Tag Archives: carbon footprint

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!

Have a green Christmas tree

The Christmas tree is one of those seasonal features likely to appeal to Pagans. How green is your tree, and what does it cost?

In 2014, some 160,000 tons of Christmas trees went to landfill. Once in landfill, they rot and give out methane, which is not good news for the environment. Yes, you can have them chipped and used for something, but growing a non-native tree in plantations, cutting it, transporting it, sticking it in the corner of a room for a few weeks and then chipping it doesn’t sound like a good use of natural resources to me.

Here’s some more data and some more tree alternatives. https://www.upcyclist.co.uk/2017/11/zero-waste-christmas-trees/

Here’s what the Carbon Trust has to say about Christmas trees and their impact. Interestingly, real trees still have a lower carbon footprint than artificial ones. https://www.carbontrust.com/news/2013/01/christmas-tree-disposal-advice/

Clearly one answer to having a tree, is to keep a live tree in a bucket and heft it indoors every year. Carbon goes into the tree and methane does not come out. However, there are issues here – you need outside space for them, and they get bigger year on year and may not suit the space you have. Locally there’s an amazing scheme that allows people to rent live Christmas trees- thus getting round the issue of storage for the rest of the year, and growth.

Another answer is to use something else – Yule logs are also traditional, cut branches from trees can be decorated and if they were going to be cut anyway, that’s lower impact. You can make a tree out of whatever’s around, as with the charming examples on the Upcyclist website. You can decorate something already in your home. I don’t have space for a tree, but I do have a rather large Christmas cactus, so I may decorate that this year.

When it comes to tree decoration, think about how much plastic you’re going to use and consider its lifespan. If you like tinsel, store it and re-use it rather than buying new each year. It doesn’t take up much space and it keeps well. Try sourcing decorations from craftspeople, and have things made of natural materials where you can. Make things yourself – it all involves more time and effort of course, but you’ll get more from it than grabbing cheap plastic baubles that mean nothing to you. Aim to send nothing decorative to landfill at the end of the season. This is a great opportunity to use your imagination and harness your creativity, rather than being sold a bland, and environmentally damaging ‘solution’ to Christmas.

Ancestors and Laundry

Picture hand-washing, and you’ll probably either get the ancients scrubbing their clothes alongside streams, or the more Victorian image of copper boiler, mangle, and a whole Monday given over to the job. We’ve got washing machines because laundry is dreadfully hard, time consuming drudgery that working class women had to bear for centuries.

It’s not that simple, but I realise firstly that most people do not handwash, and therefore that most people will not have a realistic sense of how much easier modern handwashing is than the Victorian image of it. Washing machines use a lot of electricity and water. If you are struggling to make ends meet, handwashing may help you. If you want to be greener, this is also a consideration, water use being one of our many unhelpful ways of impacting on the environment. The carbon footprint of clothes has more to do with how you wash it than where you got it, I believe. Come the zombie apocalypse, you may be glad to know it’s easy to rinse out your knickers…

Ancestral laundry involved very different fabrics. Cotton, linen and wool predominated in the historical wash. These are not easy to clean, and are really hard to dry. Modern synthetics take a lot less effort (I have handwashed both). They dry far more rapidly, even if all you do is wring them out. Modern cleaning products, even the eco ones, are a good deal stronger and more effective than what the grandmothers had to work with, this again makes the job easier. Unlike our grandmothers, we have hot running water (for now, at least). Heating the water, and getting the fuel to heat the water was a big contributor to making the job hard and lengthy. We don’t have that problem. We can cheat a bit and get a spin dryer to shake the worst of the water out and still come in with a far lower water and electric use than the washing machine.

Our ancestors were, for the greater part, labourers. Even the wealthy were outside a lot, using horses to get around, and obliged to walk down muddy streets. History was a much dirtier place. Washing a miner’s clothes must have been really intensive work. Farm labourers, sweating in the fields all day must have required some serious scrubbing. We just don’t get as dirty; mostly washing means getting the dust and a modest amount of sweat out, maybe the odd food stain from children. Unless you go so far as to handwash nappies, you’re never going to meet anything on the scale our ancestors had to contend with unless you are washing for a manual labourer, and there’s not so much of that about and it’s not as dirty as it used to be.

Washing machines aren’t actually great for heavy soiling anyway. If I do an epic walk and get the hems of my trousers covered in mud, and throw them through a washing machine, the odds are a lot of the mud will still be there when they come out.  Scrubbing with a brush may take more effort, but I find I often get things cleaner by handwashing. Handwashing a couple of items is no less efficient, while throwing two shirts in a washing machine is a huge waste of power. There are all kinds of advantages to doing it the old way. It does take more effort, and more time, but not an unviable amount, for most of us. Obviously if you have three toddlers to wash for, this may not be for you.

Part of what locks us into our modern, unsustainable behaviours is the belief that there are no alternatives. We’re convinced that life without certain key gadgets, would be unbearable. I do not have many of the key gadgets. I’m fine. My energy bill is nothing like as crazy as most people’s, I do not spend my entire time scrubbing things, and nobody has died. It is worth questioning everything we take for granted, because there are so often viable other ways.