Friday 19 April 2024

Earth Day 22nd April 2024 - What On Earth Can I Do About It?

Global warming is now hitting home.  Dubai Airport closed last week because of flooding.  Dubai, and the rest of the Gulf States, received 18 months-worth of rainfall in less than a day on Tuesday 16 April.  Sea temperatures have risen 1.5C, causing mass bleaching of coral reefs world-wide, with knock on consequences for sea life and the human food-chain.  Spain has been experiencing a drought FOR 6 YEARS!

What the hell can I do about it?  Me?  One person.  Or my household of two????

I first learned about climate change and global warming when my flatmate dragged me along to the public session of a conference, in January 1989.  My takeaways then were: organic gardening; plant trees; recycling; buy unbleached paper products (preferably recycled); go solar powered; support wind farms; use public transport where possible,; drive fuel efficient vehicles but cycle for shorter journeys; and that the mainland Europeans were considerably better than Australians at this stuff.  

When I landed in Copenhagen 4 months later, and saw their rubbish bins with multiple recycling slots for paper, tins and plastics, I was convinced that the latter point was true.  Britain was a disappointment.  No segregated rubbish bins, to split genuine waste from recyclables.  It was 10 years before most local authorities offered households recycling collections for their rubbish.  When ordering office supplies in 1991, it was difficult to buy any recycled paper products - they just didn’t exist - and it took decades for things to improve.

It’s been 35 years since that conference in Australia, and Climate Change is now hitting home.  We can’t just blame governments - the largest contributing factors are the small, incremental decisions that individuals make.  What I’m setting out below are my thoughts, my manifesto, for the changes that we can ALL make to save Planet Earth.

1.  Do Not Waste

In 2020, when asked if he could give one piece of advice to future generations, Sir David Attenborough said “Do Not Waste”.  That is the essence of the Earth Day mantra:
  • Reduce your consumption
  • Reuse items instead of buying replacements
  • Recycle everything possible
Think about it for a minute.  Pretty much everything else I’m about to write boils down into those three words.

2.  Don’t Waste Food

According to the 2024 United Nations Food Index Report quoted in The Guardian, annually about a fifth of all food produced on Earth is wasted, 600 million tonnes of which is wasted by households!  When you think that approximately 730 million people are going hungry every day, that means that the rest of us have to answer for one hell of a lot.

My suggestions to minimise food waste:-
  • Meal Plan, so that the fresh food you purchase gets incorporated into the meals you are cooking.
  • Turn leftovers into another meal.  Leftover cooked veg can be incorporated into a frittata.  The carcase of a roast chicken can be made into stock.
  • Your freezer is your friend.  If you realise that you can’t use it before it shrivels up/turns to mush/grows exotic fungus, freeze it.  Or cook it and freeze it to eat later.  Unless you plan to use it within 2 or 3 days, freeze meat on date of purchase and defrost it in the fridge.
  • Buy your fruit and veg loose, not wrapped in plastic.  They’ll last longer.  Produce stored in plastic tends to sweat and the sweat spots are the first places mould will grow, even if you decant them when you get home.
  • Store food properly.  Bread lasts longer if stored in a plastic bag in the fridge.  Onions are best left on the counter.  Potatoes need to be stored in a dark cupboard, away from onions (or they’ll sprout). 
  • Ignore “Best Before” dates.  They’re more indicative of the predicted lifespan of the packaging, than they are of the product.
  • Ignore “Use By” dates.  If it smells OK and taste OK, then it should be fine to eat.
  • Eat the whole animal.  If you are a meat eater, then don’t turn your nose up at eating offal. Haggis is delicious, even if it is made from liver, heart and lungs of a sheep.  Seriously, if you eat pâté, then you’re already eating liver.  Respect the animal.  It died to feed you.
  • Compost the fruit and veg trimmings that can’t be eaten.  

3. Ask Yourself: Why Am I Buying This?

Do you need another lipstick or are you shopping just because you are bored?  Don’t shop for entertainment.  Whatever you purchase won’t fix the gap that you’re trying to fill.  If you do need to purchase an item, is it the best one for the job?  Does it fulfil all your requirements?  So many times, when we purchase something on the “it will do”; it never does.  Would something you already have do the job instead? 

Instead of trying to fit in with an influencer - who is paid to sell you things - work out what is important to you and to the person you want to be.  Devise your own style and stick to it.  Fast fashion is just flogging you badly made stuff, which won’t last.  Don’t waste precious resources trying to keep up with the Jones’.

4.  Drive The Most Fuel Efficient Vehicle

Do you really need an SUV?  No. Particularly not when, most of the time, there’s only one person in the car.  

Back in 2000, when I bought the Toy, the first priority was to get the most fuel efficient vehicle on the market. That was the diesel VW Lupo, although I bought the cheaper, “SEAT Arosa” version.  Toy averaged 62 miles to the Imperial gallon.  (That’s 4.5 litres, not the American gallon of 3.7 litres.)  Lucky-Car averaged slightly less - at 57mpg - but the replacement to the VW Lupo was horrible to drive, so I went for the Skoda version of the next model up, the Fabia.  

When I think of the number of times Lucky-Car drove through France or up to Scotland, carrying 4 adults plus their luggage, in one small car and still managed over 50mpg… Do you really need an SUV for the school run?  

5.  Do You Really Need to Drive?

The majority of car journeys within the UK cover less than 2 miles. Surely you can walk that distance?  Or cycle it?  Even in my lymphoma-depleted state, I can walk the 1.5 miles to the local Lidl in less than 30 minutes.  (We do that walk regularly.). 

If I lived in the Netherlands, I’d probably cycle everywhere.  When my current employer moved to their new office 7 miles away, the first thing I did was to check out potential cycle routes.  Sadly, there is no safe route.  Only the suicidal would cycle the last mile to the office, down a very busy, narrow country road.

What about public transport?  Surely this should be considered before driving?  I’m lucky to live in London, to have the Tube and reasonably reliable bus services.  Public transport is often not an affordable option in the UK.  You’d need a second mortgage to live in Reading and commute by train into work in London.  In other European countries, travelling by train is quick, cheap and reliable.  Sadly, not here, where 3 decades of privatisation have delivered nothing but higher prices, multiple cancellations and delays.  Most of the time, it’s cheaper to fly to Manchester from London than it is to take the train.

6. Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is

Spend wisely.  Don’t complain about climate change and then use toilet paper pulped from virgin wood forests!  Buy recycled.  Consider what is in the products you buy and from where they came.  Don’t buy potatoes shipped from Egypt, if you can get ones grown in Essex.

Buy secondhand and don’t be ashamed about it.  Every antique is at least secondhand - if secondhand is good enough for Lord So-And-So, then it’s good enough for you.

7. Vote

2 billion people are going to the polls this year.  Vote for the candidates who will invest in infrastructure, make public transport affordable for all, change building regulations so that all new builds have solar panel roofs, force water companies to control sewage instead of discharging it into the rivers, etc.  Voting is your chance to choose someone who will do something!

- Pam