The Un-paving Paradise Project: February 2014

The Un-paving Paradise Project was what I came up with in response to completing an Open University course on Environment. I began the course knowing very little about Environmental issues, and thinking I was studying it only as part of a more general interest in International Development and a deep compassion for those in extreme poverty. I thought the two were mutually exclusive, or tentatively connected at best. I was wrong!

I learned that as the climate changes, it is the poorest who will suffer most. I learned that the consumerist goggles that I and most Westerners wear cause me to be part of a world system which systematically and cynically oppresses the poor while destroying the planet, with grave consequences for the future.

I learned that 80% of the UK’s carbon footprint is created by households. Ordinary people. You and me. I realised that we all have to take responsibility for our actions. As a Christian, the very first thing I did when making a commitment to follow Jesus was to ‘own up’, to take responsibility for my actions. Followers of Christ should be first in line to tackle environmental issues, not flagging up the rear!

“But how?!” I hear you cry, “I can hardly save the planet on my own, can I?”

Well, I follow a very helpful blog called Eco Thrifty Living, where an ordinary homemaker blogs about taking up ecologically-friendly, ethical and thrifty solutions to the problems listed above. She’s ahead of me in the steps she has taken, but that only makes it easier to follow. I can already see what has worked and what hasn’t, and also where things have taken a turn that was totally unexpected.

What have I done, so far? What does all this mean for the King family?

1. Use the slow cooker (to be fair, we already use the slow cooker because it is far less expensive than the hob or the oven).

2. Reduce:

I can’t say we don’t buy things with packaging, but where possible we’ll buy the largest option, which should in theory reduce overall packaging and thus not produce as many greenhouse gases (carbon dioxide and methane). Buying more fresh, locally-sourced produce also reduces the greenhouse gas emissions that our family is responsible for. I also know that when we buy local sausages, they come from free range pigs and have travelled only a few miles to get from the farm to our house. This brings me onto my next point –

Methane: animals (especially cows) reared for their meat (or milk) produce a gas called methane. Methane is not produced in as great a quantity as carbon dioxide, but it is 22 times more potent as a greenhouse gas. So we have reduced the amount of meat that we consume, and are eating more meat-free meals. I think we can still improve on this. When we eventually buy a new house, I am looking forward to growing vegetables and fruit in our very own garden.

3. Reuse:

I am trying to reuse things wherever possible. No more of “I’ll just buy a new one”. I darned my first sock and repaired my husband’s sleeping bag where once we would have thrown these things away. I have made wool holders from toilet roll tubes and cleaning rags from old clothes instead of buying cloths from the supermarket. I’ve had a declutter of clothing – and much of it has gone to the charity shop, for someone else to reuse. At Christmas I bought remnants of fabric, in squares, which were used to wrap presents furoshiki style (you don’t need to buy special ‘furoshiki cloths’ – fabric remnants work just as well). These will be used every time there is a birthday, and have largely eliminated the need for wrapping paper. I also saved all the Christmas cards that were sent to us. Come November we’ll cut them up to make new cards.

Being a keen crocheter, I have saved scraps of wool. In time there will be enough to stuff a teddy or small crocheted doll. Also, and this is a heads up for any environmentally-friendly and money-minded ladies out there, I have used washable sanitary pads for the past two years. They go in with the rags, dishcloths and tea towels on a hot wash to kill any bacteria. They’re much more comfortable than scratchy, paper-based pads and they last for years (thus saving money). They come in different sizes to suit different needs. You can also buy menstrual ‘cups’, a reusable alternative to tampons. I tried the cup and it didn’t work for me, so I went back to just cloth pads. I haven’t looked back since! They’re so comfortable. You can buy them here: femininewear.co.uk

4. Recycle:

Our council already collects our recycling twice a month. I have made sure that anything able to be recycled goes in the recycling bin. I have also taken a few trips to the rubbish tip (to be recycled) to take things not collected. I think we can still improve in this area by buying things with less packaging in the first place – indeed by buying less in the first place, by not feeding our Westernised consumerist addiction. We use carrier bags instead of rubbish bags. I am not sure this is the best way to go on this either.

5. Buying local:

As I said above, we have been trying to buy less meat, and the meat that we do buy we have increasingly bought locally. We have also found local produce, honey and jam. Our local supermarket stocks fruit and vegetables labelled ‘British’ which should cut the miles travelled, but I am not sure that I know which are the best choices, in environmental terms, to make when buying fruit and vegetables. This is an area that needs more research. I look forward to having a little vegetable patch in the garden when we eventually find our new house.

6. Energy consumption:

We have not used the tumble dryer for nearly a year, BUT this has been because during the summer we have hung clothes on the washing line and in the winter we have had the space to hang them indoors. This is a really tricky one because not everyone has the space to dry things indoors. On the other hand, it has saved us money and electricity. We have low energy light bulbs throughout the house and leave nothing on standby (except the clock on the kitchen cooker and the internet router). I try to make sure that things are turned off when not in use and to make the most of energy where it is being used, such as if the oven is used I try to cook more than one thing in it. The dishwasher and washing machine both have ‘eco’ buttons (meaning they use less energy than a standard wash). I suppose to be more environmentally friendly one would get rid of both dishwasher and washing machine, but having a family and two children with weak bladders… that is not going to happen any time soon!

7. Water consumption:

Toilets have a plastic bottle placed in the cistern to reduce the capacity and thus use less water. Toilets also have dual flush systems, so you can choose a full flush or a reduced flush. We also have a rule (just for our household, not for guests, and I don’t do it if I know guests are coming) to not flush when it’s ‘number one’ but only when it’s ‘number two’. I do have to keep an eye on this, though, as if you leave it and leave it… well, let’s just say it’s probably not a good idea(!). I shower only every other day, using a sink of water for washing on in-between days. Also, when showering I use the ‘eco’ setting. It uses about 75% of the water of a normal flow.

8. DIY – make it yourself:

I have been making more and more things myself (or at least having a go). Food-wise we rarely buy cakes or crisps, instead the kids and I snack on fruit and veg. We also make popcorn and our latest experiments have been with sugar-free cakes (by which I don’t mean replacing sugar with artificial sweetener). I found a divine recipe for a lemon sultana cake here: www.bbc.co.uk/food/recipes I make my own muesli and my no-sugar soya yoghurt is gobbled down. I make it at least twice a week. It is sometimes a tricky balance between eating healthily and eating in an environmentally-friendly way. The lemons in the cake, for instance, are hardly likely to be grown anywhere locally. Compromise is a key issue for a family, I reckon.

One of the best things about DIY is getting the kids involved. My children (perhaps not Prince, but I think autism is a good enough excuse) are healthy and active and enjoy healthy food. Fluff, who is ten, can now bake a cake on her own. She even says she wants to be a baker when she grows up (that or an astronaut, or a deep sea diver!).

I made lots of Christmas presents for Christmas 2013. I made two pairs of slippers, two scarfs, a homemade hamper, a blanket, a pot holder, aftershave and scented drawer liners. To be honest, I started making these things as a way to keep myself from boredom during illness, so please don’t get the wrong idea. I did these things instead of all the things I’d normally be doing. I am getting better physically and still crocheting, but not as much as I was. I am currently making a granny square jacket for Fluff, and I have plans for a crocheted dress, a denim crocheted rag rug (made from old jeans) and another granny square jacket for Chip. I have my eye on some locally-produced wool in the local wool shop. I think it would be wonderful to make something useful with a genuinely local wool.

9. Transport:

We all have bikes and Frank has a trike. He has problems with balance so can’t ride a bicycle. He also can’t drive, so he has relished the freedom his tricycle has brought. We try to travel by public transport for long distances. I prefer the train for long distances anyway, and at the moment my health won’t let me drive too far. I tried to cycle to the shops last week, but ended up spending the next day in bed, so I shan’t be trying that again any time soon, but it’s good to know that when I am feeling better I can give it a go! My bicycle is 26 years old. Still works fine.

10. Buying Second-hand

Where I do buy something, I do try to see if I can get it second-hand. This way it falls under the ‘reuse’ category and is not responsible for as many greenhouse gas emissions, or unethical working conditions as part of the manufacturing. For example, the sprays used as pesticides on cotton can make the sprayer go blind. Many workers in clothing factories are working in conditions we in the West would find appalling. Is it right that we get to buy a jumper ‘cheap’ when it made someone go blind in the spraying or made someone work in conditions akin to slavery?

Does all this have a biblical context?

Yes.

How long will our land be dry,
    and the grass in every field be withered?
Animals and birds are dying
    because of the wickedness of our people,
    people who say, ‘God doesn’t see what we are doing.’

Jeremiah 12:4 (GNT)

Followers of Christ are supposed to be stewards of the earth, not exploiters, full of greed and motivated by money. ‘The love of money is the root of all kinds of evil’ (1 Timothy 6:10) well, we certainly see that in our world! The love of money and consumption even makes believers fall. It is such a subtle, omnipresent message, yet we are all drawn in by it. I love how The Message puts it:

“Shout! A full-throated shout!
    Hold nothing back—a trumpet-blast shout!
Tell my people what’s wrong with their lives…
They’re busy, busy, busy at worship,
    and love studying all about me.
To all appearances they’re a nation of right-living people—
    law-abiding, God-honouring.
They ask me, ‘What’s the right thing to do?’
    and love having me on their side.
But they also complain,
    ‘Why do we fast and you don’t look our way?
    Why do we humble ourselves and you don’t even notice?’

“Well, here’s why:

“The bottom line on your ‘fast days’ is profit.
    You drive your employees much too hard.
You fast, but at the same time you bicker and fight.
    You fast, but you swing a mean fist…

“This is the kind of fast day I’m after:
    to break the chains of injustice,
    get rid of exploitation in the workplace,
    free the oppressed,
    cancel debts

…Then when you pray, God will answer.
    You’ll call out for help and I’ll say, ‘Here I am.’

“If you get rid of unfair practices,
quit blaming victims,
quit gossiping about other people’s sins,
If you are generous with the hungry
and start giving yourselves to the down-and-out…
…I will always show you where to go.
I’ll give you a full life in the emptiest of places—
firm muscles, strong bones.
You’ll be like a well-watered garden,
a gurgling spring that never runs dry.
You’ll use the old rubble of past lives to build anew,
rebuild the foundations from out of your past.
You’ll be known as those who can fix anything,
restore old ruins, rebuild and renovate,
make the community livable again.”

extracts from Isaiah 58:1-12

If followers of Christ did these things, what a light we would be in the world. Come, Lord Jesus.

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