It’s coming on Christmas and they’re cutting down trees: I feel OK about it though, because it’s a renewable crop and growing lots of trees, even if they’re destined to be felled, has to be a good thing doesn’t it? But as we are all beginning to feel that our Christmas gift from Copenhagen needs to be sent back and exchanged, I am recognizing more than ever that it’s not just the thought that counts.
I do my bit. I recycle, I communally compost, I don’t have a car, I have two pairs of Howies jeans. What was once a cute and quirky little collection of re-useable shopping bags: A New Leaf, Portland, Oregon; Back to the Earth, Leeds; Bags that Won’t Cost the Earth, Brixton Wholefoods; is now a mountain of unbleached cotton. It may prove in years to come that jute is just as bad as plastic, but my addiction to tote bags illustrates my commitment. I have used cloth nappies for both my children, viewing disposables as a treat only for high days and holidays. I haven’t been on a long haul flight since week 16 of my first pregnancy. It’s slightly by default, but with two children holidaying closer to home is the obvious, as well as the ethical, choice.
I’m no angel though. I transgress in the most energy inefficient ways. It began when I was staying at my mum’s. My mother is an intellectual and not known for fastidious housewifery, but she is the best laundress I have ever encountered. It is a dark art that I have never mastered. After a bath, I asked her how she got her towels so warm and fluffy. She drew me in close, and whispered, ‘I tumble them’.
And so, I tumble my towels. I’m not proud, but how can it be wrong when it feels so right? Since this revelation, my housekeeping has veered further and further towards the 1950s triumph of science. After a heady, but ultimately unrewarding affair with eco balls and essential oils, I compromised by using earth friendly washing powder. But it doesn’t work for me. Despite myself, I want my clothes to smell of chemicals that smell like cut grass. Ecover has all but been totally phased out. And while I know that tea tree is a natural disinfectant, I still want bleach down my toilet.
I don’t say this as a climate change denier; I say this as someone who knows how vital it is for us to act. So why is it so hard to make those tiny sacrifices? I think it’s because whilst I have the luxury of choice, I can choose to carry on regardless and not ever look at what the impact of my fluffy towels really is. For me climate change means some unseasonal plant growth, I am not living in a reality where I’ve lost my husband to a tiger attack or my home to an advancing shoreline. To stare that reality in the face would mean it’s admitting what is happening, and I fear that I can’t live with that. Perhaps on some level, that’s exactly the rationale behind the limp agreements from Denmark this month.
Climate change is a perfect example of how the comings and goings of an average household impact on the world outside. Just as a butterfly that flaps its wings in the jungle may cause a cyclone in the desert, the bleach flushed down my sparkling white bathroom porcelain may poison a fish, starve a gull, drown a polar bear.
Dickens knew what he was doing when Scrooge underwent his transformation on Christmas night, and shows us how the actions of one man can impact so many. The long dark nights of winter, and the celebration that punctuates, is a time to reflect, a time to give, a time to act with kindness and with spirit. I’m not religious, but I love Christmas for its warmth and generosity. I have listened to the comings and goings of Copenhagen and read the reports from the front lines of climate change telling of people whose lives and livelihoods have been decimated. I have seen the ghost of Christmas future, and I don’t like what I see. Just like Ebenezer, it’s time to recognize that by making small changes I will ultimately make my world, and the world around me, not just a better, but a viable place to live. So I’ll carry on doing my bit. But this year, I’ll do it with bells on.