Thursday, 17 January 2008

Why do it easy when you can do it hard?

This isn’t a post about self-flagellation or fell-running, or any other similarly unappealing activities. It’s about the efforts involved in trying to take steps to live as ethical a life as possible, which is something which I rate very highly.

I was struck over the festive period how many of our friends were sourcing their turkeys from local organic farms, which made me very pleased (animal welfare is one of my big motivators in making consumer choices). However, I hardly know anyone (apart from Eco Sis :) ) who is cutting down on flying or driving, which seems a bit perverse. I’m a big believer in taking responsibility for our own actions, even if they seem like small steps on what needs to be a very big collective journey. After all, how will we ever take the big steps if there aren’t lots of people taking the small ones? I hate the thought of leaving everything to government legislation, or not bothering because ‘it won’t make a difference’.

So, to that end, we’ve been slowly making some changes to our lifestyle over the last couple of years. We recycle, we compost, we travel to work by bike, bus and train (in fact, we chose where we were going to live precisely so we could do that), we buy local where possible, and we’ve banned ourselves from flying for at least a year and preferably more. I should add straight away that this is partly because we went to Australia this summer, and I also went to San Francisco in the autumn, both on work trips – we feel that we have more than used up our carbon allowance for the foreseeable future. But, we also believe that living ethically and trying to cut down our adverse impact on the environment is worth a bit of sacrifice. We’re not sun-worshippers so we don’t mind not going to hot places on holiday. However, it also means that we won’t meet the incipient-mini-munchkin until he or she is several years old, and we won’t see the Munchkin turning into a talking, running little person either. It’s not an easy decision by any means.

This is all stuff which I take very seriously, and plan to write more about in the future. It was in my mind particularly today though, because I've been busy researching how to get to a conference in Belfast without flying. I could get a bus to Birmingham airport and fly there in – what – an hour and a bit? Or I could get an overnight bus via Holyhead or Stranraer, and turn up at my conference feeling smug but completely shattered. For me there is no choice (with apologies to the people who will have to listen to my paper). I can see why many people don’t see it as being an option though, and I try not to disclose my hard line opinions to others! But all these decisions bring more questions: is it ok to take the car if the The Scientist comes with me? How about hiring an eco-friendly car when we get there? How do I square buying fair trade bananas when I want to support locally grown and in-season produce? How does my no-animal-testing stance tally with my certainty that I would not have wavered if I were told that the drugs which saved The Scientist’s life a few years ago had been tested on animals? I know that there are inconsistencies in what I do, but I think that it’s important to have a framework of priorities so that our choices are meaningful. For me, that’s happy animals, low food miles, supporting fair trade, minimising carbon emissions and recycling. Different elements of that equation get prioritised at different times, but I don’t think that makes them less valid because they are part of my overall lifestyle choice. It does make me cross that you have to have money to make most of these choices, but that’s a rant for another post.

The other thing which brought these thoughts to the forefront of my mind today was the arrival of my festive present from The Scientist: two fruit trees! Anyone who knows me will understand what a hostile and precarious lifestyle these poor little twigs are entering by joining our household, but I’m hoping that I can nurture them to happy adulthood. This is part of a new drive to try growing some of our own fruit and veg. I’m hoping that in a few years I will have apples and pears, courtesy of the trees, and I am busy reading up on growing vegetables in containers on our patio. I’ll keep you updated! I also want to reduce our rubbish more, and in the longer term, research solar energy and better home insulation.

Some of these things are easy because they fit into our lifestyle naturally. In fact, I find it hard not to get annoyed when people don’t change to a green electricity tariff, or use household products that don’t leach nasty stuff into the ecosystem. I love baking, cooking from scratch, and mending and making things. Other things are harder, like not seeing family abroad, or doing without out-of-season fruit (I eat a LOT of fruit!). I’m sure that my journey to Belfast is not going to be a highlight of my life to date. But there’s a real sense of community out there now of people trying to make changes like this. Some of my favourite blogs are written by people much more committed than me, and inspire me to make more changes. Eco Sis and Eco Bro are also a source of inspiration and ideas. So, sorry this post is all words - here's a chocolate pkark to reward you for getting this far. Now, I must go and water those poor little trees…

1 comment:

LisaRene said...

I applaud your dedication. You are right, every little bit helps. I'm certainly not perfect but I do try. I'm a vegetarian primarily because of the animal cruelty issues and secondarily because of the effect factory farming has on the environment. I don't buy products tested on animals and use only non-toxic household cleaners.

I contradict my beliefs by wearing leather shoes and having leather seats in my car. Every now and then I give in and buy a toxic cleaning product for a particularly tough cleaning job and I'm certain I too have use medications tested on animals, so I have my inconsistencies as well.

I think it is a matter of doing the best we can and trying to continually improve. I like what you said about "meaningful choices", that's a nice sentiment.