For 3 months I volunteered on game reserves in South Africa, intensively monitoring populations of the endangered African wild dog and seeing first hand the effects of the region’s worst drought in 60 years. Now I’m home I want to help fight climate change, and with recent political changes my wife and I are doubling down on our efforts.
We have sought to change our lifestyle to a greener one as a first step; one that reduces emissions, one that is sustainable, one that is ecological. This has been rewarding, but we have also been dismayed by how difficult it can be.
Something that gives an immediate benefit is a switch to a low-emissions diet. Choosing food that takes less energy to produce, and choosing items that don’t need to travel as far to get to us.
This means we’re:
- eating less meat, especially beef
- buying locally (Brighton makes that easy)
- buying leftover food from Brighton’s Junk Food Project, food that is otherwise destined for waste
- buying locally made bakery items without palm oil
- trying out more sustainable loo roll
These are positive changes, but it’s difficult to measure their effectiveness.
Making emissions-based decisions on food is difficult. We ask questions like: Does beef produced locally in the UK lead to fewer emissions than imported pork? Do shellfish from Thailand hurt the environment as much as farmed salmon from Scotland? What affect does packaging have? Crucially, how much difference is there between the environmental impact of one thing and another thing?
Multiply these questions for everything and the plan is soon abandoned. I can make assumptions, but I don’t know enough about the food industry to validate them. There is no clear indicator displaying the emissions or environmental impact of a product. Trying to eliminate unsustainable palm oil from our diet was impossible. Trying to determine what kind of milk – dairy or any of the alternatives – is most ecological is a multi-variate minefield.
It’s hard to positively change behaviour without having easily available data to inform your decisions.
How do we make ecology based buying decisions normal?
We’re throwing out less, re-using more and recycling whatever we can. That old “reduce, reuse and recycle”, with a bit of fixing stuff too.
This means we’re:
- using community composting services, our waste doesn’t travel far
- using less water
- preferring goods without packaging
- re-filling containers (cleaning products, food, etc)
- using re-usable cups for take-away coffee
- using our own bags
- reusing wrapping paper by replacing tape with string
- reusing cards and envelopes as scrap paper for notes
- making regular shopping trips (walking) to buy only what we need
- recycling plastic, cardboard, metal and glass
- fixing old clothes
- reducing junk mail by registering with Royal Mail to cancel all unaddressed mail
We want to compost more. Local council waste services don’t take compost. We’ve joined local composting initiatives but these don’t take all food waste; cooked food, carbohydrates, meat and sugary items aren’t composted as they attract rodents – they still end up in landfill. Rats.
Joining a community scheme takes effort. In central London where I work it’s impossible to compost food waste.
How do we make composting the default?
We’re using measurably less energy by being vigilant, and we get all our electricity from a 100% renewable source.
My wife and I both have long commutes, upwards of an hour each way (by train, and by car). We’re reducing emissions by working from home more often and driving more efficiently (slower, less far).
We want to switch to an electric car, but we’ll have nowhere to charge it. We can use on-road parking or our flat’s private car park, neither have chargers. There are subsidies for installing car chargers, but we have nowhere to put one. We’re pursuing putting chargers in our private car park with the local committee, but aren’t hopeful. I can’t imagine how Brighton will make the switch from petrol cars to electric ones without significant investment in communal chargers.
How do we make it easy for anyone to charge their electric car?
Going green isn’t just about living sustainably, it’s also about protecting green spaces, wildlife habitats and our wilderness. We’ve started regular donations to organisations that do that hard work:
By changing our own lives we’ve discovered many things that make it difficult to go green. There’s a lot of difficult to answer questions.
To find ways to answer these questions, and to get more context I’ve started some focused study on climate change. I’m beginning with: