2021: Small But Important Steps
At the end of 2020 we took a look back on some stories of hope from around the world after a year of what seemed like relentless bad news. This year, when looking back on 2021, we’re not really sure how to feel. Another year of extreme weather events, water shortages, ever increasing emissions and UN warnings has left us feeling pretty subdued.
Of course, the build up to COP26 saw media coverage of the climate emergency like never before, which can only be a good thing. And there’s no doubt in our minds that more and more people are becoming aware of climate change; hopefully this will lead to more positive action on every level.
But despite this, we feel that COP26 was a wasted opportunity, with global leaders failing to act with anything like the urgency needed to address the climate emergency. In our most cynical of moods, COP26 seemed to be an exercise in greenwashing and empty promises. So looking back at global efforts to tackle climate change just didn’t feel right this year.
Instead, we’ve decided to focus on some of the small, but still important, steps we’ve personally taken this year in our efforts to improve the health of our planet.
Bus to school
Since the summer term my children have been catching the bus to school. This might not seem like a big deal, but since my son started we had always driven to school. When COVID hit and my husband and I both started working from home, we started to walk to and from school several times a week. This was fine in summer, but the school is in the neighbouring village and the walk takes 30 minutes across muddy fields. Whilst walking eased the eco-anxiety and guilt I felt every time I got into our car, it also meant something like 2 hours a day out of my busy schedule! Suddenly I had a lightbulb moment and realised the kids could take the free school bus. Don’t ask me why we hadn’t thought of this before, I really don’t know. Anyway, to cut a long story short, the kids love the bus, I much prefer nipping to the bus stop than doing the school run, and we have cut out 10 unnecessary car journeys a week!
One car family
Following on from my bus epiphany and after the third flat battery from non-use, we decided in the summer to sell my car and become a one car family. The only reason this has been possible is because my husband and I are still working predominantly from home. Living in a rural area, public transport is patchy at best and it would be quite tricky if both of us needed to be in the office on the same day. So far however, having only one car has caused us very few problems. It requires a bit of forward planning, occasional use of public transport (and having to get over the fact that it costs £6 return to go four miles down the road on the bus) and a bike! It has definitely reduced our car usage and has saved us a few pennies at the same time.
No dig success
This year was a great year all round for my vegetable garden. In previous years I’ve maybe had one success story amongst a lot of failed attempts (2020’s was my crop of enormous onions which kept us going to May 2021). But this year was probably my best all round harvest for variety. I think much of this success is due to going “no dig” and feeding my soil profusely with homemade compost and horse manure, when I can get my hands on it.
2021 was the year when we finally moved our savings to ethical investments. Moving your money can seem somewhat overwhelming, but switching to a greener bank or building society is one of the most impactful things you can do to reduce your environmental footprint.
Preloved school uniform
Having bought nothing new for several years now, I was keen to set up a second hand school uniform shop at my kids’ small school. I suggested this to the school and the PTA and they were really supportive, suggesting we stress the environmental benefits of choosing preloved clothes. It is also a great way for families to save money. So far, we’ve re-homed about 20 items of clothing and it is still early days.
After a Covid-enforced break from protesting in 2020, it was a relief to be able to take to the streets again this year. I took part in various climate protests and actions, from London to Glasgow, Bristol to Marlborough! In the UK we have the right to peacefully protest (unless Priti Patel has her way with the proposed new policing bill). I believe taking part in climate protests is an important way to make sure our voices are heard by our leaders and keep the climate, ecological and social crises in the news.
This year I’ve been very involved in planting hedges as part of the Plant For Our Lives initiative. We are a group of volunteers from across the Vale of Pewsey who spend the winter months planting hedges along public rights of way (with the landowners’ permission of course). Then in the summer we trample down the grass and nettles to help the young plants to thrive. In a few years the hedges will become valuable habitat for wildlife, providing food and shelter, and acting as wildlife corridors. With the advent of industrial farming, thousands of hedgerows were removed to make bigger fields, which is one of the reasons the UK is one of the most nature-depleted countries in the world. Thankfully, times are changing and more and more farmers are seeing the benefits of hedges and wanting to work with our community group to restore hedgerows on their land.
Wildlife friendly villages
After getting the idea from a newsletter from our local Wildlife Trust, I suggested my local environmental group work with the Wiltshire Wildlife Trust’s Wild Landscapes team to implement wildlife friendly solutions around the parish. Fortunately, the parish council are fully on board and are moving forward with the ideas suggested, which include volunteers from the villages sowing wildflowers on verges and selected green spaces, planting mini-community orchards in housing estates, renovating old ponds and encouraging residents to garden for wildlife. This is a great community initiative that benefits both wildlife and people – why not see if your local parish or town council can do something similar?
We were fortunate to be able to get a Green Homes grant towards the cost of insulating our loft earlier this year. The grant scheme was a shambles and the government scrapped it after only a few months, which seems crazy when insulating Britain’s leaky housing could massively reduce our national emissions and save people money on heating bills! Anyway, getting our loft insulation topped up is a step towards making our house more energy-efficient. We should be using less oil to heat our home, and when our oil boiler needs to be replaced, having proper insulation makes fitting an air-source heat pump a viable option. Here are some more energy saving tips.
Low carbon gardening
This is the year where we stopped paying the council for a garden waste bin, saving us money, reducing emissions and helping wildlife. We were already composting most of our garden waste, and after learning more about low carbon gardening, I decided it was better for the environment to keep everything on our plot. Instead, I’ve made dead hedges/piles from woody branches and hedge cuttings, which provide habitat for wildlife. And any leaves that I’m not using to make leaf mould, I’ve either left on the ground or raked into piles.
British pulses, beans and pasta
2021 was the year I discovered Hodmedod’s, a company that supplies a range of food from British growers using organic or regenerative farming methods. Eating a plant-based diet is one of the best ways to reduce your individual carbon footprint, but a lot of vegan food is imported, such as lentils from the USA or linseeds from Australia! So, it’s been satisfying to be able to buy British grown alternatives, including fava beans instead of chickpeas, quinoa from Dorset, lentils from Sussex and pasta made from British grown grains. I tend to buy in bulk to reduce the carbon impact of the delivery (and it’s cheaper), and all the packaging is plastic-free too.
At the end of a year, it’s good to take a step back and look at what you’ve achieved, as a way to counteract eco anxiety, take what you’ve learned and keep moving forward. Remember life is not about perfection, it’s all about the journey.
Our world leaders and big business may be failing us, but there are plenty of ordinary people, community groups and smaller organisations making a difference. Don’t discount your own small steps – they really add up and will make a difference.