Alex’s Energy Saving Tips

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 stn


(Shoreham Power Station, Sussex)

Out with the old, in with the new

This past week I had to say goodbye to two faithful old companions.

The first was my fault.  At Easter, I took my lovely 6-string guitar out into the driving rain to play at an early morning outdoor service.  It’s never been the same since, and in particular, won’t keep tune.  So, after 25 years of pleasure and pain and every emotion in between, and nine months of umming and ahhing, I’ve replaced it.   I feel like a traitor.  That old guitar has been brilliant.  It’s seen me through some hard times, and accompanied me through many good times.   Sometimes I’ve thrashed it as hard as I could while splattering it with tears and finger-blood.   Other times it was sweet and gentle.  It just took what I gave and was always ready for more.   Until I got it soaked, idiot that I am.

My trusty bike was simply old and worn out.  I’ve tried hard to keep it going, but it got to the stage where it was making less and less sense to keep spending money on it.   It’s been a faithful workhorse over fifteen years, for nine of which it was my only means of private transport.  It carried all three children (mostly not at the same time), groceries, books, timber, small trees … and me, of course, for miles and miles and miles.

Happy memories.

Their successors have a lot to live up to.

It’s amazing how attached I have become to a wooden box and an arrangement of steel tubing.


Elijah’s Christmas

This is golden oldie, written in 1997.  The bible background is 1 Kings 19.1-18.

Elijah’s Christmas

The prophet Elijah was sitting in his cave, feeling sorry for himself.  An angel appeared to him and said, ‘Cheer up.  God loves you.’

Elijah said to the angel, ‘That’s easy enough for you to say.  You don’t have to live here, day after day.  You don’t have to make your way through this miserable, mixed-up world.  You don’t have to deal with the same stubborn, godless people every day.  You don’t have to try to live a good, godly life amongst all the sin and wickedness and debauchery and devil-may-care partying.  You don’t live my kind of life.  You can just breeze in, deliver your message, and shoot off back to heaven.’

But the angel replied, ‘No, really, God does love you.’

Elijah said, ‘Look.  All the things I’ve said about you, I could say about God.  This rotten world’s going down the drain.  Everyone hates each other.  Relationships are breaking down.  There’s dreadful poverty right next to fantastic wealth and no-one seems to care.  No-one’s bothered about God.  What does God really know as he peers down from his lofty throne?  What does God really know about what life on this planet is actually like?  How can God love us when he does nothing to help us except send angels now and then to say, “God loves you.”  There comes a point when words just aren’t enough.  What we need is action.  So don’t you stand there saying your piece over and over again.  Clear off!’

The angel fluttered to the entrance of the cave, safely out of Elijah’s reach.  He said, ‘God loves you, Elijah.  God loves everyone, and he’s going to prove it.  He is going to do something, and I’m going to show you what it is.  Watch this space.’  And the angel disappeared.

Elijah stared at the mouth of his cave.  Suddenly it started to snow.  ‘That’s odd for this time of year,’ said Elijah.  ‘Must be God.’  But God wasn’t in the snowstorm.

Then Elijah heard sleigh-bells, but God wasn’t in the sleigh-bells.

Then Elijah heard a deep voice booming, ‘Ho Ho Ho!’  But God wasn’t in the voice.

Elijah heard carol singers, oxen lowing, sheep bleating, donkeys braying, robins tweeting, envelopes being opened, carving knives being sharpened, corks popping, crackers cracking, fathers snoring, shepherds singing lullabyes and a little drummer boy.  But God wasn’t in any of these.

‘You’re wasting my time!’ shouted Elijah above the din.  Then he heard a choir of thousands of angels singing their hearts out.  ‘Now that’s more like it,’ thought Elijah.  But God wasn’t even in the angels’ singing.

Suddenly, all the noise went quiet, and the snow stopped falling.  The snow on the ground melted and made everything muddy.  Elijah strained his eyes in the darkness and his ears in the silence.  All he could hear was, very faintly, the crying of a baby.  And God was in the crying.

Elijah wrapped his cloak around him and went out to the entrance of his cave.  ‘It’ll never work,’ he said to the darkness and the silence.  ‘It’ll never work.  The risks are too great.  Anyway, how can a baby save the world and prove anything about God’s love?  The whole idea’s cock-eyed.  Now, those thousands of angels – that was on the right track.  But a baby …?’

The baby was still crying, and the more that Elijah thought about it and the more that he listened to the crying, the more he wondered if, maybe, this was just what was needed – this was exactly the way – perhaps the only way – to save the world.

© 1997, Alex Mabbs.

Cycling is the future

Three cheers for Bradley Wiggins, Mark Cavendish and Chris Froome!

The media here is talking about the greatest sporting achievement ever – an over-statement, surely, but the performance of these three outstanding British cyclists in the Tour de France cheers the hearts of ordinary British cyclists like me.   Maybe if I were 20 years younger and did more than cycle to the shops at a leisurely pace, I could be in with a chance of winning the Tour.

More importantly, this great result raises the profile of cycling in this car-obsessed country, and it may even have an effect on this car-obessed city.  Who knows?  Even if the euphoria only lasts a day or two (although maybe Olympic success will prolong it), it’s a boost and lifts us out of our general feeling of being unloved, oppressed and endangered.

As someone said on the radio this morning:

“Cycling is the future!”

Perhaps now is a good time to get ready for that future.

Drivers of the world, get on your bikes!  You have nothing to lose but that middle-aged paunch.


Plaster Saint

At the end of June, I spent a lovely week on retreat at Sheldon.   As usual, it was great to be on my own with no one else’s schedule or demands to worry about.  I could eat when I was hungry and sleep when I was tired (which was most of the first day and a fair bit of the second).

The framework for my prayers was St Patrick’s Breastplate (Cecil Frances Alexander’s version).  Taking a verse at a time and guided by John Davies’ book, A Song For Every Morning, my thoughts focused on being a part of God’s love and salvation, a part of the church in all its glorious messy breadth, and a part of the created world.  John Davies sees the prayer not as a kind of talisman for personal protection, but as a statement of dedication to pursuing wholeness and justice, and of defiance against all that divides, controls, exploits and oppresses.  I discovered the Lord’s Prayer doing the same thing too.

At Sheldon, there is a swing seat in a little dell of woodland.  St Francis lives there.

I spent some time talking to Brother Francis about all of this.  I wanted to know how I could live a simpler life so that I could be more creative and more loving; less concerned about my own needs and security, and more concerned about the person in front of me (and the others further away who are affected by how I live).  I wanted advice about how I could open up my clenched fist, stop trying to control the world (and the people) around me and instead open up my hands to bless and to receive blessing, and let be.   In particular, I wanted the Holy Man to sanction a compromise so that I could hold on to some stuff while gaining the benefits as if I’d let go of everything.

St Francis refused to grant me a compromise.  In fact, he said nothing at all.  I had no choice but to let go of all my questions, which was a kind of answer, I guess.

St Francis gave away all his status and privilege, and all his possessions.  He may have been a bit mad, but I guess when you have nothing to lose, you have everything to gain.  I was reading in John’s gospel, and several things stood out …

  • The anointing by Mary in chapter 12, when the fragrance of the perfume filled the whole house.
  • Jesus washing his disciples’ feet (including those of Judas) in chapter 13.
  • His promise to the woman at the well in chapter 4: “The water I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.”
  • A similar promise in chapter 7: “Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.”
Here’s the River Teign near Steps Bridge.  It looks peaceful and tranquil, and so it was, but it was also swift and powerful.

Away from systems of power, division, status, ambition, greed, exploitation and grasping fists, there is life given by God – living water that serves and blesses, with the fragrance rising up to fill the whole house of the world.

5 reasons not to cut the grass

It’s a rare sunny day, here in sunny Sussex.  And I could take the afternoon off and cut the grass.  It is rather long, as one of our weekend guests was kind enough to point out to me.

On the other hand, here are five good reasons to leave it – and the animals who enjoy it – alone.

Always put off till tomorrow what you could do today.

And if it’s raining tomorrow, too bad.


I was preaching about Jubilee on Sunday, using Leviticus 25 as a basis.  In the return of the land, the release of bonded labourers and the cancellation of debts every 50 years, there is essentially no buying or selling of capital in God’s economy.   All capital resources and all people belong to God, and God’s not selling.  So there can be no long-term acquisition of the means of becoming wealthy, and no ever-growing gap between rich and poor.  (The exception in Leviticus 25 is houses in walled cities that haven’t been redeemed by a relative within a year.)

Combine this capital-free economics with the rhythm of resting the land every seven years (and the Jubilee’s a two-year rest), and so much trust in God is demanded, that it’s not very surprising that the Jubilee was (as far as we know) never practised.   It’s completely ridiculous and could never work in the real world.

So here we are in the real world.  It’s everyone for themselves and some grow richer at the expense of those who grow poorer.  The rich gather to themselves the means of growing richer and keep gathering them for ever.  Capital is bought and traded by people with no interest in the actual business other than that of making money.  Money is lent at interest in order for the lender to grow richer; those who borrow easily end up trapped in a spiral of increasing debt.  Land, animals, plants and human labour are all resources with a cash value – commodities that can be bought and sold, with tradable value also derived from what might be produced in the future.  We can’t even cope with one day each week when we can’t work or shop.   For some reason that I can’t quite grasp, I am expected to believe that all this is not ridiculous.

Well, I suppose it’s the result of 1700 years of Christianity being the dominant world-view in Europe and the european-ised world.  After all, it would be ridiculous to trust God so much as to be set free from our fear of not surviving and the resulting addiction to acquiring stuff.  When Jesus said his ministry was going to be about release of the oppressed, freedom for the captives and good news to the poor, it’s obvious he wasn’t expecting us to take him literally.  Such radical trust in God could never work in the real world.

I realise that I am ranting.  What interests me is if, given the failure of capitalism (surely that’s getting harder to argue against?), there is something to be said for trusting God and looking for ways of implementing ideas like Jubilee and Sabbath in the real world.  How would we put into practise ideas like the land belonging to God; looking after each other in order to help rather than to make money; respecting the land and nature and refusing to commodify it (or people); restoring some rhythm to life and changing the 24/7 culture into something nearer an 8/6 one?

I wonder if anyone else has any thoughts about this (or about my ‘Resurrecting Economics‘ page) …

Connecting through disconnecting

On Saturday, Mrs Mabbsonsea and I took our daughter and her friends ten-pin bowling.  Three things made me sad (apart from Mrs M getting a higher score than me):

–       There was a DJ and the music was so loud that you had to shout.

–       The girls were on their mobile phones all the time – talking, texting, gaming or watching a video (with earplugs in, of course).

–       As I cycled back (no room for me in the car), dodging the people on their phones or iPods, and being blasted by the piped music as I went past the pier, I thought – ‘The modern world is rubbish’.

Partly, I’m just having a middle-aged moan about piped music.  But my greater sadness was the way something that used to be a fun social occasion was turned into an individual activity because those taking part were more interested in people who weren’t there than the people who were.  The girls didn’t engage much with each other’s bowling or talk much with each other.  They were in their own little worlds, connected through their phones – which disconnected them with the real world that was right there.

I think I am a Luddite.  I don’t like many aspects of the way the world is shaping up.  I find it offensive when I am with someone and they answer their mobile or read a text.  I don’t like the idea of being contactable at any time or place, and I don’t like feeling such a strong attraction to check incoming emails or texts and the way being contacted makes me feel important.

I guess it is easier to be in touch with people you can’t see, especially in short bursts, rather than engage in the longer haul with people who are actually there.  But I wonder if our souls can cope with being so thinly spread.  Would we be better off trying to go deep rather than broad – to be more fully present in the present – right here, right now?  It’s the person in front of me who can help me grow and help me encounter Jesus – especially when she is beating me at bowling.