Like many people, my awareness of climate catastrophe, and a feeling that we need to act now to mitigate it as far as possible, has rocketed over the past couple of years. Obviously I don’t have the answers, but the conclusion I am coming to is that as well as pressuring politicians and big corporations to make the high level changes necessary at a global level we all need to do more of doing less. Less because the planet simply cannot cope with an ever increasing population doing more and more.
Some of these ‘lesses’, to be honest, suit my personality quite well. I read a Facebook thread recently where people discussed their laundry habits, and was horrified to read of people washing their towels after a single use, washing every single item of clothing after a single wear whether it was dirty or not, washing throws and cushion covers every week. I have never washed at this level, but I am trying to be even more mindful about it. To be honest, with a 4 yo who is obsessed with the mud kitchen at nursery, pretty much everything she wears really does need washing after a single use. But she wears those muddy clothes for the whole day, and I ignore the funny looks I sometimes get from other parents at the playground who are clearly wondering how I can let my child out like that. Less washing is good. Less ironing is almost impossible, because how do you reduce on zero, but my husband has pretty much stopped ironing his work shirts by hanging that day’s shirt in the bathroom while we both have our morning showers, and letting the creases drop out in the steam.
Another less that suits my laziness is less of some types of gardening – leaving piles of leaves to make a nest for our resident hedgehog, and some weeds for the bees and butterflies to appreciate.
Eating less meat isn’t that much of a problem for me. I was vegetarian for a few years as a teenager, and although I have been a meat eater again for many years it is a nice-to-have rather than an essential. I am taking our family down a flexitarian route whereby we make 80% of our meals vegetarian, and concentrate on very small amounts of strong flavoured meat such as pancetta or chorizo to add flavour to a predominantly vegetables and grains based meal.
Driving less is a big one for lots of people, but again, this is where I have a headstart because I never have driven and we don’t own a car. Living within walking distance of most amenities and London’s excellent public transport network means that there isn’t much need to.
Less flying is something I struggle with. I love to travel, and have so many places on my bucket list. We are flying to Italy this summer, although we will travel round by train once we are there, and when we went to the Highlands for our Easter break we went by sleeper train. Next summer we are hoping to take advantage of the fact that European inter-rail passes are free for the under 12s and have a family inter-rail trip before our eldest turns 12 the following spring.
I don’t want to commit to no meat and no flying, but I am happy with trying for less.
In general I am trying to buy less. This is hard for me, because although I really want to pursue an environmentally friendly (not to mention thrifty) lifestyle, I am also a bit of an avid consumer and I love shopping for new clothes for me and the girls, or nice bits for the house. The Saturdays of my teens and twenties which I spent mooching round the shops may have passed, but in the intervening years internet shopping has become a thing. It is all too easy to decide I want/need something, click the mouse a few times, and it turns up 24 hours later. And although I try not to spend too much money, I am a bit of a sucker for special offers or a little treat for the children from somewhere like Poundland.
I had a year of buying nothing new, which was actually really brilliant, and I am moving back to that lifestyle as far as possible. I am also trying to make the ‘nothing new’ locally based, through the Walthamstow Sell or Swap Facebook group, or charity shops. I am also trying to ‘make do and mend’ and think what we already have which could be pressed into fresh service, before automatically buying new. We have massively reduced our use of paper towels by re-purposing old baby muslins for mopping up spills, acting as informal napkins or wiping sticky fingers.
What I am quite irritated about at the moment is articles promoting so-called eco alternatives which actually turn out to be about more rather than less. Plastic bottles, for instance. I am making a real effort to take refillable bottles out with me and not to buy plastic bottles of mineral water. I’ve only slipped up on one occasion so far this summer. Our refillable bottles are plastic. I recently heard someone boasting about their eco-credentials by saying that they have binned their plastic bottles and bought metal ones. This seems totally insane – by all means replace a worn-out plastic bottle with a metal one when the time comes, but discarding something that does the job in favour of ‘more’ buying seems crazy. An article in the Guardian a couple of weekends ago advocated replacing plastic tupperware with metal containers. Again, possibly a great idea when those containers wear out or, inevitably, their lids get lost, but don’t replace them unnecessarily, however green the alternative might be. Replacing less – whether that be a perfectly good kitchen albeit one that isn’t quite the style you like or a winter coat that isn’t the latest fashion is probably another green move we all need to make more.
Some of this is nothing new anyway. I may have grown up in the decadent consumerist 1980s, but I remember my dad re-using plastic wrappers such as bread bags to wrap our packed lunch sandwiches, planting his seeds in old toilet rolls and watering the garden in summer with bath or washing up water.
What do you think? Has recent publicity about the extent of the climate change emergency inspired you to be more green? Are you doing less of some things and more of others?