Well, I didn’t do a great job at keeping up with Saturday Switch, did I? Is anyone still out there? I thought I should check in, just to make sure you all know I’m still alive…
I’m in this slightly weird place, right now. It’s a freelancer’s dream to have too much work, and I’m kind of waiting for the bubble to burst. And it’s a bit of a dilemma, trying to decide whether to invest time into my own writing, which may never have any financial reward, or just writing stuff for other people. Some of it’s great, some of it feels a bit like churning out re-hashed content into the vortex of the internet, to sell a bunch of stuff that no-one needs.
See, I love this blog and it’s been the springboard of all my current writing adventures. But it’s SO much effort to make any progress with blogging. And I have a new kitchen to fund, and people who want to pay me to write articles about shipping containers… so… it’s a struggle, people.
Plus, I kind of wonder about “sexing up” this blog, making it all SEO friendly with headers and keywords and stuff (I know what all this stuff means now, guys). Like, I don’t really want to do that, but if I wanted a gazillion more views then I would have to. And I definitely don’t want to do affiliate advertising – as one of my main missions in this blog is to try to persuade people to Stop Buying All The Stuff. Maybe I’ll just add a “Buy Me a Coffee” button… but that would involve learning how to use WordPress properly… Hmmm.
Anyway, enough angst. I have a vague content plan, I want to write more here, for myself and for you guys – some of my lovely readers are clamouring for more! Like the amazing Tortoise Happy – check out their blog, it’s ace. After a Twitter chat earlier this week, I feel inspired to write about bamboo soon.
Meanwhile, I wanted to write a bit about knackeredness and overwhelm, actually. I wrote over on Secret Scribbles about this ****ing virus and how it’s not going away but why I don’t want to write about it anymore. But it’s still in my brain, of course, and taking up my energy. And I wake up in the early hours sometimes thinking about climate change and how I’m not doing ENOUGH and all that existential stuff. So much to read, so much to learn, so much to think about. And the content machine never stops so it’s overwhelming. I listen to a brilliant podcast and then there are about nine other podcasts and books recommended in it and there will never, ever be enough time to absorb all this stuff.
I think it’s normal to feel like this – if I still believed in God I would say we are entering the last days, people. The Covid crisis is a fraction of how bad the consequences of climate change are going to be. So, onward Christian (and non-Christian) soldiers. Bamboo post in two days’ time. Promise.
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.
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.
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.
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.