Thursday, December 31, 2009
So let’s look at the oversimplification of climate science. Two years ago few people knew what a carbon footprint was, but now it has become so ubiquitous that I even saw a man in Westfield shopping centre yesterday wearing a sweatshirt that said, “keep your carbon footprint low dude”. Some might say that this means that the message is getting across, but I bet if I’d asked that man what his footprint was he wouldn’t know. What we – the communications people – have done by reducing a complex science down to neat digestable messages and "top tips for what to do" is create this simple equation:
man-made stuff = carbon emissions = 2 cm sea level rise in 2050
By essentially editing out great swathes of scientific information we have made it easy for people to believe or deny that equation. If we broadened it to reflect the actual components of the environmental situation, it might look more like this:
Growth of mass production and consumption of commercial products, livestock, food, transport, services, minerals, etc + population growth = Deforestation + acidification of oceans + mass agriculture + species loss + peak oil, etc = Pollution, greenhouse gases, unstable international relations, war, poverty, extreme weather events, flooding, etc.
Because the true picture is systemic: whether we like it or not, man is a species that sits within – not outside of – the eco-system which in itself is entirely interdependent. Noone would deny the dependence of plants on bees for pollination or animals on plants for oxygen, but too often we take ourselves – man – out of the system altogether which in turn enables us to deny that our actions make any impact at all.
By simplyifying our impact into a short equation about carbon emissions, we further distance people from the multi-species holistic eco-system that we live in and we make “man” the villain and "earth" the victim. This of course polarises people into “for” and “against” camps because who, other than bleeding heart liberals like me, wants to admit to being the villain? So by oversimplifying a complex problem into a digestable message, we therefore make it possible to deny the existence of an environmental crisis altogether. And the media then sees it as an argument with two sides and TV producers can make films called “the Great Global Warming Swindle”, and silly people like James May and Peter Hitchens get air time on BBC 1 and Radio Four to say “I don’t believe in man-made global warming” like it is a cult or something.
Climate change in itself has become an easily thrown about soundbite with the polar bear as its charismatic mascot. In this oversimplification, we no longer look at man’s actual impact on the environment, but rather we choose between the option of man = villain or man = hero, and select which side of this totally unscientific binary argument we sit on. It’s not hard to understand where climate change denial comes from when you look at it like that. Even I'd rather be a hero than a villain.
Thursday, December 17, 2009
Firstly, the gifts. There’ll be no new toys from Santa this year. But that doesn’t mean there won’t be toys at all. Senan is at that lovely age when the marketers haven’t got to him yet – at 18 months old he has yet to be swayed by the mantra that new is best and he’s fine with all his plastic gear being second hand. While there is no truer statement than “if you give a toddler a big plastic toy, he will get more entertainment out of the cardboard box”, sadly for me my son really LOVES brightly coloured plastic toys too, and so our home is far from plastic tat-free. My way of justifying this is to ensure it is second-hand. We have lots of great friends and neighbours with kids who are delighted for us to take their old toys off their hands and even better, we have a great charity shop for kids nearby (Fara Kids, http://www.faracharityshops.org) where I can pick up good-as-new toys cheaply and then take them back to the shop when he grows out of them for them to sell them on again – recycling and charitable giving all bundled into one!
Then there is the art of re-gifting. Trust me, this has to be done artfully. Regifting (ie. giving an unwanted gift away to someone else) has been a tradition in our family at Christmas since I was small, so I am not offended if I get back what I gave to my mother last year, but this will certainly not be the case for everyone. Here’s how to do it right...
1. Have a bag set aside for the gifts that you don’t really want or need.
2. After everyone has gone home and the home made thank you cards have gone out, audit the gifts into two piles, those that will make great gifts for others and those that can go to charity now
3. In the “go to others” pile, list who gave you what so as to avoid the mortification of giving it back to them next year
4. Keep the list with the items so you can refer to it next year.
Regifting doesn’t just have to be things that you received as gifts. I won a raffle this year – what a bonus – now I know what my husband is getting! The golden rule for re-gifting is never re-gift rubbish, just the stuff that is nice, but just not quite your taste.
Then of course there’s food and drink. We aim to get a local veg box delivery pre-Christmas and cook a free range turkey the Jamie Oliver way. There will undoubtedly be delicious additions from my family who are joining us for lunch – but local and seasonal is the goal for us all. Our neighbours will also be home this Christmas (emissions from air travel must go right down during a recession!), so we are flinging our doors open for some homespun cheer throughout the festive season. Mulled wine and mince pies for everyone – oh and some of that lovely chutney Mum made last summer.
And finally, our tree... Some might say that reusability is the only thing a plastic tree has going for it, given that it is likely to be made from polyvinyl chloride. However, with reforestation numbers not stacking up I am proud that we are reusing the plastic tree that my parents bought in 1972 and have had in their house every Christmas since then. My mother, the queen of posh bargain shopping bought this now 37-year old treasure from the Harrods window one snowy Christmas eve. They gave her the baubles too, and we still have them now. A good plastic tree can last lifetimes, so we are committed to reusing this baby for many years to come.
Calculating our impact.
After Christmas we’ll do a triple bottom line review of Christmas (oh yes we will, we’re nerds like that!) to see how well we did on minimising our impact. Watch this space to see if our measures for a low impact Christmas really stacked up on the day.
Monday, December 7, 2009
I was vegetarian for 23 years, but I did eat fish and eggs. This was mainly because I became vegetarian when I was nine and my mum worried that all I got for protein in my school dinners was a lump of cheese. I also didn’t really think of fish in the same way I did other animals, and as I was a sucker for a cute cow’s big brown eyes or the fluffy tail of a rabbit, the idea of eating them was totally unpalatable.
I made it through my teens and twenties without succumbing to a bacon buttie as so many veggies do, but then in my thirties a couple of things happened: I started to think about fish differently and I got pregnant.
The fish thing came first. I read a book called “Cod, the fish that changed the world” and began to comprehend the sheer decimation of the world’s fish stocks. Suddenly my tunafish sandwich habit felt utterly incongruent with my vision for a sustainable planet. So I decided I needed to eat less fish, and make sure I knew a lot more about the fish that I did consume. At the same time I started eating chicken, which seems odd, but I felt I needed a protein replacements (real veggies would call me lightweight I know!)
Then I got up the duff and alongside feeling DREADFUL, I also felt a compulsion to eat more meat. So I even tried (organic, local) beef, bacon and sausages. And ever since then I have been trying to wean myself off them for good. It’s as bad as fags though, you do get a craving.
So rather than chastise myself forever, I have embraced the concept of flexitarianism. I try to eat very little meat. I avoid my four legged friends altogether as they are largely responsible for rainforest landtake and methane emissions. My chicken habit is still pretty large I guess, but I always go for organic free range, and sustainable sourcing is key to eating fish. Paul Macartney’s idea for a meat free Monday even means that my red blooded Irish husband refrains from digging in to the rashers on a Monday – and in the grand scheme of things, I hope that makes a difference.
The moral of this tale, is that there is room for more than one type of diet when we are try to do our bit for the environment. Being a considerate flexitarian does not necessarily mean that you lack commitment, it just makes you an omnivore.