Tag Archives: green

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.


Misleading tales of progress

It’s common, especially in political narratives, to tell tales of progress. At the moment, increased material wealth and increased GDP are the focal points for such stories. More stuff and more cash means we are better off, and better off is by definition, a good thing. However, if we told the story of bodily fitness, mental health or happiness, the picture might look a bit more complicated. If we tell the story of our environment it becomes a tale of abuse and degradation, not gain.

The stories we tell as communities shape who we think we are, where we think we’re going and how we feel about that. This is one of the reasons politicians favour progress narratives, because these affirm them as successful leaders. It’s also a big problem for Greens because we’re looking at the environmental picture and wanting to frame ‘progress’ as sustainability and long term viability. To do that we need everyone to consume less, which according to the dominant narrative, means we want the exact opposite of progress which would be A Bad Thing because we’ve all agreed that progress is A Good Thing.

Poverty causes suffering. Our current era is not short of financial poverty, there’s a shocking amount of it internationally. People who cannot afford to eat and live, rather than the ‘ciabatta line’. In the narrative of economic progress, somehow this is acceptable collateral damage. I think there’s a kind of economic Darwinism at play that says ‘survival of the richest’ and assumes those who cannot accumulate wealth do not deserve to survive. Never mind that the accumulation of wealth is so inextricably linked to the existence of poverty. Our narrative of progress seems to be telling people that it is ok to exploit others for personal gain and then deny all responsibility for their suffering.

In practice there is no grand thrust forward, no heroic stride into the better and brighter future. Some things get better for some, and worse for others. We might think of cars as progress, but we also need to consider the numbers of people and creatures killed and injured by them every year, and the damage of air pollution. The internet may be technological progress, but socially it may be a disaster as we raise the ‘look down’ generation who do not go out much.

Progress narratives are alluring. We want to feel like we’re winning and getting better and that the future will be even better and this makes us exceedingly vulnerable to anyone who has a progress narrative to sell us. We don’t want to be anxious or uneasy or feel like we’re in trouble, and this inclines us to be collectively deaf to those who point out the problems. They’re scaremongering, we feel. It won’t be that bad. The politician who can make us believe it’s all going to be fine tends to get our votes. We want business as usual and the glorious march of progress and even when the things we can see with our own eyes don’t square with the story, we cling to the story all too often.

If we took more interest in the outcomes, we might be more willing to suffer some short term discomforts for the sake of getting things right. Ultimately, our current progress narrative is going to deliver us the exact opposite of progress – climate change and international crisis. We need some new stories.


A gathering of tribes

It’s interesting to think about where we fit and belong, the communities we call home and the relationships we have with them. I started pondering this a couple of days ago, and making notes, and the scale of it surprised me.

I have my blood family and the people I share history with – people who have lived in the same places, been through the same schools.

There’s the folk community – full of family ties and personal history. People I have played music with, people whose songs I sing, people I listen to. Also there’s the tribe that gathers for Genevieve Tudor’s folk program, and that’s an important weekly moment of belonging. I hope to put dancing back on that list.

I identify with the Pagan community, and with Druidry, and within that I belong a whole host of places – OBOD, The Druid Network, Druid Camp, Contemplative Druidry, Auroch grove, and through the bard side, it overlaps with the folk, and through my writing with the next lot…

Authors, book people, bloggers, readers, Moon Books, JHP fiction, other publishers. People I read and admire, storytellers, the local writing community and through those connections I branch out into…

Wider creative connections with artists, musicians, local creative folk, organisers of things, and I branch out into Steampunk, Comics, and geekery in general.

My Paganism also directs me to green activism, so that’s The Green Party, which is part of my local tribe, as is my engaging a bit with the Transition Network and other local, green, sustainable alternative outfits. People I know because they are local.

Eventually, I also managed to recognise that there are people who are in my life simply because they like what I do. I have a number of important connections based entirely on that.

Inevitably it’s the people who fit in more than one of those circles that I interact with most, because time is also a factor in all of this, and the more I share, the more time I tend to spend with someone. There are people I see once a year, or less, and there are people I pine for if I have to go more than a week, and I can manage an afternoon without Tom, but that’s my limit.

Of those people who I interact with in numerous ways, there are a few with whom I share creativity – either working together, or working alongside, swapping ideas and inspiration. This is a small tribe, and these relationships I pay a lot of attention to. They are the most defining ones in my life. It’s not any kind of coincidence that I married my artist… I am most emotionally invested in people with whom I can share creativity.

Beyond that, and overlapping with wider circles in all kinds of ways, is the tiny tribe I walk with. My most essential tribe.


R.I.P. Off! or The British Way of Death

By Ken West

In the 1960’s I killed barn owls. It was not a conscious decision. The people in control instructed me to spray the new wonder chemicals, invented by the Americans, over the old cemetery. The weeds and long grass disappeared, as did the voles, the food source of the owls. Nobody noticed – or cared!

This happened all over the UK. Ten years later, less ignorant and in control of cemeteries and crematoria myself, I introduced conservation management in cemeteries. The results were astonishing. Acres of rare pignut, a plant that once fed the poor, appeared, followed by voles; the owls returned.

Years later, and offering a Funeral Advisory Service, two women, possibly pagans, wanted advice on burial in their garden. I told them it was feasible, but that it would depress the property sale price. I discovered that they sought garden burial because this was the only way that they could be buried under a tree and thereby satisfy their environmental and spiritual philosophy.

Because of these events, I wrote a feasibility study for natural burial, the first time that human burial was integrated with conservation. This was accepted by Carlisle City Council and we opened the world’s first site in 1993. It was a traumatic time; funeral directors hated the idea, not least the prohibition of embalming. They were apoplectic when I first mentioned cardboard coffins. Natural burial was also a threat to cremationists because it highlighted the energy and pollution problems with the process. Increasingly labelled a weirdo, I was grateful for the support from pagans, environmentalists and the artistic community.

There are now more natural burial sites than crematoria in the UK (270+) and the idea is going universal. It has created the market for green coffins and reinvigorated burial. It also gave greater emphasis to the emerging funeral celebrant, expanding options for more spiritual and earth centred services.

After 45 years in the work, I retired with new purpose; to get people to discuss death and dying (see www.naturalburialcreator.co.uk). My first book, a specialist title, was ‘A Guide to Natural Burial’ published in 2010.

Based on my experience introducing natural burial, I wrote “R.I.P. Off! or: The British Way of Death” to show how the funeral market is stitched up; how it shuts out innovation. I wanted to convey information, without the dry blandness of a self help book, so that the reader could take control of a funeral themselves, even to the point of doing one without a funeral director. But, as nobody wants to read about death, how could I appeal to readers? Bookshops welcome writers on children’s stories and romance, but not death. I opted for black humour, and a series of cameos based on true events; an expose of the funeral world.

Getting to the other side has never been easy; or cheap! The Egyptians needed their ornate tombs; the Romans to cross the River Styx and the Vikings to sacrifice an entire longship. The Americans renamed this palaver the death care industry and set new rules; the funeral director became a salesman in a black suit, the coffins were given fancy names like ‘The Balmoral’ and nobody was allowed to mention the word death.


Defining a life

We use labels to define ourselves, and many are the debates in the Druid community about who is and isn’t entitled to call themselves a Druid. Worry not, I am not poised to bore you witless with one of *those*. Instead, I’ve been thinking about how we chose our labels in the first place. Not even in terms of what we necessarily put into the public domain, but how we think about ourselves.

One of the things about being an author is that I have to cough up little biographical statements on a fairly regular basis. My twitter statement is short but typical “Ponderer, singer of songs, teller of stories, activist, author, chaotic Green Druid Steampunk folky wench. Attached in all ways to Tom Brown.” Almost all of that pertains to stuff I do in my working life, with a hint of achievement (that author and Druid stuff is no small source of pride) and my marital status. I think this is normal. Jobs, achievements, living arrangements, income, possessions, family… these are the markers we use to talk about who we are. And yet, none of that is ‘me’ it’s just some of what I do when awake.

In my late teens I would have self identified very differently. I hadn’t achieved much, had no money, a part time job, a lot of aspirations. At that time in my life, I constructed my identity around the people, activities and places I loved. There was no requirement to write biographies back then, so there are no examples, but if I had, it would have looked more like “passionate about books, and sitting on hills at night, playing Beethoven on the piano until my hands break, totally dedicated to my band, I love to dance, love cats, love my friends, Neil Gaiman, Clive Barker, and some other names I won’t add to protect the innocent…”

An identity constructed around love is not as vulnerable to what you achieve. It doesn‘t depend on externally measurable things, on success or possessions, or even on that love being reciprocated. At the same time, there is wild and ferocious energy in it. This is the identity that strides determined into each new day, and faces up to challenges with a passion. This is the self that knows exactly what matters most, and expresses that in ways that are as joyful as they are driven.

I’m still passionate about music, although violin and bouzouki have taken the place of piano and drums. I’m still passionate about books, although I’ve lost some things around my own writing, but perhaps I can find that again. I still love to sit on hills at night and am even more besotted with landscape than I was, which has contributed to my devotion to Green politics. I don’t dance so much, still adoring of my friends and if anything more obsessed with Neil Gaiman, and other people, whose names I won’t add, to protect the innocent… Steampunk, folk and Druid communities inspire and delight me.

I haven’t really changed that much. Most of what has changed is how I think about these things, how I frame those aspects of self. So I’m going to stop thinking about who I am in terms of what I achieve, and go back to thinking about who I am in terms of who and what I am insanely, obsessively, life definingly in love with. (Attached in all ways to Tom Brown.)