Location:United Kingdom

An avid tea-drinker who likes nutmeg in her coffee and warm lavender-scented quilts. She knits, crochets and partakes in random acts of craftiness (and kindness). She likes obscure works of literature, philosophy and the idea that her mind exists separately from her body. She enjoys moving furniture around, literary criticism and baking bread. She writes haiku about nettles, would like to swim with seals and become completely self-sufficient. She writes as if her life depends on it, listens to beautiful music, and loves her darling husband Mr. VP.

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Friday 26 May 2006

Just how far is far enough?

Going green is an ethical minefield. When one starts out on the crusade, it seems easy enough if you’re willing to do something about it in the first place, but boy it gets complicated! Not to put any readers off, perhaps it is my own mind making things more difficult than they have to be – and lets think about it, I am prone to the odd philosophical outburst. Thinking about the impact that our lives have on the planet, has made links in my head to power consumption, local sourcing and using ethical companies. If for instance, you want to follow the 100-mile diet, does that mean not drinking tea and coffee, giving up chocolate and not going organic if your country doesn’t produce those foods. What about buying organic produce that doesn’t come in “safe packaging” (by this I mean packaging that could contain phthalates)? See what I mean? Ethically I want to do the best thing for all concerned. I want to eat local, organic produce, causing as little impact on the countryside as humanly possible, but it’s not easy.

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[The thought that these bees might not be here in a hundred years scares me to death]

In my green crusade, I’ve come across some really interesting things. My beliefs about being green were really called into question watching a BBC4 interview with James Lovelock, the incredibly intelligent and down-to-earth scientist behind the Gaia theory. The theory that Earth is a self-regulating system, controlling temperature, weather, and life itself (think of the earth as a human body, and we are similar to bacteria on its surface – not quite what Lovelock himself says, but it seems rather apt). The interview brought a few things into the limelight. According to Lovelock, the damage that we have done to the world is irreperable by ourselves alone, so “being green” is not necessarily going to help the world if large economies like the US and China refuse to make the changes too – nothing we can do will help. I agree with that, but as we make “green choices” we too are making a difference, and educating those around us, to stop wasting, to reduce what we use and to recycle more. I hope, and this is a pretty large hope, but I hope that in the future, generations will look back at us and think “I can’t believe people weren’t environmentally conscious back then”, with a similar view that we hold of the 1970’s with the use of CFCs and DDT. Lovelock also went on to say that the best and most effective way of getting power is by going nuclear. I am torn on this issue especially, because there are so many conflicting reports and ideas. I love the idea of nuclear power, the fact that it’s a long-lasting, clean, green way to get electricity and that the environmental impacts are few. Until a disaster like Chernobyl happens that is, then it turns into something malign, something that has killed hundreds of thousands of people, tainted the ground for 600 years to come, and caused hell to so many. There is also the issue of where to dump nuclear “spent” fuel, the stuff that doesn’t pump out as much ‘juice’ as fresh uranium does. Some nuclear plants use as many as 400 fuel rods in any given year, meaning that 400 are dumped, usually in cement-lined, water-filled pits. Anything that is run by humans is fallable, lest we should have another disaster like Chernobyl.

If it weren’t for the dumping issue (and human error), I don’t think I’d mind as much about nuclear energy being used as a fuel source. But, like all natural resources except water, air, light and heat, nuclear power is a finite source. Almost daily there are warnings about oil shortages, gas prices rise because the north-sea gas field is being used up, and coal mines shut because they’re not as productive as they once were – it’ll only be a matter of time before all of the nuclear sources have been used up too. Then what? It might not happen for many hundreds of years, but it will one day happen, and I don’t like the thought of a world lacking the ability to use nature and harness it. If you sit down and have a good think about all of this, then it seems rather dispiriting, but I am still sticking to my view that if everyone made some pretty small changes in their lives, then the world would be a lot nicer place.

Over this last week I’ve been formulating plans for our household to adhere to, so that we can live as ecologically as possible. It can be expensive if you plan on buying nothing but eco-friendly products pre-made, but things like washing powder, soap, washing-up powder and household cleaners can all be made yourself, saving lots of money.

Our long-term green plans are this:

Aim to stop the use of all chemicals in the house and on our bodies that aren’t ‘safe’.

It’s really simple to do, it means cutting down on your consumption of products like washing powders (make your own – recipe coming soon), washing-up liquids, handwashes, shampoos and household cleaners. If you use a liquid handwash, swap it for soap instead – it cleans just as well! Shampoos? Try a green alternative! Cut down on parabens, sodium laureth/lauryl sulphate/sulfate, things containing PVC and phthalates, overly-packaged items, things in non-recyclable packaging. Usually this means anything commonly available in a supermarket.

Source Locally – follow the 100-mile diet as often as possible and eat organically.

Having read this and this, I am absolutely taken aback. Admittedly this is centered around America, but products like DDT (banned as a pesticide over here in the 70’s) were used in the UK, and have been shown to linger in the body for decades. Finding out too, about what is really in every-day objects has swayed me so much that there will be a serious crack-down on what comes into this house.

Using only seasonal vegetables is an area particularly close to my heart. Having grown up with Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s enthusiasm for seasonal produce, how could one not follow suit? Many people claim that eating seasonally is better for our bodies, and I agree wholeheartedly. Strawberries at Christmas? Pheasants in summer? Insane. By eating all produce (meat included) when it comes into season, you’re putting less stress onto the producers to buy vegetables that aren’t in season. You’re also doing good things for your bodies. We need certain vegetables and fruit at certain times of the year. Why don’t we take some of nature’s advice? Shopping at small greengrocers is usually a good place to start – less likely to have organic produce (I speak from personal experience only – there are great organic greengrocers around too, you just have to find out where), but are great at sourcing locally. Again with the ethical minefield of “Is organic produce from 400 miles away better than non-organic produce from 2 miles away?”. That, dear readers is for you to decide. To paraphrase Buffy the Vampire Slayer, that is between you and your inner moppet.

Then there’s the meat question. If you had to slaughter your own chickens, for example, would you eat meat less often?

Save electricity, gas and petrol.

It’s simple to do, it’s wearing a jumper rather than using the heating. Already, despite a considerable drop in temperature recently, our heating has only been turned on once in the last 2 ½ months. Our boiler is a condensing ‘combi’ boiler, making hot water and heating on demand, rather than heating a tank-full of water that isn’t always used. It is about as energy-efficient as mainstream boilers get. If you insist on having the heating on, turn it down by 4°C and you’ll be saving a good deal of money and energy.

To save electricity we turn off the television rather than leaving it on standby (something which very few people do). Whilst on standby your TV is still using 70% of its overall running power. Swap your bulbs for energy-efficient lightbulbs, they last much longer than normal bulbs, and can nowadays be bought very cheaply from places like Ikea (some organisations give bulbs away free at events).

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[a car very similar to my own]

Being the proud owner of a Smart car, I can say that I am using one of the most efficient cars on the market. My Fiancé uses a small car too, one that does produce slightly more emissions, but has some of the lowest emissions on the market. When, at some point in the future, we have our small-holding, I will use one of the best forms of transport possible; a horse. But until then, I’ll stick with Red, she’s my little baby. But I digress. Use the car as little as possible. Don’t repeatedly go out, do all of your errands at once to get them over with in one burst. Buy a car with good mileage (miles per gallon or mpg – the more the better) and the least emissions. If you use a diesel car, why not try bio diesel. If you can’t be bothered to make it yourself, you can now start to buy it from petrol stations all over England!

Make our own electricity and hot water, come “off-grid” and live sympathetically with our surroundings. To be completely self-sufficient.

Like I said, this is a long-term goal. It’s not cheap to go installing photo-voltaic (or PV – electricity producing) solar-panels, neither is it easy to install wind turbines, but both options are things that we’d like to install at some point. A cheaper alternative is to think on a slightly smaller scale. Instead of aiming to produce all of your electricity, how about installing a water-heating solar panel. At less than half the cost of a PV panel, all of your hot water could be heated from a set of tubes strategically placed on your roof. Or using small PV panels to run things like your household lighting, or a certain appliance. If you have your own source of water on your property, perhaps you could make like the Strawbridges and have a water-wheel connected to a dynamo to create power.

This might all seem a little far-out to most (and in some aspects, it could be construed as out-and-out hippyism), but it is in fact one of the sanest possible solutions to our current energy ‘crisis’. The more we do to become self-sufficient, the less we have to rely on out-dated and failing public-sector resources to make sure that we have light, heat and food around us for the long haul. In the current political climate, who in their right minds would trust their government anyway?

As things go, it’s also not easy to be completely self-sufficient, as this entails dealing with everything yourself. From your own water supply to food, clothing and life as whole. But it’s something that I strive to have, hopefully for a good long time in my life. Living sympathetically means working with nature to live healthily and grow our own food, rather than smothering nature with chemicals. Life survives really well on a small scale, growing enough food for us and our neighbours, it’s when large-scale food production starts that the problems escalate. I understand why farmers use huge amounts of chemicals on their produce – they have acres, sometimes hectares of land to tend, perhaps with only one or two helpers, with deadlines to meet, and poor pay – who wouldn’t take short-cuts? It’s not right, but it’s because we want “perfect” looking apples that they are now insipid, tasteless and last five minutes when removed from their chemically-impregnated bags. But they look really pretty. You decide which is better.

4 thoughts on “Just how far is far enough?

  1. Daisy Lupin says:

    I look forward to your receipes for green household products as I do wish that green products on sale were not so much dearer than the chemical ones. I have also signed up for one of the newsletters you highlighted and you had read. I am already on a gas and electricity savings drive and have not been leaving my television, hi-fi etc on standby for many months. Why are we so lazy about simply turning a switch on and off?

    Yes I have been avidly watching Chelsea every evening this week and as we have freeview, watching the BBC interactive channel that take you in detail around the show touring both the gardens and the Great Pavillion. Lots of inspiration around, although a lot of the starker and sparse gardens are not to my taste, I’m an old fashioned girl I like gardens full of cottage flowers, gardens that are crammed full of herbs and flowers and look slightly untidy and blowsy. I’ve already sent for some of the catalogues of the plant stalls mentioned on these tours. Although, these will mainly be for browsing, I may indulge next year in one or plants that I loved such as the Pacific Irises from Broadleigh Nursery, I can always hint to family about them for birthday presents etc.

  2. ~ Tracy ~ says:

    Thank you for this informative post!

  3. Gina E. says:

    Phew!! Gosh Vintage Pretty, have you ever thought of writing a book? You sure have enough to say, and the right way of saying it! Maybe I’ve missed something and you have been published already? I found you via Ms Robyn’s blog and decided to pay a visit. So glad I did, and I will be back! One thing you did not mention (and many people won’t acknowedge or agree with my sentiments here) is that all our problems on Earth are caused by over population of the human race. If there weren’t so many of us, the resources of the planet would be lasting a lot longer, the environment would not be as polluted, and wildlife would not be disappearing along with the habitat it needs that we are destroying. Food for thought? Love to read your opinion on this.

  4. ms*robyn says:

    a hard post to comment fully on – loved reading it though!! however, I believe that if we all do our bit in being green, then it is alot better than doing nothing at all.

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