Tag Archives: green living

The car mindset

People who have cars get into the habit of using them. They are easy, convenient things, and just popping out to fetch something is so simple when you have one. I watched a fellow parent send her bloke out, by car, to a shop ten minutes up the road to get a packet of parsley sauce. The shortest journeys are the least efficient. I know plenty of parents who drive their kids to school, when the distances are entirely walkable. People with cars get used to thinking of the car as something it is fine to use.

People who design towns (and tend to have money) and people who decide where resources will be, tend also to think in terms of cars. Lots of people, due to age, poverty, infirmity or lack of inclination, do not own cars. Living in a culture which assumes you can and will drive places, makes this very hard. It is also unfair, pushing marginalised people further out to the edges. This particularly means younger folk, who cannot drive. If we build housing where there is no access to shops, or schools, give people a minimal or non-existent bus service and leave them to it, the results are not good.

In rural parts of the UK, it’s almost impossible to get by now without a car as the most basic of services have long since left the villages and are being pulled out of the small towns as well. Bus services in the countryside are thin and not very frequent.

Cars facilitate commuting, and people give insane amounts of their lives to driving about from one place to another. The time spent driving is time we never get back. Sitting in queues is a miserable business. They might profess to be convenient, but cars facilitate a way of living that takes far more away from us than it gives back.

This is not entirely a rant against car ownership. It’s a rant about the culture we build around cars, the centralisation of them in the way society is structured, the assumption that everyone can access them.

Being car-less is hard work. Buses do not run when you need them, or where you need them outside of cities. Feet will get you around, but how far can you walk? How much can you carry home from the shops when it all has to go on your shoulders?

For the majority of human history, we did not have cars, and life without them was entirely possible. Most people believe that cars give them freedom and independence. They cost a fortune to run. They are the most dangerous thing most people routinely tangle with. A lot of people die on the roads every year. They are noisy, and they belch out pollution. They currently run on oil and the oil will run out. Long term, they aren’t going to be viable.

It might be sensible to start looking for alternatives now, while we have the time to explore it, and start re-structuring our lives and communities so that car use is not at the heart of all ‘normal’ life.


I have done some soul searching and contemplation, trying to work out what I genuinely ‘need’ and what is just for ease, comfort or convenience, to see if I can make any improvements in my life. TV, microwave and other gadgets missing from this list are mostly not there because I don’t have them. Below are the things I’ve identified as luxuries, that I will try and handle better, cut back on where I can, etc. Some are going to take longer to fix.

The laptop. In terms of my ongoing energy use, this has to be the biggy. It’s on 12 hours most days, sometimes more. In my defence, I use it for work, I don’t commute, and at the moment it’s my only way of keeping in contact with my bloke. Currently my emotional wellbeing, and his, depends heavily on my using it, but once he’s here, I’ll cut back and only use it for work, and he will be able to cut back too.

Rubber gloves. Used for washing up, they save my skin from discomfort, but I cannot claim they are a necessity and they cannot be recycled. However, Tom says he can turn them into things, so I will save them once they get holes, and that’s an improvement I can make.

Gas heater. Last winter I used this a lot. It is easier than lighting the wood stove, and I did not have enough dry wood to get through. I’m working now on cutting and stashing wood in the hopes of doing better.

Cars. I don’t have a car, I blag lifts sometimes. However, I cause car use in others, who come to visit me. I’m not sure to what extent I can cut back on this without getting myself more socially isolated than I already am. One to think about.

Books, CDs, DVDs. In terms of stuff I own, these represent a lot of space occupied. They are luxuries. People buy me them as presents. I buy them for other people as presents. I perhaps need to consider how many I am keeping.

Radio. Another luxury use of energy. It is my primary source of news and current affairs, and I tend to put it on when working in the kitchen. I have cut back on using it, and am now unplugging it when not in use as otherwise the plug warms up, so is using electricity.

Washing machine. In my teens I handwashed all of my own clothes, out of necessity. Using the washing machine is pure ease and convenience for me, it would be hard work keeping up with the boy otherwise. I dry outside, I use green cleaning products, full loads and an efficient machine… can I do better on this one? Wear clothes a little longer perhaps to reduce the number of washes. I’m not sure I can face going back to handwashing.

Mobile phone. Usually turned off, carried in case of emergency. Not essential, but I’ve been glad of it during scrapes. I am dedicated to using it no more than for emergencies, and not replacing it any time soon.

Vacuum cleaner. It would be better to brush, but it’s hard to get the dust under control that way and there are people in the house with allergies – me included. Could solve this with floorboards and rugs, but do not yet have enough insulation to make this viable. Something to work on for the longer term there.

Iron. I own a fair amount of cotton and some linen, it has to be ironed, really. Cutting back on it where I can, being more careful about how I hang things to dry, and ironing in bulk for greater efficiency… I suspect I could improve on this issue.

Cat. According to New Scientist, having a pet can be as damaging as running a four by four vehicle. The cat doesn’t hunt, he eats dry food – no food waste, little packaging to recycle, but there is the issue of the litter tray. Room to improve, without giving up the kitty. He’s given me a lot of much needed comfort and companionship through the winter.

Tranquillity. For the sake of my own peace, ease and comfort I do not confront people around me over their lifestyle choices, what they waste, how they live and the ways in which I know their choices impact. Many of my friends are green folk too, and doing their best to make responsible choices, but there are plenty of people around me who could be doing one hell of a lot better. I don’t say anything. That’s one I’m going to have to think about very carefully indeed.

Enlightened Self Interest

On facebook a couple of days ago, a friend protested against the notion of ‘doing your bit’ because it implies that small actions are enough. If you recycle your rubbish buy fair trade coffee and don’t drive everywhere, you are ‘doing your bit’, right? Small actions help when it comes to not damaging the planet, but they are not going to be enough. There are a lot of people in this world, with more anticipated. We have finite resources, pollution, climate change and who knows what to face in the future.

Sometimes it feels like the bit of domesticated recycling and remembering to turn off the lights is akin to neatly arranging the deckchairs on the Titanic whilst steadfastly refusing to acknowledge there’s an iceberg.

The trouble is, that for most of us in the western world, life is quite comfortable, and we’ve no collective desire to give any of that up. We want our cars, gadgets, central heating, foreign holidays, flat screen televisions. The world is not going to end because I’ve bought a new mobile phone, is it? And everyone else is doing it, so why should I be the one to go without? It won’t make any difference anyway. Someone else will fix it – governments, scientists, big business. If we all carry on thinking like that, we are, as a species, going to kill ourselves. Most of us know perfectly well that our current ways of living aren’t viable or sustainable, and even ‘doing your bit’ is not really doing enough.

We guard our ignorance, because it keeps us comfortable. The things we refuse to know, do not hurt us. If we can maintain that not knowing, we don’t have to feel responsible, and then feel the despair and horror that comes from how little power we have to fix all the wrongs in the world. We are bombarded continually with adverts and lifestyle messages about how we should be seeking our own pleasure, comfort and happiness above all else. ‘Because I’m worth it.’ We can only really do that by tuning out all the things that don’t fit. By not thinking about the numbers of animals on the endangered list, or the appalling working conditions in developing countries. Try not to think about how poverty kills children and all those abuses of basic human rights happening in the world right now. Don’t think about how your food got to your fridge, or who made your clothing. Don’t look at pictures of birds dying in oil, and especially don’t think about how human greed for that oil underpins the disaster happening off the American coast.

Are you still feeling comfortable?

The hardest thing here, is to give up the comfort of wilful ignorance, without then succumbing to total despair. Today, I am not asking you to change the world. I am however, asking you to sit down and take a good hard look at your lifestyle, and all those things you ‘must have’ and ‘can’t do without’, all those things you ‘need’, and ask, really, seriously ask yourself if that’s true. How much of your life is built around ease, comfort and convenience as opposed to any kind of sense of responsibility?  Sure, we all want to be comfortable, but we do not have the right to do that at a cost to every other living thing on this planet. We do not have the right to steal from the future and condemn those who follow us to survive in the mess we selfishly create.  

I’m going to have a hard look at my own life over the next few days, and see what I can come up with. I’ve been doing this for years, picking a thing I think I can improve on, working on it, looking for the next thing. It’s a manageable way of progressing. I’ll blog more about that process.

(Added later – I did indeed do that and the blog post is here – https://thepaganandthepen.wordpress.com/2010/06/11/luxuries/)

Lessons from Poverty

It dawned on me that what went wrong, was having money. It’s so easy to fix things by throwing cash at them. We live in a culture where the idea that you throw it away and buy a new one is the norm.

In my teens, I was poor. I had a paper round the paid for my piano lessons, and sometimes little extras, then later a shop job, but I was saving frantically to fund myself through college. I bought second hand clothes. Often, I acquired unwanted things and turned them into clothes. I owned a lot of patched and patchworked things. If I needed something, I’d try and figure out how to make it, improvise it from something else, find it second hand. I frequented jumble sales and car boots.

It was harder work, but it was also greener, more creative and a lot more fun.

Somewhere along the way, I stopped doing that – in part because I married a guy who could afford to buy me things. What with having a small child and being self employed there wasn’t the time to spend on making and creating. I thought.

Life has changed shape. So I’m remembering those old ways of thinking. Currently making a new lampshade out of the metal bits of an old lampshade that had got too tatty, and an old tunic that had a hole in it, and an old window blind. I like how it feels. I like the weird, eccentric things I end up with as a consequence of cobbling them together myself.

Last week I fixed Tom’s jumper, using needle, thread and chopsticks. We talked about my great grandmother, who darned and mended, and the culture of patching up and fixing that has mostly gone. It’s so easy to throw away and buy a new one. But that doesn’t make it a good call. The jumper came out well, at a casual glance you can’t see the repair, and it will serve for a while longer yet. I take a lot of pride in that. That’s something else I had forgotten – the feeling that comes with having sorted something myself. The sense of achievement. You can’t purchase that in a shop, not at any money.

Being cash rich encourages laziness, makes it easy not to bother, to purchase solutions and relinquish creativity. Being tight for money teaches all kinds of skills. I’m remembering what constitutes ‘enough’ and how to be perfectly comfortable on what, by most people’s standards, is very little. It’s good. I’m going to keep doing it, even if the money is there. If I end up with significantly more money than I need, there are issues I can tackle by throwing cash at it. Like buying land for tree planting, or sponsoring tigers. I’m not up to doing the more hands on solutions there, just yet!

Doing Nothing

My friend Adam says that in the society we live in, the most radical thing to do, is to do nothing. So many of our normal everyday activities are about commerce and consumption. Doing nothing, by definition, does not involve spending money or consuming resources.

Nothing is not the same as apathy. The latter is a careless reluctance to act or engage. Nothing, is a consciously chosen action, and it is not the same as idleness, time wasting, or boredom – if you get it right!

Doing nothing, is entering a stillness of body and mind – perhaps a little like meditation, but without discipline or intent. As such, it is a state of openness and acceptance, working with what life gives, being wholly in the moment and experiencing it. Good ways to do this include watching wild birds or animals, gazing at the clouds, watching the patterns of light changing through leaves, looking at rain falling, or snow. It is quiet time, without haste or hassle. If life ‘in the fast lane’ seems both dangerous and pointless to you, then step out, stop. Sit or lie, recline, lounge and otherwise let go for a while. You don’t have to be doing, making, earning, spending and consuming all the while. You do not have to be a cog in the great machine of the economy, churning relentlessly but going nowhere.

This is not time wasted. It is time for the soul, for breathing deeply and releasing tension. Stepping out of the chaos, it becomes possible to think, and from there, possible to make good decisions rather than rushed, ill-conceived ones.

My current ‘nothing’ time is first thing in the morning. I’ve taken to going to bed early enough that I get the sleep I need, and currently have the wonderful luxury of being able to wake naturally. Often I’m the first one awake in the household. I stay in bed for a while. I stretch and let my body get up to speed, rather than leaping out and forcing it into action. I contemplate anything and everything in a loose and unfocused way. Sometimes this results in plans and ideas, sometimes not. Either way is fine. When I feel ready to emerge from the duvet, I do so in a state of calm readiness for the day. As it happens, I work more effectively as a consequence, but that’s not the main motivation for doing it.

Doing nothing does not drive the economy or make a profit for anyone else. It does not feed money into government coffers, or push up the GDP that governments are so turned on by. It is conscious disengaging from the system. I will go back to work later, but for now, I will learn from my cat, stretch, enjoy the warmth and not move too much. Each morning, I have my moment of saying ‘No, I am not just a slave of the economic machine.’

Experts like my friend Adam, can spend long, happy hours doing nothing. For those under more financial pressure, it is going to be harder. If all you can find is a few minutes, grab them, and use them to full, glorious effect on consciously not doing anything of any economic value to anyone else. Relish the escape. Live.

Inspired to re-use

Sometimes we’re done with an item before it’s worn out. Rather than just throwing it away, most green minded folk will pass it along – to friends, charity shops or through systems like freecycle. Keeping usable items in use reduces landfill, and consumption, saves money and is far greener.

However, what do you do with items that have worn out or broken and cannot be reused as they are?

This is where the inspiration and creativity come into play. See the item as a creative challenge, and try and find a good solution to re-using it. You might find that it can be broken down into component parts for recycling – e.g. an old mattress can be recycled if you cut the fabric off and separate it from the metal innards. It takes a bit of work, but that effort is service to the gods and the planet.

Broken wooden furniture can be burned on stoves, or kept for ritual fires.

Take apart old satellite dishes, and you’ll find a light weight metal bowl in the middle, which can be re-used as a fire-dish for ritual.

Many old containers can have holes cut in them and be re-used as plant pots – I have a an old beer barrel in the garden with strawberries growing in it. Saves on money for plant pots and makes it easier to grow your own food.

Un-useable clothing can be cut up for cleaning rags. It can also be used for making patchwork, toys, decorations, and other items of clothing. Scraps of fabric, dead underwear etc can be used to stuff cushions. Old pillows can be folded in half and made into cushions to good effect, with the cover made out of old clothes remnants. You can use old clothes to make dressing up gear for children as well, or let them loose with scissors and needle, experimenting and making their own things.

Inspiration feeds on opportunity. If all you do is watch television, then your creativity is never called into play. Un-useable household objects challenge us to be creative, and find ways of dealing with them that doesn’t result in them adding to the huge and hideous piles of landfill we already have. Innovative re-use is fun and inherently rewarding. It gives you unique objects and opportunities, which in their turn might save you money. It also gives you a wholly different relationship with the objects around you, making them less disposable, so that you think more about their whole life cycle rather than your short term use of them.

Mainstream media will tell you that everything in your house ought to look like it came from a shop and was made by a machine. Even though the quality of such things is frequently really low. Let your home be a playground, experiment, create, turn useless things into strange and interesting new things you can put to use. It’s fun, it saves money, is green, and gives you chance to invite inspiration into your life.

I say potato …

The green movement is really taking hold. It’s gone further than saving resources, reducing waste and conserving energy. The health and beauty industries are turning more and more to natural products, or in some cases just labeling products as natural, in order to keep up with the rising tide of greenliness. More and more people, myself included, are turning to natural and holistic remedies and green living. I’ll leave it to others to debate the reasons; rising healthcare costs, shady insurance companies, the economy, to name a few. But overall, there seems to be a rising desire among people to reconnect with the earth. With nature. With the seasons and plants and herbs that the boom of the industrial and electronic ages have distanced us from.  Perhaps we feeling safer taking things we can actually identify. Perhaps we feel a sense of peace, of connection to the earth, when choosing to eliminate toxins and save water. Perhaps we’re only coming full circle, and moving forward really only means moving back to our roots.  

Speaking of roots …. 

The potato was once condemned as ‘the Devil’s food’ because it grows underground, and because it’s kind of an ugly, lumpy looking thing. Unholy looking, if you please.  In the 1600’s, after Spanish conquistadors had brought the potato to Europe, the upper class saw the value in the hardy, long-lasting tuber long before the peasants did. The lower classes were suspicious of the misshapen plant, and refused to eat it, even when faced with starvation. The stigma was slow to fade; it took the public approval of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, of all people, to turn the tide.

Silly, isn’t it? Yep. It seems so now, but in a different age, the superstition was taken pretty seriously. Good to know we’ve gotten past that sort of thinking.

Or have we? 

In a document released in March 2009, the Catholic Church denounced the use of Reiki and even went so far as to ban its use from Roman-Catholic hospitals.

Their reasoning?

The document, available here, states that the Catholic Church recognizes healing by divine grace and healing that utilizes the powers of nature. They conclude, however, that Reiki does not support natural science or Christian belief, and that trust in Reiki is operating in the realm of superstition. They therefore deem it inappropriate for Catholic institutions or church representatives to promote or provide support for Reiki therapy. (Prayer, however, is just fine.)

What’s next? Is adding lavender oil to your bath suspect? Green tea? No, apparently these things are natural.

Herbs and plants have always been part of pagan rituals. Historically, around the time thousands were being tortured or burned as witches or heretics, herb lore got lumped in right alongside communing with evil spirits and casting spells. Midwives were denounced as witches.

While herbs are often part of spells, they are often used for simple healings. Herbalism and energy manipulation are big in new age medicine. Guess what? They are also big in old-age medicine.  

Energy is natural. The manipulation of it in healing is by no means only effective when used by a priest. There are studies that show prayer is very helpful in healing the sick. And studies that show shamanistic healing, Reiki, crystal healing, and other alternative methods are also effective.

In March 2009, Pope Benedict XVI condemned modernism as the new paganism, claiming that the pagan love for power and possessions is a modern day plague. You know, I’m pretty sure he eats potatos, though.  And you know, I kind of think the whole green movement goes right along with the views most pagans have.

 Just how does one say potato?