Before the big crash in 2008 the single largest trend impacting on consumer and economic thinking was environmentalism. Everyone was jumping on the green bandwagon, remember Al Gore’s 2006 docu-movie The Inconvenient Truth setting the tone? Gore, a long-term environmentalist, was remarkably quiet on the issue as Vice-President, so when he found himself out of a job (having actually beaten Bush the US presidential race) he didn’t so much jump on as start driving the bandwagon. Reduce, Reuse, Recycle was the slogan on everyone’s lips and new environmental legislation and consulting companies were popping up all over the place. Then the banks failed and the speed of change and importance of sustainability in the news and political agenda seemed to slow. When the money in your pocket is under threat, many people saw environmentalism as a luxury we can’t afford.
Despite the lower profile there has been progress on the macro scale from the Kyoto Protocol coming into force in 2005 to last year’s Paris Agreement and on the micro scale with brown recycling bins, recycling centres popping up everywhere, the plastic bag charge and the trend in vintage clothing that even resulted in top fashion designers launching vintage inspired ranges pret-a-faux-verdure, as the French would probably never say.
However, it’s not enough. Maybe the world is hardier than environmentalists fear and we are a long way from the ecological tipping point and can afford to go this slowly. But the trouble is that we may be fast approaching an ecological disaster and that life on earth will have to change dramatically if we are to survive as a race. We just don’t know, no one does.
Here’s my take. If the climate deniers are correct, if we act now and it was unnecessary, we won’t look back and regret all that waste recycling we did, and all the CO2 and other pollutants we didn’t need to reduce and say “what a shame”. We will just know “it was the right thing to do”. However, if we do nothing and the worst case scenario environmentalists are right, then we won’t be able to look back at all because most of us and our descendants will be dead. It’s not a hard decision is it?
Usually that’s my cue to complain about Westminster reductions in wind farm grants, the painfully slow investment in tidal and wave energy, the white elephant that is Hinckley Point, and or another one of my calls for better cycle lanes. But I want to do something different because I self identify as a environmentalist, and even if I can’t change the world, I have taken small steps to change my world and so here is how I continued to reduce my carbon footprint and also what the side benefits have been.
The first and most transformative change I made was to get rid of my car and commit to cycling and public transport. For several years now I have cycled to work (when practical) and as well as being a huge carbon footprint reducer has saved me around £40 a week versus public transport and £1500 in car parking space rental. I have lost a stone and half and am much healthier and fitter. I know it rains in Scotland, but you are waterproof and your clothes can be too.
Anyone can change their lightbulbs to fluorescent energy savers – it’s a small CO2 saving but might knock between £30 and £50 off your electricity bills.
Other small things include my move from plastic bottled soaps and shower gels to hard soaps that last ages, and especially traditional wet shaving which saves bundles on wasteful and not very good canned foam. Lots of other smaller impact behaviours include washing clothes at 30 degrees and hanging laundry out when ever we can.
I don’t buy or drink bottled water, its expensive and comes out of your tap for free, and so most days I carry a litre of water to work (it’s easy if you cycle).
We keep the house colder and wear cardies or hoodies if we need to be warmer and that’s also cut more than £100 off of our heating bill. I stopped sending Christmas and birthday cards, people like a call, text or Facebook message of an old-school picture far better.
Ready meals don’t cross our door, we cook from scratch every night and minimise food waste to only eggshells and peels. If you think the council’s food waste bags are expensive, just put your food waste straight from a tub into the brown bin. We capture all cooking fat in a tin which stops it going down the drain, but I want to find way to recycle it and a cooking fat collection service would be viable if more people did that. I unplug all chargers from the walls and switch off all gadgets, which estimate may save up to £30 a year.
You will regularly see me wearing vintage clothing. My 1970s checked jacket I wore to party once had a fashion designer friend of mine bet it cost me £500 but it was only £10.
I was once told my vintage Barbour jacket was worth £200 and I only paid £30 for it. Fashion shopping is boring but vintage shopping becomes a hobby! And that reminds me, I only buy quality clothes – everything I wear lasts for years. I have a 20-year-old pair of Camper shoes that my son steals because they’re so trendy.
Everyone should already be paying attention to energy efficient appliances and have full cavity wall insulation but even deciding to block every draft in your house can cut CO2 and save you money.
So what do I struggle with? Cycling on a cold or windy day – sure. Eating less meat – yes to begin with but not anymore. Buying locally produced farmers market veg when the supermarket is so fast and easy and even delivers. Stumping up for solar panels – for sure, and the movement sensors in the office leave us in the dark when you don’t get up for five minutes.
However, all of this has made me more environmentally aware and committed, it has made me fitter and healthier and probably saves me nearly £2000 a year on how I previously lived. Soon I will have bees, you watch!