Category Archives: Green Living

Stay warm with a jumper?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The hideous lawn massacre

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

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

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

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

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

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

Time for Ocean Aid

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

Heat and life

This last week or so has taught me a great deal about heat. Some of it through first hand experience, some of it through reading. As the climate crisis impacts on us, I am clearly going to need a better understanding of how to survive in hotter temperatures.

My home is not designed for hot weather. I assume these flats were built with single occupancy in mind, but many of them now house families, and we’re not unusual in having three of us. Most of the advice for staying cool assumes you have resources and aren’t overcrowded. Human bodies put out heat and moisture, and if there are too many of you for the space, then keeping out the heat by closing the windows doesn’t really work.

We managed during the hottest days, by changing when we slept and when we work. Many people don’t have that option. Capitalist industrial work habits aren’t adaptable, and being able to adapt is going to be key to health and survival. While the focus is on profit it will be hard for front line workers to be gentle with themselves. Bake or starve are not reasonable options to have. To change this, we’d have to value human life and wellbeing more than we value making profits for the few.

It turns out that hot nights are a far bigger problem than hot days. My body can tolerate heat if there’s a chance to cool down overnight. When the night is also hot, sleeplessness and panic ensue, and these also undermine health. It’s not just me. Heat is much more likely to kill when it continues through the night.

One of the contributing issues here is the way in which urban spaces retain heat. Hot tarmac and hot buildings stay hot after sunset and it takes time for that heat to dissipate. To combat night heat, we need more green spaces. Tarmac that has been shaded doesn’t have heat to emit at night. Trees help us stay cooler in the day and that benefit extends into the night as well.

The obvious solutions – electric fans and air conditioning – increase our energy consumption and add to the problems we’re already experiencing. One of the things a heatwave can do is knock out the power supply, so an electric fan might not be a good investment for dealing with extreme heat at night. I’m exploring other options.

My takeaway from this is to keep a closer eye on the anticipated night temperatures during heatwaves, and to prioritise night strategies when hazardously hot nights are predicted. Finding ways to cool down is essential, but unless we deal with the climate crises, this is just firefighting and we can’t solve anything that way.

Strange bedfellows for Druids

Sometimes, to get things done you have to work with people who are not perhaps your natural allies. My go-to example of this is that it was otter hunters who first raised the alarm over falling otter numbers in the UK in the 20th century. Hunters and nature lovers worked together to try and get things changed for the benefit of otters, and otters have made a superb comeback.

If we wait for the perfect allies, we might never get things done. However, if we team up with people that also has implications. Who and what are we supporting and validating? Is that a good risk? I feel strongly that as Druids we have a responsibility to consider who we empower and where that might lead, no matter how urgent the cause. People with terrible motives will show up for causes they think will win them support and make them seem acceptable. I recollect how locally, UKIP folk very visibly joined the popular campaign against the local incinerator, while UKIP councilors went ahead and voted for it.

Enter stage left, my strawman for today, the fictional organisation Nazis for Nature. If they appear to share our aims around a pressing issue – like saving a local wood, should we shun them, or embrace them? Perhaps we embrace them, for the good of the cause, and a few weeks later photos of our smiling faces as we work alongside them come up alongside material about eugenics. The thing about Nazis is that we know what their intentions are, and where they are going and to what ends they might find us useful. Increasingly, people who support politics that seek to harm other people, are being vocal about it, guessing is not so much of a problem now as it might once have been.

We might not agree with what the otter hunters do. We might be going to actively work against them in the future, but we also know what they want. For otter hunting to survive as a sport, there have to be plenty of otters, which means there have to be lots of habitats for otters and the rivers need to be clean. At no point are they likely to change tack on that score. Everyone in this scenario is working to avoid otter extinction, and other differences can be dealt with when the otters are safe. It’s worth noting that otter hunting is now illegal in the UK. 

When you can see what a person stands for and how that might play out in the longer term, an uneasy truce around a key issue can be a good choice. Solve the biggest problems first and deal with the other issues later.

Sometimes, doing the right thing will call for some challenging compromises. The key is to look at the overall trajectory. Ask whether these people genuinely care about the same issue, or whether they might be piggybacking in the hopes of benefiting themselves. Ask if what you have is a valid difference of opinion from the people you might make an uneasy alliance with. People who hate Star Trek and people who love it might realistically work together to save a science fiction convention. The differences of opinion aren’t really that important compared to what’s at stake. 

People’s right to exist is not something that we should consider open to debate. These are not opinions we can agree to differ over. Anyone whose policies are murderous or ecocidal is not a good ally even if their short term aims seem to align with ours in some way.

The power of urban trees

We’re having a heatwave in the UK, thanks to the climate crisis. It seemed like a good time to talk about how powerful and important urban trees are.

Urban trees have a huge cooling effect on urban spaces. They cool the ground beneath them, they shade and shelter nearby buildings. The need for air-con goes down when there are trees, which of course reduces energy use and that in turn can help reduce the greenhouse gas emissions that cause the problems in the first place. With a crisis of living cost in the mix too, not everyone can afford to cool their homes. Less affluent areas are less likely to have trees in the first place, though.

Heat can be a killer. 2021 saw thousands of heat related deaths across Europe. Heat puts a strain on the whole body – heat stroke and dehydration cause problems in their own right, and put strain on your organs. Hearts can give up in extreme heat. 

Publicly owned trees have the power to save lives, and to make it more feasible for people to keep functioning safely in hot weather. At the same time, trees help solve the problem of excess C02 in the atmosphere. It’s a win all round.

Cities would be much better places if some of the colossal amount of space given over to driving and parking cars was used instead for trees.

At this time of year I’m very aware of how the shade from a nearby horse chestnut tree impacts on the temperature in my small flat. Smaller living spaces, especially if they’re a bit on the crowded side – are harder to keep cool to begin with. The tree makes a lot of difference. No doubt many people would be helped through excessive heat by the presence of more trees.

Planting more urban trees right now won’t solve the problem immediately, but it’s a good investment in the future.

Costing the Earth

Here’s a handy list of things to avoid if you want to reduce your carbon impact.

Don’t own or use private jets.

Don’t own or use massive private yachts. The kind of little yachts that have sails are fine.

Don’t own a large company that is involved with ecocide. Don’t extract fossil fuels, don’t frack, don’t cut down rainforests, don’t pay people to do those things for you. Don’t own a massive agrobusiness. Don’t steal water from people or poison their water supplies. Don’t use massive fishing nets and industrial fishing boats.

Don’t lobby governments on behalf of any of those ecocidal companies.

Don’t invest in cryptocurrency.

Don’t go on cruise ships.

Don’t own or drive an SUV.

Don’t throw your clothes away after only wearing them once.

The odds are of course that only the last four things on that list are even options you have. This is because the vast majority of us are not the ones doing the vast majority of the harm. However, not doing the last four is still relevant and important, and it’s always worth doing what you can do.

The biggest job, for the majority of us, is changing the culture that celebrates poisonous over-consumption and pushing for laws to restrict it, and to end ecocide. 

Food issues and my fainting couch

I’ve been ill a lot over the last couple of years. I’m also being knocked about by the whole peri-menopausal malarky, including having very heavy periods, some of them very close together. If I bleed every other week, I can’t get iron into my body fast enough to keep up, and the consequences are dire fatigue, and other, more serious unpleasantness with serious risks if it gets more out of control than it already is.

Iron is a curious substance. I’m not a chemist, which has made poking around in this harder going. The language I am going to use is not scientific, it’s illustrative. Almost all forms of life need iron – there are some bacterial exceptions, apparently. So in theory you can get iron from eating plants, but iron rich plants also often include things that inhibit the uptake of iron, which is unhelpful. There’s also a shape issue. The kind of iron you can get from eating meat is pretty much the right shape to stick in your own red blood cells and keep going. Plant iron is a bit different. Heme and non-heme if you want the technical terms.

I’ve seen a lot of information online about iron-rich plant sources. However, there’s also the issue of how much your body can extract and get into use and at what speed. For me, it’s not been enough and it’s not been fast enough. I’ve been taking supplements, I’ve been eating my iron-rich plants alongside vit C sources. I’m not winning. In fact it would be fairer to say that I have lost repeatedly, and badly, and I can’t go on like this. Many internet sites give the impression that plants have more iron in them than meat does and that iron without meat is easy. Technically this is true about the iron quantity, but if you struggle to get that plant iron out and struggle to turn it into something you can use, it doesn’t do much for you. It’s not a simple issue.

I’ve been a vegetarian for about 13 years at this point. Including a small amount of red meat in my diet would probably solve these problems for me. Eating beef is a really awful environmental choice and I have a lot of concerns about animal welfare, too. By the looks of it, the odd tin of beef soup – perhaps one a week – might be enough to turn things around for me. The alternative is massive uncertainty, and needing more medical support – which is in short supply in the UK as it is. I feel that the more responsible choice is to change my diet.

Yes, you can use medical interventions to manage periods, but that’s not a consequence free choice, either for my body or for the environment. 

Unless you’re dealing with something similar, I’d prefer not to have diet or medical advice in the comments and I thank you in advance for not doing that. I’ve spent a lot of time looking at this, and there are other issues with my body that impact on my choices, and I don’t want to get bogged down in those details. I’m taking this as an opportunity to flag up the issue that if you’re only giving this a few minutes thought, the odds are I’ve already considered it, and this is always true for other people’s health issues. Hearing from people who are dealing with the same, or similar, can be really valuable. 

My main reason for sharing this experience is because I’m tired of seeing it asserted that everyone has the same options and food choices available to them. I have really limited options at this point and none of them are good or happy choices for me. None of them are what I really want, and there are a lot of considerations in deciding which is most responsible. Being so ill I can’t function isn’t a responsible choice. I hope this is only temporary, because I’d prefer to be vegetarian.

Tree Targets

In the UK, the Environment Act became law in November 2021. This is the start of a process for the Government to set new environmental targets. Which in turn means that the government is currently asking for public views on which new environmental targets it should introduce. The Woodland Trust is saying that every target proposed needs to be improved if they are to make a real difference.

The UK is a really nature-deprived place. Much of our biodiversity is under threat. It helps if people make it clear that we want a natural landscape, that we want trees and biodiversity. Trying to squeeze maximum profit out of every landscape makes for a terrible environment – for humans and wildlife alike. It isn’t sustainable, or viable and we need long term thinking about regeneration.

One really good thing we could do is to enlarge and reconnect existing woodland. Planting trees isn’t actually enough to create ‘woodland’ because a wood is considerably more than its trees. We need all the other plants, the insects, birds, mammals, etc. We need the life of the soil, the fungi especially. Planting new woods often doesn’t do that. Connecting existing woods gives all those other vital species the chance to spread. 

Habitat fragmentation is a massive problem. Little pockets of beings who are cut off from their wider gene pool cannot flourish for the longer term. We need green corridors, and we need to make connections between fragments of trees in the landscape. 

If you’d like to help, there’s guidance for what to say on the Woodland Trust website and it doesn’t take long to make a few helpful points.

Greener winter warmth

The general wisdom is that in cold weather, you should put on a jumper rather than turning up the heating. With energy costs escalating in the UK increasing numbers of people won’t be able to heat their homes. It’s one thing turning the heating down a bit, but living in cold conditions creates health risks.

Some years ago I opted for a dehumidifier. It helps warm the flat, dries the laundry and generally deals with the damp problems we’d otherwise have. It costs less to run than the heaters, and is cheaper than a tumble drier. It’s a fine example of how much easier it is to make lower energy choices, greener choices and money saving choices when you can afford the initial outlay. Poverty is expensive.

How good a choice is the extra jumper? They take a lot of effort to wash. Synthetic fibers dry quickly and are cheap, but they release microplastics into the water. Wool takes some drying, and if you’re short of money for energy, getting a woolen jumper dry is going to be a problem. Also, dry a wool jumper too slowly and it can start to decay, and will probably smell like a wet dog.

I’m quite a fan of thermal underwear in cold weather. It takes less space to store when I’m not using it. If you’re economically disadvantaged, you probably don’t have much space for stuff. Thermals are easy to wash and to dry. There are, again, the issues of synthetics, but there’s at least less synthetic fabric in the equation to begin with. Also, thermals tend to be densely made in a way that means they shed far less material than jumpers do. Not having the bulk about my person is important when I’m working. 

A jumper is only helpful for keeping my upper body warm, but thermal longjohns also warm my legs. I find this really helps when I’m outside, walking for transport. Having the right gear makes getting places on foot a lot more realistic. 

Buying thermal underwear is an investment. It’s not an outlay everyone can afford. Being able to make good economic and/or environmental choices depends on having good options in the first place. 

Being cold is really undermining. It takes it out of you – I’ve been there. Being cold makes it harder to be economically active. It can make it a lot harder to think, or find the energy for anything else. These are not situations you can reliably budget your way out of if you’re starting from a bad place. Being cold makes people ill, and exaserbates illness. We should not be willing to tolerate fuel poverty, nor to tolerate the capitalism that has put so many people needlessly into states of distress.