How to Vote for Greener Politics
First published April 2021
If you’re a climate activist in the UK in 2021, it can be easy to feel hopeless and disillusioned in the face of party politics. Politicians pay lip service to tackling the crisis, yet we’re still hurtling towards irreversible climate change. The much publicised Green Home Grants was quietly scrapped last month , while the Committee on Climate Change criticised the government last year for failing to take enough action on issues such as flash floods and the loss of biodiversity.
It’s also easy to feel like the only elections that really matter are the big ones; but this is really not the case. The results of local elections (which are coming up in Bristol on May 6th) are what determine how your local area behaves. Schools, bin collections and libraries… but how your local area responds to climate change.
Do you wish the council would stop mowing down all those bee-friendly plants on the verges? Do you want to see more cycling lanes and fewer cars whizzing past your front garden? Then do a bit of digging about your local candidates and vote for the greenest options.
After all, we in Bristol were the first in Europe to declare a climate emergency. This is great opportunity for the Climate Concerned amongst us to put the pressure on and ensure that we are acting appropriately.
Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash
In line with West Bristol Climate Action’s politics month, here are three things you can do to ensure you vote with green in mind in the upcoming elections.
1. Attend a climate hustings
Hustings are the local meetings that happen ahead of an election that give constituents a chance to ask questions. If you decide to go to a hustings, do a bit of research in advance and come armed with a question or two that you want answered. For example, you might want to know what candidates are planning to do about the fact that more people die in Bristol every year because of air pollution than car accidents , or whether they support the appeal to continue planned harmful extension to Bristol airport.
There are four events Bristol events focused on the candidates’ climate plans.
The first is the Bristol Mayoral Debate on ‘People, Places and Climate’ on April 8th. Marvin Rees and the mayoral wannabes will be debating their ideas and plans about, amongst other things, the climate.
Candidates will be asked how the city can reduce emissions and congestion as well as how technology will be embraced to address the climate emergency.
You can book your place here.
Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash
The second and third events are for the West of England (WECA) Mayoral candidates on April 19th (book here)
and the Bristol Mayoral candidates on April 27th (book here). In these events, candidates for the two respective elections will be asked to set out their vision for ensuring that the region’s response to the climate emergency will be both fair and fast.
Finally, on April 21st, the Bristol Mayoral candidates will be quizzed on how they will ensure that Bristolians can walk and cycle in safety. This is your chance to find out who is prepared to make the radical changes that are necessary to tackle air quality emergency in our city. Book here.
2. Contact the candidates
If you can’t make any of the hustings, another option is to get in touch with the candidates and ask them what they plan to do to tackle the climate emergency in our city. You might want to give examples of how climate change has impacted you and your loved ones. Or perhaps there are specific questions you would like answered.
Asking questions in this way serves two purposes. Not only does it mean you get the answers you need, it also demonstrates to the candidates that their potential future constituents care about the climate. Hopefully, this will push climate change issues up the agenda.
You can find out more about the council candidates here. Booklets about the candidates for both WECA and Bristol mayors will be posted to you nearer the time.
Photo by Florencia Viadana on Unsplash
3. Shout about your findings
The final really important step you can take is to tell people what you’ve found. If you discover that one candidate is really prepared to stand up for the climate, let people know that you will be voting for them, and explain why. Post on social media. Message your local friends. You might even want to consider volunteering to help that candidate - they will be glad of your support! This volunteering could consist of anything from putting a poster in your window to delivering flyers or ringing voters. Get in touch with that candidate to offer your support. They will be delighted to hear from you!
Photo by Kyle Glenn on Unsplash
Did you know: If you want to register for a postal vote (which many of us might want to do as Covid continues), the deadline for doing this is April 20th. You can apply here.
Do you have any tips for how to push climate change up the political agenda? If so, get in touch via the box below to tell us your thoughts.
Transport and Travel
First published March 2021
Transport is the UK’s biggest contributor to climate change . It’s responsible for a third of our emissions. Both driving cars and flying contribute to this damage, with flying being responsible for 5% of carbon emissions worldwide.
Photo by Marc-Olivier Jodoin on Unsplash
Tackling our transport emissions is the focus of this month’s West Bristol Climate Action challenge. With that in mind, here are three things could you do to reduce the amount of damaging travel you’re undertaking at the moment.
1. Swap your car for a bike.
Now that spring is (finally!) on the way, pumping up the tyres of your bike and getting onto the cycle path might feel a bit less daunting than it did in the dead of winter. If you’re travelling about in Bristol, can you do it by bike instead of in the car or a taxi? Read our very first blog for tips on how to switch from driving to cycling.
If you don’t have a bike, could you walk instead of driving? One plus of the pandemic, from my perspective at least, has been how much walking I’ve done. I now have second-hand walking boots and a rain coat, and have come to love listening to an audiobook while I stride the streets. Have a look on the map - your destination might be closer than you think
Photo by Paul Green on Unsplash
2. Pledge to go flight free
We’re all desperate for a holiday after a year spent inside - and hopefully we might be able to have one this summer. However, rather than jumping on a plane and heading for the beach or the slopes, could you pledge to go flight free for a year?
Is there somewhere in the UK you’ve always fancied but never been? Or how would you feel about getting the train to Europe? Paris, Berlin and Portugal are all eminently reachable on the train from the UK. Check out this helpful website to plan your trip.
I took myself on holiday to Cornwall two years ago and had a great time. Not only was the holiday itself lovely, but I found lots of unexpected benefits of not flying. Airport security and flying generally makes me quite anxious - it was lovely not to have the pressure of hurrying to the airport and having my knickers rifled through at check in.
There are so many beautiful spots near us here in the South West. Can you go exploring closer to home for your next holiday?
3. Join a car club
There are times when driving feels essential. Maybe you have lots to carry, or you just need to get somewhere quicker than the bus could manage. If you need a car in your life now and then, could you consider joining a car club and sharing, rather than having a car to yourself? This will save you the cost and hassle of owning a car, and will cut your emissions.
You might also find that those journeys you once thought you really needed the car for can actually be managed on public transport or your bike when your car isn’t sitting in the driveway tempting you!
Co-Wheels car club is one option. Others include Zip Car and Karshare.
Do you have any suggestions for how you can travel cleaner in Bristol? If so, post them in the comment box below.
How to Grow your Own Food
First published February 2021
Whether you’re an avocado adoring gastro-type or an ‘eat to live’ person, there is no denying that we all need food. Indeed, I don’t know about you, but food (along with crime novels and music) has been my primary source of enjoyment over the past 12 unusual months.
However, our eating habits here in the West can be damaging for the planet. Many supermarkets package food in plastic or other materials that are damaging to the environment, while foods are often flown around the world to get to your plate. Did you know that, in a typical British household, food accounts one third of your total environmental impact? Or that, here in the UK, we import 89% of our fruit? You can calculate the miles that your food has travelled here.
There are several ways you can reduce your food-related carbon footprint. One is to try to buy local as much as possible, perhaps at a greengrocer's rather than the supermarket. Another is to order a weekly veg box from a local farm. There are plenty of choices out there for doing that these days.
A third way is to have a go at growing your own food. If you’re lucky enough to have a garden, could you put it to work and grow some grub which will go straight to your plate?
Photo by Avinash Kumar on Unsplash
Four of our committee members here at the WBCA are keen garden growers. I asked them some questions about the best ways to get started and their experiences.
Sarah Watson said, “I’ve always tried to grow food because it tastes so good and there’s something wonderful about cropping the plants you’ve grown.” Tim Mason made the point that if you don’t have any garden space of your own, you might want to look for an allotment – finding one near your house is a good idea if you can. You can read more about how to find an allotment in Bristol here.
I asked this green fingered bunch what they had had most luck growing, and the answers were mixed. While some had success with potatoes, others found them more challenging. Sarah W reported that climbing beans and tomatoes are easy if you have limited space - and while my partner and I have had varied results with growing food, I can confirm that our beans climbed way higher than we thought they might. We still have bags of them in the freezer now, many months later.
Tim recommended hard and soft fruit as well as broad beans, while Sarah H suggested onions, spinach, chard, kale and land cress. Some found peas grew easily, while others found them harder to grow.
All the gang agreed that slugs and snails are one of the biggest challenges facing gardening growers. As Pippa Vine said, “Planting your own seedlings or bought plants and watching them disappear before your eyes can be very disheartening.”
Photo by Neha Deshmukh on Unsplash
Slug pellets are a no no as they are harmful to birds and hedgehogs. There was a common agreement that heading out at dusk with a head torch, picking slugs up and moving them away from your precious produce was a good idea. Pippa also recommended slug nematodes, which are microscopic, transparent worms, which feed and multiply inside the slug, killing them off in a way that’s kinder to the planet than pellets.
Sarah H suggested ignoring recommendations about spacing your seeds out when planting. “Most will be eaten by the little blighters so I sow very thickly and then, once the seedlings are past the vulnerable stage, they can be thinned out,” she said.
Top tips for first time gardeners from our gang were varied.
Photo by Ny Menghor on Unsplash
Pippa said, “After setting up lots of growing plots over the decades, then getting into permaculture in the last 10 years, I’ve learnt to have a good look at a potential growing space and ask:
• Where is the arc of the sun? Will your plants will get plenty of sunshine or do you need to think about what will grow in partial shade?
• What is the prevailing wind direction? You might need to provide some shelter.
• Is there a frost pocket where delicate plants could succumb to harsh winter temperatures?
• Can you collect rainwater from nearby roofs (including shed/lean-to/greenhouse) in water butts to water your veg?
• What kind of soil are you working with? Get down and dirty to find out. Is it heavy clay, sandy and free-draining, or a workable loam? Most soils will benefit from lots of organic matter like well-rotted manure, home-made compost or a seaweed fertiliser.”
Sarah W’s sensible advice was to, “Grow something you love eating – peas, beans, little tomatoes. The growing season takes longer than you think, so make sure you are around when your crop is cropping….”
Tim said, “Take it steady - grow three or four things in your first year but try different varieties of what you like such as the humble and easy to
grow potato, it adds interest to your growing and your menu.”
I think this is great advice - my partner and I went a bit mad planting everything we could get our hands on during lockdown 1.0, and it soon became overwhelming. Slow and steady wins the race!
Photo by Mateus Campos Felipe on Unsplash
Sarah H says, “Just have a go and don’t give up if things don’t work first time. Some things I’ve grown have lasted through the winter and produced the following year – things like kale, cabbage, broccoli and spring onions which didn’t do very well the first year seemed better the next year. So if the plants are looking healthy the next spring then leave them if you have room and see what happens.”
Finally, Pippa suggested joining the Avon Organic Group and buying Good Earth Gardening and Fruit for Life, two friendly, accessible and amusing guides to growing veg and fruit organically by brilliant Bristol gardener and teacher Tim Foster: firstname.lastname@example.org
Perhaps unsurprisingly, our gardeners agreed that it’s not possible to grow enough in your garden to feed yourself the whole year round. However, every little helps, and if you supplement your home grown food with trips to the local greengrocer or zero waste shop, your carbon food-print (OK, I made that term up) should reduce significantly.
Do you have any top tips for growing food in your garden? If so, post them in the comments box below.
How to Green your Finances
First published February 2021
If you’re reading this blog, the chances are high that you’re already an eco-warrior of one sort or another. You probably cycle instead of driving, recycle all your soya yoghurt pots or even make your own yoghurt from your pet goat’s milk. All of those things are great, of course - but individual actions like these can only go so far. And we can all feel helpless knowing our actions are just a drop in the bucket compared to those of the organisations and governments who continue to act as like ostriches, with their heads firmly stuck in the sand.
One way we can contribute towards making changes at a wider level is to think carefully about how we invest our money, whether we’re starving church mice with only £30 in a current account or fat cats with thousands in stocks and shares. As it happens, finances are also the topic of this month’s West Bristol Climate Action challenge, so this is a great time to think about how you can invest your money in a way that helps rather than harms the planet.
Photo by Clayton Robbins on Unsplash
(Also, since thinking about banks, money and investments hurts my head and might hurt yours too, I’ve inserted some references to cute animals throughout this blog. Points to anyone who can spot all 14 animal references.)
1. Change banks
Many banks invest in fossil fuels, with HSBC and Barclay’s being the biggest offenders. In 2019, it was found that Barclay’s bank remains Europe’s biggest funder of fracking and coal, having poured $85 billion into fossil fuels. HSBC funds coal plants in Indonesia, Bangladesh and Vietnam.
The Co-Op Bank are one better option, as they have a fairly comprehensive ethical strategy and do not invest in fossil fuels. As one of their customers, I contacted the Co-Op Bank to ask about their investments.
They replied saying:
“We support small businesses and organisations whose activities promote a healthy environment and we seek to minimise our impact on the environment. We provided lending of £18,503,235 to renewable energy companies in 2020.”
However, the best bank for climate-change-combatting-coyotes like you and I is Triodos, which actively invests in renewable energy sources. You can switch to Triodos via their website. It will only take seven days to complete the switch and should be hassle free. If you have multiple accounts, you might want to consider switching them all to Triodos.
Photo by Magdalena Kula Manchee on Unsplash
2. Pensions and investments
As with banks, there are many pension companies out there which will take your hard-earned money and put it to work destroying the planet. If you’re unsure about where your pension money is being placed, write to the company in question about ask them what their top 10 investments are. You might be in for a nasty surprise. Even if you can’t change your pension, you can let them know your opinion and ask them to consider looking for more ethical places to invest their money.
If you can switch your pension fund, you might want to consider looking at Nest, which isn’t a home for owls and eagles, but is instead a pension fund which only invests in companies with high ethical standards. I signed up for an account while writing this blog, which was quick and easy to do.
Photo by Stephen Phillips - Hostreviews.co.uk on Unsplash
There are also several climate-friendly investment companies you could consider investigating. Trine, who invest money into renewable energy in developing countries, are one. The Big Exchange are a new initiative from the brains behind the Big Issue. They invest money into projects which lower carbon emissions, protect wildlife (such as lions, tigers and bears, oh my!) and contribute to social housing. I’ve been investing via the Big Exchange for a while and have found the whole system simple and easy.
Personally, I find the topic of finances enough to make me want to hibernate (just like a hedgehog, bumblebee or fat-tailed lemur). But if you want to learn more about eco-friendly ways we can make money work for us, you might be interested to learn about Doughnut Economics. And no, that isn’t how you can make money by gorging yourself on vegan Krispy Kremes.
Photo by Thomas Kelley on Unsplash
It fact, doughnut economics are, ‘regenerative, distributive economies that work within the planet’s ecological limits. Kate Raworth wrote a book on the topic and can also be seen giving a 15 minute TED talk on her ideas here.
4. Contribute to West Bristol Climate Action!
If you enjoy these blogs or our monthly talks on how to live a more sustainable life, please consider donating to our group. We need contributions to keep going - all are gratefully received! You can donate via our PayPal page here or contact us to find out how to make a direct bank transfer. Monthly contributions are as welcome as a pony at a six year old’s birthday party, so please don’t hold back.
If you have any tips for ways to boost your bucks without harming our home, please post them in the comments box below.
How to Go Local
First published January 2021
As some of you might remember, we're running a series of monthly challenges designed to enable us all to take tangible steps to fight the climate and ecological emergency.
This month, the challenge is all about being local. Just as charity begins at home, climate and ecological action begins in your local area. The challengers have suggested a few actions you could take… here’s a look at some of my favourites.
Can you set yourself the challenge of avoiding Amazon for a month? As well as their dodgy tax practices, Amazon ship and drive products all around the world and often use far more packaging than is needed.
Try looking for the items you would normally buy from Amazon from local shops or sellers instead. My fella loves Facebook Marketplace, where you can pick up second-hand items from people who live nearby, killing two environmental birds with one stone. (Hmm, maybe that metaphor needs a little bit of work. Don’t kill any birds, planet-fans!)
Photo by Shane Rounce on Unsplash
You might also want to try writing down every single thing you buy in a week. Have a look at what you bought locally and what came from further afield. Are there any habits you could change?
I tried this challenge and found that I had a mixed bag. While I bought a card and some cakes for a friend from a UK seller and supported a Bristol-based yoga teacher by booking an online workshop, I also bought wine from Italy and Argentina, vegan feta from Greece and vegan ice cream from Sweden - a reminder that just because something is vegan, it doesn’t mean it’s carbon neutral.
deally, it would be great to buy wine and beer from the UK, such as Quoins wine or the Bristol-based Butcombe Beer (which we’re fans of in this house).
However, if home-grown booze is a little out of your budget or you can’t find any in your local shop, it’s best to at least avoid wine from regions suffering from drought, such as South Africa, Australia or California.
There are also lots of great gins made here in Bristol, including Bristol Dry Gin, Psychopomp and 6 O'Clock Gin.
Can you try to buy more locally produced food this month? We get a fortnightly veg box from Plowright Organic, full of fruit and veg grown and packed in Somerset, which I can recommend.
Their apples, kale and broccoli are all especially delicious. There are many more local and organic food sellers - see those listed on our page about Better Food Options.
Another option is to go foraging in your local area. You might think that January and February are not the most fruitful months in our freezing climate, but in fact, if you head outside, you might be able to find beech nuts, blackberries, sloes, pine nuts, nettles and wild garlic. Of course, you can’t entirely feed yourself by foraging, but it might be quite fun and is certainly a better bet for your health than watching yet another episode of the Crown!
As Grant from West Bristol Climate Action says, some of the benefits of foraging include:
✅Minimum of food miles
✅Zero packaging or manufacture
✅Fresh (though do wash)
✅Organically grown if wild
✅Connection to nature
✅Self reliance / independence
Check these Woodland Trust blogs on foraging in January and February for some great tips and recipe ideas.
Many of us are doing more walking in these strange and troubled times. Something we could all commit to doing is picking up rubbish as we walk. This will not only make your local area prettier for the next walker, but could also save some wildlife from getting hurt or even killed by the plastic and tin cans that litter our streets. I often take a pair of sturdy gloves and a roll of bin bags with me when I go out walking, and it is satisfying in the extreme to do the same route a few days later and notice the difference.
Are you close to any of your neighbours? If so, could you consider food swapping with them? Even with all the planning and best intentions of the world, we sometimes realise that the food we have might go off if it’s not cooked quickly - and, for whatever reason, we don’t have time to do that cooking.
For example, did you know that 20 million slices of bread are wasted in the UK every day, creating greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to 140,000 cars? Therefore, anything we can do to avoid food waste is a must.
If you have some bread or veg you don’t think you’re going to get round to eating, why not message a neighbour and see if they want to take it off your hands?
Play your cards right and they might even
bring you round a portion of whatever they make! Everyone’s a winner.
If you want to join in our monthly challenges, check out our great Instagram feed, which has a plethora of pictures and tips for each challenge.
Do you have any ideas for better local living we can all take part in? If so, do comment below.
How to Have Greener Socks
First published January 2021
Happy new year eco-warriors! There are plenty of challenges out there at the moment… it’s cold, corona continues and we can’t go outside… but I am hoping you all had a nice break and are feeling as well as you can despite all these factors.
Given that it is chilly and there isn’t much to do, I’ve finally found the time to teach myself to do something I’ve been meaning to do for years - namely, darning socks. I am a self-confessed sock lover. After all, nothing is worse than unhappy feet. (Apart from the continuing ecological and climate emergency of course!) I particularly favour long socks which I can pull up under my thick trousers, for that extra layer of warmth. However, I’m also happy with short, colourful socks, or even a trainer sock when summer comes round again.
Photo by Nick Page on Unsplash
Whichever socks one prefers, all are vulnerable to holes. Holes which means your toes poke out the ends in an uncomfortable fashion. Holes which mean your feet are that much colder. Holes which, all too often, mean the entire pair get chucked in the bin; and thus all that unbroken material goes to waste. This is a particular shame for knee socks, which contain quite a lot of fabric.
Back when I was a nipper, darning socks was a fairly common activity. However, in our single-use world, it’s something which has sadly fallen out of fashion. So I decided to re-teach myself how to darn socks so that I could save several pairs of particularly fetching socks from the rubbish.
As it turns out, there are already lots of handy articles out there which show you all the steps for darning socks, so I won’t go through all the steps again.
This piece is a great starting point; this one has handy pictures for each step; this page demonstrates how to fix a really big sock-hole; this link includes a handy video. Finally, if you’re clever enough to be knitting your socks in the first place, this is the darning blog for you.
Some general tips…
* You don’t need a darning mushroom - a tennis ball, a lightbulb, or the end of a baseball bat or rolling pin will do the job.
* You also don’t need a darning needle - just a long needle will do.
* Ensure your thread matches the thickness and colour of your socks; thicker thread for thicker socks and so on.
Having read the above blogs and bought myself a needle and thread, I sat down the sorry looking sock specimen you can see to the right.
I was a little unsure about how well I'd do, but it turns out that mending small toe holes like this one is fairly simple.
I used a round massage ball as a darning mushroom, which worked just fine. A few stitches later, and the sock was returned to its former glory.
Where to recycle socks
Of course, some socks are beyond repair. If you’re darning upon darning upon darning, or if the elastic has gone and they keep falling down, you can recycle your socks at one of Bristol’s Reuse and Recycling Centres (although note there are new restrictions about when you can visit these centres due to Covid-19). The St Peter’s Hospice shop on Bond Street in Bristol also takes rags and unsellable clothes.
You could consider using your beyond-saving socks to stuff draught excluders - which, as we learnt in a previous blog - can help keep your house warm without having to turn up the heating.
Note that you can also recycle usable or wearable fabrics (so NOT your holey old socks) in your black recycling box in Bristol, although you will need to put these fabrics into a plastic bag and label them, as wet fabrics won’t be accepted.
Where to buy eco-friendly socks
If you’ve darned all the socks you can darn and recycled all the ones that are broken and you still genuinely need some new socks, consider buying a pair or two from Stand4Socks who provide a pair of socks for a homeless person for every pair bought. In addition, their fabrics are sustainably sourced, free from harmful chemicals and made according to ethical work conditions. They also ship their socks out in 100% home compostable mailing bags. Sock on!
Photo by Sandy Millar on Unsplash
If you have any ideas about recycling sad socks, post them in the comments box below.
How to Keep your House Warm
First published December 2020
December can be a great month: Christmas, time off work, delicious food, friends and family. But it also means being cold… and here in the UK, we can expect to be cold for another three to four months after the festive fun is done.
Keeping our houses warm by turning up the gas central heating alone can feel tempting, but this method of guarding against the cold is not good for the planet.
Did you know that 14% of our greenhouse gasses here in the UK come from our homes? This is a similar figure to the emissions produced by cars, which we all know are bad environmental news.
Photo by Georg Eierman on Unsplash
As such, unless we rethink home heating, we won’t meet the climate change targets that we need to achieve in the next few years. Think tank Policy Connect says that more than 20,000 homes a week must switch to low-carbon heating between 2025 and 2050 to meet UK climate goals.
It has been recommended that no new homes are connected to gas by 2025 , but of course many of us live in older homes which have gas boilers and so would need expensive retrofitting to get rid of the gas connection. Plus it’s never a good idea to throw out old items or tools which are working well to replace them with new bits and bobs, even if the new things are ‘eco’ - that wastes embodied energy, and is also bad for the environment.
So what can we do to make our homes warmer? Here are four solutions you might be able to try in your home.
You need to ensure that your home is well insulated in order to reap the benefits of any greener sources of heat you decide to use. Insulate your loft and use draft excluders or thick curtains over draughty doors and windows.
One friend of mine uses blankets as curtains, which seals the heat inside her house beautifully. Not only does efficient insulation make our houses warmer in the winter, it can keep heat out in summer.
One Home list eight simple measures you can take to insulate your home which include installing loft insulation which is at least 27cm thick, investing in a smart thermostat to set the temperature you want your rooms to be, and either getting double glazing or temporary secondary glazing film.
Photo by Erik Mclean on Unsplash
2. CHEESE survey
If you live in Bristol or the surrounding areas, you might want to invest in a Cold Homes Energy Efficiency Survey Experts (CHEESE) survey. One of their experts will come to your house and use thermal-imaging to identify where your home is losing heat. They will also suggest solutions to keep the heat inside. The surveys start at £100 and are free for people in poor housing conditions or who are living in fuel poverty.
Our committee member Tim had one of these scans. He says:
“I live in a 1930s terraced house. When we first moved in 10 years ago - having come from a draughty, high ceilinged Victorian semi in Scotland – I thought it was going to be warm and draught-free. This was the first place we’d had with double glazing throughout!
"I gradually realised that this was not quite the case. The house was colder than I expected at the front with the prevailing west wind; plenty of draughts were coming through skirting boards and the like. So when I heard about the CHEESE thermal video energy surveys I decided to go for one, partly because I was just curious what it was about. It didn't take long to do the survey despite the need to set up a fan and screen at one front door to create a pressure differential - to activate draughts I think. The tour round the house with an expert surveyor yielded a number of simple little draught proofing DIY jobs I had missed. The thermal imaging of the house and the resultant DVD record was an interesting souvenir as well.”
3. Green homes grant (NB: Unfortunately, this grant was discontinued in 2021)
If you’re a home owner, you can apply for up to £5,000 from the government to insulate your house. You will use this money to make at least one ‘primary’ improvement to your home (such as insulating solid or cavity walls or investing in an air source heat pump) as well as helping to cover the cost of ‘secondary’ measures such as double glazing or heating controls. You can read more about the scheme here.
My partner and I have qualified for this grant and are going to use the money to clad the outside of our incredibly cold, single-skin 1930s house.
We’re currently waiting for a slot to free up so that the work can be done, and I personally can’t wait to be able to stop typing these blogs while wearing scarves, gloves and my electric blanket!
Photo by Mark Adriane on Unsplash
4. 100% renewable energy
One thing we can all do is switch who supplies our energy. Over the past decade or so, many seemingly eco-power companies such as Ecotricity and Bulb have popped up. These companies appear to be better than companies like NPower, who are not trying to appeal to eco-warriors.
However, did you know that energy companies will tend to buy whatever energy is cheapest at the time? During summer, this is often renewable energy.
Energy companies whose client base don't care where their energy comes from will then sell certificates known as REGOs to companies whose clients DO care - but those 'caring' companies use the certificates to hide the fact that they are, at times, not using renewable energy.
Photo by Karsten Würth on Unsplash
There are only three companies in the UK who offer 100% genuinely renewable electricity and trying their best to do similarly with gas (which is harder). These are Good Energy, Green Energy UK and the Co-Op. Previously, Bristol Energy was on this list, but they have been bought out by Together Energy, who do use REGOs; although they tell me they are trying to move away from them.
If you are with a ‘green’ energy provider and don’t feel sure about whether they are using REGOs or not (companies don’t boast about this, unsurprisingly), get in touch to ask them. If they do, perhaps consider moving to one of the genuinely renewable providers - or at least letting your providers know that you would prefer it if they stopped this greenwashing practice,
Do you have any tips for how to heat your house without harming the planet? If so, comment below and let us know.
Did you know: Some 85% of British households use fossil-fuel based natural gas to heat their homes?
How to Stop Shopping for Clothes
First published November 2020
As we’ve seen in a recent blog, fast fashion is extremely bad for the planet. It can also be bad for your wallet, and for the available space in your house.
With this in mind, myself and three of my friends (Dawn, Jenni and Zoe) pledged to avoid buying any new clothes in 2020. As the year came to an end, I had a chat with those friends to find out how the challenge had gone for them, and whether they had any tips for how readers of this blog might do the same in 2021.
I started off by asking how everyone had found the year so far.
Perhaps predictably, we agreed that coronavirus had made it easier not to buy new clothes; we weren’t going out, so didn’t need to get dressed up… plus the shops were shut for a lot of the year!
However, the virus also made it harder. Zoe spent the beginning of lockdown at home with not much to do, so was tempted to look at online shops. Jenni also spent more time at home on her laptop, and so was seeing a lot of adverts for clothes on social media.
Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash
Both Jen and Dawn talked about needing comfier clothes for working or working out at home due to Covid-19. Dawn bought a top and Jenni some trousers for those scenarios, and neither regret those choices as they were carefully chosen purchases, rather than impulses which would end up languishing at the back of the wardrobe.
As the year went on, it got easier for all of us to eschew new clothes.
Zoe said, “I’ve found a rhythm, and I hope to carry on.”
Zoe and I both bought some second-hand clothes; I found a dress in a charity shop at the start of the year which I couldn’t say no to, while Zoe (right) used some of the money she had saved by rejecting fast fashion to buy a jack from Beyond Retro.
“I spent more than usually would because this was a retro item and a good brand,” she said.
Photo by Scoundrel Eye Photography
We talked about the rules we had set for ourselves and how easy it was to stick to those rules.
Zoe and I were happy to buy second hand clothes from charity shops, eBay or Depop, Jenni was trying not to buy any clothes at all, and Dawn was trying to cut down her consumption of everything as her house was getting too full. As she said, “My brain tells a story about how this particular item would be perfect in this particular scenario” - and then it’s in her house.
I *almost* managed to stick to my simple ‘No new clothes in 2020’ rule… the only new items I’ve bought in 11 months are some new undies as my extra lockdown pounds meant the old ones weren’t fitting any more. I’ve decided I can live with that slip up! Dawn’s rule of not buying anything new until she had had a clear-out of the clothes she wasn’t wearing motivated her, while Jenni said that she had to set herself the very strict rule of no new clothes at all (new or second hand) as she knows herself well enough to know that if the rules were more flexible, she would have broken them too often.
Will this challenge have an impact on our behaviour next year? Zoe was clear that she never wants to shop at places like ASOS again (see the issues with them here) - and she feels confident that this is a habit she has broken.
When Zoe does buy clothes in the future, she knows they will make her feel good as they will have been ethically and/or locally made and will have had a guilt-free journey to get to her.
Photo by Andreea Pop on Unsplash
Dawn agreed. “While I didn’t start this for environmental reasons, I know that fast fashion is really bad for both the environment and workers.” Therefore, she’s going to stick to clothing companies like Lucy and Yak or buy second hand from now on. One exception might be clothing stalls at festivals, although she plans to ask friends for their honest opinions about whether she really needs certain items, rather than listening to the friends who tell her she looks great in everything!
Jenni said that she worries it will be difficult to carry on, but that she’s going to remind herself that she wants to put money towards exciting holidays or a new place to live, rather than clothes she doesn’t need.
I personally have an addiction to unusual flares, so I know I will find it hard to say no to them, but I’m going to try to stick to second hand or ethically-made trousers from now on.
Finally, I asked my buddies what one tip they would have for readers of this blog who want to rise to the challenge and attempt No New Clothes in 2021.
Jenni said, “Unsubscribe from all clothing company emails telling you about tempting sales, and use the settings to try to convince Facebook that you don’t want to see clothing ads - if it’s not in your face, it’s much easier.”
Photo by Maude Frédérique Lavoie on Unsplash
Zoe’s top tip was to get into the backs of all your drawers and wardrobes to fish out the clothes you haven’t worn in a while. You might find some gems you’ve forgotten about.
Dawn suggested finding another way to get that dopamine hit that shopping can bring. She’s now finding herself addicted to saving her money instead, but suggested you could try going for a run or doing some knitting or cross-stitch instead, so that you can feel good about not buying clothes.
My own suggestion might seem obvious - and again, this is easier this year than it might be next year - but I’d suggest just not going into clothes shops, even if you think you’re just looking. If you don’t look, you can’t find that one item that you never knew you needed.
Meanwhile, as I mentioned in last month’s blog, West Bristol Climate Action are setting a series of eco-challenges for the next 12 months. As luck would have it, this month’s challenge is about clothing. I asked committee members Grant and Julie to tell us about how they’re finding the challenge so far.
Julie said: "I'm doing the 'repair' aspect of the clothing challenge this month, inspired by a massive success some years ago when I fixed 17 items of clothing in a single day - hemming, repairing holes, sewing buttons on, taking things in, getting shoes resoled, the works - bringing back an estimated £500-worth of clothing back into action. This month I'll be patching my two favourite sweaters, both of which I've worn so often that I've worn holes in them. At least 400 wears and counting, each!"
Grant watched the documentary The True Cost, which is available on Amazon Prime. He says, “The True Cost makes clear the consequences of Western clothing supply chains seeking out the world’s cheapest labour. It focuses on women, their working conditions and the social and health implications inflicted upon communities from appalling working conditions and a lack of environmental and health protections. The juxtaposition between these women’s experience working with clothes vs. the Black Friday madness in the West, vlogging about shopping sprees and general over consumption was sobering, important viewing.”
Have you tried to go without new clothes? How have you found it? Let us know in the box below.
First published October 2020
All around the world, trees are being cut down to feed beef cattle; climate change and pollution are making it harder for plants and animals to flourish; fisheries are emptying our oceans. Here in Bristol, we declared an ecological emergency in February 2020. The hope is that our city will come together to take positive action to combat the loss of wildlife in the area.
You will probably have heard that wildlife is in trouble - but you may not realise quite how bad things are, or what impact this loss has on our way of life.
Since 1970, there has been a 50% decline in marine populations, a 68% decline in wild vertebrates and an 83% decline in freshwater wildlife globally. Closer to home, in the Avon area, birds are on the decline. There are 80% fewer linnets in our skies than there were in 1994, and we’ve lost a horrific 96% of starlings and swifts. UK butterflies are also dying out.
If you have ever seen an XR rebellion, you might have seen banners stating that we are in the ’sixth mass extinction’. This isn’t alarmist rhetoric - unfortunately, it is reality. Species are going extinct 100 to 1,000 times faster than the background rate, meaning that 20-30% animals on earth are at the very real risk of extinction.
These numbers are horrifying for anyone who loves animals - but how will these losses impact our daily lives if they continue?
Photo by Karina Vorozheeva on Unsplash
Approximately three-quarters of the crop types that we grow and consume need pollination to succeed, so without bees and insects, we are facing severe food shortages.
A loss of trees will impact on climate regulation, air quality and soil formation.
IPBES Chair Sir Robert Watson says: “The health of ecosystems on which we and all other species depend is deteriorating more rapidly than ever. We are eroding the very foundations of our economies, livelihoods, food security, health and quality of life worldwide.”
Photo by John Mark Arnold on Unsplash
It’s clear that if we want to keep breathing air, eating food and enjoying nature, we need to tackle the ecological emergency as well as fighting climate change.
The good news is that there are things we can all do to fight biodiversity loss.
Being a forward-thinking kinda city, Bristol has a plan for tackling the ecological emergency. The One City Environment Board has an implementation plan which includes developing more space for nature, reducing pesticide use, tackling pollution in Bristol’s waterways and addressing our global carbon footprint.
It’s great that these changes are happening at a systemic level - but what can you do to help?
If you have a garden, can you use it to create habitats for nature? You could pledge to go ‘no-mow’ - if you only mow your lawn once or twice a year, wildlife will flourish. Could you build a pond to encourage wildlife? If you don’t have a garden, you could write to the council and ask them to stop mowing the verges so often, or engage in some guerrilla gardening to get more wildflowers and plants growing in common areas.
Something we can all do to help combat biodiversity loss and climate change is to consume less and consume better. Cutting down your red meat consumption will mean fewer trees are cut down to feed cows. Buying plastic-free Christmas presents will mean less plastic ends up in the ocean. Buying local reduces pollution.
Finally, please tell your friends about the ecological emergency that we’re all facing. Share this blog. Share the Strategy. Watch the David Attenborough A Life on Our Planet documentary and shout about it. Issues like these can be hard to talk about as many people either don’t want to hear it or feel it’s too late - we’re all doomed and nothing can be done. This isn’t true, so do your bit to tell others that their actions really do make a difference.
Photo by Alexandra Mirgheș on Unsplash
Many thanks to Ian Barrett of Avon Wildlife Trust for his talk to BCR and CCA, which inspired this blog post.
On another note, readers of this blog might be interested to hear that we are starting a series of monthly eco-challenges - a new initiative to get us all making those changes to our daily lives that will really add up and help in the climate and ecological emergencies.
Each month, we'll provide you with a menu of challenges on a theme and you can pick one or more, or come up with one of your own, and we can all do them together. Our first theme is clothing and you can find the challenges here. Be sure to let us know on our social media how you get on!
Easier Than You Think will be blogging about these challenges, so watch this space for more updates.
Did you know: With over 500,000 different species of animals and plants, Costa Rica houses at least 5% of the world's biodiversity?
First published October 2020
As discussed in the previous blog, Ethical Consumer week is coming up at the end of October. Last time, we looked at some of the national and online shops where you can buy clothes which are kinder to the planet.
However, Bristol itself, which has been a FairTrade City since 2005, is a great place for shopping with both the environment and ethics in mind. Plus of course buying local means you can pop down to the shops on your bike, rather than paying for lorries to move goods around the country.
Here are some of my top picks for ethical shopping in Bristol.
Arts and crafts: Room 212
Independent art and gallery shop Room 212 on Gloucester Road sells arts and crafts made by local people, including its owner Sarah Thorp. This shop features a gallery space at the back where artists have their own areas to display their work. The shop offers a range of Bristol-related prints, jewellery and gifts, meaning it’s the perfect place to buy birthday or Christmas presents for your loved ones.
You can also order the prints online and either have them dropped round to you or go and pick them up. The shop is described as ‘fiercely independent’ and is partially run by the local artists who sell their work there.
I strongly believe in encouraging people to shop local within their community, think about the products they buy and reduce waste and packaging.
Zero waste shops
There are a host of zero waste shops in Bristol. My favourite is Nom Wholefoods, who are a delivery service rather than a physical shop. Nom currently deliver to BS4, BS5, BS7, BS15, BS16, BS30, BS31 and BS36. However, they are looking to expand this catchment area, so get in touch with them if you live elsewhere and want to use their services. Nom sell beans, pulses, coffee, herbs and spices, nuts and seeds, bathroom products and face masks. They will deliver in either paper bags or glass jars, which they will then refill. They will also refill your laundry detergent for you, meaning you can reuse those pesky plastic bottles.
Photo by Tim Hüfner on Unsplash
Other zero waste shops in Bristol include Smaller Footprints, Preserve, Scoopaway and Zero Green.
Brothers We Stand is a shop that sells men's clothes made ethically and created to last. Each item of clothing sold in store has a label which details its social and environmental impact, offering you a transparent window on what it is you’re buying. You can read more about their vision here. You can order their clothes online, but they also have a physical store in Whapping Wharf. In a world that can be dominated by clothes for women, it’s great to see something for the men out there as well. Brothers We Stand sells funky, colourful shirts, cosy looking hoodies and even has a range of vegan belts and wallets.
Buying your clothes second hand is always going to be more ethical than buying new as it avoids landfill and means fabric is reused. Fortunately, there is a dizzying array of second hand shops in Bristol.
My personal recommendation is to get down to Cotham Road in Clifton, where there are multiple options. You can also pick up books, records, DVDs and games in these shops, as well as clothes.
Photo by Prudence Earl on Unsplash
Food: Owwee Vegan, Old Market Assembly, Root
Bristol has been crowned as the World’s number one city for vegans three years in a row, meaning it’s super easy to eat delicious food which hasn’t harmed the planet or any animals in almost any area of the city.
As a vegan and lover of dinner myself, I would personally recommend the vegan options at Dangun, the burgers at Quay Street Diner and the wraps at Baba Ganoush.
Additionally the Old Market Assembly offer delicious food from a seasonal and sustainable flexitarian menu. These guys say they are ‘passionate about showcasing local supplier produce with creative, flavourful dishes we create everything fresh in house’. They offer veggie, vegan and meat dishes, meaning you don’t have to go entirely plant-based to eat here.
Photo by Yoav Aziz on Unsplash
Did you know: Bristol was the first council in the UK to declare a climate emergency, back in 2018?
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