Why I don’t use a re-usable coffee cup

coffee.jpeg

To me, sustainable living is also about slow living.

Yesterday I had a coffee with a new acquaintance at The RSA (The Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce) where I am a Fellow. My new contact is Italian and she told me that when a big brand chain of coffee shops recently opened in Italy, they missed the opportunity to avoid single use take-away coffee cups. And what a massive, missed opportunity! The coffee culture in Italy may not always involve a long sitting down and chatting over your cappuccino, but even if in a rush the espresso is had swiftly and elegantly from a porcelain cup. Introducing the single-use take-away cup is in my view very inconvenient. It takes a second to form a bad habit and much longer to change it for a good one.

As many as 2.5 billion paper coffee cups are thrown away in the UK each year – and just one in 400 cups is recycled as it is difficult to separate their plastic coating and cardboard to recycle the card.

This morning I responded to a survey that a group of MSc students at Cambridge University are undertaking. The survey was about re-usable coffee cups and whether people were using these or not and if not, why not? This is why I have now committed to a vow – to actually not buy a re-usable coffee cup.

Hang on a minute, am I not contradicting myself here? Well, no, because to me sustainable living is also about slowing down. Some call it slow living. I, we, rush trough life, things need to happen, fast, quickly; bam, bam, bam. And I must admit that I am quite impatient, I like to get things done. Now rather than later. Which is why I think it is important to stop for a minute, to slow down and when I want that coffee I will take my time to sit down and not have a take-away – am I really in such a rush that I need to have coffee on the go? No is the answer for me. And if the coffee shop for some reason don’t have porcelain cups – then sorry, they will not get my custom.

Perhaps try it you too? Slow down, sit down and really smell that coffee!

 

 

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My short lived life as an activist

RE2

I started blogging as lowcarbonwoman because ultimately I want a beautiful planet for my children. I also want to show, that even if I am not perfect, I can – and therefore you can – have an impact and make a difference.

I don’t know what ripples I might be creating, what actions I might inspire to. If any. Like Rebecca Solnit says in her book Hope in the dark: “Writing is lonely, it’s an intimate talk with the dead, with the unborn, with the absent, with strangers, with the readers who may never come to be and who even if they read you will do so weeks, years, decades later.”

This is a story of the opposite of writing and my short lived experience as an activist.

In my imperfect low carbon life, I try things. I have tried plastic-free July, no-new-clothes-for-a-year,  reducing my environmental footprint through walking and cycling more, reducing my intake of meat, trying to influence via blogs and so on. With all my actions I learn something new and I can adjust my behaviour to that learning. It also enables me to speak with others about a low carbon life with some actual knowledge. Sometimes I still do things in a business-like-usual way, which is why I call it an imperfect low carbon life. But I keep trying.

Today, I tried being an activist. A jump into the unknown and far away from the solitude of the writer.

I have never participated in a demonstration before. In my actions to do something about climate change I have signed various petitions online; I am a comfortable, homebased so called click-tivist. And there is nothing wrong with this, absolutely not. I just have never been out there, on the streets, with a placard, shouting for a better world. Until today.

As always when I try something new, I was curious as to how I would feel and what I would learn.

This November Saturday was grey with a featureless, dull sky. I made my way into London on the train with a nervous flutter in my tummy, I was going to join the Extinction Rebellion gathering and their march for climate justice on the streets of London. Extinction Rebellion aims to drive radical change through non-violent civil disobedience in order to minimize species extinction and avert climate breakdown. A cause close to my heart.

Yet, with people all around me cheering and applauding the achievements of the movement – which was 130 arrests since the rebellion started, I felt uneasy. I wanted to stay and make a statement, to show my discontent with non-action by the Government and I wanted to leave and walk away. And my feet were so cold!

Cold feet or not, I realised that I was not like everyone else there – I was not prepared to be arrested and perhaps even go to jail. The reading out of phone numbers to call and what to do if you were arrested, felt unreal and very unsettling. This huge group of people feeling despair and frustration of how little is being done to avoid the worst of climate change and with a conviction that the more of us that get arrested the better – they were not my tribe.

I tried, I stayed, I sang, I clapped and as the walk from Parliament Square started, I joined… but only for a short while. When the hundreds of people stopped and sat down outside 10 Downing Street, I stayed on the outskirts. And then I walked away wondering if leaving the protests makes me a climate change denier?

It’s an interesting question. I know the science and I have never questioned it, I don’t even think the discussion of right and wrong is the correct one to have. It is a fact. Our climate is changing and, very terrifyingly, faster than expected. Human behaviour is the cause of this change. It can also be the solution but we all have to act. I respect those who take action as part of the Extinction Rebellion. And I believe that my rebel act is elsewhere. Not on the streets. Not with a placard, waiting to be arrested.

So, what did I learn?

First when I walked away, I felt ashamed. Ashamed for being unwilling to potentially end up in jail for the sake of my children. Now I feel differently. I don’t think activism is for everyone and I learned that it is not for me, at least not right now. That doesn’t make my conviction to act on climate any smaller or worse than anyone else’s. I can speak from experience and I can take that with me when talking to others whether in one-on-one conversations or when I do public engagement and presentations. There are many ways in which we can do change and I believe these are all needed. I am proud of what I did. A step into the unknown is the best way to learn and to know what it is really like – for you.

Make this the turning point

red and green tree leaves on a sunny day
Photo by le vy on Pexels.com

The heatwave of summer 2018 was, with a few other years (notably the majority of them in the 21st century) the hottest summer on record in the UK since records began in 1910. And it was the hottest ever in England. The heatwave has not been contained to the UK but have covered all of Northern Europe. Did you know that this heat wave was made twice as likely due to climate change? A climate change of which human behaviour is the root cause.

Human behaviour can also be the solution.

If we change our behaviours.

We have known about climate change for a long time. And we have even been very close to doing something about it. But we didn’t. The article “Losing Earth: The decade we almost stopped climate change” from The New York Times Magazine is admittedly a long read but it is so worth it. Those older than me who have been there, done that and bought the t-shirt, will nod and say “Yes, already thirty years ago we said act now before it is too late“. And we are saying the same thing now.

So, what is different?

Well, we for sure have the technology to make the transition to a low carbon world possible. And we are also seeing, feeling and experiencing the effects of climate change. The proof is available and tangible. It is happening everywhere across the globe and it is affecting everyone. Do we also have the willpower?

IKEA made an experiment recently, where they turned up the heat in one of their stores 4 degrees Celsius. Just 4 degrees. Not that much, right? It was very uncomfortable for their visitors on that day, a customer compared it to being in a sauna. Without action on climate change, the world’s average surface temperature is likely to surpass 3 degrees centigrade this century. This is just the average and the poorest and most vulnerable people are being affected the most. As always.

A new report says that by 2030 we will pass the point by which we can keep global average temperature rise to well below 2C. 2030 is only 12 years away. It is not in the distant future. 2030 is also the year by when the world has set the ambitious target of bringing a prosperous world to all with the Sustainable Development Goals. We have a lot to do! The same report notes that through a global shift to sustainable development we can actually save trillions of dollars, create millions of jobs – and hear this, save lives. Now how much is that worth?

Let this be the turning point. The year when you and I and the whole world had enough. Enough of excuses and conscious decisions which actually, hand on heart we know will contribute to climate change. Climate change which will give more heatwaves causing droughts, super storms and heavy down pours causing severe flooding, rising sea levels, continuing depletion of species and so on.

You and I can do something today. We can change our behaviours.

We can eat less meat and more locally grown and in season vegetables. We can switch to renewable energy to heat our homes and give us light in the dark winter months. We can walk more, cycle more (and meet lots of lovely neighbours in the area where we live), take the train and use online video to communicate with others instead of taking that flight. We can stop using single use plastics and other single use items which also creates havoc to life in our seas. Does it feel too much? That’s ok too. What change can you do today? And if you think all of this sounds easy, share your tips and ideas with others on how they can make the transition. There is no need for finger pointing. There is a need for collaboration, coming together and helping each other. If we start now in this instant, we can make this the turning point and change, believe me, will get easier once you have started.

I am borrowing the words of Drew Dellinger…

It’s 3:23 in the morning
and I’m awake
because my great great grandchildren
won’t let me sleep
my great great grandchildren
ask me in dreams
what did you do while the Planet was plundered?
what did you do when the Earth was unravelling?

surely you did something
when the seasons started failing?
as the mammals, reptiles, birds were all dying?

did you fill the streets with protest
when democracy was stolen?

what did you do
once
you
knew?

 

The morning path

The hill road wet with rain

In the sun would not gleam

Like a winding stream

If we trod it not again

Edward Thomas (1916, Roads)

morning2The sun had just been up for an hour or so and its rays through the leafy crowns of chestnut and beech danced in the early morning. The soft golden light giving a magical feeling to the start of my walk. The morning air fresh and cool to the touch, a few birds still chirping even though it is now September, the first month of autumn. Silence, stillness, alone and not lonely. I stopped and took a few deep breaths, savoring the fresh air, feeling a calmness settle throughout my body – just the path and I. And all the little creepy crawlers, insects and spiders, beetles and bugs, which live in the undergrowth of the forest floor.

At a conference last week I listened to an inspiring presentation about how a hotel had ‘greened’ their outfit; getting rid of plastic bottles, choosing their suppliers with care, and so on. They also had a nature trail next door and the question came up how this was part of being a “green” business. To me this obvious. A walk in nature, away from potentially busy lives, stressful environments, electronic devices, noisy and polluting traffic, brings stillness and calm. It is an opportunity to slow down and reflect. To connect with yourself and what really matters. It is an opportunity to live one of the most successful meditation apps in real life. No filters.

I don’t need scientific reports or proof about the positive impact of a walk in nature on human health and wellbeing. I know. In the way that you just know when you have experienced it yourself.

morning3And isn’t that part of being “green”? Of trying to live a more sustainable lifestyle? Yes I would argue that it is. If we don’t know what it looks like when the sun catches the thin sliver of a spiders web, making it glitter and gleam like the most valuable of diamonds, how can we appreciate the fragile and small things in life? If we haven’t experienced a forest, a lake, a mountain, how do we connect with it and appreciate it? And don’t we need to connect with it, appreciate it and feel grateful for being part of nature to wanting to change how we live our lives more sustainably or, if you wish, more “green”? To value nature and to protect our planet, I think people also need to experience it, feel one with it. And when you do, at least I feel that I want to make a difference so that my children and future generations will also have the opportunity to breath the fresh morning air, to marvel at the beauty of the spiders web in the early morning sun. Don’t you want that too?

morning4Towards the end of my morning walk, the light and the air has changed. The stillness is interrupted by dog walkers and weekend morning strollers. The day belongs to us all now and I can no longer call it my own. If i ever could. Because it belongs to the insects, the spiders, the birds and the deer and the plants, and many thousands of other inhabitants in the forest, on the fields and the chalk downs. The visible and invisible creatures of the more than human world that I met on my walk. I am just a grateful visitor, thankful for having been allowed in the magical kingdom to share the the wonders for a minuscule part in the life of Gaia, our planet.

 

A philosophical treat together

– about magic come true and collaboration.

Every morning when my daughter and I walk to school, we can see the hills that are part of the Ashridge woodlands, in the blue distance. This morning, after the school run, I was glad to be answering the call from those hills, to join them – and together with two dear friends. We were going to do their first, and my fifth, walk on the Icknield Way Path.

A touch of magic

A day or so before our walk, it had snowed a little, and up in the forest, the ground was still covered, and the muddy car park frozen. It was a nice day, sunny but with strong winds up on the exposed hills, and blissfully calm in the protected valleys and among trees. I love walking in the Ashridge woodlands, the light in the forest is magical; it comes from the undergrowth, the tree trunks, the sunlight whether filtering through leafy crowns or bare branches, and it is easy to imagine the trees talking to each other…

This is not as strange as it may sound. Scientific research actually show that trees can message each other, for example when when they are under attack, via electric signals through their roots and across fungi networks. Like a woodwide-web! Unfortunately, I can’t take the credit for that witty name. It comes from Peter Wohlleben, a German forester and author. Wohlleben brings the scientific research to life in his recent book “The hidden life of trees”.  It is a fascinating book, full of magic and amazement as to how trees live and die, communicate and care for each other in tree communities. Just as it says on the cover – a walk in the forest will never be the same again!

The chosen route for the day was about 7 kilometers long, and took us through woodland, fields and up on Ivinghoe Beacon, the prominent hill and landmark, standing 233 meters above sea level, and which you have heard me mention so many times before in my blog. We could see the Whipsnade Lion, and a few birds of prey (not sure if they were red kites this time though) circling the skies. We skidded and slid on the mud, talked, and walked in silence, reached out a helping hand when needed, listened to and supported each other. Shared a cup of warming turmeric tea.

Togetherness

We walked this walk together. There for each other. Caring for one another, and experiencing our love of nature together, as a team, as friends.

We can all do something for a more sustainable world – and when we join forces and work together we can do even more. Collaboration and partnership is important in many parts of life and work. For the successful implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals – it is essential. I have already touched upon, in previous blogs, that governments, businesses and civil society alike are all needed if we are going to change and bring about a more sustainable future for our children and future generations. This is SDG17 – partnerships for the goals: to strengthen the means of implementation and revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development. To work together.

Not so long ago I saw a programme on TV about people in a medium-sized town coming together to work for a cleaner and less polluted High Street. Through collaboration with shop keepers, innovators, schools, transport companies and people with a passion for a better environment, they succeeded in bringing about a day with less cars and measurably reduced pollution – and with a living High Street! How inspiring on what people are able to achieve in collaborative communities!

Musings from a walk

Walking, when walking for the sake of walking and not just getting from A to B (which I absolutely support as one of the best zero carbon alternatives!), can be wellbeing for the mind, a philosophical treat, as well as wellbeing for the heart. Following this particular walk, in the friendly company of others, I asked myself and those around me, “Why do you walk?”.

These are my musings:

little landscapeI walk to notice and find joy in the details of life and nature. Like a landscape in a tree stump.

I walk to see the bigger picture, to connect to the earth and the sky. Like the red kite soaring high above.

I walk to feel the Earth under my feet. The slippery mud, the grass that gives grip, the solid rock.

I walk to reflect. Like the glittering water drops on a leaf, or dew on a spider’s web.

I walk to seek inspiration for my writing, hoping that others will read it and get something out of it too.

 

Apparently, trees are very social beings. Wohlleben once found an old tree stump and noticed that it was still living, despite being 400 or 500 years old, and without any green leaves. Every living being needs nutrition and the only explanation was that this tree stump was supported with a sugar solution from its neighbouring trees, via the roots. Trees collaborate. So can we, and we need to. We have to work together, in teams, in communities, across sectors and company borders, to make sure that we can achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. And we are also together with nature, the more than human-world, on this planet. Think about that next time you go for a walk.

And think about; why do you walk? I would love for you to share your reflections with me! 🙂

Legends and Wind Turbines

– about powerful women and sustainable opportunities.

Bitterly cold in the northerly wind but the sun was shining, and we trampled on through the mud, across the fields, on the Icknield Way Path.

Exciting history

So many feet have walked these paths before us, both the feet of humans and animals. No one really knows where the name Icknield Way comes from. The earliest mentions of this ancient road are from Anglo-Saxon charters, dated from year 903 onwards. On these old maps, spellings like Icenhilde weg, Icenilde weg and Ycenilde weg are common. The name does stem from Celto-British culture and could possibly be named after the Iceni Tribe. The most famous queen of the Celto-British Iceni, was Boudica, who led an uprising against the Romans in AD 60 or 61. No one knows the location of her defeat, and it could very well have been on the Icknield Way…

It is fascinating to be walking along these muddy paths and thinking of what might have happened thousands of years before us. Just next to the Icknield Way, and the route that we were walking this particular day in February, is Maiden Bower. It doesn’t look much to be honest, but the history and the legend behind the name is much more interesting.

The site used to be an early Neolithic causewayed camp. Excavations have revealed post-holes of a gate with a sentry walk over it, and aerial photographs also showed hut circles within the enclosure. Archaeologists have suggested such causewayed enclosures could have had one of many functions, such as settlements, defence, cattle compounds, trade centres, communal meeting places for feasting and other social activities, cult or ritual centres, or burial sites. Maiden Bower is also the site of an Iron Age hill fort.

And what about the name, Maiden Bower? Well, the legends tell of a woman who made a bet with the King, that she could encompass a large army of men within the hide of a bull. Said and done, with a woman’s wit, she ordered the bulls’ hide to be cut into strings, which she then tied together, creating an enclosure of more than 10 acres – enough to encompass a large army!

Thrilling heights

wind turbineFrom Maiden Bower, you can see a great distance over the surrounding landscape. All the way to Heath and Reach in fact, outside Leighton Buzzard and some 8km away, where since the end of 2014, a wind turbine is producing clean and renewable energy. The turbine, with its 137 meters in tip-height (that means that when one of the blades are pointing straight up it reaches the impressive height of 137 meters), was the tallest on-shore wind turbine in the country when it was erected. In comparison, Big Ben is 96 meters and the London Eye is almost as high, 135 meters.

On a cold and windy day like when we were doing our walk, it is sure to be producing well. On an annual basis it is in fact estimated to be producing energy to power well over 1,300 homes. A second wind turbine has received planning permission and it is great to note that the letters in support for this turbine, outweighed those against. Did you know that in a survey from last year, public support for onshore wind is up to 73 % (and only 9% against)?

And… I can tell you are waiting for it… which Sustainable Development Goal does renewable energy relate to then? SDG 7 – clean energy! This goal is to ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all.

This is the fourth Sustainable Development Goal I am looking at from a personal and family perspective, and each time, I am amazed at the opportunities these goals provide. Yes, they were created by the United Nations. Yes, they are the obligation of UN’s member states. Yes, it is acknowledged that businesses also must act on the SDGs for them to become a reality. And yes, you and me and our neighbours in our communities where we live can do so much to support the transition to a sustainable future. 2030 is not that far away, if you think about it. 12 years. What did you do 12 years ago? I bet you, it feels like yesterday. 2006, that is when Pirates of the Carribean: Dead man’s chest was the highest-grossing film of the year, James Blunt sang “You’re beautiful” and Pluto was down-graded from a planet, to a dwarf-planet.

In 12 years from now, we can have a more sustainable planet, and the Sustainable Development Goals provide excellent inspiration. So, when it comes to renewable energy, the main thing you can do, is to switch to an energy supplier which can provide you with 100% renewable electricity, and there are loads of them. We have switched. And it proved cheaper than our old traditional one too.

Being sustainable certainly does not have to cost the Earth, in any ways of the word’s meaning.

 

Cheers to all life on land!

– about a chilly winter walk with the red kite, getting lost (or not, really) and your power as a consumer.

red kiteAs I walked out on to the downs near Dunstable, on this third walk of the Icknield Way Path, I was greeted by the red kite. Soaring high up above, gliding gracefully over the hilly landscape that is the Dunstable Downs and Chiltern Hills, an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB). Twisting his tail this way and that, to adjust his flight, to find the best winds. I could watch him forever, envying his aerial view over the brown, beige and golden landscape, the colours depicting the downs at this time of year.

The word “down” comes from the old English word of dūn, which means hill, and it is used for the rounded, grass-covered hills, typically composed by chalk, that can be found in southern England. Over the downs, and perhaps equally envying the red kite in his flight, two paragliders were setting off, and down in the valley at the gliding club, a glider was being prepared, soon to be pulled up and released, the human attempt to mimic the bird in the sky.

paraglider

The red kite

When I first moved to England, more than 18 years ago, I remember seeing the red kite only very occasionally, as it glided effortlessly over the market town and countryside where we live. This elegant bird, who mainly lives off carrion and worms, has an interesting history to tell. During the Middle Ages, it was a valued scavenger that helped to keep the streets clean. The red kite was even protected by a royal decree, and killing it was associated with financial punishment. The status of the red kite changed when it was perceived as a threat to livestock, and by the 16th century a bounty was placed on its head. The red kite suffered from intensive human persecution for many hundreds of years until in 1871 when the red kite became extinct in England. Only a handful of red kite pairs were left in the remote parts of central Wales.

Now, the status of red kite is near threatened. As a result of a reintroduction programme, when 93 kite chicks from Spain where released into the Chilterns at the end of the 80’s and early 90’s, there are now over 200 breeding pairs in these parts. Protecting and restoring life on land is important for a sustainable terrestrial ecosystem. Sustainable Development Goal 15, life on land, deal with exactly this issue, focusing on the importance of sustainably managing forests, combating desertification, and halting and reversing land degradation and halting biodiversity loss.

Not getting lost

I continued my walk, across muddy paths and paved paths. At times the signage for the Icknield Way is not clear; signs can fall off from their posts, or pointing perhaps a little obscurely so it is difficult to tell whether it is the path to the left or the one that goes straight on. Luckily, I have the OS map (Ordnance Survey map) on my phone and so I can relatively easily track where I am and where to go next. I noticed my unease at feeling a little lost, how I quickly grabbed for the phone to reassure myself that I was heading in the right direction.

stage 3

When we have a goal to work towards, like I had set out a route to walk, I think it is quite natural wanting to know how we are getting on. We want to make sure that we are doing the right things, to take us closer to our goal, and if there is a deviation, we like to know of it early, so that the mistake of correcting it is not that big. That is at least how I work and why I find goals, like the Sustainable Development Goals, helpful. To know what or where to aim, and to understand if progress is being made. This is also why there are 169 targets associated with the 17 SDGs, and even more indicators, to show progress on a global scale.

Wildlife in decline

When I walk, I sometimes look up, to admire the view, to spot the red kite, to see where I am in the bigger picture. I also look down, to see where I put my feet, noticing every step and feeling the ground under the soles of my walking boots. I notice the details. Like the sign for the hedgehog crossing. Just a few days later, I saw on tv that hedgehog numbers are in decline, especially in rural areas, as hedgerows and field margins are lost to intensive farming. Another example of where we humans are responsible for loss of biodiversity.iphone pics 1019

Scientists have warned of the sixth mass extinction being underway, and according to WWF, Earth has lost half its wildlife in the last 40 years. Wildlife is dying out because of habitat destruction, toxic pollution and climate change – and the ultimate reason behind this, is human overpopulation, continued population growth, and overconsumption, especially by the rich. We buy too much stuff. Stuff that we do not really need. Our civilization utterly depends on the plants, animals, and microorganisms of Earth. It supplies essential ecosystem services, ranging from crop pollination and protection to supplying food and maintaining a livable climate.

The wind blew cold on my exposed walk on the Downs, and despite the pale sunshine on this January day, I needed to keep moving to keep the chill at bay.

Cold day – hot topic

Juxtaposing the chilly day with a hot topic in the environmental debate; the use of palm oil. Why do I bring this up? Because it is also very much related to SDG 15. Palm oil is the most commonly produced vegetable oil in the world, with 66 million tons annually, going into our everyday foods, cosmetics, cleaning products and fuel. 27 million hectares of our Earth’s surface is oil palm plantations. Why is the use of palm oil so bad? Because large areas of rain forest are being bulldozed or torched to make way for more plantations. This release vast amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. In addition, when rainforests are being cleared, the natural habitat of many endangered animals are being pushed closer to extinction, and smallholders and indigenous people who have inhabited and protected the forest for generations, are often being brutally driven from their land.

Make it personal

So, what can you and I do to make a contribution and to ensure progress towards Sustainable Development Goal 15, life on land?

A lot for sure, and as my motto goes, no one can do everything and we can all do something. We can help hedgehogs by putting out wet cat and dog food, leaving wild areas for them to nest and making holes in the fence to enable them to move from garden to garden. We can support WWF and other NGOs working for wildlife protection. We can use consumer power and make purchases with our heads; buy less stuff that we don’t need and check the labels of the food we buy and make choices that do not contain palm oil.

Time for a warm cup of tea, here is to all life on land!

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