Tag Archives: green

Return of the green

Greenness has been returning to my local landscape for weeks now. The slow unfurling of buds, the return of undergrowth, the shift in colour. The re-greening of spring is a long process, not an event. As I get outside every day in the normal scheme of things, I engage with this aspect of spring on a daily basis. I can heartily recommend it.

There have been years when I’ve failed to engage with the spring – mental health issues have been a big part of that. Experiencing it not as a daily development but as a dramatic moment is easier when you aren’t properly paying attention. That in turn is disorientating and has, in some years, left me with a profound sense of dislocation from the season.

‘Out into nature’ doesn’t have to be a big or difficult project. If there is anything non-human living where you do, then there’s scope to engage. Grass changes colour with the spring, becoming much more lush as it starts growing again. Flowers and small plants, even saplings will grow in the least promising of places. Any neglected ‘wasteland’ is soon reclaimed. Nature is not away, somewhere pristine and free from human meddling. Nature is with us all the time. Street trees do not consider themselves inferior to forest growth. The sparrows roosting in the street trees do not consider the trees to be anything other than their proper home.

When I was out yesterday, it felt like the greenery had reached a critical point. It no longer felt like it was getting started, and now feels like it is all under way out there. The green has returned. Small, opening leaves are everywhere. From a distance, the trees can look pretty bare, but up close, the unfurling is obvious. It’s also the smaller trees that leaf first – taking advantage of the light before taller trees get going – so to see what’s going on, you can’t view the wood as a whole thing from a distance.

For me, connecting with the plants is one of the easiest ways to connect with spring energy. Even if I’m not feeling so lively myself, I can delight in watching everything grow.

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Windowsill gardener

I don’t know how many times I’ve seen the suggestion that if you don’t have a garden, you can always grow some herbs on your windowsill. It reflects a lack of experience of life without gardens, and I think this is advice Pagans need to stop offering other Pagans about how to be greener.

Not all living spaces have windowsills. Boats don’t, caravans and static caravans don’t. Not all flats do, either. I have a friend who has no windowsills in her flat. Having a windowsill also doesn’t mean you have enough light to grow herbs. You might be able to grow ferns because those are shade-dwellers.

You have to get the plants from somewhere. If you’re the sort of person who doesn’t have a garden, you may also not have a car. Plants on the bus or taken for long walks are not reliably happy plants. Garden centres tend not to be in urban areas, so you may be limited to the things in pots you can get from supermarkets. Supermarket herbs in pots die.

Not having a garden can also be connected to poverty. You may not be able to afford plants. You may only be able to grow plants if other people give you plants. No one should be shamed for this.

Let’s imagine that you’ve got a flat, and you manage to grow plants in pots. After a while, the plants get bigger, and need potting up. You need soil to pot up a plant. You may have a nice friend with a garden and be able to move a little soil about. You may not. If you buy soil, it tends to come in large bags – larger than you need, larger than you may be able to store if you live in a small space. You might not be able to store pots, either. Of course you could buy plants and throw them away when they get difficult, but that’s not a very green solution.

Where are you going to pot up your plant? You may not have any safe outside space you can use, which leaves the choice of doing it in the kitchen or bathroom. If you’re renting, you cannot afford to mess up a carpet. Kitchens and bathrooms aren’t really designed for indoor gardeners, it is doable, but the smaller your space, the more awkward it all is. The less mobile you are, the less feasible it is. These are jobs that take both hands, and bags of soil are heavy. Not everyone can do it. As an indoor gardener, you won’t have gardening tools either. Yes, a lot can be done with spoons and knives from the kitchen, but if you’re worried about contaminating eating utensils, you might not want to go for that. And no, a set put aside may not be viable, because there may not be enough room even for that.

If the plant dies, what are you going to do with the remains, the pot and the soil? Disposing of a dead plant is part of its environmental impact. If you can’t do this well, then the green advantages of having it in the first place are questionable.

Yes, it is lovely to have houseplants and a garden, but if a person says they can’t do that, take them at their word and don’t make them feel awkward about it.


The downsides of small space living

I’m in favour of living in small spaces – or at least, in spaces that aren’t significantly bigger than you need. I’ve spent the last seven years mostly living in small spaces, and it’s taught me to be disciplined about what I keep and to think carefully about what matters to me.

Small space living is often depicted as an affectation of people with more money than sense, moving into improbably small caravans and tiny dolls’ houses. The reality of living in small spaces is that it is often a direct consequence of poverty. You take what you can afford, not what you need. Yes you can sleep two children in a small bedroom – but you can’t provide them both with quiet, personal study space.

One of the consequences of living in a small space is that you can’t stash things against all eventualities. You may not, for example, have anywhere to put wellington boots for everyone. You may have nowhere to put a snow shovel, or to store things for summertime play and relaxation. You may have nowhere outdoors in which to enjoy those summer things anyway. Spares, extras, foul weather stock-piles – these are the things a small space makes impossible. Most of the time that’s fine, because you can have the things you need most of the time. But, for those times when the extras, spares and emergency kit would have been good, you are more exposed.

Small space living often means that you can’t pick up things on offer. If you don’t have a lot of kitchen space, or a big freezer, then supermarket offers aren’t for you. Opportunities to save money by bulk buying aren’t for you if you’ve nowhere to put things.

At the moment, we’re a three person household in a two bedroom flat, and none of those rooms are large. There is one communal space that is living room, dining room, workspace for me, art studio, and study space. There are many things for which a private and dedicated space are a real advantage – for spiritual practices and meditation, for quiet work and study, and of course for writing. A writing cave, where it’s just you and everyone knows to leave you alone is a real asset. It’s also a luxury I can’t afford.

Small space living is, without a doubt, the greener option. It uses less land, requires less heating, and does not encourage us to own a lot of stuff. If only there were free to use spaces where a person could go to read, or meditate – but those are in short supply. Churches are locked in the day, often. Libraries are closing. It would be easy to live in smaller spaces if we had shared spaces we could use as well. But, we live in a system that is geared to private ownership, and to paying for every way in which we might access public space.


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.


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.


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.


Climate Change and green hearts

leafheart

 

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


Green hearts show the love

“The Climate Coalition, a group of over a hundred organisations working together to call on government to commit to action on climate change. They are dedicated to limiting the impact of climate change on the people, places and life we love at home in the UK and around the world. It’s a positive movement to highlight just how much we all care about the challenges we and future generations face.” (taken from The Woodland Trust Website)

The Woodland Trust is part of the climate change coalition, and as a volunteer for The Woodland Trust, I’m spreading the word.

So, what can we, as ordinary individuals do to help? We can help build awareness, and momentum. The more people are visible in caring about climate change and its impact on both humans and our environment, the more scope there is to get people with power to make real change.

Create a green heart to wear, share or show. Whether its crochet, card or a drawing, share them on social media with #ShowTheLove and #TreeCharter. Get some inspiration and print-outs to use from the For the Love Of website.

Do you have a story or cherished memory of a tree? Could it be threatened by climate change? You can share your own story by writing it on a green heart and hanging it on a tree. Why not go one further? Tell us your story online by the end of February and help build a Charter for Trees, Woods and People.

I’ve taken some Green Hearts from the For The Love Of website to decorate this blog, but I mean to make some of my own as well… watch this space!


Poverty and ethical living

Green living can create some tensions between the choices that are available to you.

Live lightly, own little, do everything the slow way and by hand, walk, handwash, grow your own veg, upcycle things, don’t own a car. Unless you’re very lucky, it’s hard to put this kind of light living together with a well paid job. Most of the people who do it manage by being self employed, and are low paid. It’s hard to sustain conventional employment without a car, in fact if you look at many job applications, you’ll be asked if you have one.

Buy organic, fair traded, buy local (often nigh on impossible for rural people without a car, most villages do not have farmer’s markets I have to say). Buy high quality food products that don’t have palm oil in them. Buy eco friendly washing powders, cosmetics, home cleaners and so forth. They cost far more than the regular versions. Veg from the farmer’s market is much more expensive than veg from the cheaper and nastier supermarkets. Milk is the same.

Of the available diets, vegetarianism is without a doubt the most affordable for someone on a low income. Good quality, responsibly sourced meat is really expensive. Good quality vegan proteins are also more costly, as are the products that don’t have dairy products as fillers. It’s surprising how many cheap things turn out to have whey powder and the like in them, once you start looking.

So, here’s a conundrum. I don’t have a fridge, because I think that’s a greener choice. I don’t buy cows’ milk unless I have guests (I am vegetarian). I would like to keep my use of dairy minimal anyway. So, I can have low cost UHT cow milk at less than a pound a litre, it will keep until I open it and be good for a day or so in the cool box once opened. I can do the same with low cost soya milk, but in both cases, I’ve got no chance in warm weather of keeping the milk for more than a day once open, and I don’t reliably use that much so there’s a high risk of unacceptable food waste.

For a couple of pounds, I could buy a tin of dried milk powder (cow) and make it up with water at need. For about five times the price I could buy a smaller amount of dried soy or coconut milk.

So we have a situation where the person with the high powered job, driving a car, and actively participating in the capitalism mainstream probably can afford seitan, dried coconut milk, ethical cosmetics, green cleaners, and all the other things that go into having an apparently responsible, vegan shopping basket. The person who lives lightly and close to the earth and who is trying hard not to participate too much in consumerist culture, probably doesn’t earn enough to shop this way.

Is one choice better than the other? Are ethical consumer choices sometimes just window dressing for otherwise largely unsustainable lifestyle choices? Is the farmer’s market really that good an idea if you have to drive twenty miles to get to it? I don’t have any answers, just the sense that if we want something sustainable, it has to be possible to both live lightly and source ethically, and if we’ve got to choose between the two, we’re collectively getting it wrong.


Eco-Pagan Mythmaking

Cultures are underpinned and shaped by the stories they tell. Not just the big obvious myths, but the day to day stories about how everything works. Our current cultural stories include capitalism, austerity, growth, consumerism, and dominion over the natural world. For Pagans, this life destroying, using story-set that leads to unsustainable living just isn’t tolerable. We need new stories.

Writing about perfect worlds is really awkward. It’s so easy to sound preachy, or ridiculous, and that which is set up as Utopian, in fiction and in real life alike, tends to go horribly wrong. Stories for a future world have to balance the better ideas with the emotional realism that lets us accept that this is believable. It’s not an easy balance to strike.

I recently read Anna McKerrow’s ‘Crow Moon’ – it’s a really interesting piece of eco-pagan literature, aimed at the YA market. It postulates a future society that’s living much closer to the land, and dealing with the restrictions, the inevitable hard work and limited options this creates. What makes it work as a story is that it isn’t a perfect vision. There is strife, and struggle, and hardship, but you have to balance that against the good things – one of which is the hope of a sustainable future. In the novel, the greenworld culture Pagans are likely to empathise with, contrasts with the redworld, where people are still killing each other over the last remaining fuel supplies. However imperfect a sustainable future is going to be, it’s bound to beat the hell out of the alternatives.

Of course one story doesn’t have to do it all, in fact it’s probably better that we don’t have one perfect story to try and live up to. Our Pagan ancestors had a lot of stories, and diversity makes us stronger. We need lots of ideas right now, lots of different visions of a future that help us remember that the current stories in our culture are not the only stories. The right wing domination of contemporary story making is a real issue and it discourages people from imagining alternative ways of living and being. We’re being hammered with austerity and growth as the only stories of how an economy can work right now, and we’ve got to change that and open it out into something more liveable, more human, more sane.

In the meantime, I can recommend Crow Moon, and anyone interested in writing for the future should also check out Storytelling for a Greener World.