A word about that conference. I don’t remember who sponsored it - my flat mate got the tickets - but the session I attended was in the Dallas Brooke’s Hall in Melbourne and it was packed. The speakers were from multiple universities and research organisations across Australia and the whole thing was conducted via video conferencing from conference halls in the various state capitals. The items I remember: the hole in the Ozone Layer; global warming and its impacts; plastic pollution; the damage done by the pollution from bleaching paper pulp with (?) dioxins; power generation - the big issue in Australia at the time was the flooding of the Franklin River for a hydroelectric power plant - and whether nuclear power was worth the risks. The other thing that I remember being mentioned was how rubbish bins in Scandinavian countries were divided into into sections for recycling. (When I landed in Denmark in May 1989 - my first stop in Europe - I remember being very impressed. It was 20+ years before Britain caught up.)
Fast forward to 2019 and, somehow, the wonderful Greta Thunberg captured the world’s attention with her School Strike For Climate Change. All I can say is “good on you girl! You rock!”. What bothers me is that, in the intervening 30 years, so many things have got worse not better. Why are more plastic bottles thrown away now than in 1989? (Why did sales of bottled water skyrocket in those 30 years and why do people throw away the bottles instead of reusing/recycling them?) Why has the wild bee population declined, when we know how important they are? Why is 25% of all food purchased by British households thrown away? Why is it more difficult now to buy toilet paper made from recycled paper than it was in 1989? Why is there so much litter in Britain and why hasn’t this situation improved in the last 2 years, when everybody was in Lockdown? (Seriously, you can’t walk down a street now without seeing a discarded face mask.)
On the political side, I guess it all boils down to expediency. Most politicians don’t think beyond their next election and their desire to be re-elected. Changing “business as usual” practices won’t get them headlines, whereas being seen to respond to disasters will. Sadly, changing “Business as Usual” is what needs to be done to save the planet but it needs some political will. At the moment, the Government is a follower; it needs to lead and to put its money where it’s mouth is. Here are simple things the Government could do:-
- Change building regulations so that all new builds have the latest version of photovoltaic cells on their roof (which are 3x more efficient than the originals). Every new house should also be built with a small S-shaped wind turbine, while blocks of flats/offices and business parks should have at least one large wind turbine. All new builds need to have off-street parking - say, one space per bedroom - with vehicle recharging points incorporated therein.
- All Government paper products should be made from recycled paper, whether it’s toilet paper purchased for use in a hospital or a leaflet to be distributed to the general population. Lead by example.
- Government procurement has long been driven by price. Instead, the first factor to consider should be carbon footprint. If xx costs a few pence more but is made locally, then that should be purchased instead of shipping it in from China.
- Ban the use of insecticides on state-owned land. Organic practices only. (I will permit weed-killers because some invasive species of weed just won’t die without them.)
- Invest in hydrogen technology and have all Government vehicles hydrogen powered. Batteries can’t power everything and their creation/recycling generates a massive amount of pollution. Battery powered lorries/trucks are impractical (very heavy) and battery powered vehicles can’t tow.
- Ban the shipping of recycling abroad. Specifically plastics should be recycled “in country”. Many British councils ship their plastic recycling abroad, where it is found years later, breaking down on a rubbish dump somewhere and hasn’t been recycled. This is a waste of resources, waste of shipping miles and creates another type of pollution problem..
The above is OK for the Government but what about the rest of us? What can we do? In an interview last year, Sir David Attenborough was asked “What is the most important lesson you have learned?” His answer was “Don’t waste.” Don’t waste resources. Reduce. Reuse. Recycle. I’ve been putting my money where my mouth is for years, in an attempt to lower my footprint on the planet:-
- Where available, I buy recycled paper products (toilet paper, kitchen towel). Everyone should. Save virgin paper for books.
- I’ll wash and re-use the plastic bags that bread/bagels comes in, before eventually recycling them.
- Most of my clothes are bought to last, making me a follower of “slow fashion” and they get worn to death. I look for classic designs, made from natural fibres. (Today, I’m wearing hand knitted socks, a pair of jeans bought in 2018, a t-shirt purchased in 2003 and a cashmere cardigan purchased in 2019. My bra is 5 or 6 years old and my knickers about the same.)
- When I can buy clothing secondhand, I will. Three of my work suits come from charity shops, as do several t-shirts and my sheepskin jacket. (I nearly bought another suit from a charity shop yesterday but the jacket was too tight.)
- When I do buy new clothes, where possible I buy natural fibres and wear those clothes until they die. (I’d rather be considered classic than fashionable.)
- Make the best of what I have for as long as it lasts. For example, my iPhone is 5 years old. I won’t consider changing it until Apple stop updating the IOS. Why should I? It does everything that I want it to do and, last night, updated to IOS 15, guaranteeing me at least another year of use.
- Buy smart. I don’t buy something because it’s the latest widget; I buy it because it fulfils multiple purposes and does exactly what I want. This saves money as well as resources. It doesn’t matter if it’s clothes, a kitchen widgets or IT kit. If it doesn’t do what you want it to do, you’ll never use it and/or you end up replacing it three times.
- Years before electric vehicles were readily available, I went for a car that was fuel efficient, had good build quality and a low carbon footprint. (When Lucky dies, he’ll probably be replaced by a hybrid. Meanwhile, I’ll keep him running for as long as possible. Pollution isn’t just about carbon; it’s about the other components he’s made from, too.)
- With the exception of weed killer, I garden organically. (I’ll only use weed killer if the weed burner fails.)
- Buy local. Consider where something is grown and/or where it’s made. Most of the yarn I’ve purchased over the last 10 years was grown and spun in the UK. Prior to the Pandemic, my veg came from a local farmer’s farm shop. He also sold me eggs from his mate’s farm, about 5 miles away. (Sadly, they closed due to the Pandemic.)
- Grow/make your own. Not only will you appreciate it more, it cuts the carbon footprint. There is nothing nicer than a just-harvested potato.
- Avoid buying food that is heavily processed. Not only will your body thank you; all those “e-numbers” are chemical additives that have to be manufactured.
- If you eat meat, then eat the whole animal, offal included. Anything less is wasteful. There is more to a chicken than just chicken breast fillets! Don’t like liver? Do you eat pate? Well, that’s liver. Get over it. Personally, I love Haggis but many people shy away from it because it’s made from offal. They’ll eat that offal when it’s in boring, supermarket sausages, but not in something as nice as Haggis.
- Do the passive things that will cut your carbon footprint. Compost your vegetable peelings and grass cuttings. Wash your laundry in cold water and air dry it. (We do. We don’t own a dryer.). Walk to the shops, instead of driving. (We walk the 1.5 miles to our local Lidl and lug our shopping home in backpacks.). Use public transport where practical. (Nobody in their right mind would drive into central London.)
I guess my message is: do what you can, when you can, and try to mitigate the consequences. Don’t waste. If there is waste, recycle it responsibly.