In June, I signed up to plastic free July. I have been doing my best to reduce what I can in our house and felt like I needed more help. I hoped for more advice and the sporadic emails did contain a lot of support on how to reduce this menace that affects our wildlife and the rapid decline of the world around us. I’ve changed my habits, gaining new insights on alternatives and best practice (buying in bulk to save on wrappers), that it’s powerful to say no to plastic and that whilst we may feel victorious about recycling, it’s our rubbish which is sat in illegal dumps in Malaysia, festering and causing as much damage as landfill does. The best way to stop plastic is to avoid it.
It got me thinking about childlessness and our impact.
The troubling narrative I’ve seen in parts of our community is that we’re excused of eco crimes because we have no next generation and, more disturbing is that we’re doing our bit because we’re not having children, mixing up the narrative between childfree and not by choice. If you’ve endured the heatwave that’s spread across Europe this year, watched water levels drop last summer or seen photos of polar bears stranded on melting ice flows, then be certain that this isn’t about the next generation.
This is us, right now.
In a great article on taking responsibility, Nell Frizell wrote in The Guardian says ‘You may want to deny the climate emergency, you may want to hang on to the luxury and irresponsibility that denial allows.’
For me that means looking at my Plan B. Like many of us, I put travel on my list. I also put great food after years of being a low fat guru thanks to IVF. I thought about a second home too and a vintage car. I am now seriously evaluating this plan and I wanted to explain why our global climate breakdown means we all need to take responsibility for our carbon footprints. I’ve got a lot to learn, my current bug bear is my car and battery disposal of electric and hybrid cars which seems very complicated. It’s easy to keep old habits and avoid the overwhelming fear of impossibility that engaging with climate emergency can bring about. Then there’s the observations of my husband who is critical of our new loo roll supplier, Cheeky Panda (!) I still want a happy life on this Earth, and with that in mind, I hope you will be inspired to read on.
Reducing food miles
I have increased my vegan days but that alone is not enough since vegan food can have an impact on food miles. I look at the ingredients and check their source, read about their local impact (in 2018, Kenya banned the export of avocados as Western demand put supply at risk and out priced it for those living in the country). A local, seasonal veg box delivered by an electric van helps us get back in touch with the seasons. I’ve always supported local growing thanks to my dad having an allotment and there’s nothing more rewarding than a glut of veggies. Sharing with neighbours or friends brings connections I’d never make otherwise.
I’ve mostly avoided supermarkets in the past as I find them miserably busy, loud and anonymous places. Fortunately I can cycle to local shops and a market for good quality food in paper bags. It may take longer but.. and I say this with caution… I don’t have children so I have a little more time to do that. With two of us, a bike basket is more than enough and there’s space for refill cleaning products if I need them.
By far the biggest impact you can make if you aren’t keen on going completely veggie is to avoid waste. According to the Years Project, if food waste was a country, it would be the third biggest polluter. Look for a community fridge if you have excess food.
Yes it sounds like a big deal. It is. It feels tedious but I’m engaging with food, and cooking meals that taste all the better for the ingredients not being stuck in a supermarket cold store for weeks on end, after they’ve travelled half the planet to get there. It’s rather good to know that the apples I eat come 4 miles from my home, the leeks even closer and I’ve become more confident. I feel I’ve earned the right to say I created meal, not threw it at the stove and hoped for the best. Even better, the food bill has halved.
Changing Plan B for Flight Free (and cruise free)
One long haul return flight can produce more carbon dioxide per passenger than the average UK motorist in one year. (The Responsible Traveller)
A tonne of shipping fuel contains 0.85 tonnes of carbon, which produces 3.1 tonnes of carbon dioxide when it is burnt. Every passenger is responsible for 9.1 tonnes of emissions. (Guardian, 2006)
By 2050 we need to reduce our personal carbon footprint to 1.5 per person to make an impact on global warming. (Shrink that Footprint, 2019)
It may be tempting to look at travel as a reward for the freedom that childlessness not by choice brings. I know I have. To book retreats in far flung places and think we’ve earned the right to go there because of our backstory without thinking that what we may demand as an essential is closer to home. We might conclude that one change (no children perhaps) offsets another and it’s okay to ‘spend’ 9.1 tonnes to ease the heartbreak by exploring the world. Cruises actually do a lot more damage than 9.1 tonnes of carbon, many have been found lapsing on other areas of ecological welfare from dumping dangerous plastic at sea, which is often fatal to sea life, and pay scan regard to investing in local tourism.
We are no longer living in a world where we can exchange grief for freedom to travel and not consider the impact that we have on our planet. When I’ve seen another thread about travel, or holidays in far flung places I might well query it. My personal view is that it’s better to have productive conversations in our online platforms so we can learn from each other. I’ve often cited carbon offsetting as a compromise (the idea is that we can buy trees or plants to offset our carbon load through different schemes) as a way to give back to the planet, but I’ve realised I’m wrong to do so.
A physicist at Cambridge University explained that carbon offsetting isn’t working. He explained that ‘the emissions emitted by a flight will remain for generations and offsetting schemes do not generally offset for the same amount of time. By far the best solution is to only travel by plane or ship when there is no alternative.’
None of us have a right to fuel this climate emergency because our souls urge us to travel in a way that impacts on our futures. I’m looking forward to train trips (my quest is to travel on as many overnight sleeper trains as I can), enjoy my daily cycle rides and explore the hidden wonders of my own country. We have much on our doorstep, so let’s celebrate it. And as for that bucket list, wouldn’t it be good to have a planet on which to have those dreams?
Being fashion eco-conscious
Every second, the equivalent of one garbage truck of textiles is landfilled or burned. If nothing changes, by 2050 the fashion industry will use up a quarter of the world’s carbon budget. (Unenvironment)
That scary stat got me to dig out my sewing machine. I’m hopeless to be honest but I’ve found a few classes (and yes, encounter some mums but it’s amazing how loud a sewing machine is!) I started rag rug making to use up scraps of material (you can adapt rag rugs to make snuffle mats for pets) . I also donate clothes, go swishing, buy second hand and saved well over £1k over two years by doing all this which was as rewarding as it was horrific. I realised that I bought clothes to feel better but the changes to my diet and my health made a bigger impact than yet another pair of shoes.
My choices have to change because I don’t have an entitlement to those things by virtue of my loss. Nobody does. The biggest loss is that of our planet and quality of life for all. I mentioned earlier that we may stick with old habits. We might want to turn off the news too but we’ve faced so much as a community. Our tribe has been through so much heartbreak and we’ve brought change already, from podcasts, to books, articles in the media that invoke thought. We can do this again and we’re in a great place to show that we, just like parents, have an important place in the future of our planet.
Extinction Rebellion, an activist movement that seeks to challenge governments and policy makers globally
Unenvironment on fashion waste and schemes that reduce it
Moral Fibers blog on affordable ethical fashion
Hugh’s War on Plastic (with tips on how to reduce it)
Responsible travel, advice on being a planet friendly explorer
Toilet Rolls, The Ethical Consumer (well worth joining for sensible advice)
This Ragged Life for rag rug lessons
The Full Circle Shop in Cambridge offers refills
World Wildlife Fund wildlife conservation and endangered species
World Animal Protection against animal cruelty with advice on ethical tourism too.
Oceans Unite on plastic soup pollution
George Mobiot, a great journalist and writer on planet change.
There Is No Planet B by Mike Bearers-Lee, a great resource on alternatives
Tonic, our new energy supplier who only source from renewable suppliers
*Article edited 27th July