than the planet can afford. If you are one of those people and this message makes you feel uncomfortable… get over yourself. That’s all there is.

I think the best way to use this book is as follows – buy a copy for someone who needs to make lifestyle changes. It’s not an expensive book and it is raising money for Greenpeace. It may be the ideal Yule/Christmas gift for the annoying uncle who won’t stop flying places, or the sibling who sees fuel guzzling cars as a status symbol, and so on and so forth.

If you’re feeling weary and overwhelmed and are not coping with the emotional impact of the climate emergency, this book may also be for you. It has a clear message about what you can most usefully be doing. Reading it and finding you’re well ahead on that ten point list is, I can promise you, an affirming and encouraging experience. It’s so easy to end up feeling like your personal action isn’t enough – when so much of this does boil down to personal action and how we shape the culture we are part of.  So, buy a copy, read it, give yourself the opportunity to feel like you’re doing ok with this stuff, and then pass the book along. Author Luke Eastwood is actively encouraging people to share copies and hand them on, so do that. Put it in the hands of someone who needs it – either to affirm what they’re already doing, or to encourage them to get stuck in!

This book is widely available from places that sell books, so check out your online seller of preference or see if your local bookstore will get it in for you. Here’s the Book Depository link https://www.bookdepository.com/How-How-Save-Planet-Luke-Eastwood/9781527245983


A Little Light Viewing

Here’s a charming thing – the creature in this video is a Spoonwalker from Hopeless Maine. The graphic novel project is full of strange flora and fauna. A very nice chap had a go at getting a spoonwalker moving, and this is the consequence…

 

And this one is a clothes upcycling video sharing some of my projects. I make a video most months for Patreon, and they get to see what I’ve done before anyone else does – available at all levels of support. The Patreon support helps me with the video making because i feel like I can justify the time.

 

My Patreon is over here – there is a levels for people interested in the Druidry, and one for the fiction https://www.patreon.com/NimueB


Car child, or calm child

We walked to playgroup and back, every day, in all weathers. Then we walked to the first primary school and back, every day, in all weathers. Then we had to cycle to the second primary school. Every day. In all weathers. Now, he cycles alone, every day, in all weathers.

During many of those trips I saw parents taking children the same way, only with cars. So, I can tell you with confidence that by the time you have got a child into and out of a car, and dealt with the parking, it may have been quicker to walk. The idea that driving is quicker and less trouble may not be true. It is always worth questioning it.

We had a good time with those walks. We saw wild things, and dogs and cats, which he always enjoyed. He had time to wake up in the morning on the way in to school, arriving brighter, fresher and more alert as a consequence of the journey in. On the way home, he had time to decompress, to share his day with me and to let off steam. I have no doubt that this has improved my son’s mental health at every stage of his life.

Our young people are suffering. Exam pressure, overcrowded classrooms, lack of opportunity to move around, and fear for the future puts a massive strain on them. Bundling them in to cars doesn’t help with this. When I walked home from school as a teenager it was a social activity and that time with friends was a good spot in my day. Kids in cars are denied those social opportunities. Bodily movement is good for all of us. Children need to move, and the journey to and from school used to give people that.

Of course the roads aren’t as safe as they used to be, and a major contributor to how unsafe the roads are is all the people driving their kids to and from school. Each car journey contributes to the air pollution that is killing people on a shocking scale. Not driving your kid to school will do more to keep them well. Most of them do not melt in the rain.

I’ve watched schools try to encourage confidence, physical health and feelings of independence in young humans. And then you drive them home. The young person who has to be resilient enough to get to and from school in any weather, develops self-confidence, self-reliance and a sense of capability and resilience. The young person who knows that their body can get them places, and who learns to take responsibility for that is learning good life lessons. Even at the age when they need accompanying, it is still teaching them good stuff.

Most adults could do with more fresh air and chilled time as well. Walking to school and back creates little pockets of good family time if you use it that way. Stressing your way through heavy traffic doesn’t do that.

What we grow up with is what we find most normal. For the kid in a car, walking and cycling may always seem a bit alien. The kid who walks or cycles is advantaged for the future. We cannot carry on with car use at the same level. One way or another, it’s going to be unfeasible. Might as well be ready for that!

Being green does not mean being miserable. I have no doubt that walking and cycling to school has improved my quality of life, and improved my son’s quality of life. It’s saved us a lot of money and given us a lot of good experiences.


Radical change is necessary and you do not get a free pass

It will not be enough to change policies, or get new technology in place. We cannot, as a species, continue as we are. We cannot keeping flying in the way that we do. We cannot keep driving in the way that we do – electric cars are not a magic solution, they require too many resources and we have to scale back. Renewable energy might be good, but energy and resources still go into producing it. We have to use less energy.

I’m tired of the ways in which people let themselves off the hook. There’s the ‘you aren’t perfect so why should I bother’ model in which someone identifies that a protestor used a car, or does not hand spin wool for their own clothes and decides this invalidates the whole message and that they don’t have to bother making any changes at all. Not good enough! Most of us aren’t perfect. The failure of activists to manage to live carbon neutral does not excuse anyone else from trying.

I’m tired of the way that the people who have the most justify continuing to take so much more than is fair or sustainable. The feelings of entitlement that underpin the flying, the long car journeys, the over-consumption. I’m honestly tired of watching people I know and like do this and not having the energy to say ‘really?’ when I know I probably should. The Pagans who fly frequently bother me a great deal.

What cheers me, is the people who are fair and realistic. A fine case in point was listening to a talk from Molly Scott Cato recently. She’s an MEP who does not fly. She has no qualms about flagging up where people are priced out of participation in Green movements, and I’m deeply grateful for that. I’ve got very tired of hearing people being blamed for having very few choices open to them, while those who have most might buy their organic veg from the farmer’s market, yes, but still drive cars and are flying places. Not being able to be green because of financial restrictions is very, very different from choosing activities that aren’t sustainable because you can afford them and feel entitled to them.

And yes, honestly, I wish Extinction Rebellion was doing better on this. It’s high profile right now and an opportunity to show radical action. It’s a chance to live your values, and express them in your actions in any way you can think of. We need examples, and we need creativity, and we need people to be willing to make radical changes in their own lives. We aren’t going to solve the impact that transport has unless a lot of people are willing to make different transport choices. The same goes for energy use, throwaway consumerism, food waste, the fashion industry…

If you can afford to make changes in your life, you have a duty to the Earth to make changes towards more sustainable ways of living. I’ve been doing this for a long time, I have a small carbon footprint and I’m still working on shrinking it. I get very tired of people telling me that what I do is too difficult for them. Unless you are more disabled than me, in more pain than me, in more poverty than me… it’s not too difficult. It’s just more difficult than you’re willing to take on and that’s not actually the same thing.

Do I sound cross? It may be because I am. It may be because every time I have to walk past the lines of poison-exuding cars, most with only one occupant, a kind of rage fills me. An absolute rage at the complacency of people, the lack of effort and imagination, and the lack of feeling responsible. Because if you can afford to put a car on the road in the UK, you can afford to do differently at least some of the time. If you want to hang on to aspects of life that put out carbon, please be a bit creative and at least find some ways to reduce the impact.

Try harder!