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How a fair-weather eco-warrior can tackle climate change

Did anyone else get the Guardian a couple of Saturdays ago? The one with the Climate Issue colour supplement? Man, what a depressing read. But I’ve kept it (as I suspect many did), rather than consign it to the (recycling) bin. I find rereading the thing in bite-sized chunks, I can avoid the awful feeling that overtook me the first time. A horrible mixture of panic and fatalism. Because there are things we can do, without breaking too much sweat, which will make a difference.

The first thing to acknowledge though is that this is our fault. Yours and mine. The developed world. As matriarch Muriel Lyons says in the last episode of Years and Years (a brilliant performance by Anne Reid in an equally brilliant, and terrifyingly prescient, drama series): “This is the world we built.” She was referring to sinister geopolitical shifts as well as ecological havoc; but Drum and Monkey tries to steer clear of politics.

The climate crisis is not industry’s fault. Industry is only proactive at the moment of invention. Thereafter, it’s almost entirely reactive. If we didn’t demand more cars, ever-newer phones, cheaper and cheaper air travel, then industry wouldn’t supply them. Yes, advertising plays a pernicious role, building desire, persuading us that we need these things in our lives – and I have a small part to play in that, promotional copy being my stock-in-trade ; but ultimately nobody’s holding a gun to anyone else’s head. We have free will, and can choose to resist such persuasion. We choose not to.

And it’s not politicians’ fault – or at least, not much. There are only two ways for democratically elected governments to try to deal with our chronic overconsumption and consequent environmental damage (to deal with anything, really): fiscal and monetary policy (the former concerned with taxation, the latter determining interest rates and money supply), and legislation – and both are very blunt instruments. Major shifts in economic policy carry huge risks (and often have unintended, unforeseen consequences); and making new laws only works if people abide by them.

So it’s down to us. There are several features in the Guardian supplement that are well worth reading: in particular an uplifting exchange of views between US House of Representatives Democrat hotshot Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, at 29 America’s youngest-ever congresswoman, and Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old Swedish schoolgirl and lightning-rod for a new wave of youth-centred climate activism, which you can read by clicking here; a compendium of frankly terrifying interviews with climate scientists, which is enough on its own to give you the heebie-jeebies; and an even more doom-laden look at the rapidly warming Svalbard Archipelago, which will have you selling the house, car and expendable family members for a one-way ticket to Mars.

But reading further (and the whole mag is available online, in various bits) there are some sound ideas for things we can all do. Easy, quick wins that, collectively, might just go some way towards helping us – the planet, that is – to dodge the climatic bullet. This is not a case of virtue-signalling on my part, by the way – I’m probably not doing everything I could, or should. Actually, scratch that “probably”: certainly. But these are five of the changes I’ve made, or intend to make, to help me sleep better at night:

I’m not going to stop eating meat – but I am going to stop eating the Big Three.

I’m a meat eater. A carnivore. I love the stuff. I’m about as fussed as I can afford to be, I suppose, as regards animal welfare, and I like the concept of “nose-to-tail” – but I don’t feel a scintilla of guilt about killing and eating animals. But here’s the thing: I’m not overly bothered about what meat I eat. It should thus be easy for me to give up eating cows, sheep and pigs, all flatulent beasts requiring extensive acreage (especially the first two), in favour of sustainable, unendangered animals that need less space and, to be blunt, fart less. Hares and rabbits, that kind of thing. Pheasants. Chickens. Squirrels, even – beloved of Appalachian hillbillies (“downright good eatin’”) and available online, right here. In fact I’ve just ordered a couple – I’ll let you know how that goes. (An aside: I know a little about squirrels, having written a few articles on them, one of which features elsewhere on this website.)

I’m going to buy a bike.

I’m not a MAMIL (middle-aged man in lycra), and I don’t intend to become one. A sure-fire way to look ridiculous. But I like cycling as a means of getting about. And as someone whose work involves sitting at a keyboard for long periods, any form of exercise has to be a bonus. I had a bike until about three years ago; I miss it; and I’m going to buy another one. Second-hand.

I’m going to car-share.

Since I work from home, my commute to the office is about 10 yards. Zero carbon footprint there then, so well done me. And I don’t drive much on a day-to-day basis (and will even less once I have a bicycle). But I do make a monthly journey to East Anglia to see my children, a round trip of about 400 miles. Just me, and three (or, at a push, four) empty seats. So I’ve registered with two car-sharing websites – and (there are other sites, which at present I’m not too sure about) – and will post details of when and where I’m travelling to, in plenty of time for passengers to fill those vacant spaces. If I don’t get any take-up… well, at least I’ve tried.

I’m going to forage.

For a brief period last summer, I was dog-walker for a friend whose working hours made it difficult for her to give her pet puggle (Buster) his much-needed daily exercise. It was good for me, mentally and physically, to get out in the fresh air. Buster liked it too I think, though he never said as much. Our regular route took us across a brook, almost choked with watercress; past brambles laden with ripe blackberries; under apple trees weighed down with fruit; and (for all I know) through swathes of wild garlic. Did I gather nature’s bounty? Did I heck as like. But this year I’m going to. Buster or no Buster.*

I’m going to cook more sensibly.

By which I mean, as well as shifting my focus towards more seasonal ingredients and away from (say) air-freighted Peruvian asparagus, cooking for two meals rather than one (tomorrow’s lunch as well as today’s dinner) or, indeed, three meals rather than two (lunch, dinner and some for the freezer). I love to cook; and it’s really not much of an imposition, time-wise or energy-wise, to make a huge great vat of something rather than just one measly portion.

So that’s it then. Climate crisis sorted. Well, hardly. But doing what I (easily) can – has to be a positive, right?

*Who remains alive and well, and living in Gloucestershire.

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