product of my past

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Week one of Carbon Fast – the importance of being ernest

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CC Ian Britton, Freefotouk

I have long been a supporter of Tearfund: posting in campaign cards, obediently – if infrequently – praying about poverty, corruption and poor governance and buying adorable trinkets I have no use for whatsoever from their ethical gifts site.

So when I was asked to join in the Carbon Fast over lent, I leapt at the opportunity – both to populate my new blog and to finally take concrete steps towards a more sustainable lifestyle.

In my mind it seemed easy enough to take up the challenge to do small acts that would help reduce your carbon footprint: I’m rarely home (so don’t have many electrical appliances working constantly), I carry a shopping bag with me at all times – I even recycle the plastic bags my far less conscientious flatmate brings home; I’d rather cower under layers of blankets than keep the heating on too long (shame the flatmate doesn’t feel the same) and most importantly, the sign of ultimate greeness, I use Ecover products. Well, I use one: the dishwashing liquid. Again I blame said flatmate: I’m convinced she’s signed a sponsorship deal with Domestos and Cif. The only reason the dishwashing liquid has survived the eco-cull that happened a few months after we moved in together is because “it foams up well”.

Beyond the acts themselves (the impacts of which are divided into small, medium and large), I was sold on the opportunity to raise awareness: In the UK, 40% of carbon emissions are caused by individuals. In my past lives as cotton project officer at the environmental justice NGO PAN UK and writer on development issues at the Guardian, I have seen first hand and written about the impact of a changing climate upon those who consume the fewest resources and are least able to adapt.

According to the World Health Organisation, climate change is estimated to already cause 150,000 deaths annually.  The carbon fast is a way for those who have to take actions to reduce the impact of our lifestyles on those who have not.

But on day one, after the small victory of enlisting a colleague to also take up the challenge, I turn my attention to the carbon calculator and quickly run into trouble. I realise I’ve never taken stock of the sum of my actions. I don’t know, for example, how many miles I travel to work nor whether or not my electricity provider uses any renewable energy sources. When asked about my travel, I am tempted to only count trips taken this year. Last year I spent a good many weeks in Africa: Benin, Cameroon, South Africa and Ghana – twice!

The test is not looking good: no I don’t compost any of my household waste, and no, I don’t have a wind turbine or solar panels. But then, at long last, a breakthrough: I do shop local (East street market’s like being in Lagos) and I do own a lot second-hand stuff – vintage is in and my friends consume to excess. I have them to thank for the largest collection of cardigans south of the river and an iPod touch.

The results are in and my total ‘global impact’ is 25.2 tonnes of CO2 per yer. I am told “this is 20.9 tonnes above your fair share of 4.3 tonnes per year,” almost entirely as a result of my travel. I’m half-tempted to take the test again, ignoring last year’s trips but with weddings in India, Rwanda and Ghana this year, I doubt it would make a shred of difference. I resolve instead to diligently follow the week’s actions.

The first 7 days were a mixed bag. The daily actions did not differ considerably from what I normally do: turning down the heating on day 2 or buying products with little or no packaging on day 3. But just as the week closes, and I start to think I could be a climate crusader in my sleep, I wake up to day 6.

Cook a simple supper with local and seasonal food. Why not have a whole seasonal food week

Easy, I thought. Carrot and sweet potato soup I made. But then it occurred to me that buying the sweet potatoes in the market up the road is perhaps not what ‘local’ meant in this content. A quick web search later and BBC Good Food proudly informs me that radishes, cabbages, leeks carrots, chicory, kale and lobster are in season. Great, just great. I get my pick of green leaves but not much else.

I cast a mournful eye over the contents of my fridge:  a pineapple from Costa Rica; nectarines from South Africa; sweet potatoes from the US; bananas from Colombia; ground coffee from Cameroon. Even my condiments want a piece of the air-mile action: two types of imported Thai curry paste; French olive oil and my ginger paste is from Pakistan. I might as well be personally responsible for melting icebergs.

In my defence, both the pineapple and bananas were fairtrade and the humus and mustard, luckily, were assembled in the UK. I decided I wouldn’t be writing letters to the manufacturers to find out more.

And so ended week one…with a large pot climate-changing carrot and sweet potato soup. Bring on week two.


Written by Eliza

March 17, 2011 at 8:06 am

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