Category Archives: Green Living

Greener jumpers

For the last ten years or so I’ve mostly bought jumpers from sale rails, often at the end of winter. I figure that buying from the ends of lines doesn’t increase demand in the same way and may keep wearable clothing out of landfill.

It’s not ideal, though. I’ve owned a lot of black jumpers, because I like my jumpers plain, and often black is the only plain option. I still have a hard time finding things that fit me – I’m tall. I often actively dislike the kinds of jumpers designed for women, and if I’m wearing a jumper designed for a bloke it’s never going to be a good fit. Sometimes I like jumpers that fit. With the kind of clothes buying budget I have, even my sale rail jumpers tend to be low quality. They wear out, look shabby really quickly, and are never that warm.

This year I’ve started knitting my own. I can buy a better quality of yarn for the budget I have. I’ve not entirely managed to move away from synthetics, but a more substantial yarn is going to last longer and not end up in landfill for many more years, so overall it’s the better move. If I knit a jumper I can have the shape and colour I want. I don’t have to spend time traipsing around in the desperate hope of finding something I can afford that I can also bear to wear. This frees up time and emotional energy for other things.

I usually find clothes shopping depressing. It’s rare for me to find clothes I truly like that also fit. I’m tall, and broad, and have had to do a lot of ignoring my own feelings and preferences and putting up with whatever would do – this is not great for self-esteem. Second hand clothes shopping is often an exercise in futility for anything other than big, shapeless skirts. It’s the same with sale rails, and often with new stuff, too.

If I make my own clothes, I get things I like, in better and more robust fabrics that will last longer. If I have clothes that suit my tastes, my body shape and the way I live, then I can get by with less. It takes more ‘sort of works’ clothing to get you through – I know this from experience. I also like making things. Crafting is a valuable mental health activity that eases stress and allows me time for emotional processing and imaginative thinking, so making an item of clothing gets a lot of things done. Better dressed in terms of clothing quality, happier with my clothes and not stressed by the process of getting them means having more energy for other things. That in turn increases my chances of being able to be more environmentally mindful in other ways.


In search of greener clothes

Clothing has a huge environmental impact. Throwaway fast fashion puts out a lot of carbon and adds a lot to landfill. Plastic fabrics put plastic particles into the environment. Cotton takes a lot of water to produce. Wool can be good, or can have land and animal welfare issues associated with it. Hemp and bamboo fabrics seem to be pretty good, but they’re also much more expensive.

Cheap clothing is made in awful conditions and there’s a huge social justice angle to changing how we buy and use clothing.

In terms of personal impact on the environment, we can make a lot of difference with our clothes choices. Never throw away clothes that could be given away and worn by someone else. Don’t buy clothes with the intention of wearing them once or twice. Try to buy the most durable clothes you can. Buy second hand if you are able to  – not everyone has time, energy or a conventional enough body-shape for this. Keeping fabric in use isn’t hard.

I’ve got into upcycling. The skirt I’m wearing in the photo is made from school shirts. The shirts in question were unusable as shirts – worn at the collars, marked, stained and otherwise damaged. I threw away the ruined fabric and made a skirt from the salvaged material. My knickerbockers were made from a pair of trousers that died.

The shirt I am wearing was salvaged from landfill by an innovative lad who is exploring more responsible approaches to fashion. A lot of stuff is thrown away before it even gets to the shops, but this can be salvaged and used, and in this case, has a steampunk weasel printed on it. (Weasel designed by Tom Brown). When I can point at a store for this, I will.

I have a lot of fun keeping cloth out of landfill. It creates interesting challenges and I end up with unique items of clothing. I have a horror of looking like the sort of person who has bought all their clothes from a supermarket, but I don’t have a huge clothing budget for fancy gear. This approach saves me money, which means when I buy new I have more scope to make more sustainable choices.


Making personal changes to fight climate chaos

How much would you be personally willing to change your life in order to help avoid climate chaos? 

I feel strongly that we really need government action. We need the fossil fuel industry brought to heel and the voices of its lobbyists rejected by those in power. We need rules that hold those with most influence to account – rules about built in obsolescence, single use plastics, and what goes to landfill, for example. We need the right to repair. Those kinds of things have to be organised by governments. We need governments to tackle pollution and infrastructure. Banning massive cruise ships and private jets would be a good idea.

Every one of the 100 companies that most pollute the planet does so because people buy its products. So long as they feel like they can get away with it, they will. 

Making it the job of ordinary individuals to fix things is a cop-out from politicians, and totally unfair. But at the same time, if we aren’t prepared to change things in our own lives, how can we expect change to happen?

For us regular folk, there are four areas of life to particularly consider. These are only going to be an issue if you aren’t living at the margins.

Transport – including luxury journeys, holidays, flights. If you’re stuck with a commute, can you liftshare sometimes, or work from home one day a week? How much travel do you feel entitled to? 

Food – how much food do you waste? How overpackaged is your food?  How far has your food travelled? What are the carbon and water costs of your food? Are you eating unsustainable animal products? If you don’t really know where your meat came from, then the odds of it being a massive driver of climate change are really high. 

Heating – is your home insulated? (not a question for renters, obviously). How are you sourcing your energy? How much energy do you use on luxury things? 

Clothes – fast fashion is a terrible industry with massive impact on the planet. Too many people throw clothes away after wearing items once or twice. Overwashing has a huge environmental impact. Clothes production requires a lot of resources. We urgently need to use less and throw less away and really all this takes is care and effort and those who can afford to buy disposable clothing not doing so. This is the easiest area for change to occur, and the one where there are no real excuses. 

Changing your life requires effort. Often, in my experience that effort brings its own benefits and you can end up improving your quality of life by making better choices.


Working nine ‘till five

During my week in the gallery, I was getting up at half past seven, doing half an hour or so of computer work, walking to the gallery at 9, being there until 5 and then walking home. I found it utterly exhausting. It didn’t help that I worked nine days without a day off, which shouldn’t be normal for people with regular day jobs.

I’m used to being able to do bits and pieces of domestic work around my other work. Where other people might get a tea break or a water cooler moment, I might do the laundry or get the washing up. It means that when I end work for the day normally, I’ve done whatever I’m doing on the domestic front as well as the economic front. Coming home in the evening with all of that yet to do is emotionally wearing as well as physically tiring.

I’m a big fan of walking and cycling to work. I acknowledge that it is hard to do this, especially in bad weather or when you  are already tired. Many of the things that are more sustainable – cooking from scratch, buying locally sourced everythings… take time and energy that I wouldn’t have if I worked this way every day. I already knew that many aspects of conventional work aren’t easily combined with sustainable life choices, or with healthy choices for personal wellbeing. There’s a lot of difference between knowing something as a theory, and living it for a while.

I’m a big believer in making what personal changes you can, but I acknowledge that not everyone gets much control over how and when and where they work. Not everyone can go self employed, or can wrangle to work from home. Personal shifts alone won’t deal with things that are ingrained in our culture.

I also note that I wasn’t fantastically useful for much of that time. I’ve done a lot of public facing, events, retail, front of house kind of work – which can be sporadic – quiet while you’re waiting for people to show up, and intense when they do. But in terms of quality of work done for time spent… I wasn’t great. Compared to what I get done in a few hours working quietly at home, I wasn’t very productive. In some ways that’s the nature of this kind of work. But, how many people are turning up to put in the hours every day, and not paid based on what they do? How much time, life and energy are squandered while people show up for the required hours?

One of the great things about being self employed is that most of the time, it’s about getting the job done, and not about how long it takes. Unless your job is primarily about being available to help other people in some way, then time spent is meaningless for most work. How many workplaces will let you go home when you’ve done what needed doing? How many employers will reward speed and efficiency by simply expecting you to do more?

There’s only so much you can do as an individual to change any of this. I feel strongly that we need to be talking a lot more about why we work, and how we work, what we reward, and what we expect from each other.


Ethical horror for Halloween

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Urban Forests

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

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

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

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

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

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


Crafting in self defence

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

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

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

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

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

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


The end of the world

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

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

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

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

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

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


Population and Planet

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Resisting the fashion industry

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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