Green with envy

Dot writes: one of our trips while in Wales was to the Centre for Alternative Technologies just north of Machynlleth. Before we went I had this vague idea it would be all wacky inventions – hovering shopping trolleys and clockwork pet-feeding systems and whatnot. Actually it is a centre for experimentation in sustainable living. There are sections on house design (houses with extremely thick walls, houses with conservatories that function as buffer zones to prevent heat escaping, wooden eco-houses you can build yourself); transport; grey-water recycling; organic gardening; micro-generation of electricity; and making your own compost. There’s a sort of play area with huge musical instruments made out of recycled plastic pipes and bits of wood, and the compost section has a huge slide in the shape of a worm which we all tried, including my mum, and also including Ken with Hugh strapped to his chest in the Baby Bjorn. They have an exciting range of environmentally friendly toilets. And at the end of your tour you can respond to their critique of consumerism by buying things in their large and tempting shop.

I did find it all very inspiring, despite the rather hectoring and preachy tone of some of the exhibits (if you’re there at all you probably don’t need convincing that global warming is a scary thing – unless of course you thought you were going to see hovering shopping trolleys). I would love to have an eco-house one day. I loathe the combination of clutter and waste in my life and I was thrilled by this vision of a neatly interlocking system, where the waste of one activity becomes the base material of the next. But I did come away with some questions and a sense of frustration. What are you supposed to do if you live in a town and don’t have space for two feet of insulation in the walls or your own vegetable garden? What if you rent? What if you live in a development where you aren’t officially allowed even to hang your washing outside, let alone put solar panels on the roof? It seems that ecological virtue is another luxury reserved for the older generation and the financially well-off. We have resolved to use our car less, which is one measure that is made easier by living in a town, and we buy low-energy light bulbs, and we’re going to put matting round the balcony so we can hang out our wet clothes in discreet defiance of the regulations; but it all seems rather feeble. The kind of large-scale change that needs to happen cannot be left to individuals; it requires major investment from government to upgrade the existing housing stock and impose radically higher standards on builders. Sadly, I can’t see that happening in Ireland any time soon.

*warning: next paragraph is about Female Matters*

Readverting to the shop mentioned earlier, I have purchased for myself, against the time (not yet arrived) when it will again become necessary, a mooncup in size A (for women over thirty or who have given birth vaginally: I am now in both categories). The mooncup is an environmentally-friendly device that is, in my opinion, better in pretty much every way than the non-eco alternatives. It saves you money; it’s very comfortable; you don’t have to carry towels or tampons around; and once you get the knack it’s very easy to insert and remove. If you are a menstruating woman and can use tampons, I thoroughly recommend it. In the UK you can buy them in Boots, which is where I got my first one; in Ireland you can order them over the internet.

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14 thoughts on “Green with envy

  1. Dot

    By mooncups! Not quite as good as gadzooks:-)

    I put in the plug for the mooncup partly because I first heard of it myself through a feminist e-zine called Whirling Cervix. I thought I’d carry on the internet buzz. (I don’t know what’s happened to Whirling Cervix, though – it was a long time ago. I’ll google.)

  2. I feel the same way. I want to do things to make my house more energy efficient but until you can afford to build your own house there isn’t really much you can do in terms of establishing a clockwork system like the one you want.

    In our terrace house in York we have double glazing and that’s about it for better insulation. We had to replace our boiler so now we have a condensing boiler which is more efficient. I don’t think there is any useful way to insulate the solid exterior walls — like you said I’m certainly not giving up any interior space! However I do plan to pull up the ground-floor floor boards one day, lay in insulation and then put them back down. If we lose a little height in the room, no worries, it has plenty. And the roof needs to be relaid. When I have that done I will have the roof fully insulated. I’d love to put solar panels up for water heating and may do this eventually, but I think those other tasks take priority.

    That said, I remain skeptical and unconvinced by what I have read about global warming, both as a trend that exists at all, and as a consequence of human activity. It doesn’t affect my desire to increase the energy efficiency of my household; conservation of resources is of itself right, in my opinion. But I have to plug for skepticism here.

    My theory is that oil reserves are running out faster than we have previously thought. Our governments know this and are trying to prepare us for a time when we won’t be able to drive cars or run tumble driers. The story of global warming is an easy and safe method for persuading people that harsh times are on the way, to prepare now for a time when strict measures will have to be introduced, not because we burnt all the oil that was in the earth, but because we have to stop burning it in order to save ourselves from certain doom. The story is scary but it offers hope; we might be able to turn things around. If they told us that oil was going to run out in 20 years, there would be no chance of salvation and chaos would erupt. They aren’t being too draconian yet because they don’t want to wreck the economy. When the time comes, harsher and harsher measures will be introduced to reserve oil for industrial use. We may not even know when the last barrel is pumped from the ground.

    If climate change is real, why are our governments so relaxed about it? So far they’ve done little but talk about it. I believe that if our governments truly believed the story of man-made climate change, they would be doing more, much more, to change the way we live. They would be breaking down planning laws in order to allow eco-homes to be built. They would be enforcing household limits on fuel and energy consumption. They would make rules that lights and computers in office buildings had to be connected to automatic switches that, detecting no activity, turned off these devices. They would enforce regulations limiting the amount of waste packaging allowed, or eliminating it altogether. They would make it illegal to fly a jumbo jet from Manchester to London. The various European governments’ responses to the supposed threats of climate change do not seem to me urgent enough. They profess to believe the story, but they don’t act like they believe it.

    The man in the street sees this, he sees corporate waste levels, corporate profits, his own all mighty tininess. Why should he forego his Sunday drive? Why should he cycle through the rain to work? Why should he stoop to switch his telly off at the socket when Sony says leave it on standby? Why should he use less so the Chinese and Indians can use more?

    If it is real, I think we’re screwed. I remain skeptical.

  3. kenanddot

    Jeremy, the Government reaction is muted because we live in a democracy and they cannot make too many demands on us or they will get voted out. Their short term priorities win out over the long term greater good. The thing about climate change that makes it hard to legislate drastically for is that the expected disasters will mostly happen in the future and in the tropics. So, I don’t think you’re entitled to reason from the apparent lack of response to the conclusion that there really must be something else going on. As to whether or not global warming is real, why not take the IPCC word for it?

  4. Belle Inconnue

    I agree with dot that there is a limited amount people can do as individuals and there needs to be collective action, directed at the big issues rather than the small choices, if we are to conserve resources and live in a greener way. I find the fact that we are offered a choice between battery chickens and ones that have been reared in a humane and sustainable way, for example,absurd. People should be offered a choice between good chicken or lentils instead – that would be sensible.

    Also people keep carping on about not using cars – I don’t have a car, but I live in the city and don’t need to commute. If you live in the country there isn’t really any public transport, what there is horribly expensive, badly designed doesn’t go where you want when you want, so of course people need cars. Especially when the government do nothing to stop the closure of local services – these new polyclinics they’re talking about will probably mean people in the countryside will now all need to drive to the town to go the drs. So, although people are ‘offered a choice’ the choice is dictated by how much money you have, so actually there is no choice at all, and then individuals get blamed for ‘making the wrong choice’. I find it quite sinister – its like the government are trying to make the political personal, rather than acknowledging that the personal is political.

    Its pretty clear why they won’t take action – people would complain about ‘the nanny state’, they would say they don’t believe in global warming, and there are too many bodies putting pressure on the government to not do anything – and they are the rich people who can offer donations, whereas it’s poor people who will be affected most by climate change and lack of resources, and the poor don’t count, do they?

    Sometimes I think maybe the government is right in ruthlessy following a profits before people agenda, and shamelessly kowtowing to big business, because if we remain a rich country we will probably still be able to get the things we need, and sort out environmental problems as they arise. Sometimes I just think they’re psychopathic arseholes.

  5. Belle Inconnue

    I am well freaked out by the mooncup idea. Isn’t it messy?

    I also think that its such a trivial thing – how much waste do a few tampoms or sanitary towels add up to compared to all the other rubbish we create?

    Not that I’m trying to be mean to you, I do many trivial things such as using environmentally friendly cleaning and beauty products, whilst painting my bathroom with petrochemical paints on the grounds that I’m not going to pay three times the price of something already expensive for green ones. Just another example of how we all stress over trivial things whilst ignoring the big problems.

  6. Dot

    Part of my point in the post is that the green things we do as individuals do tend to be trivial. I can’t say I’m very consistent myself e.g. I use the tumble-dryer for sheets (there isn’t really space to dry them otherwise) and I do tend to balk at the price of organic vegetables. With the mooncup, I initially tried it for green reasons, but basically I prefer it all round. You have to pour the blood away and rinse the cup in the sink (or wipe it with tissue paper, if the cubicle has no sink) three or four times a day, and obviously you have to wash your hands before and after insertion. So I suppose you could find it messy; but you have to be able to cope with the sight of blood anyway and it’s no messier to use than Lil-lets. It doesn’t bother me, but I could quite understand if it bothered you. I just really like not having to buy supplies every period and not having to carry them around, and I’ve always found towels uncomfortable and tampons occasionally prone to break.

    Anyway, on the topic of triviality, at least if lots of people make lots of small changes it should add up. The mooncup was one change I found easy and congenial. But it needs governments to do the big stuff.

  7. Sorry, I meant to say… just like advertisers will never tell you that there might be reasons–other than a firm adherence to the truth–why they might want you to believe that Coke is it!

  8. I think all the analyses you both present about our government are probably far more realistic than mine. But my analysis is more fun so I’m going to stick with it!

    I think Belle Inconnue hits on something interesting. Profits before people keeps America and Britain as wholes rich, even if most of the wealth is in the hands of a small number of people. The poor here are better off than the poor in India or China for example. Perhaps France and Germany have a little better balance between profit or people, but then they don’t have as much profit. So perhaps they will not do as well when the crunch time comes.

    The reason I don’t take the IPCC’s word for it is because the members of the panel do not include any dissenting voices. In my opinion, it is unrealistic that an issue as complex and enormous, involving as many scientific disciplines as climate change involves, should be agreed upon without dissent.

    For me, that doesn’t mean the IPCC is necessarily wrong, but it does mean that they have probably not considered all the possible scenarios. If information and data are suppressed or ignored, then the IPCC are not scientists, they are politicians. And their decisions are political and not scientific in nature. Still, they might be right. But I do not trust them.

    My friend Matt, who is an atmospheric scientist working in Colorado, makes some interesting points on his blog. Points I wish more scientists had the guts to stand up and make. But, unfortunately, when you depend on an idea being accepted, or else you lose your income, well, you’d have to be pretty highly principled to challenge that idea’s veracity. Just like advertisers will never tell you that, in fact, Coke is not it.

    http://whoismatt.blogspot.com/2008/03/to-kate.html

  9. Ooooh!!! Very excited about the Mooncup – will look forward to updates (and will be quizzing you later). Seen here in Dublin in a couple of health-food stores and I think I saw them in Boots in Dundrum, bottom shelf in a corner (by the all-cotton no-chlorine-bleach tampons I was delighted to see they’ve started carrying).
    Like the Eee and assorted Mac items, I wonder how the Mooncup will be evolving linguistically, and infusing usage? It brings to mind much more poetic circumlocutions about “time of the month” than did, well, the old rags. I tried – e.g. “it’s a glad rags week.” “I’m Mooncupping next week” or “I’ll be cupping the moon then, sorry old chap” seems preferable and more flexible.

  10. My mooncup arrived yesterday… Still thankfully no need for it even now about 3 weeks after we retired the snacky boob, although I’m not entirely sure that the two things are completely linked…

  11. Belle Inconnue

    Ah, Jeremy, the friendly texacan maverick!

    By that logic do you believe all scientists are lying when they say the world is round, not flat? After all, not one of them disagrees, so they must be hiding something!

  12. The surface of the earth being curved on average is a relatively simple statement that can and has been demonstrated. Climate change is a complex hypothesis based on massive observational data and intricate predictive models. They aren’t comparable things.

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