Privilege, the pandemic and plastic-free choices – part 1 – we are not in the same boat

Photo by Zoltan Tasi on Unsplash

I was prompted by someone on Twitter to write about this – it’s been on the (very long) list for a while now.

It’s a bit of a thorny issue and something which gets quite a lot of discussion already – it’s highly unlikely that I’m going to say anything that has never been said before on this, but you never know.

Here’s the question. Is it the premise of the middle classes only (and presumably those richer than the middle class) to make plastic-free choices? Is it possible to be poor and still go plastic-free? When, for example, a plastic-free deodorant costs maybe two or three times the price of a plastic roll-on bought in a supermarket? (I tried, I really did… I will do a final report on the Great Deodorant Experiment one day). When supermarkets charge more for loose fruit and vegetables than they do for the produce wrapped in plastic? (This article discusses why that might be the case).

A couple of things have happened recently which have made me think about this issue, particularly in relation to fruit and vegetable shopping. It is of course a much wider issue than just food choices, but I’ve seen some eco-influencers (with sexy Instagram accounts and monetised blogs, so they must be doing something right) saying that they have massively reduced their food spend since implementing changes to live more sustainably. They manage to shop mainly organic and plastic-free (including, as one of them mentioned, the fortnightly Ocado shop…) and still save money.

So here’s our little story. As I posted way back many moons ago when this blog was in its infancy, we like to go to our local greengrocers for our fruit and veg as much as possible, to get predominantly organic and plastic-free produce. I very rarely buy produce in the supermarket now. In normal times, going to the greengrocer is an almost daily outing – the small one loves it, I get to speak to a grown-up, there’s no plastic wrapping to deal with, everyone’s a winner. But at the moment it’s hard for us to manage these trips – I can’t take the boy in the buggy and maintain social distancing and safety, as he’s still small and touches or licks things and it’s just too stressful. My husband can’t easily go during the daytime and the shop is running reduced opening hours to protect their staff, which is totally understandable. So we’ve been buying fruit and veg from the supermarket and oh my god the plastic is a pain in the arse to put in the ecobrick. So in the spirit of my recent ecobricking resolutions, I decided to do something about it and order us a fruit and veg box. And here it is, in all its glory.

Critical point to mention – it’s from a New Covent Garden supplier, who normally sell produce to restaurants, but in the current situation they are using their supply chain to get produce directly to customers at home. So they’re not marketing themselves as plastic-free, local or seasonal. This medium sized fruit and veg box cost £32 and to be fair, it is amazing quality and will probably last us nearly two weeks. BUT. I put the same produce into the online shopping calculator on the Asda website and it’s half the price. Also, it’s not completely plastic-free, as you can see in the picture. (Only the salad bag, herbs, cucumber, bananas and some of the potatoes were in plastic though, and of course in the supermarket nearly all of it would be in plastic packaging.) And it’s not seasonal or local.

Other cheaper veg boxes are available – for example the Oddbox equivalent medium box is £14.99. This is a brilliant initiative to reduce food waste by selling imperfect produce rejected by supermarkets. It’s local and seasonal and all packaging is recyclable. But they only cover the London area and they deliver overnight – I want to try them out but I have concerns that our box would get nicked or ravaged by foxes before we got to it. Riverford is also cheaper and much better on the plastic and local produce front. But they’re running a waiting list at the moment and I believe you have to commit to a regular order. So there is more research to be done.

But, back to the privilege point. We all have to buy food. Most people buy food in a supermarket because it’s a cheap option – Mr Tesco et al have massive economies of scale that smaller shops struggle to replicate. We also shop in supermarkets because it’s easy – it’s all there in one place, they’re open long hours and you don’t have to think too much or make lots of decisions. So, in my view, privilege is about more than just money. Sure, you can probably find a veg box which is a similar price point to supermarkets, and maybe a refill shop where some things are cheaper and some things are more expensive, so it evens out – remember my surprisingly cheap organic thyme? So much of this, though, depends on time (see what I did there?) and choice, and that’s the crux of privilege. Time to do the research for the best veg box, and time to go to four different shops each week to get what you need, not to mention the financial head room to pay the plastic-free premium where it does exist. (Do families need to be in a position to have a stay at home parent to actually pull this off? Usually a woman? Is plastic a feminist issue…? Why does every post I write lead me to though processes for about another ten?)

And interestingly, the current situation where it’s been hard to get hold of certain foods seems to caused this particular penny to drop for some eco-influencers – those hardcore anti-plastic folk who couldn’t get to their local zero waste shop for rice, so had to buy it in plastic from Asda. Their choice has been taken away from them. So maybe this will engender some more empathy and understanding for people who work full-time and can’t fit in multiple shopping trips each week, or people who have no childcare support and can’t drag multiple kids to multiple shops, or are so frazzled by their life that they can’t work out if a veg box would be cheaper than Asda and they haven’t got time to do the admin anyway.

Just like we are NOT all in the same boat in relation to lockdown, we are not all in the same boat in how we can respond to the challenges of plastic pollution and climate change, and it’s important to remember that, now more than ever.

And here’s a little anonymous lockdown poem which has been doing the rounds on social media which I don’t hate, just for good measure (I’ve cut some bits out where I’ve seen various versions that don’t quite make sense).

WE ARE NOT IN THE SAME BOAT …
I heard that we are all in the same boat, but it’s not like that. We are in the same storm, but not in the same boat. Your ship could be shipwrecked and mine might not be. Or vice versa.

For some, quarantine is optimal. A moment of reflection, of re-connection, easy in flip flops, with a cocktail or coffee. For others, this is a desperate financial & family crisis.

For some that live alone they’re facing endless loneliness. While for others it is peace, rest & time with their mother, father, sons & daughters.

Some are not getting on with family and domestic abuse is rife…we never know what goes on behind closed doors.

Some were concerned about getting a certain candy for Easter while others were concerned if there would be enough bread, milk and eggs for the weekend.

Some want to go back to work because they don’t qualify for unemployment and are running out of money. Others want to kill those who break the quarantine.

Some are home spending 2-3 hours/day helping their child with online schooling while others are spending 2-3 hours/day to educate their children on top of a 10-12 hour workday.

Some have experienced the near death of the virus, some have already lost someone from it and some are not sure if their loved ones are going to make it. Others don’t believe this is a big deal.

Some have faith in God and expect miracles during this 2020. Others say the worst is yet to come.

So, friends, we are not in the same boat. We are going through a time when our perceptions and needs are completely different.

Each of us will emerge, in our own way, from this storm. It is very important to see beyond what is seen at first glance. Not just looking, actually seeing.

We are all on different ships during this storm experiencing a very different journey.

Realize that and be kind.

Unknown author

Revamped website! Widgets! (And an update on the email hoarding situation)

Web design and technology is not my strongest skill – I like writing and researching and thinking, mainly. But I’ve had a sneaking suspicion for a while that the Everyday Radical website was looking a bit rubbish. Like all writers, I would love more people to read my work (I think some of it at least is a valuable contribution to the eco issues debate, and people keep telling me it’s quite good). But having a super basic blog home page doesn’t help with that mission. So I am learning VERY SLOWLY how to use WordPress to its full potential. I’ve got a long way to go, and very limited time these days, but in the last couple of weeks I’ve redesigned the blog so it looks a bit sexier. And also, WIDGETS! (These are little WordPress features that you can add to your site to aid navigation, provide links to your social media etc.) I thought they were very complicated, but actually they’re quite straightforward.

New on the blog page, down the right hand side – over here >>>>>>>>

You can click to like my Facebook page or follow me on Twitter. The “follow my blog” button is easier to find and there’s a list of recent posts, and an archive menu by month too. And categories! So if you read a post about washing up, for example, and you want to read some more of my ramblings about kitchen-related eco switches, you can find the category and find all the blog posts. This was pretty fun to put together, sorting through the archive. Weirdly, the dish washing posts are some of the most popular posts I’ve written. My readership must be washing up liquid geeks.

Anyway, I’m pretty excited about the new look, and the new features. Let me know what you think. More to come when I learn how to create pages – not the same thing as posts, it seems!

Briefly too, on the subject of technology. I wrote about my email hoarding tendencies back in January, with a promise to change my ways due to the carbon footprint of storing thousands of emails. Also there was a significant mental load of having 5500 emails in my inbox, it felt like a massive to do list that would never get cleared. I promised you guys I would get it down to less than 100 by the end of March.

So as of today, it’s at 302. Which feels like progress… I also deleted a massive amount of archived work emails form years ago which I will never need. But I also have to confess that I moved a LOT out of my inbox into sub folders. I’m not going to tell you how many but I’ve just counted them up and I’m a bit shocked, as there’s still an enormous bunch of stuff sitting on servers whirring away because I’ve got some odd hoarding disorder and I can’t bring myself to delete them. Most of them I am saving for a reason (quite a lot, for example, are idea leads for this blog), but the reality of how much I still have left is a bit of a wake up call. I am really interested in the psychology of hoarding, so perhaps I need to have a bit of a closer look at myself! (Digital hoarding is a thing, by the way – not much studied, but definitely a thing, which is probably on the increase).

Back to the climate impact point though. Sending and receiving emails and storing files on the cloud all has a carbon footprint, due to the servers that it’s all held on and the power they use, the energy used to run computers themselves and send and receive messages. Sure, per message it’s microscopic, but it all adds up. So I repeat my challenge to you all, folks – use your lockdown downtime (if you have any!) to clear out your mailboxes and your saved files and unsubscribe to mailing lists that you’re not really reading (they just encourage you to buy stuff you don’t need anyway). You will feel mentally cleansed, I promise you, and help to save the planet too. Every little helps, as they say (and I bet you’ve got some emails in your archive from them too!)

More lockdown reflections, and Ecobricks – again

Photo by Margot RICHARD on Unsplash

I keep seeing posts and memes on Facebook telling me to make the most of this lockdown period to reflect, slow down, think about what’s important in life. I must confess, in weeks 1-2 of lockdown, these posts made me feel pretty stabby. especially this poem:

And the people stayed home. And read books, and listened, and rested, and exercised, and made art, and played games, and learned new ways of being, and were still. And listened more deeply. Some meditated, some prayed, some danced. Some met their shadows. And the people began to think differently.

And the people healed. And, in the absence of people living in ignorant, dangerous, mindless, and heartless ways, the earth began to heal.

And when the danger passed, and the people joined together again, they grieved their losses, and made new choices, and dreamed new images, and created new ways to live and heal the earth fully, as they had been healed.

It’s by a contemporary American writer called Kitty O’Meara, but it’s been widely and wrongly attributed to another poet named Kathleen O’Meara, supposedly writing during the 1860s cholera outbreak – I don’t even know if there actually was a cholera outbreak where she lived in France (although she was originally from Ireland). This annoyed me a lot – I felt like it was trying to attribute some sort of universal pandemic commonality of suffering across the centuries, when the reality of course is that not many Catholics in the 1860s would have been particularly into meditating, most people wouldn’t have had any books in their homes, and they most likely would have been more interested in preventing starvation and death anyway.

So I read this stuff, and raged about how tactless it is to celebrate being able to meditate when there are people dying alone in under-staffed ITUs, and people are losing their jobs and struggling to feed their families, and single mothers are being driven mental by small children cooped up all day. I raged a bit more about how bloody unfair it is that I haven’t got any time to read books and do puzzles and watch Andrew Lloyd-Webber musicals on YouTube (here’s the link for you lucky bastards who do have time – and if you can watch this without shedding a tear, you’ve got a heart of stone, dude).

Then my paid work finally all evaporated, and we got ourselves into a bit of a routine of sharing childcare and getting some exercise, and it all feels a tiny bit less awful now. Plus I also understand that boredom and loneliness are terrible things too, and people alone in lockdown with no toddler to distract them may also be suffering. I do acknowledge, occasionally, that it’s not all about me.

Then I wrote this post and realised that going back to normal isn’t an option afterwards; we have got to work harder on the eco stuff, or our way of life and all that we hold dear will slip from our grasp, and soon. Sorry, this is long already and I haven’t even starting talking about ecobricks. I will get on with it now.

I wrote this post quite a while ago about ecobricks and my various conflicts about them. There are definite pros and cons to the concept.

It’s incredibly hard to find a local project to donate completed bricks to and there’s pressure from within the Ecobrick movement away from “dropping off” your plastic and passing on responsibility to someone else for your waste. You’re encouraged to make something yourself or set up a local project in your community.. We still haven’t found a local project to give them too (although I may possibly have found one further afield that we can contribute to), and I have no enthusiasm for building something myself (the small one and I made a space hedgehog today out of spaghetti and play doh – picture at the bottom – you’ll see why I’m not confident of my abilities to make a planter out of bottles and mud).

(NB the idea of “shipping” bricks to developing countries to use as a building material is a common misconception, but it’s not at all recommended UK Ecobrick trainers and there’s no system to support it happening).

There are plenty of great examples though of people making the process work, making switches to reduce their consumption of plastic packaged goods, inspired into more mindful shopping by the volume of plastic waste they are having to process into an ecobrick and being motivated to reduce it. (There’s a side issue here which I find really interesting, which is that this more mindful shopping often involves visiting multiple shops and paying a “zero waste” premium, which assumes not only a certain level of income but also assumes time to shop like this, and maybe assumes there’s someone full time “at home” – probably a woman – who’s taking responsibility for this process. More on this one day.)

An empty landfill bin is an indicator of success in ecobricking, and the best brick you make is the one that you can’t fill because you’ve stopped buying plastic. So the idea that ecobricking encourages plastics use and the purchase of plastic bottles to fill is false. Aside from the slight concern I have that a lot of school projects involving ecobricks aren’t fully informed, I do think that teaching kids about ecobricks is likely to improve their awareness of the issues with single-use plastic, rather than encourage them to buy more of it to fill their bricks – mainly because the plastic harvesting is pretty boring. More likely, their parents (mothers?) will end up doing it for them when they get bored.

The most convincing criticism of ecobricking I’ve seen is that it’s guilt offset – people make bricks to make themselves feel better, and don’t make any lifestyle changes to reduce their plastic consumption. And this is where it gets personal for me. We basically haven’t made any major switches for ages and we are just bricking a load of plastic, and putting a load more into our Terracycle collection. Our Terracycle collection has been suspended at the moment due to safety concerns, understandably, so we would have to find somewhere to store it all. And it’s all loads of work washing and drying all the plastic, and we’re knackered with no childcare at the moment, and looking for things to stop doing to help us survive this time, so we talked about giving up bricking. Then I realised that the reason it’s so annoying is because we are, of course, doing it wrong by not making any further effort to reduce our plastic. The whole point of ecobricks is that they’re really annoying to make – the process is supposed to put people off making them so they look for ways to reduce their plastic. It doesn’t feel rewarding to us because it’s not reducing.

The various food chain issues we’ve all endured recently has also got me thinking. We are so far removed now from the production of our food. I don’t know where lentils grow (they do grow, right?) or where the plastic packaging they come in is made, I’ve stopped thinking about palm oil too and put a whole load of stuff in the “too difficult”pile.

So maybe now is not the time to make huge changes, because we can’t get to the zero waste shop or the market very easily and there’s limited options available in some shops round here still. But there is an opportunity to pause, maybe, and have a think about what’s going into the collection system for the bricks and Terracycle – we’re not giving up, we’re going to carry on suffering – and think about what we could do differently in the new world. I’m writing a list of what goes into each waste stream and have a vague idea of a post-lockdown action plan… (I’m not writing strategy anymore, folks, so I need an action plan of some sort in my life). Plus I’m going to find out if lentils grow on trees, or what…

Here’s the space hedgehog, just to remind us all why craft projects and me are not a great combination.

Lockdown, day 19 – some reflections

Photo by Regina Calvo on Unsplash

Dear reader, it’s been nearly a month since my last post. And what a month it’s been.

I stopped writing, stopped even thinking about this blog – partly because the cognitive load of making sense of this crisis, plus the mental load of keeping a household fed, entertained and vaguely sane, has been more than sufficient to occupy my thoughts. But also, I kind of thought that no one would want to be reading about recycling and plastic-free switches and all that stuff, when what we are facing is so alien, so scary. And I didn’t want to write anymore about the pandemic itself, because let’s face it, there’s enough column inches/miles being generated every minute of the day to keep us all immersed in news and views 24 hours a day.

But. I woke up a couple of days ago and had this gut-wrenching feeling. What’s going on now is practice for the consequences of the climate crisis and the impact it’s going to have on humanity. Practice, and a warning. Bear with me on this.

We are seeing increasingly alarming numbers of excess deaths every day due to Covid-19 (I’m resisting the urge to get political here and talk about my views on the Government’s response and support to the NHS. Really resisting.) But we know that the climate crisis is already causing excess deaths. By excess deaths, what I mean is the number of deaths over and above those that would have happened anyway, within the normal expected mortality rate for that population. This is also known as mortality displacement. The World Health Organisation estimate that between 2030 and 2050, there will be an additional 250,000 more deaths per year due to climate change – heat stress, malnutrition, malaria and diarrhea among the likely causes.

We’ve had 104,775 deaths so far from Covid-19 (by the time you click that link, it will be more). Let’s let that sink in. Two and half times as many deaths, every year, as we’ve had so far from Covid-19, due to climate change. At the very least.

People are already dying of heat stress in bush fire regions, and of heat stroke during heat waves in cities across the world. 900 people died in England alone due to heat waves in 2019. By 2100, 75% of people around the world will be exposed to heatwaves severe enough to cause death. 2100. Many of our kids will still be alive in 2100. Flooding causes disease to spread more easily, including diarrhea which can be particularly fatal among small children. Rising temperatures will lead to the expansion of mosquito habitat, increasing cases of malaria. Other species will move closer to domestic habitats, increasing the incidence in humans of other diseases such as Q fever which is spread by bats. This is already happening in Australia and the Pacific regions. And guess what, it’s hitting the poor and the vulnerable hardest (or first, maybe).

Maybe this seems scary, and far away, both geographically and chronologically. But there’s other elements of the Covid-19 crisis that should be getting us thinking.

We’ve become accustomed to being able to get whatever food we want, whenever we want. I had a tantrum last week because I wanted a specific Marks and Spencer ready meal as our weekend treat (pancetta carbonara, since you ask). Seriously. Not only is it wrapped in hard-to-recycle plastic, but it’s made of a load of imported or out-of-season ingredients including processed meat and dairy. A problematic “treat” indeed. But I’ve become accustomed to being able to have it whenever I want. Anyone been trying to get flour recently? I haven’t totally fact checked this, but apparently flour mills in the UK are still producing as normal, or on increased output, but can’t get enough packaging from China to meet the demand for package sizes suitable for domestic customers (as opposed to much bigger bags for catering companies, bakeries and other commercial customers). Our food chain is entirely dependent on global transport infrastructure and the enormous carbon footprint that entails.

The shortages have been annoying, anxiety-inducing, catastrophic for some. It’s going to be worse, much worse, in a few decades time. Studies have shown that the impact of climate change could cause a 35% drop in global fruit and vegetable yields and an 18% reduction in US corn production, as well as significantly impacting fisheries and meat production. Coupled with a predicted global population increase of 3.4 billion people by 2050, this spells a massive change in the way we live.

All this, without even going into the economic effects, impact on human rights, increasing gulf between rich and poor and likely social breakdown.

Uplifting stuff. Sorry if I’ve added to your lockdown blues. But I feel like this message is critical. Especially if you’re feeling powerless at the moment. There’s not much we can do about the current crisis – except follow the advice to stay at home as much as possible, practice social distancing when not possible (and think about who you’re going to vote for next time, folks – also how we can exert pressure on to expose this government’s criminal negligence, and maybe what kind of a massive protest we can pull off when it’s all over. Sorry, couldn’t resist after all).

Greta, for course, puts it better than me:

There is a lot of talk about returning to normal after Covid-19. But normal was a crisis.

https://twitter.com/gretathunberg/status/1243579208724557824?lang=en

So, with all this spare time we have (LOLZ – I know some people have loads, and are doing lots of nice jigsaws and yoga, but some are working, looking after children, trying not to starve, etc. Anyhow – there’s opportunity for us all to refocus…)

Let’s get back to the Everyday Radical mission – what can we do to fix this shit? Cos back to normal is not an option for humanity.

I just spent the last week’s nap times categorising 700+ articles, notes and ideas for blog posts. My paid work has disappeared. Let’s DO THIS.

P.S. It’s hot. Don’t forget to turn your central heating off.

Running low on loo roll, anyone?

Photo by Anna Franques on Unsplash

I’m not quite sure what the world is coming to, really and truly. I’m going to try not to write any more angsty stuff about Coronavirus (I published this on my other blog earlier in the week, just to get all the feels out). I actually feel weirdly calm and focussed today, I just wish “they” (or “them upstairs”, as we affectionately call the “powers that be” in this house, in remembrance of how the first team I ever managed used to refer to the faceless Execs on the top corridor) would make a decision about schools and nursery soon, so I don’t have to. What else can we do? A wise man in the queue at the greengrocers today advised me (from a respectful distance) to just “keep putting one foot in front of the other”.

Husband is on day 2 of working from home, and other than predictable issues with broadband speed (because half of London – the lucky half – is now working from home), it’s going ok. We haven’t killed each other yet and the toddler will get used to Daddy being here but not here, somehow, I’m sure. We are LUCKY. He has the kind of job where he can work from home easily and still get paid, and would get full sick pay if he got ill. We don’t have to go on the tube. We have a fair supply of food in the house (although I’m worried about the Mini Egg stocks).

But we are, like many others I suspect, running out of loo roll. Well, I say that, we have a few rolls left, but it won’t last long and there’s NONE in the shops round here. I’m not going to start using substitues like wipes or kitchen roll, because this is going to cause the sewerage system to break down, and we do NOT need that right now.

So to eke out our supply, I am experimenting with “family cloth”… this is a thing which I’ve been aware of for a while from the various eco-groups that I’m part of and I’ve always been kind of curious about it, but never actually took the plunge. It’s basically a reusable, washable alternative to toilet paper, tipped to be both a frugal and eco-conscious choice. And of COURSE, there are beautiful Instagrammable ones available on Etsy etc. There are also plenty of people out there who use flannels, old clothes cut up and hemmed, etc.

So I confess that in my naive days at the beginning of this blog, when I thought I could change the world, I bought a pack of Cheeky Wipes because I was planning on giving up baby wipes. Reader, I just unpacked the box yesterday. There’s a slightly drawn-out description of how to use family cloth here – basically, if you prefer to use them wet, it’s a bit more admin, and you have to have something sealed to put them in. I’m using the Cheeky Wipes mucky box with a bit of water and essential oils in. And I am only using them for number ones… so they’re not hideous, they’re going in the wash in a separate laundry bag which is what I also use for these, and I chuck them in a warm wash with towels or sheets or whatever.

Now, I have quite a low ick factor so this doesn’t bother me, but it reaalllly bothers some people (this is quite funny, also this – this is a topic which seems to polarise people, for sure). I’m actually more interested in whether it’s actually better for the environment.

This article argues that a bidet is the most environmentally friendly option, but it’s not a common feature in our UK plumbing set-ups. You can buy little squeezy bottle things, but honestly, what’s the carbon footprint of a plastic bottle vs. a year’s supply of recycled toilet paper? Is recycled paper actually better than paper from sustainable forests? I don’t know, in all honesty, and these are difficult things for normal, non-specialist people to make balanced decisions on. What I know for sure though is that the production of flowery, organic cotton family cloth with poppers and a pretty hamper to store them in must have the equivalent footprint of a LOT of bog roll.

So, folks, my advice if you’re running low is to use what you’ve already got – old flannels, tear up some old towels, t-shirts or muslins. Try it, start with number ones and work up to number twos as the apocalypse nears. Find a bucket with a lid or an ice cream tub or something like that to put the used ones in, you won’t die of it, I promise. And enjoy the feeling of smugness when you see people fighting in the aisles over the last pack of loo roll.

Don’t take the last pack of Mini Eggs in my local Co-op though. I’m watching you, you bastards.

(Hope that’s some light relief. Love to all in these weird days)

Coronavirus – Gaia’s revenge?

Photo by CDC on Unsplash

Anyone out there panicking? Eating copious amounts of raw garlic? Fighting in the aisles of the supermarket for the last loo roll? Clearly there is some major panic buying going on – today, Tesco have announced rationing of basic shopping items, Costco are rationing toilet roll and it seems you can’t buy hand sanitiser anywhere. I was going to write “for love nor money” there, but I’ve actually given away some of my substantial (and accidentally accrued) stash for love this week, and it seems that £15 will get you a 60ml travel bottle of hand gel on eBay today… tomorrow, that will probably cost £20…

Honestly I have no idea what level of anxiety and fear is warranted, really. The WHO seem to be taking things pretty seriously; the Director General says this must be “top priority for every country”, with “early, aggressive measures”, to stop transmission and save lives, but expresses concern that “in some countries, the level of political will does not match the level of the threat we face.” Of course Trump is not concerned at all, Boris seems to have disappeared over the last couple of days and our (very) new chancellor says the NHS will get everything it needs (like usual?), so it’s all cool. Plus it’s just like a bad cold, anyway.

I’m not an infectious diseases expert, any more than I’m an expert in climate science, so my opinion on how scary this may or may not actually get is largely irrelevant. But I am an over-thinker of the highest order, so of course this has all got me thinking.

What if the planet has just had enough of all these humans?

I read this excellent blog piece earlier in the week, which outlines how, whilst coronavirus is not directly caused by climate change, there are various factors at play on a warming planet which make infectious diseases more likely to emerge and spread throughout humanity. Covid-19 is a zootonic virus, originating from animals. The impact that humans are having on the planet, for example through deforestation and global heating, is changing animals’ migratory patterns and bringing them into closer contact with humans, thus increasing the risk of transmission of these diseases. This article explains the science better than I can, and this one outlines other elements of climate change which are compounding factors in the spread of infectious diseases.

So it seems that Earth is unprepared for increasing disease pandemics. Which is bad news, because it could get a lot worse, as melting permafrosts could release ancient viruses and bacteria that humans haven’t been exposed to for thousands of years.

And we may well have evolved into a society which is too selfish to contain these diseases. Will people obey instructions to self-isolate or adhere to advice to practice social distancing? Or will people be unwilling to sacrifice their freedoms for the greater good? You and I, dear reader, may be fairly fit and healthy people in our prime (or perhaps not!), but the elderly, infirm and people with compromised immune systems need to be protected.

Probably controversial bit from the above article below, which struck a chord with me:

“Doing whatever is necessary to stop the virus spreading is, much like vaccinating your kids against measles, not just about protecting your own interests but putting the wellbeing of the herd first. The trouble is that we all know what has happened to vaccination levels across the west, as a minority of parents seemingly decided the herd was someone else’s problem.”

Will people stay off work, keep their kids at home (and my god the thought of two weeks housebound with a two year old makes me shudder)? Or have we all had enough of experts?

Is there a silver lining? Is it even appropriate or moral to talk about this, when people are dying? Well. Maybe there is. There’s been a dramatic reduction in emissions over China due to the economic slowdown and travel restrictions put in place to try to control the epidemic. Whether this will be negated by a subsequent increase in production at a later date, as a form of bounce back, is of course unknown. There’s also been huge numbers of flights cancelled – great if you live in the flight path, like us. It may of course go both ways, though – locally, I noticed this week awful traffic jams across Blackheath, even worse than normal, but virtually empty buses – so maybe people are driving rather than risking proximity to others on public transport.

Anyway, back to my original thought for this post, inspiring the title. The Gaia hypothesis is not something I know much about – I have had this book in my “to read” pile for about a decade. Maybe this will spur me on to finally read it. The basic idea is that the planet, Mother Earth, is a synergistic, self-regulating and complex system that helps to maintain and perpetuate the conditions for life on the planet. So perhaps Gaia has had enough of the parasitic human race and is ready to cull some of us? Perhaps the emergence of these viruses is the planet’s way of protecting herself from the damage being done unto her.

Of course, like climate change itself, these pandemics will disproportionately affect the poor and vulnerable once they take hold. (Lots of memes are going around at the moment saying that the only reason the rich care about coronavirus is because the economic impact will affect them, whereas they don’t care about global poverty, starvation, all the other deaths from cancer, suicide etc. I think this is a bit of a simplistic red herring, personally, but I haven’t fully thought it through).

And the numbers pale into insignificance when we compare them to the number of deaths we KNOW will be caused by global heating in the coming decades. This is a social and global (in)justice issue too, of course.

So could we use this as a warning, and work together as a global community to manage this crisis, learning lessons for the future challenges that face our species? We could look at how the panic surrounding coronavirus is causing people to change their habits, reduce their consumption, stop flying – and examine how to replicate these push factors to bring about behavioural change to reduce the impact of humanity on the planet.

Or we could implode into greed and individualism, get distracted from climate change and make it worse by manufacturing billions of plastic bottles of hand gel, which will end up in the ocean.

Buckle up, folks. Only time will tell.

Photo by Lucrezia Carnelos on Unsplash

Reflections on a not-so-zero-waste Valentine’s Day

I always have these great ideas to write posts which are relevant to something current, so I can ride the hashtag wave and go viral, then I don’t manage to write them in time for the actual day and it feels a bit naff. But anyway, I’m going to post this a few days late and hope that someone out there still finds it interesting.

Disclaimer: I was not trying to have a zero waste Valentine’s Day. I have had one full night’s sleep in the last 16 days so I’m not really trying very hard at anything much at the moment. This is a just some reflections on what we did, what some other people seem to do and what we could do better next year.

Clearly the most low carbon impact to do would be nothing. Have a bowl of locally sourced turnip soup, stay in with the heating turned off and play Scrabble by candle-light, then definitely do NOT conceive a child (carbon footprint of babies… God, I’m procrastinating SO much on writing about this). For the perfect Instagrammable “zero waste” gifts, you could choose organic underwear or a hand-engraved vintage fork for £12. Less easily Instagrammable options include chocolates (vegan and plastic-free, obvs) or booze (in glass of course). Other things I’ve seen people write about are wrapping presents in old maps or fabric, donating to a charity in place of buying a gift (I do actually quite like this one), the usual eco-friendly suggestions like soap bars, natural loofahs, natural beard shampoo (!), or home made edibles wrapped in tissue paper. “Experience” gifts like going to a concert or a stately home don’t have a “stuff” impact, but they will have some carbon footprint in terms of travel.

Of course, all of these are better than plastic-wrapped crap or polyester teddies from Clinton’s that you don’t want or need. It’s hard to strike the balance between having a bit of romance and treating your partner, and buying stuff that you don’t need – and that means anything, even organic beard oil if they don’t want it or organic underwear if they don’t need it (the carbon and water footprint of organic cotton is actually still pretty awful).

I would absolutely NEVER be up for going out to a restaurant on Valentine’s Day, even without any childcare considerations – I’ve got no desire to be crammed in with loads of other couples, eating from an over-priced set menu surrounded by naff decorations. In previous years I’ve cooked special food, and my plan this year was to try out Jack Monroe’s mushroom, lentil and ale pie (37p per portion, #FrugalFebruary), but as noted above, I’m tired. So I used my Christmas Marks & Spencer gift card (thanks Mum!) to get us some ready-cook deliciousness (and booze). And this is what was left…

In the strictest zero waste definition (nothing going to landfill), this is zero waste because our black bin waste goes for incineration, but I totally get that I’m being facetious in my interpretation there. Actually everything went in the recycling except the cork (compost), the plastic films from the Camembert and the spinach (ecobrick) and the black plastic from the Camembert (I thought our council actually accepted black plastic for recycling, but I’ve recently learnt that they don’t). Present-wise, my husband bought me some tulips (plastic wrapper in the bin, eco footprint of cut flowers very bad), and I bought him two books about Brexit that I want to read (who said romance was dead…) and some beers. And we did give each other cards, and we also will go for a curry tomorrow night when my mum is here to babysit (again, thanks, Mum).

Is the waste from the ready-cook meal any worse than the ingredients for a home-cooked meal would have been? Probably not, unless I went on a major mission to get loose mushrooms and plastic-free lentils. What’s the ecological and climate impact of new books? (I don’t want to know, I am closing my eyes on this one for as long as I can, I just can’t bear it…) Also I know that meals at restaurants have a higher carbon footprint per head than meals cooked at home, but again I haven’t researched this properly.

So we did a pretty crap job really, but we had a nice time (we watched Best Home Cook – which I love, Claudia Winkelman is brilliant and Mary Berry is magnificent – and went to bed at 10pm, in case anyone’s interested).

Realistically, what would we do differently next year? Possibly re-use the same cards and write a new message. I quite like this idea. Possibly have more energy to buy local, plastic-free food and cook from scratch – but the I’ve got to say it doesn’t feel like much of a treat for me, as chief cook and bottle-washer. (Actual my husband is chief bottle-washer, but anyway). No more flowers? Not sure about this but it’s not exactly a regular thing here. I think we probably won’t buy wrapping paper again for any adult presents (we have 4973 gift bags in a cupboard).

I think it’s about deciding what’s important to you as a couple. I know some people despise the consumerist nature of Valentines’ Day (or Hallmark Day, as some call it), whereas some people really want to be pampered and like to be shown love through gifts and special celebrations. We like eating and watching TV, so I suspect that’s what we will continue to do to mark any and all special occasions for the next decade or so. And I will try to find some plastic-free lentils soon.

Meanwhile, this is the best Valentine’s card I’ve EVER had. (And I have limited interest in discussing zero waste toddler crafts in this context right now, although I suspect the time will come!)