Saturday is World Earth Day, this year’s theme is “Climate Literacy” which is needed more than ever. I have been reading The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History which is scary warning for all that is going wrong with our natural environment. It essential, if depressing, reading. So I started to look for some signs of hope, technology that is making things better, and simple ways to make my habits more sustainable.
One big impact on our environment comes from what we eat, the high level of meat in our diet has a negative effect in terms of land use, water use, pollution and green house gas emissions. Some experts conclude that we just need to eat less meat, according to Mark Bittman in a TED talk from 2007 “Less meat, less junk, more plants”. There are a couple of answers for the future that don’t require you to give up all the bacon.
Also called synthetic meat, fake meat, clean meat or in vitro meat, depending on the view of the writer. It has given rise to all those stories of the World’s Most Expensive Burger, tasty Chicken treats, and pet medication. As far as I know there’s no synthetic bacon that passes the taste test – yet.
I have eaten scorpion.
What we eat is largely culturally determined, and while in the west eating insects has a high cultural barrier around the world thousands of people eat insects – deliberately.
So where did I eat scorpion? In China, there was a translation issue, or a pronunciation issue since the word for scorpion (xiēzi) is quite close to the word from eggplant (qiézi). Or perhaps it was the waiter’s little joke on the foreigners. The scorpion is technically an arachnid, rather than an insect, but the idea is the same. They come deep fried, which denatures the poison and they’re, um, crunchy.
If you feel ikky about eating insects it’s a barrier you can overcome, indeed we may have to.
What can you do?
- reduce the amount of meat you eat, experiment with meat-free Mondays, or only eat meat in the weekends.
- pay attention to the source of your meat, if you’re eating less you can pay more for meat from animals that have been grazing outdoors.
- learn to cook vegetarian meals, the lentil is your friend.
- plan your meals so that you reduce food waste.
Fashion has evolved a ‘fast fashion‘ ethos, where we add to our wardrobe continuously with cheap clothes designed not to last. This consumes resources and creates waste as we throw away clothes after relatively few wears. The waste created is reaching crisis proportions, with Americans discarding 35 kilograms of clothing per year. Some estimates reckon that clothes on the fast fashion cycle stay in a woman’s closet just five weeks. There is a lot to think about in the quest to buy sustainable clothing.
There are advances being made in the actual composition of the fabric used in clothing, using soy, recycled nylon, or coffee grounds. Some of the companies are also developing closed loop systems so that everything developed will be recycled again.
There are also entrepreneurs working on new crops for fabric, bamboo is promising as a source but it’s manufacturing process seems to be a problem. Alpaca, wool and hemp also provide sustainable options, in each case you need to now about the source and the processing to be really sure.
What can you do?
- pay attention to fabric type and source, avoid toxic fabrics
- check manufacturing process, ask who made your clothes
- when buying a garment ask yourself if you would wear it at least 30 times, this is the #30wears campaign started by Livia Firth. (Hat tip Mathilde Teuben)
- repair your clothes, you should be able to sew on a button yourself, but there are tailors in every city. Two winters ago I paid for a winter coat to be re-lined, I think it cost 50 euro but that was cheaper than a replacement coat and it’s lasted two more winters.
- consciously recycle, if you research where discarded clothing goes, it’s often landfill.
The two best options for large scale sustainable energy use are solar and wind.
Tesla has created the Powerwall, a system to harness and store solar energy. Designed for domestic use sales were were high through last year, and this provides a good option for small scale use, but is limited when it comes to those of us living in apartments – I don’t have any roof space on which to install solar panels.
The Netherlands has offshore windfarms, you fly over them if you’re arriving from the UK. I had naively thought that Europe was doing well on installing wind power as form of renewable energy, but in fact China is doing better than any other country.
China is the biggest installer of new wind power capacity, installing about half of the new wind power capacity each year. In fact wind energy has become a major industry with at least six turbine companies.
We’ll need a much faster growth of renewable energy options in the west if we’re going to reduce our reliance on hydrocarbon energy forms. This matters for two reasons:
- we will eventually run out of hydrocarbons, we’re already struggling to sustain supply without damaging our environment and resorting to fracking, arctic drilling and deep sea drilling in pristine environments.
- the pollution from the use of hydrocarbons is poisoning our oceans, and our atmosphere.
What can you do? Reduce your energy consumption:
- Take public transport
- Ride a bike
- Lower your central heating and put on a sweater
- Insulate your house – even closing the curtains at night lowers the energy needed to heat your apartment.
We have known for a long time that plastic (incidentally often made from oil) do not biodegrade and that they create pollution. Plastic is a major component of landfill, and in our oceans it has created a floating rubbish patch in the north Pacific. There are municipal recycling schemes in Dutch cities to encourage recycling of plastic, but total plastic recycled is still less than 10%.
Some work has gone into making biodegradable plastics or packaging. The latest is an algae membrane used to package single serves of water, the packaging is even edible. It works as a single serve option but it’s a flawed solution, and will never replace the existing options.
What can you do to lower your plastic use?
- carry a shopping bag
- shop at a market that doesn’t package fruit/vegetables
- carry a water bottle
- avoid drinking straws and plastic packaging (I am sitting in a cafe that is making the change to no plastic, starting with paper straws)
- more ideas on the Trash is for Tossers blog
Companies and governments change on the basis of what people want, eventually. I know it may seem hard to believe some days. So tell them.
- refuse the plastic straw at the bar and say why
- buy from companies who are sustainable
- talk to companies about what they could do better: by phone, letter, email, Facebook or twitter
- boycott companies that don’t improve – and tell them
- support an NGO that works on sustainability issues with a donation, your time, your voice
- tell others about companies and initiatives you’ve heard of that are sustainable.
- recycle your rubbish
- call on your city to provide recycling measures
- call on business to support recycling measures
There’s no easy answer here, everything we do has an impact on the planet, all we can do is make choices to reduce our impact. Reduce what we consume, re-use items, re-purpose others, recycle as much waste as we can.
And speak up, tell companies that you expect sustainable products, tell your elected officials that you want a world for the next generation, and the one after that, and the one after that, and the one after that, and the one after…