Tag Archives: sustainability

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.


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.


What if we ditched GDP?

Gross Domestic Product is used to measure wealth and growth. It focuses us on what we produce in terms of goods and services, while ignoring the impact of those things. It is massively problematic as a thing for governments to focus on because it goes with the idea of perpetual growth. We have economies built on the idea of perpetual growth and yet with finite resources this clearly isn’t going to work. Taking GDP as a measure of success also assumes that anything creating money is inherently a good thing.  This clearly doesn’t work either. What we measure and focus on informs policy and decision making. The speed of movement of money isn’t that useful a thing to obsess over.

What might we measure instead to establish how well a country is doing? Carbon emissions would be an obvious one, as we urgently need to reduce those, the more attention paid to them, the better. We can easily measure health, and this is a much better way to think about how well a country is delivering for its people.  Wellness is a meaningful measure of quality of life, especially when you include mental health in that. Happiness is a difficult thing to measure because it’s so subjective, but when you put people self-reporting on happiness alongside health considerations, you might have a meaningful sense of how people are doing.

Biodiversity would be an excellent thing to measure and monitor and put at the centre of decision making.  In the UK, tree cover would also be a thing to consider. Green spaces – and being able to access them – goes with good mental and physical health.

All of these things would shift us away from imagining that money/production for its own sake is a reasonable measurement of something.  By focusing on GDP, we priorities a notion of wealth creation over the actual wealth that is health and happiness. Money and product is of limited value when it costs your wellbeing. As the gap widens between the very rich and all the rest of us, money as a measurement of a country’s wellbeing becomes ever more suspect. Although it is worth noting that billionaires are the enemy of GDP – GDP is in many ways a measure of money moving around. Money hoarded by billionaires has been removed from the economy and is of no use to anyone else.

Ditching GDP would take us into the difficult territory of re-imagining our economies. We are either going to have to let go of eternal growth as a theory, or societal collapse will force that onto us anyway. We have to let go of the idea of always having more of everything, and replace that with ideas of sustainability, and staying at a level. If we focus on wellbeing rather than on making stuff and the movement of money, we might be able to see ourselves progressing in other ways, and that might make it easier to let go of this rather toxic narrative about what a successful country looks like.


What if we re-thought fashion?

The fashion industry is one of the most planet harming, carbon intensive, polluting of human activities. Clothes are often made in sweat shops, only to end up in landfill after one or two wears. We throw away tons of clothing. Unlike issues around transport, food and energy consumption, there’s nothing inherent in the fashion industry that either justifies the waste, or makes it technically that difficult to change.

There’s a lot we can do as individuals on this one – buy less, use clothing for longer, give it to charity shops when we’re done with it, upcycle. Simply by rejecting the idea that you might buy an item of clothing, wear it once and throw it away, we could collectively get a lot done on this one.

The fashion industry itself is a bit of a poster-boy for throw away consumerism. It’s hardly an issue for this industry alone, it’s a cultural issue and an issue inherent in capitalism. If we accept that new is always better, and up to date is important, then buying things to almost immediately throw them away might make sense to us. Replace those ideas with durability, inherent worth, and the desire to own things that are inherently satisfying and pleasing, and that whole edifice could crumble.

If we wanted lasting clothing that would serve us well, we’d perhaps pay more for it and that would help move us away from the terrible conditions in which clothing tends to be made. It has to be said that currently the price tag on the clothing is not an indicator of how well the maker was paid. Unless you are buying from a person who made the clothes, the odds are there’s exploitation in the mix.

I want to make more of my own clothing. It’s one way of resisting, and as I can sew, it’s an option I have.  I also very much like having clothing that doesn’t look like what everyone else is wearing! I aspire to being able to afford to buy things from makers, rather than mass produced things, but there’s a significant economic aspect to that, and it’s a bit beyond me at the moment.

We don’t need throwaway fashion. It isn’t life enhancing, and it’s not especially joyful. There’s much more delight to be had in clothing that can be re-worn, and that can be a friend on the journey. Clothing full of associations and memories can be life enriching. Clothing into which time, care and thought has been invested has a lot more to offer us than something bought cheaply and immediately forgotten.

We don’t need fast fashion. There’s really no inherent good in it. The whole process goes with a strategy of selling us dissatisfaction so that we keep spending money on new things. What if your wardrobe was fine and did not need updating? What if it made more sense to replace clothes when they wear out or you change shape, investing in things you can enjoy for years to come? Think how much time, energy and effort that would save people! Think how much more joy we could have by only owning things we really wanted and that we make part of our lives.

I’m enough of an animist to make friends with the things I own. My clothing has been on journeys with me and is full of stories. When it wears out, I salvage what I can and re-use it, meaning every now and then I find an old friend in whatever place they’ve been re-purposed to. That’s a nice feeling. I’ve got fabric that came from my grandmother, clothes that are twenty years old and more. I’ve got parts of my life in my wardrobe, and I like how that feels. There’s meaning in it, and significance, and companionship.


How community sustains us

I was in Wakefield over the weekend for a Pagan Federation conference. It turned out to be – as these things so often are – a significant learning opportunity for me. I had a number of conversations about how we square up to climate crisis, how we cope and keep going and avoid being overwhelmed by panic and despair.

The answer for me is community. Those conversations made me realise just how blessed I am in where I live and who I work with. Stroud’s District Council has not only declared that there is a climate emergency, but it is also working to make the whole district carbon neutral by 2030. That’s a massive and ambitious plan, and exactly what’s needed right now. It’s easier to feel hopeful when you can see people with the power to make larger scale changes getting involved.

I also have Transition Stroud – which involves hundreds of local people working for sustainability. It’s a hands-on community that pushes for grass roots change. It is hard slogging away at personal change when you feel like no one else cares and your change makes so little difference. When you have a community working towards sustainability, you can start to see how those individual changes stack up into bigger changes. There’s scope to inspire more people and draw them in.

On top of this, I’m a long standing supporter of The Woodland Trust and I also do some volunteering for them. Trees can do so much to help us deal with climate crisis. They lock up carbon, they can reduce flooding if planted in the right places, they’re good for human mental health and they support biodiversity and help protect the soil. Supporting The Woodland Trust means I’m contributing on a national scale as well. There are many charities and organisations working for the good of the land and for wildlife – supporting any of them will give you similar experiences.

When we are connected with other, Likeminded people, we have the power to do more. We can inspire and uplift each other, hold each other accountable and keep each other going. Look around and see what already exists in your area – better to join something heading the right way than start from scratch. If there is truly nothing, then it may fall to you to start the process – but you will not be the only one. People who want radical change are everywhere, often trying to figure out what to do and where to start if nothing is yet moving.


Living within our means

In economic terms, the idea of living within your means is straightforward – if what you spend is no more than that amount of money available to you, then you’ll be ok. Spend more than you have, and a downwards debt spiral is your destiny.

When it comes to the human species as household and the environment as ‘means’ no one seems to think in these terms. Governments treat the planet as an infinite resource that can be used in any way they see fit for short term profit. We have finite resources.  As a species, we’re running up quite a debt. When the bailiffs come round to deal with the debts, they will come as floods and droughts, famines and sickness from pollution. In many places, the bailiffs are already here. Our species keeps running up the debts even as people are dying from polluted air and water, and species go extinct.

Look at the cold hard facts of household economies, and it’s obvious that no sensible person would borrow more than they can pay back and get into the debt spiral. And yet, in our thousands, in our hundreds of thousands, we do just this. We do it because a short term crisis can land anyone in trouble. We do it because we’re bombarded constantly with messages about what we must have, and not everyone can defend themselves adequately from the constant brainwashing. We do it because poverty is a rigged game designed to drive you into debt and powerlessness. The ‘choice’ to live within our means often isn’t a choice at all.

These very same pressures and motives are at the heart of our species not living within its means. The constant pressure to own, consume, throw away and replace. The effects of poverty on the choices people can make around sustainability. Get into poverty and you’ll have a hard time of it affording the organic, fair traded, responsibly sourced, ethically made things. You’ll by cheap (to you, but expensive to the planet) to survive.

Until governments start thinking about how we, as a species, might live within in our means, this is going to be hard to tackle. For those of us who do have the luxury of choice, we can choose to have less. We can choose not to fuel the habit of competitive ownership. No more ‘keeping up with the Joneses.’ If we were all a bit more willing to share our tools and toys, for example, we could reduce need, poverty and over-production. The more of us there are who don’t buy into the ideas of overconsumption, the more hope there is that this way of thinking will catch on.


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.


The Pagan and the Pope

So, we have a new Pope. Now, as a Pagan it might seem that I shouldn’t have much to say on the subject, but the size and wealth of the Catholic Church inclines me to feel that this has at least the potential for major impact. I live in hope. From the news this morning I understand that, in his former life, Pope Francis used the bus, did his own shopping, cooked his own meals and went into slums. He spoke in favour of baptising the children of unmarried mothers. I gather he’s not pro gay marriage or women Bishops, but I can’t see they’d have let anyone that radical into the top job. By all accounts, our new Pope cares about poverty and the environment. The question is, will he act on that, or will he let the corporate Vatican tame him? Keep him in your prayers, because if he’s half of what he seems to be, he’s going to need all the well wishing he can get.

There is an issue that lies under poverty, and under environmental problems, and that issue is population. Without talking about birth rates, and the implications of those for child poverty and death in the developing world, no real change can happen. There’s the aids crisis to consider, too. Education of women, rights for women – if all you do is squeeze out babies, this is a moot point. Currently the Catholic Church does not approve of contraception.

What the world desperately needs is a Pope with the courage, compassion and humanity to get up and use that infallible Popeness to good effect. He could decide that Jesus wants us all to be a bit less fruitful so that we can properly take care of the children we’ve got. He could change much of the world, and the lives of a great many people living in it. He could give countless families opportunity to escape poverty, and to build better lives for themselves, and a more manageable, planned number of offspring. He could help reduce the spread of aids, and he could radically impact on the viability of us as a species. Not many people get that much power.

Furthermore, we all know the Catholic Church is obscenely wealthy. Here is a man who has professed that as a Christian, he chooses poverty, and who through his work has shown a willingness to try and alleviate the abject and intolerable levels of poverty others suffer. How much power does he now have? How much wealth? How far is he willing to go?

Let’s hope he’s as good as he sounds, and as able to resist the allure of power and wealth as possible. Active compassion in the Vatican could make a world of difference.