Tag Archives: sustainable

Have a greener Christmas

For the next couple of weeks, this blog is going to be all about having a greener Christmas, Yule, or whatever else you celebrate. I’m going to mostly say ‘Christmas’ because I think more people will find it if I do. Also, Christmas is the festival especially tied in to commercialmass, and it’s the specifically Christmas derived traditions that I am going to be challenging. So, if you’re having an eco-friendly Yule already, or a sustainable solstice, you probably don’t need what I’m wafting about. However, I’m asking for shares, tweets, reblogs and so forth on this content if you can spare me a moment over the coming weeks. (Not this one, this one doesn’t really have much in it…)

Christmas is a terrible time for waste, consumerism, debt and perpetrating the idea that stuff is what we need to be happy. As a species and as a planet, we can’t afford this kind of attitude.

It’s easy… for me

I think one of the big mistakes many people make – especially around radical life changes to be more sustainable, is that if it’s easy for them, it’s easy. How well resourced a person is to begin with makes a lot of odds. Resources like time, money, energy, skills, education, and health all make a lot of difference to how hard or easy something will be. Everything is harder when you are already struggling.

I find it easy living without a car. This is in no small part because I’ve never had a car. I am well enough that I can mostly get where I need to go on foot, and I don’t do things I can’t do without a car. For someone who has always had a car, doing without a car isn’t easy and requires a lot of changes in what you do, how you plan and how long things take. For someone who is ill or disabled, being without a car may be impossible.

Not having a car, I can’t drive to the farmer’s market to pick up a week’s supply of vegetables. I can’t park near my local loose goods store and drive all my plastic-free food home. The process of getting food home has made being plastic free difficult to say the least. I would also struggle to afford to buy all my food on these terms. I’ve cut back on plastic every way I can manage, I’ve questioned my food choices and I’ve given things up. I’m not as good as I want to be.

I feel strongly that we shouldn’t be blaming or shaming people whose lack of resources makes it hard for them to be green. It’s good to flag up ways of being green that save money or aren’t that hard, because if lots of people can engage a bit, that’s progress. It’s often the people with most resources who cause the most harm. Be that with buying things that will soon be thrown away, food waste, flying abroad, travelling by car, using a lot of water, buying products with a lot of air miles on them – it’s the things that cost the most that often also… cost the most.

It’s easy for me to give up flying. I’ve only done it a couple of times in my life. It’s easy to do without holidays when you can’t afford them. It’s easy not to support the environmentally damaging fashion industry when you can’t afford to buy new clothes that often and really have to make your clothing last.

But it’s hard avoiding palm oil on a small budget.

And when you’re tired, and sore and you work long hours and your home isn’t warm enough and everything is a struggle… you probably aren’t going to be able to grow organic veg on an allotment to make nutritious stews to feed your family.

If becoming green is easy, it’s probably because you have the resources that make it easy.

If becoming green is easy there’s a very real chance this is because you had far more than you needed to begin with. Cutting back from a place of excess isn’t so very difficult in practical terms, even if you do feel like you’re doing something heroic.

And if it is easy for you, please, please consider that it might not be easy for someone else.

Plastic and privilege

I’m always in favour of people being the change they want to see in the world. I think it’s an important place to start with any kind of activism. If you believe it, you live it. However, often there’s a massive privilege aspect to being able to walk your talk.

If you don’t need plastic straws – and most of us don’t – then giving up straws to save the planet isn’t that big a deal. It’s a small sacrifice. However, for disabled people who need straws for drinking, for whom paper isn’t durable enough and washable straws are problematic, giving up straws isn’t so simple. Of course most of us should do without them, but making life difficult for the disabled is not the answer here.

If you’ve got plenty of money, then buying loose veg and going to your farmer’s market is easy. You may have to drive to get there and to carry your plastic-free goods home and you’ll want a big fridge to keep them in. How green is it? And if we berate the people who can’t afford to do that, is that going to help save the world? If all a person can afford is the 45p bag of carrots, and doesn’t have a car to drive them home in and can’t afford to run a fridge to keep them in… complaining about the bag seems to be the wrong place to focus attention.

If being green is a game for the well to do, in between flights to nice places for holidays, then it’s pretty meaningless. As poverty is a real barrier to living a greener life, there has to be political change. There has to be change that makes it easier and more affordable to be green.

There’s usually some bright spark on hand to say that the poor should try harder. That it isn’t so difficult to do this and that and save money here and there and really, you don’t need the things you think you need. The reality of living in poverty is that it is mentally and emotionally exhausting. It’s hard getting good food every day when money is tight. And when you have to watch every penny and cost up everything it takes a toll, and yes, a few pence here and there on the cost of things can make a difference. It’s easy for people who live in comfort to talk about what they think everyone else should be doing, but that’s not good activism. And no, the farmer’s market is not affordable, and no, not everyone can grow their own veg.

It is certainly true that if everyone acted differently, a lot of environmental issues could quickly be solved. Inspiring, enabling and uplifiting people so that they can live more sustainable lives, is a good thing. Blaming those who are least able to make changes, is not cool. And if you’re jetting off to other countries a few times a year, I’m not convinced that your organic fruit is much of an offset. Green living as an affectation doesn’t fix anything, and it can serve to entrench injustice and blaming the victims of an unjust society.

Do what you can to make changes in your own life. Share things that work – especially things that really are low cost. Go after the people with the power to make changes, not the people with least power who are easiest to harass. Remember that if it’s easy to be greener, there’s privilege at play – wealth, opportunity, resources, skills, education, energy, and so forth. Seeing what personal advantages you have that enable you to be green is a good place to start if you want to tackle the issue of why other people aren’t doing so well. We need to lift each other into more sustainable ways of living, and we need to ask most of those who have most.


Druidry and cutting down trees

It may be as a Druid that your first instinct is to protect trees no matter what. It’s a good instinct, (I would think that, because I do feel it) but at the same time, it helps to understand the historical relationships between people, trees and the landscape.

First up, wood is an amazing material. It is sustainable to use so long as we take only what we need and plant three trees for every tree we cut down. It’s also sustainable to coppice and pollard. Wood is not actually one material, different trees have different properties – alder for example resists water. Venice was built on alder. Wood is durable, beautiful, and effective.

Secondly, if the land has a history of human wood work over thousands of years, then continuing isn’t a bad idea. There are woodland flowers that don’t show up unless patches of woodland are cleared. Small scale, rotational tree coppicing results in a wealth of other wildlife being able to return. Diversity of plants increases insect populations which in turn feed birds and bats… Letting the light in will also help slower growing trees like oaks get started.

What doesn’t work is industrial scale logging. It doesn’t work to cut everything over a large area, especially if you follow through by not even replanting. It doesn’t work to take rare hardwoods out of rainforests, or to put vast monocultures of pine into places pine doesn’t normally grow.

If we are to use wood as a sustainable resource, we have to do it while maintaining the health of the overall wood. In the UK, that can mean radical cutting to get rid of invasive non-native plants. I’ve seen what rhododendron does when left unchecked. All you get is rhododendrons and all other native flora and fauna disappears. Pine plantations tend to be nearly as sterile. A wood is not just a bunch of very tall plants, it is an entire eco system.

Small scale wood cutting undertaken by people who keep working responsibly with the same wood over many years gets beautiful results. People who know the wood, and care about it, who take no more than the wood can afford to let them have. People who go in and drag wood out, or work with ponies rather than bringing in heavy machinery. People who leave their wood healthy and full of life. It can be done. I’ve seen it done in many places and read about it in even more.

If an environment has never been messed with by humans, then we should leave it alone and not exploit it. However, if an environment has been worked with by humans for thousands of years, it may have evolved around us. That’s true for many woods, for meadows and for the kind of moorland rich in orchids and wildflowers. It isn’t true for the moorlands where the heather is burned off for grouse, it isn’t true of agri-business and giant monocultures, it isn’t true of deforestation. But, working with wood need not mean deforestation.

We can be participants in the natural world. We can work with nature without exploiting it.

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.

What I want from politics

I write this a day before a general election, conscious that the things I am most concerned about are not on the agenda for mainstream parties. Here are the things I wish were major election issues. There’s no priority order here.

Climate change – real commitment to tackling the causes and preparing for the uncertainties of the future. Recognition that poorer countries and the most vulnerable people are likely to suffer most as a consequence.

Recognition that capitalism is a snake eating its own tail, that we are exploiting finite resources and cannot have perpetual growth. As automation replaces jobs we need a radical rethink about the structure and purpose of society.

Exploitation – both on the domestic front and internationally. We drive down prices by oppressing others, exploiting finite resources and exploiting workers in other counties. There are many international forms of slavery still functioning, including debt slavery.

Recognition that we all need clean air and safe, drinkable water and that these issues do not respect borders. Recognition that we need to co-operate internationally to safeguard these essential things and to work for long term food security for all as well.

A proper look at the causes of terrorism, and most especially the financing of terrorism, with actions to change this that do not simply involve killing more civilians. Recognition of the role of the arms trade in terrorism. Recognition that no matter how great the imagined benefit of profit from weapons sales, selling weapons is fuelling international violence.

An end to habitat and species loss, with recognition that trying to turn everything into fleeting profit regardless of the long term cost just isn’t clever or good. Stopping killing the oceans.

An approach to humanity that recognises common dignity and basic rights rather than seeing the many as a resource to be used and abused for the benefit of the few. A rejection of all political and religious grounds for dehumanising others.

Recognition that war, terrorism, oppression, exploitation, and the consequences of climate change and resource loss are the reasons for mass human migration at present. This will not be solved by closing borders, but by facing up to the causes.

We have the resources, the knowledge and the means to deliverer a fairer and more sustainable way of life for everyone. While we reject that in favour of short term profit for the few, we make ourselves ever less viable as a species.

3 strands of revolution

This is a work in progress, but this is where I’ve got to in recent weeks. I see these three strands as interweaving, to create an effect that will hopefully, be more than the sum of its parts.

Strand one: Abundance

In the last few years my household has worked out what sufficiency looks like and what enough means for us. We can and do live very lightly and we know what we need to be psychologically and emotionally sustainable. We will be seeking those things because we can’t help anyone else if we aren’t viable ourselves. We had thought about settling there, but looking at current politics, we are going to take what skills and strengths we have and seek to be better than sufficient so that we have abundance we can share with others who have a need for it. This is not just a money issue, but about all the things we might be able to share.

Strand two: Growing

It’s not enough to bail out people in times of crisis. We have to grow better ways of doing things. More supportive communities, better sharing of resources, more stable ways of living and being. What we’re seeing at the moment is an inevitable consequence of a competitive capitalist system. Other options exist. We have to start imagining them, talking about different approaches, enacting what we can. We need to create contexts in which people can flourish. Much of my attention for this strand will be focused locally but I am (of course!) also thinking globally as best I can.

Strand three: Communing

It’s about a non-consumption orientated way of life that instead favours social interaction, people doing stuff, getting outside. In my case it means walking because that feeds my soul, improves my mental health and generally keeps me viable for doing the useful stuff. It’s about offering other people alternative visions of a good way of life, and sharing our growing understanding of what ‘the good stuff’ is.

This is all about cultural revolution. It’s a three stranded strategy for moving towards a kinder, more sustainable way of life. No rioting required, just some serious shifts in what’s valued, how we spend our time and how we deploy our resources. I will be giving more away. I will be walking with people. I will be living the changes I want to see.

The dangers of normality

Anything we understand as normal, we tend not to question. We are more likely to pick on things we think are abnormal about us as places to seek change, than to work on the things that make us the same as everyone else. We are less likely to challenge any feature of our lives that is a dependable constant. Thus the person who has been gently subjected to escalating patterns of abuse won’t feel there’s anything odd at all about being hit. This is why victims stay, and people who have not been victims struggle to understand why anyone would hang around for such abnormal treatment.

If I challenge directly over something you consider normal, the odds are you will become defensive. ‘Normal’ is our baseline for how reality works, so having it challenged is always uncomfortable. It feels threatening, so the desire to protect it is both strong and entirely natural, but that makes certain lines of though almost unthinkable. So let’s do one, by way of an experiment.

If you want to have a happier, richer, more rewarding life, live greenly and generally be a better Pagan, get rid of your television.

I know perfectly well that for many people, the television as been a lifetime companion. The defences – that some programs are good, that it is entertaining, comforting, sometimes educational will leap to the forefront of your mind. This may well be true of any number of programs, but once it turns into a conversation about how Star Trek inspired you to live a better life, what we don’t get to do is talk about television as a wider issue. The social and psychological impact of television is considerable. It’s now normal for young people to feel that they could not live without one, or without their beloved phones.

Television is a good case in point because if you watch regularly, you also get the daily normalising of our unsustainable culture. You’re looking at other people’s houses, loaded with certain kinds of stuff. You’re hearing about products, and seeing them sparkle. You’re seeing how people dress. All of these things create and reinforce your reality. It is a reality of unsustainable consumption, but we’re carefully not telling each other that so as to be able to keep doing it. Around you, everyone else is seeing the same TV reality and manifesting bits of it in their lives, dialogue, consumer choices etc. Music goes to number one in the charts because of TV, sometimes because of adverts. TV supplies content for our conversations (as a non-TV person, I really notice these).

We have lives full of material riches beyond anything our ancestors dared to imagine, but we’re not happy. We are consuming resources at a rate this planet simply can’t support for the long term, and the odds are that in our own lifetimes, there will be radical change forced on us and we will have to learn to live very different lives. Are you ready for that? Do you know how you would cope? Do you have the skills, the emotional resources and the intellectual flexibility? Can you imagine what it would look like?

If the world without television in it seems like a threatening idea, that’s a thought to spend some time with. If the idea that in the future we might not be able to cope with the energy expense of television seems outrageous, do ask yourself if you would feel differently had you’d watched a program recently envisaging how television might be impacted by a low energy future.

It’s a lesson with implications far beyond the television. You can play the same game with your emotional responses to any piece of technology. Your phone, your car, your computer. I know perfectly well how much I would struggle without access to the knowledge base and people the internet gives me. If I had to choose one piece of technology to save for the future, I would give up every other 20th century device for the sake of computers and the internet. Which one would you pick?

Zero waste

There is no such place as ‘away’. Everything we throw out winds up somewhere. Landfill is not a viable solution, and making things just to bin them is not a sustainable way to run a culture. We need a zero waste economy. There’s a lot we can do as individuals, with the whole reduce-reuse-recycle mantra, but that only works when you have the right materials in the first place. A disturbing number of important foods only seem to come in non-recyclable plastic packaging.

What to do?

Companies give us this stuff because they have convinced themselves it’s what the public wants, needs, expects. So we have to have clingfilm on cucumbers and re-sealable packets, and little plastic windows so that we can see the donuts inside look like every other fried confectionary we’ve ever encountered… it becomes normal so we expect it which justifies the idea that we expect it so they have to provide it.

We have to break that circle. I think we can.

I had a chat with @sainsburys on twitter recently. I’ve also started poking Quorn. I’m looking at companies I buy from and am commenting on how disappointing their packaging is. Doing it in the public domain – twitter and facebook are good – it draws attention. I had a lot of support from other social media folk, out of the blue and with nothing organised. If enough of us tell them that recyclable packaging is what we want, they may listen.

We pay for this stuff, twice over. We pay to buy it. Then, we pay for our councils to send it to landfill. With cuts eating into essential services, it is not acceptable that we should be spending hundreds of thousands of pounds of public money on burying refuse the supermarkets and others have forced on us. Rice, pasta, seeds, dried fruit – dried, basic, storeable things, are not reliable available in recyclable packaging. This has to change.

So, consider what’s in your bin, and who helped you put it there, and then drop them a polite and friendly line in a public space. ‘I am not happy’ is a good tone to take. At this stage its worth seeing if we can get some co-operation. If there isn’t much movement, petitions can work wonders, and we may have to consider posting clean waste back to the people who created it, explaining that as we can’t recycle it and don’t want to send it to landfill, returning to source seemed like a good idea.

Ends and means

My general starting point is that the ends should not be assumed to justify the means, because that’s a slippery slope down to doing whatever you want in order to get your own way. It works with the assumption that ‘winning’ is everything. If you want to go through life as a passably ethical person, then you have to allow for the idea that you can be wrong, and that other people’s needs and views are just as valid. Getting the result by any means just doesn’t fit with that world view.

Most of the time that works just fine. I approach almost all things with an eye to acting in a way I find acceptable in order to work towards outcomes I want. However, we live in troubling times. Eco-suicide is a distinct possibility. The damage our species is doing shocks me on a daily basis. Human injustice, underpinned by greed and apathy, haunts me. Sometimes the urge to shake people and scream at them to wake up, is huge. Not that this would be a likely strategy to achieve results.

All too often, the slow approach of winning people round, being the change and so forth is just too slow. I lie awake at night listening to the boy racers speeding their cars up and down the hills and I know there are far too many people out there for whom the idea of responsibility is a joke. There are so many of us who feel entitled to have whatever we can pay for, no matter what it costs someone or something else. There are so many of us who just can’t keep up with the ethical issues of each choice, either. Doing the best you can with what you have is an exercise in compromise and complicity. I haven’t given away everything I have to feed the hungry. I honestly cannot afford to buy entirely organic.

Which leads to the questions of where my own life fits in this balance of means and ends. The ideal outcome for me would be a gentler, more sustainable world with a good-enough standard of living for all. Time to rest and play, the scope to be well of body and mind. Happiness, community, friendship. I don’t want to live in a world where people work seven day weeks and ten hour days and tend not to have the time, energy or money to go out of an evening. I don’t want to live in a world where people are always expected to push through pain and tiredness to get the work done.

There are so many causes. There is so much needs doing. So many things we need to be more aware of. I’ve adopted a more sustainable lifestyle (no car, no fridge, no washing machine) but it costs me in terms of time and energy. If something needs doing, I’ll show up and give it my best shot. As a consequence, I haven’t had a whole day off given over to rest since the middle of July. I make a point of having some rest time each day because otherwise I court mental dysfunction, but there are still more things to do than there is time, and I end up worn and ragged on a regular basis. How to be a good citizen, a good pagan, a good activist, mother, wife, friend, member of society, and to earn a living, and to have a low impact lifestyle… and needing more hours in the day.

The easiest things to drop are the ones that I enjoy – time out for music, reading for pleasure, sewing for fun, just going to bed early. I’ve had patches historically when the only way to keep going was to withdraw energy from the stuff I did just for me. That way lies the collapse of self esteem and the loss of inspiration. I would like the time and headspace to write novels, but the wild elephants are in peril, and our yellowhammers are nearly gone and I am desperately worried about the hedgehogs, and UKIP are running public meetings locally and people are responding to all that is wrong with hate. No matter how wound up I get, I must not fall into hating, and it would be so easy. People are not an innately loveable species.

If I am not part of the solution, then I am part of the problem. But if I do things I think are wrong in order to go after the ends I believe in, how can I not undermine what I’m trying to do? And if I put me first, at all, those are minutes I’m not giving to trying to help with something, trying to change something, and there is so much work to do, and so much to try and understand about what’s going on. I have no answers.