CLIMATE CHANGE: THE MOTHER OF ALL PROBLEMS

INSPIRING, MUST READ, THOUGHT-PROVOKING, TRAVEL, USEFUL

I met Sophie aka @trashplastic via DM’s where, over a polite but heated exchange, she made me realise that my ‘enough’ in relation to Climate Change was actually far from it. It wasn’t comfortable to accept, but it was a turning point for me, as I vow to do better. Here she tells us ‘how it is’ and also how we can all make a difference:

    • I’m writing this over the hottest Easter on record.

    • Whilst I can’t deny it’s lovely to hang out in a pub garden and feel warm sunshine on my skin, these days, I find it deeply unsettling.

    • I’m joining the dots.

    • Writing about climate change will not make this a popular list within Clemmie’s brilliant temple of storytelling.

    • This subject challenges so much about what we hold dear. It’s uncomfortable, unfamiliar, and almost unspeakable.

    • This does not make it easy writing for an anxious people-pleaser like me.

    • Where to start?

    • There’s a quote I love by the civil rights activist, Maya Angelou.

    • “Do the best you can, until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”

    • I think this sums up my imperfect story perfectly.

    • I’ve always been a bit ‘ethically minded’.

    • I’ve been vegetarian since I was 16, and (imperfectly) vegan for the past three years.

    • I’ve ‘tried to do my bit’ through the choices I’ve made. But I’m far, far from perfect.

    • And even when (if) you get to the end of this, let me be clear, I’m still not.  

    • But at the end of 2017, something shifted.

    • Whether it was watching Blue Planet, or too much time on the Guardian app, I reached a tipping point where something nudged me from passive ‘Oh, isn’t that terrible’ into ‘This is terrible, I have to do something about it’.

    • “Do the best you can, until you know better.”

    • I’m sure I don’t need to say anything about why plastic is a problem. But there is one much shared stat that sums it up.

    • “By 2050 there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish.”

    • “And when you know better, do better.”

    • So I set a goal. 80% less plastic. It was a number plucked at random. It felt a bit bonkers, but not too bonkers.

    • First, I wanted to get a sense of how bad our plastic problem was. So I saved every bit of plastic we used for a week. I washed it, stashed it, then at the end of the week, tipped it out and had a good rummage.

    • At this point I also had a little cry. I actually thought we were pretty good already – no coffee cups, drinks bottles etc.

    • But – OMG – there was LOADS of it!

    • As uncomfortable as this encounter with my shopping was, it was the best possible way to work out what to do next.

    • When you know where most of your plastic comes from, tackling those thing first will make the most difference.

    • I use this example often: there’s no point  stressing about a deodorant that gets bought every few months, if there are plastic-wrapped bananas in the weekly shop.

    • At least to begin with, do the things that are easy. Get a veg delivery box, switch to a milkman for glass bottle deliveries, get your shampoo/conditioners as solid bars from Lush. And if most of your plastic comes from sodding cat-food pouches (guilty), switch to tins.

    • We reached our goal pretty fast. 80% less plastic. BOOM! And at least half of that was through the easy(ish) swaps we made.

    • The rest of it was harder. But slowly I figured it all out. It took some research – a lot of tracking stuff down. But I was r-e-a-l-l-y driven to make changes.

    • About a month in, friends started asking questions.

    • What do you do about juice? Make-up? Deodorant (always the deodorant)?

    • So I wrote them a massive list. (Gotta love a list, right?)

    • The thought that I could amplify the changes I had made was really exciting. And as I was writing the list, I realised I had found a plastic-free (or less plastic-y) alternative for pretty much e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g.

    • It seemed nuts not to find a way to share all the research that had gone into figuring it out.

    • So I made a website 🙂

    • There was nowhere I could find everything all in one place.

    • There are plenty of ‘eco’ shops and lots of ‘zero-waste’ blogs but no one ‘hub’ where I could learn about how make sustainable changes in all areas at home.

    • And changes that felt ‘normal’ and not like I was going to have to knit my own yogurt.

    • I designed the website to be deliberately filled with optimism and hope. Trash Plastic is – I think – one big silver cloud to the problem of plastic. Look, you CAN make a difference without making a sacrifice!

    • I’ve had countless messages from kind people, telling me about all the positive changes they’ve made as a result of reading it.

    • And that makes me incredibly happy.

    • It’s made the hard work making the site worthwhile.

    • It’s been a real adventure. Never before had I really questioned how I shopped. But I saw it as an opportunity to shake up some things that had become more autopilot than choice.

    • It’s been a journey of baby steps, via highs and lows, but it’s led to some pretty giant (and pleasing) leaps.

    • The biggest surprise has been how much I actually prefer living this way. I feel more connected with the decisions I make – and am genuinely surprised by how many things I like more than the things I did or had before.

    • It just goes to show that whilst we’re creatures of habit, we’re creatures that can change our habits too.

    • But right here, right now, none of this feels like enough.

    • You see, I’ve fallen down a rabbit hole.

    •  
    • A rabbit hole that has an unwelcome beast lurking at the bottom.

    • Climate Change.

    • It turns out that it’s incredibly hard to write about climate change.

    • I’ve written and rewritten the next part of this story so many times!

    • I want you to continue to read this. But getting the balance right between saying it like it is, and saying in a readable way, is proving difficult. I’m still not sure these are the right words.

    • Please stay with me if you can.

    • Like most of us, I’ve known for a long time that there were environmental ‘challenges’ ahead.

    • But, the threats felt abstract and distant.

    • And, if I’m being really honest, the threats felt like things that probably wouldn’t affect me and my family – which now makes me feel somewhat foolish AND deeply ashamed.

    • But I’ve forced myself to face the science.

    • And things don’t look good. In fact, they look pretty-effing terrifying.

    • I’ve also spent time looking for ‘second opinions’. Different reports. Nicer reading. But unless you decide to swim in the pool with conspiracy theorists and deniers, there really isn’t a way to sugarcoat the truth.

    • And that has been a very difficult pill to swallow.

    • “Do the best that you can, until you know better.”

    • I have to do more! I am a mama. I am a lioness. I have to fight for the future I want for my girls.

    • When E.B. and Josie are older, I have to be able to look them in the eyes and say I did all that I could. I have to be able tell them that as soon as I knew, I acted.

    • The uncomfortable truth is that it’s the relentless pursuit of ‘more’ that is driving this bus.

    • It’s the bogus ‘business as usual’ story we’re told that economic growth can be compatible with reducing emissions.

    • It’s the false-hope that we can maintain the status-quo AND fix this mess.

    • We can’t.

    • Every bit of data modelling shows that to be impossible.

    • If the global economy continues to shoot for 3% growth, it’s also shooting for 3-degrees – and fast. And this is the stuff of nightmares.

    • I’ve historically had faith in the institutions that are here to look after us.

    • I’ve trusted that whoever is in Government would at least keep us safe.

    • I never, for one minute, imagined that if we were facing something like this, that it would be treated as item 11 on an agenda of 10 things.

    • But when 3% growth is the only North Star, ‘this’ is what happens.

    • We can’t wait for our useless Government to pull their collective fingers out their collective arses (eugh, sorry).

    • We’re so far off our emissions targets (don’t believe the rhetoric – it’s all creative accounting).

    • And don’t even get me started on the rest of this shit-list

    • The opening up of new North Sea oil fields.

    • The approval of fracking.

    • The expansion of Heathrow.

    • The enormous subsidies to the fossil fuel giants.

    • The investments in new coal plants in developing countries.

    • The refusal to divest public money out of fossil fuel funds.

    • And the removal of subsidies for renewable energies.  

    • Our children’s future is being sold for the price of an election win. Profit and power before planet, every time.

    • Fuck that!

    • Einstein said “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.”

    • So in same way as I did with my plastic, I’ve been rummaging through my carbon, as it were.

    • It’s easy to think of this in terms of energy suppliers and travel choices, but our carbon footprint is hiding in EVERYTHING we buy, everything we eat, and everything we do.

    • We all have a carbon budget, based on the emissions targets outlined in the Paris Climate Accord. There is a good footprint calculator on the WWF website.

    • If you use it, don’t try and trick it – it’s not My Fitness Pal 😉

    • As a vegan, who’s living ‘low waste’ with energy supplied by Bulb, who’s cut *back* on flying – I didn’t think I’d have *that* much work to do.

    • But as I (honestly) answered the multiple choice questions, it began to sink in that I was still living a life that was contributing a shitload more to the problem than I wanted to admit.

    • “Have you bought a new piece of furniture in the last year?” (Yup) “How much do you spend on food from cafes and restaurants?” (too much) “How much do you spend on clothes?” (again, too much). I could go on.

    • I spent a bit of time dicking about with the questions – answering them differently to see how I could ‘live within my CARBON budget’ (which I think is a really powerful way to reframe our choices.)

    • There were lots of things I learnt I could do differently.

    • But the biggest thing I realised, was that I was just going to just have to buy less STUFF!

    • And there is one little-big word in that last sentence that’s the key to it all.

    • The same word that’s been my mantra with Trash Plastic.  

    • The word is less.

    • Less #yolo less #fomo less #ootd less #livingmybestlife less #whatiworetoday. Less craving, less comparing, less consuming, less buying. Less fast fashion, less single use anything. Less meat, less dairy, less plastic, less waste. Less flying, less driving, less stuff.

    • Because the bonkers thing is, there is masses of scientific evidence that shows that embracing ‘less’ would actually make us HAPPIER.

    • That by appreciating what we already have, that by living with less clutter, that by slowing down, being more mindful, choosing carefully, finding joy in small pleasures and real human interactions, we would be MORE, not LESS, fulfilled.

    • Less stuffication = more happiness

    • It’s a no brainer when you think about it. We’ve just all been tricked into thinking otherwise by that 3% North Star.

    • When I said that living with less plastic had been an adventure, that it had been a chance to shake-up some shit that had become more autopilot than choice, I feel it here too.

    • I feel excited by the changes we’re making. I feel driven to do right by the planet, but also a huge sense of relief in stepping back from the relentless pursuit of keeping up with the Kardashian-Joneses.

    • I don’t think I realised how much I was craving a simpler life.

    • I don’t think I realised it until I stood on Oxford Street one day and just watched.

    • Try it. It’s nuts.

    • I have more than enough. And from now on, I will try not to take more than my share.

    • Right. Back to our useless Government.

    • I’ve never been much of an activist before.

    • But right now, it feels like there is no other way to be.

    • You would have to have been living under a rock to have not seen the powerful speeches by Greta Thunberg, the incredible 16 year-old who left her childhood behind to try to force grown-ups to act.

    • She has inspired millions of other children to rise up and fight for their futures. And her language is crystal clear. “We need to act as if our house is on fire. Because it is.”

    • I’ve been at the school strikes in London with my girls. And being there makes me humbled and hopeful – but also incredibly ashamed.

    • Our children have contributed nothing toward climate change, yet they will be the ones to bear the brunt of the impacts.

    • This is nonsense. Solving this problem should not rest on their small shoulders alone.

    • This is our mess and we should be the ones to clean it up!

    • You would have also have had to have been living under a rock to not know about Extinction Rebellion.

    • I got involved at the end of last year.

    • Extinction Rebellion was also born out of despair at the monumental failing of governments around the world to address the threat of climate change.

    • They believe that the only way to force this into our consciousness, and onto governments’ agendas, is to cause a bit of trouble.

    • Because nothing else has worked has it? Petitions? Marches? Nope, nada.

    • So ‘peaceful-civil-disobedience’ is perhaps the only thing that will.

    • History would agree. Look at The Civil Rights Movement or the Suffragettes.

    • They didn’t just sit around sharing Facebook posts.

    • And you know what, it’s working!

    • “Sorry for the inconvenience, but I don’t know what else to do.” AKA my favourite placard at Oxford Circus.

    • This is not a mob of trustafarian crusties, as some papers would have you think.

    • This a powerful movement filled with people like me – people like us. Mother, fathers, grandparents, kids. Teachers, designers, engineers, construction workers, stay-at-home dads.

    • No-one wants to be doing this. We are doing it because we feel we have no choice.

    • The ‘rebellion’ over Easter in London was incredible. From near obscurity, to the lead story in news-outlets, all over the world.

    • And whether you agree with the tactics or not, it has propelled climate change into the conversation in a way that’s just never happened before.

    • It feels like people are finally beginning to understand that a bit of disruption to their daily commute will be NOTHING compared to the disruption of climate change.

    • This uprising has filled me with me more hope that I’ve felt in a while.

    • Knowing that together we CAN do big things. That people power works.

    • So we now stand at a crossroads, mamas.

    • A moment in history where we need to make a choice.

    • Are we going to let our children fight alone for their futures, or are we going to do something too?

    • Let’s be there for each other – support and encourage. Let’s face the facts, then share what we learn. Let’s share our ideas, share what works, what doesn’t, what might. Let’s cheer on progress. Let’s (gently) call things out that we think could be changed. Let’s allow for imperfection. Let’s rally the troops, let’s shout from the rooftops. Let’s make some mother-freakin’ noise!

    • But most of all, let’s just do the best that we can, until we know better. Then when we know better, do better.

    • Because everything we hold dear is at stake.

    • Thanks for listening. I’m off to drink a large gin.

    Some links….

 

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4 Comments

  • Reply Julia Morris April 27, 2019 at 8:33 am

    Sobbing again; but not feeling hopeless- thank you – I will do my best

    • Reply Sarah Reed April 28, 2019 at 12:15 pm

      Thank you for sharing.
      I often feel anxious and on the verge of a panic attack at the thought of climate change and the mess the planet is in.
      A few times I have sat close to tears in despair at the blatant disregard of the issue by our own government and wanting to do something about it but not knowing where to start. Watching Climate Change: The Facts with the trusted David Attenborough with my husband has helped bring him round to my thinking on the importance of doing what we can to help. We have only just started in our journey, with bamboo toothbrushes and going vegan a few times a week, but that’s nothing. It’s not enough.
      I will check out your website for further direction. Thank you for enabling me to act so that I can look my children in the eyes and say that I honestly did the best I could for them. Doing nothing is not an option. I love them and value nature enough to make a stand and make the changes necessary. For them. For us. For our future.

  • Reply Baron April 27, 2019 at 9:26 pm

    Well written and certainly a valid stance.

    There are a few things that I would challenge and would be interested in your feedback.

    no economic growth:
    Aiming for this for rich Western countries is feasible for a few years but countries where through incompetent governments they experience a real reduction in their GDP does not look too attractive. The likes of Venezuela or Argentina have people feeding from bins and have a very small carbon footprint but a terrible life.

    Chad and southern Sudan are almost the only countries in the world who are carbon nuteral. Not convinced that any wants their countries to emulate their lifestyles.

    On the incompetent government / not doing anything:
    I think that there had been real progress in the last 20 years with offshore windfarms, solar power, closing of coal power station’s, electric cars, carbon taxes, investment in rail, stopping building new roads, cleaning of rivers,etc etc. It’s slow and could be faster but their is always a balance of economics and competition for tax budgets.

    I feel that without China and India (4billion) really having any interest in slowing their development and desire for what we in the west already have climate change is inevitable. Rather than get angry or upset, or make people feel guilty I believe that we have to get on and focus on solutions to cope with the inevitable impacts that climate change will have.

  • Reply suzie elkerton May 2, 2019 at 2:23 pm

    YES!!! Hell to the yeah! This is exactly how I felt and where I am with everything eco/plastic/climate change. I’m trying my best but know I need to do more (e.g. we don’t take many flights but now I wonder if I should ever fly again? So hard when dear friends and family live abroad). Also starting to try more vegan meals (just bought some vegan cookbooks and signed up to AllPlants after watching “Cowspiracy”). The main thing I struggle with is food shopping – with two working parents and two kids, finding the time to go to zero waste shops is nigh on impossible. That said I’ve started buying things in glass bottles etc where I can, and I’ve started collating unrecyclable plastic to make eco bricks – the main difficulty being we don’t buy large plastic bottles to stuff with plastic!!

    It’s can be tough but once you start looking at what you buy and become more conscious, it becomes slightly easier. It’s all about better, wiser, more educated choices. And yes – losing the desire for more stuff.

    Thank you for this ‘list’ – it really resonated with me. Thanks Sophie! 🙂

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