As the Chief Executive of a Chelmsford based environmental charity, it will come as no surprise to learn that despite my irrepressible love of hot weather, these days my pleasure is slightly tainted by a persistent mental picture of how hot it could get before climate change becomes unbearable, even to me. Due to my work, I am inundated, daily, by environmental news updates from a range of sources: Friends of the Earth; the BBC & Government updates; Green Consumer News, and so on. I find out all sorts of depressing facts, for example, did you know that in Europe, 30-50% of our most notable groups of species are endangered? This week I was informed that these English summer heat waves used to occur every 30 years, but over the last few years it’s become clear that they’re now happening every 3 years. So let’s shake off any residual hint of denial that the planet is warming up, it’s starting to seem a bit silly at this stage.
Our charity works with the community to raise awareness and to support behavioural changes that protect our natural resources, which, these days, is all about climate change. It’s unbelievably hard to communicate good news (that perhaps we can slow down global warming) when it’s the consequence of really, really bad news, but this is our challenge. The first question I always ask is: ‘What are we afraid of that prevents us from changing our destructive behaviour?’ Even the threat of extinction can’t compel us to turn off a light, it seems. The irony lies in the fact that if we all made a few changes, our lives would be healthier, no doubt happier, cheaper, and probably, easier. It’s not about Swampy in a hair shirt padlocked to a bulldozer, although in my opinion there should be much more of that sort of thing. It’s just about paying closer attention to our lifestyles, identifying and amending our useless, bad habits and reaping all sorts of unexpected benefits as a result. Here is a very short guide to being normal, healthy and saving the planet.
♦ Buy local produce – less transport emissions, fresher, healthier food and a support to the local economy. Essex has many farmers markets (info. can be found at:www.essexfarmersmarkets.com), and supermarkets should have a percentage of local produce available. Better still, grow your own in the garden or on an allotment.
♦ Buy less – for some reason we all seem to struggle with ‘less’. Start slowly with easy steps. For example, buy loose fresh vegetables, which cost less and are probably fresher as they won’t have been flown anywhere to be covered in cellophane in the EU, and flown back again. Work up to reading the labels on ready-made meal packaging, as this can be quite sobering. Save some money and only buy what you need – wait until the food cupboards are nearly bare before re-stocking.
♦ Cycle, walk, run or stagger everywhere you can. It’s absolutely fine to cycle to work in a suit, I do it all the time, usually without incident. We’re fortunate in Chelmsford with our bike paths,particularly along the river valley. Much nicer than sitting in traffic.
♦ Do something that needs doing – at Chelmsford Environment Partnership we have a list of urgent jobs. These include community energy efficiency projects, outdoor conservation work, promotions and events. Every environmental charity has something that needs doing. If you don’t want to volunteer, there are lots of other ways to do something. Here is a list:
♦ Fit LED light bulbs into all the light fittings in your house. Although more expensive to purchase, they use much less energy and last many years longer – which is particularly useful for difficult to access light bulbs.
♦ Top up your loft insulation to the maximum recommended thickness (270 mm)
♦ Take a 5 minute shower instead of a bath – if you love baths go for an epic bath once a week, and if you can, save some of the water for the garden.
♦ Fit a rainwater butt to the down-pipe of your house to use for the garden
♦ Better still, if you have the money, install a large rainwater harvesting system to flush the loos and fill the washing machine.
♦ Ask your energy supplier if you can have a Green Tariff – these are worth checking out as some are apparently more green than others (www.greenelectricity.org)
♦ Re-use shopping bags. It’s crazy to send a dozen or so plastic bags to landfill every week of our lives. This consumer habit we’ve developed wastes energy in a big way; they have to be made in the first place, transported etc. and on this scale the pollution these bags cause is unbelievable. The world will be a better place when they are gone.
♦ Create a haven for wildlife in your garden. There’s lots of advice on the Internet and TV, try: www.wildlifetrusts.org
♦ If you need to replace a boiler or heating system, consider green alternatives.
Fresher, locally grown food, buying less and better quality goods, saving money, more active lifestyles, better awareness of our local environment and community, cleaner air – surely this adds up to a much better quality of life and the best chance we’ve got? After all, we might have everything to lose, but at least we have everything to gain.
Chief Executive of Chelmsford Environment Partnership [This charity is no longer operational]