Doing our bit

Solar panels being installed.  Our chicken run is on the left

We’ve got to do our bit.  Just a little bit, to help save the planet.  But what, exactly, should we do, and how useful is it?  Everybody is happy to do a little bit so long as that little bit results in no actual change in lifestyle and doesn’t cost much money.  We will do the easy things:  putting stuff in the recycling instead of the bin, popping a few quid in the wildlife charity box, buying stuff that has an “Eco” label, buying the odd bit of organic veg.  But is this enough?

The answer is, of course, that a little bit will only help a little bit.  But does every little bit help?  Well, yes and no.  Clearly the collective little bits added together can reduce carbon emissions, or waste going into landfill, or whatever you are trying to reduce by a large figure.  But actually we need to make a massive difference in what we are doing in order to make the kind of changes that are required.  And this means changing behaviour, and will cost us money.

So our bit needs to become our lot, and it is easy to become discouraged from doing your bit when you realise the scale of the task ahead.  And it is hard to do a lot when we there are so many excuses not to.

First of all, we have to reduce consumption of energy:  in the form of heat, light, electricity, transport and most importantly in the form of the stuff we buy and discard in ever-increasing quantities.  Then we have to switch the remaining energy consumption to sources that do not pollute, particularly with carbon dioxide and greenhouse gases.  None of this is easy, convenient or cheap.

It is, perhaps, easier for somebody like me to turn down thermostats and wear pullovers indoors because I grew up in a house without central heating.  I would wake up in a bedroom with frost on the inside of the window.  In order to get hot water we had to light the coal-fired boiler, sometimes digging snow away from the coal bunker before we could do so.  Showers had not become popular, and duvets had not arrived in the UK.  My uncles had an outside toilet and no bathroom, heating water for a tub in the kitchen for their bath.  Wearing summer clothes all year round was not an option.  Having experienced this, it is not beyond the bounds of possibility to return to it.  But many people have never experienced life like this, and it is unrealistic and would be politically very unpopular to expect people to do so.

There are other things that, at present, have no realistic alternative.  We need a 4 x 4 vehicle that can pull a loaded 1 tonne trailer through mud in order to manage our woods.  We would love a low emission electric vehicle to do this, but such a vehicle is not available, and when it becomes available, will not be within our budget.

Tomatoes ripening in our greenhouse

So we have to be content with doing our bit:  having a wood-burning stove, turning down the thermostat and wearing pullovers indoors, driving less, walking more, consuming less, recycling more, growing our own, keeping chickens for our own eggs, buying local, buying organic.  And last week we did quite a big bit by having solar panels installed on our house.  Linked to the national grid, we are now generating the power for our own needs during the day and exporting power to the houses around us.  Small changes in lifestyle, such as putting the dishwasher on during the day, mean we can be self-sufficient in electricity during the daytime.

As well as owning and managing the wood, planting new trees to capture carbon, and to make a lovely haven for wildlife in the meantime.

Our bit is not enough.  Using the Worldwide Fund for Nature footprint calculator, we are using 2 planets of resources (http://footprint.wwf.org.uk/).  But this is less than the UK average of 3 planets, and this calculation does not take into account the solar power we generate, or the carbon we have offset by planting trees.  Getting to one planet is within our sights.  We have reduced our consumption to 2 planets in less than 4 years.  We have done this by taking small steps, not by doing small things.  Doing a few small things helps in a small way.  But if they are seen as steps along a road to reducing your impact on the planet, and you continue to take steps, then you will start on a journey, rather than imagine you have completed it by putting the beer bottles into the recycling.  By doing this, doing our bit is gradually becoming doing a lot…but we all need to do more.

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