These are tiny drops in the ocean. But seeing TV pictures of the flooding in Queensland the other night, and the warnings of yet more flooding here in the UK, makes me feel we all need to pull together to counter the madness of growth-addicted, consumer culture. It’s all feeling rather apocalyptic, and I’d hoped that we’d have more time.
Feel free to contradict me or to add your own tips.
It feels strange to talk about saving water in a flooded country. But drinkable tap water uses energy (586 kWh per million litres) to produce, and treating the sewage takes a further 634 kWh per million litres (2006 data for UK – couldn’t find more recent figures without wasting more energy – I read somewhere that two searches on Google use the same amount of energy as boiling enough water for a cup of tea). Water treatment impacts the environment in other ways, too, so we should save water, even in the floods.
Don’t use the hot tap for small quantities. By the time it’s run hot, you’ve poured a load of water down the drain. Of course, you could catch that water in a bowl and tip it into a water-butt for watering the vegetables – but in this perpetual rainy season, my water-butts are full. (My brother-in-law fills buckets from the water-butt and uses that to flush the toilet. Deep green.) For washing up (Dishwasher? Do you know what those chemicals do to nature?), boil water in the kettle and add to cold water in a bowl. The breakfast washing up is my job, which often includes cups and bowls from the night before (teenagers – always eating), and I use between 3 and 4 litres of water. On the subject of washing up, use washable cloths (made from fairtrade, organic cotton) rather than disposable sponges.
In the shower, once you’ve wetted yourself, switch off the shower while you put on shampoo/soap. This is hard to do in our unheated shower room during winter, but I’ll bet it saves a lot of water (and hot water, too).
Make sure your kettle can boil as little as a cupful of water. After you’ve used the kettle, refill it. If you don’t know how much water you’ll want to boil next time, just put a cupful in. The residual heat in the kettle will take the chill off the water and so less electricity will be needed when you boil it later.
Defrost food in the room. Thinking ahead saves using the microwave.
Eat less processed food. For example, a lot of energy is used in making breakfast cereals, when compared to porridge/oatmeal or muesli.
Follow my Grandpa’s three dictums for a healthy life: eat plenty of good food, get plenty of fresh air and get plenty of exercise. Hospitals are very energy-hungry places, with their overheating, air-conditioning and huge amount of disposable equipment. Best to avoid them by staying healthy.
Don’t use the car unless you absolutely have to. Planning ahead saves urgency. Rain is not an excuse – if the Good Lord had meant us to drive a short journey just because it’s raining, He wouldn’t have given us Gore-Tex.
Only turn the heating up when everyone’s wearing 2 sweaters and a scarf and is still cold. Although, apparently, this is the behaviour of a Mean Dad.
Avoid as much plastic packaging as possible. This is very hard to do, but it’s such a lot of waste. It’s harmful to animal and plant life in landfill or in the rivers and seas. It uses a lot of oil and energy to manufacture, and recycling it also uses energy and isn’t brilliant environmentally either. Plastic water bottles are easily avoided – use a washable metal flask. Getting milk and fruit juice in glass bottles from the milkman saves some plastic cartons. Supermarket meat, vegetable and fruit packaging can be avoided by buying those things in better places, like farmers markets or small shops. But as most dry goods come in non-recyclable plastic wrappers, this is a hard tip to practice. Bring back weigh and save shops!
Eat seasonal food, as locally grown as possible, and preferably organically grown, too. Thinking about what’s in season helps connect us to the natural world and its rhythms. I’m not very good at this one – I’m not so bad with veg, but I do like my daily banana and apple. At this time of year in England, you need to learn to appreciate turnips, although thanks to Barcombe Nurseries (see links), we do get a good variety of local (and therefore seasonal) organic produce.
Don’t eat meat. If you have to, eat much less and make sure it’s kindly reared (kind to the animal and the land) on a local farm. I should probably also eat much less dairy produce, although the pulses I eat are not locally grown – I’m not sure which is better in terms of energy consumption.
Well, that’s just a few thoughts off the cuff. Even if the drops in the ocean are too small to mitigate climate change, at least we will be doing the right thing; plus we will be demonstrating that alternatives to mega-consumption are possible, and we’ll be better prepared for when everyone has to live like this. I think it’s better than merrily living in denial, anyway.
(Shoreham Power Station, Sussex)