The Environment

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Wendy Cotton

Environment  Editor

Looking after the environment – something else to be “good” about?


The inspiration for my article in this issue of WOJO comes from conversations over the years with friends about pressure, as a woman, to conform to a notion of ‘goodness’ which I sometimes find hard to live up to. I can remember my absolute delight when several years ago Celia introduced me to the notion of “releasing my inner Trollop”. At the time, I was on a journey of exploration about the motivations behind my actions in pursuit of a wish to live more consciously and to take responsibility for my own happiness. As I looked for the truth in my actions I realised how much I relied upon the approval of others in boosting my self-esteem and how damaging relying on external validation was to my wellbeing and my capacity to support others.
 
The notion of releasing this inner person who didn’t worry if the ironing was done every week and could happily resist the pressure to “just clean this one more thing” before sitting down at the end of a long working day, was incredibly alluring. It also helped me gain the confidence to question the pressure I felt and which aspects of my wonderful roles as mother, homemaker and professional I could re-examine and transform.



It also has instructions to make your own household cleaners, details about animal testing and has the perfect Trollop instruction for being more environmentally friendly – “clean less” – it’s official! ​

There is something liberating about looking at one’s actions, examining why they feel “right” and then releasing any artificial expectations before deciding what to do. A small sentence but a big task, and a lifetime’s challenge to maintain. However, in pursuit of this, I decided that I would try to ignore the “good girl” message behind the advertisement driven urgings to buy more and more expensive and toxic cleaning chemicals to ‘look after my family’ and look for alternative ways to live – and clean!
 
There are now many ways in which it is easier than ever before to find natural alternatives to chemicals. Ethical Consumer Magazine (1) is a great resource for independent validation of the “green” credentials of most products. It also has instructions to make your own household cleaners, details about animal testing and has the perfect Trollop instruction for being more environmentally friendly – “clean less” – it’s official! The online site gives details of which toxic chemicals to look out for and lists the ethical scorecard, ranking tables and best buys of over 50 companies in many different markets (dishwasher detergent, household cleaners, laundry detergents, washing up liquid, toilet cleaners and toilet paper). Combining non-polluting products with bulk buys which can be used to refill plastic bottles, or refilling from bulk supplies available at some shops which also reduces plastic waste - so a win-win solution!
 
Behind my motivation to make decisions based on my own moral code rather than that which could be imposed on me by traditional conventions of female behaviour or advertiser driven consumption, lies a deep aspiration to live in closer harmony with the natural world – because it feels right to me. This aspiration has empowered me to make changes in my working life and I feel incredibly privileged to be able to support this with the opportunity for study.

It is impossible to ignore the amazing potential for people and conventions to change and for what was once considered acceptable to shift in a huge and rapid way.​​​​​​​​

My academic study is a way for me to respond to long-held feelings of concern about the environment and I am now beginning to put a framework around those concerns, in a way which appeals to my analytical brain. The most useful illustration that I have come across so far is the planetary boundaries diagram which is published by the Stockholm Resilience Centre (2).  It shows nine areas (as parts of a pie chart) and illustrates how we are currently measuring against the boundaries that the earth can cope with for that area. The areas include the phosphorus and nitrogen cycles (have you heard about concerns about our soil and river health?) as well as loss of biodiversity and climate change.


One of the other areas, which is included but can’t be measured yet, is “novel entities” – the thousands of artificial and potentially toxic chemicals which we use but, of which, have no way of understanding the long-term impact (on ourselves or the environment). The details may be uncertain but the impact of so many chemicals on the life in our environment is unlikely to be positive or even neutral. I don’t want to be part of creating another legacy like the “plastic ocean” which future generations will look back on in horror. Another good reason for cleaning less and using natural products!
 
It is impossible to ignore the amazing potential for people and conventions to change and for what was once considered acceptable to shift in a huge and rapid way. The “Me Too” campaign and the plastic use revolution spearheaded by David Attenborough are recent examples and I hope that the momentum which has driven these campaigns continues and spreads.



I can’t finish without airing a personal confession and dilemma. In April I flew to New Zealand to see my partner’s son & his partner (and, for the first time, their one year old daughter) and find myself guilty of cashing in the Love Miles described by George Monbiot as “two moral codes in irreconcilable antagonism” (3). I find his writings inspiring and interesting; they align with my personal aspirations and I appreciate his assertion that climate change calls for a whole new moral code and reorientation of moral compass. In his talk, he notes the rare privilege inherent in the ability to afford to use air flight – a privilege which is only shared by a tiny percentage of the world’s population. An obvious fact but not one I’d considered when confronting my reluctance to give up! In making the choice to fly halfway around the world I know I have failed to live up to this vital change in assumption and behaviour. Sounds like the perfect opportunity to call in my inner Trollop and release the guilt – and look for substantial ways to reduce my future carbon footprint to compensate. A wonderful challenge and a good reminder to myself that I am much more likely to take positive steps if I take responsibility for my actions because I choose to, not because I feel compelled to be “good”.
 
 
1 Ethical Consumer magazine www.ethicalconsumer.org
2 Stockholm Resilience Centre http://www.stockholmresilience.org/research/planetary-boundaries/planetary-boundaries/about-the-research/the-nine-planetary-boundaries.html
3 George Monbiot – youtube clip talking about his book “Heat” - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bbYsZFEYclM