“I’ll look after the whales once all the humans have been looked after.” This used to be my (imaginary) answer to anyone who stopped me in the street wearing vaguely environment-related branding. I’m not proud of it – and thankfully I never said it out loud! Perhaps because my privileged life has not yet negatively been affected by any harm done to the environment, I just didn’t see why it was important when there were so many other, seemingly more pressing, issues to care about.
But I began to realise there was a human cost attached to the damage that was occurring. Not only did I understand that generations to come would be affected by our treatment of our – their – planet, I started to see how the world’s most vulnerable, those I said I cared about, were affected too. I realised that looking after the planet today was part of looking after the poor, the trafficked, the suffering – today.
That was all well and good in theory, but it came alive when I met Anastasia on a work trip in Rwanda a couple of years ago. Anastasia lives with her husband and four kids in the east of the country. Theirs is a tale of success in many ways – victims of the genocide, they have rebuilt their lives and their incredible entrepreneurial spirit, teamed with strong community support, means that they run earn a living through their agricultural work and are able to look after their children, paying for health insurance (vital in Rwanda), sending them to school and setting money aside. All great, right?
I had noticed the land around where Anastasia lived looked really dry: like a red, powdery ground kind of dry with crisping plants and trees turned brown. When I asked her about it, she looked to the sky and said “yes, the weather is changing”. She told me she was facing uncertainty about her family’s future – if the climate continued to change so unfavourably, they would have to move and start their life again in the city. Although Anastasia and her family were doing ok, they were still living so close to the line between safety and vulnerability. It seemed the future, and their well-being, was at the mercy of the weather. A change in climate would mean loss of income, loss of stability, loss of physical safety. Loss of schooling, of healthcare, of housing perhaps.
To put it bluntly, the weather changing means that there are millions of people in the world who are vulnerable: to poverty, to illness, to exploitation. Climate change aggravates all the ‘other issues’ I thought needed to be tackled first. We cannot say we care about the vulnerable if we don’t also care about the planet they live on.
Anastasia, to me, is now the face of climate change. She is the one who will be affected by how I choose to treat the planet.
There are so many ways we can help care for the environment. So many, in fact, it can often seem a daunting task. It’s best to break it down and start small. I suggest looking at our daily habits and the things we use regularly, first.
Here are 5 simple suggestions:
Get yourself a reusable coffee cup and water bottle. Bring them with you wherever you go. There really is no excuse for using plastic water bottles anymore! This is my current favourite. We’ve got some lovely reusable coffee cups from TK Maxx, too (and have been pleasantly surprised at the discount offered in most of our favourite cafes when using a reusable cup!) And if you’re a straw kind of guy or gal, get yourself a reusable one!
We use so much plastic in our bathrooms, most of it needlessly. Can you swap your usual toothbrush for a bamboo one ? (Note: this link is to one of my favourite shops for plastic-free stuff which happens to be run by a good friend of mine!) Start using a soap bar instead of shower gel or shampoo? What about ditching the cotton wool for reusable pads? The possibilities are endless. Start small – and while you’re at it, buy natural products (click to read my blog post on those) as much as you can. Not only are they better for you, but you cut down on the toxins you send down the drain and into the earth and atmosphere, too.
Ahh cleaning products. A minefield. So much plastic and so much toxicity! I have almost managed to go toxin and plastic-free by dramatically reducing the number of products I use, and choosing the ones I do wisely. My two must-have swaps for this are Norwex cloths, available here via my friend Laura (also, check out her blog and Instagram for lots of eco-cleaning tips!) and Young Living Thieves Household Cleaner – basically all you need for every cleaning job on your list!
Laundry is another area you can make clever swaps in. I’ve been using soap nuts for a couple of months now and am loving them! Just pop a small muslin bag of them in the machine and off you go. A few drops of essential oils add a lovely scent as well. (Get in touch with me if you want to know about essential oils or Young Living’s cleaner!)
Reducing single-waste plastic in our weekly shop is such a massive way to help protect the environment. Of course, it isn’t always possible (and when it’s not, it’s a great idea to get in touch with your shop’s customer service and tell them you’d like it to be…) but three quick ways are:
+ Choosing plastic-free products when possible, for example a carton of fruit juice rather than a bottle
+ Using reusable shopping bags
+ Bulk-buying things that MUST come in plastic
Christmas has just been and gone so you may be hoping to not have to wrap another gift in the near future, but most of my family decided to be born in the first quarter of the year so I’m gearing up for more soon! Most wrapping paper is non-recyclable and ends up in landfill. (Did you know that in the UK alone we throw away enough wrapping paper to circle the earth 9 times each Christmas?!) The best way around this is using brown paper. You can even get paper tape and in my opinion, nothing is prettier than brown paper packages tied up with string (if it works for Maria von Trapp, it works for me!)
Please get in touch and let me know how you get on with these swaps. And let me know what else you’d recommend. I would love to hear your suggestions!