Counting on … day 292 

28th August 2022

For vegans – and others – choose sustainable seaweed! 

Seaweed can be eaten as a food in its own right and as an additive in food and non-products (such as toothpaste). It can also be used in making fertilisers, plastic alternatives and in animal food. 98% of seaweed thus consumed is grown commercially – and it is an expanding sector. Japan is the largest producer of seaweed. Here in the UK most seaweed is harvested from the wild – albeit commercially. If you want to give seaweed a try, check out companies such as the Cornish Seaweed Company https://www.cornishseaweed.co.uk/ or Mara Seaweed https://maraseaweed.com/

 Counting on …day 291

27th August 2022

For fish eaters, choosing sustainable fish will help preserve fish stocks and biodiversity in the oceans. The Marine Stewardship Council has a certification scheme with a blue badge indicating which fish products come from sustainable sources. This scheme covers fresh, frozen and tinned fish. Check when eating out whether the fish on the menu is sustainable.

https://www.msc.org/what-you-can-do/10-reasons-to-choose-the-blue-fish-label

Laudate Si: discussion notes 3

“…humanity has changed profoundly, and the accumulation of constant novelties exalts a superficiality which pulls us in one direction… Let us refuse to resign ourselves to this, and continue to wonder about the purpose and meaning of everything.” Section 113

  1. Let’s wonder. What is the purpose and meaning of creation? 

2. Is creation God’s gift to us to do with it what ever we want? 

Has it been given to us so that we can benefit from it, in return for tending it?

Has it been given to us so that we can continue to work with God as co-creators of a still evolving creation?

3. Is creation a stockpile of resources from which we can pick and choose individual bits with no regard for the rest?

If we harvest all the sand eels to make fish oils, do we have a responsibility for puffins and other creatures that rely on sand eels for food?

If we chop down the forest to create grazing land, do we have a responsibility for plants and animals that will die because the land will dry out?

If we replace jungle with palm oil plantations, do we have a responsibility to re-home the orang-utans who lived there?

4. In an ideal world, governments would collaborate and legislate to protect the environment, and to prevent such abuse and misuse of resources. As we do not live in such a world, what can we as individuals and as groups do to protect the environment?

5. Pope Francis reminds us, section 115, that not only has God given us the earth, God has also given us the gift of our fellow human beings. Do we treat them any better than the way we treat rest of creation? 

Can you think of examples of humans been treated as commodities, or as a means to an end?

6. If we fail to treat all human beings with respect and care, are we surprised that humans struggle to care for the environment?

7. Conversely can we properly care for the environment, if we do not also care for the humans who inhabit the same space? 

Can we protect African elephants unless we also pay attention to the needs of the local farmers and businesses who occupy the same land? Can we protect mangroves from clearance for shrimp fisheries unless we provide alternative employment opportunities? Can we rewild grouse moors unless we provide alternative employment for local people?

8. Pope Francis, in section 124, reminds us that God created the first humans not to do nothing, but to tend and till the earth, ie to work. Their work was to assist what grew in the garden and to benefit each other’s well being – and presumably that of the animals too. To work gainfully is a Godly calling – a vocation – for humanity. 

In what ways do you feel that your life fulfils that vocation?

9. “Work should be the setting for this rich personal growth, where many aspects of life enter into play: creativity, planning for the future, developing our talents, living out our values, relating to others, giving glory to God.” Section 127

Do all people have access to such opportunities? Do all people find in their work the means of glorifying God? What prevents people experiencing work in these ways?

Could it equally be that case that some people become so overwhelmed by work, that these benefits are lost?

10. We are learning to understand the concept of sustainable development, and of the sustainable use of resources. Should we also be thinking in terms of sustainable employment?

What might that look like? How might it give a sense of meaning and purpose to life?

11. How might we measure this? In terms of a living wage, of job satisfaction, of the degree of autonomy in making decisions, quality of the working environment, levels of team work and co working?

12. How might we as residents of a comfortable suburb, enable or promote sustainable employment for a greater number of people? 

What questions or reassurances might we seek from employers and producers? How might we use our purchasing power to good effect?

Thank you God

for giving us a vocation 

to be tillers and carers of the earth.

Remind us that it is a vocation we share with 

all that lives on this planet

so that we may be attentive to the needs and gifts of all.

Amen

 Prayers for Creation 

Friday 29th July 2022

God hates cheating in the marketplace; rigged scales are an outrage. Proverbs 20:23 (The Message)

You Lord, are the source of all good things: 

We praise you.

You call us to tend and care for your creation: 

May we strive to do your will.

You have made us as brothers and sisters with all that lives: 

May we live together in peace.

A reading from Leviticus 25:3 – 7 

For six years you shall sow your field, and for six years you shall prune your vineyard, and gather in their yield; but in the seventh year there shall be a sabbath of complete rest for the land, a sabbath for the Lord: you shall not sow your field or prune your vineyard. You shall not reap the aftergrowth of your harvest or gather the grapes of your unpruned vine: it shall be a year of complete rest for the land. You may eat what the land yields during its sabbath—you, your male and female slaves, your hired and your bound labourers who live with you; for your livestock also, and for the wild animals in your land all its yield shall be for food.

God, who planted the Garden of Eden 

with good things to eat, and caused the earth to bring forth green shoots:

We praise you.

God, who caused rivers to flow, 

who sent rains in due season,  and filled the seas with life:

We praise you.

God, who modelled Adam to be a gardener, 

who modelled the creatures in diverse kinds, each as helpers and Eve as co- partner:

We praise you. 

God, you created a world 

which can offer all that is needed, and give each being, plant and creature, a place to belong:

We praise you.

And the Lord said to me, ‘Amos, what do you see?’ And I said, ‘A plumb-line.’ Then the Lord said, ‘See, I am setting a plumb-line in the midst of my people Israel”. Amos 7:8

Generous God,

we have overworked the soil and drained it of its nutrients; 

we have covered vast swathes in tarmac, and have covered our gardens with plastic lawns.

We consume more than we give back, we have not measured true to your plumb-line:

Lord have mercy.

Generous God,

we have decimated the forests, and grubbed up hedgerows, 

we have wiped out diversity and favoured monocultures.

We have taken and not put back, we have not measured true to your plumb-line:

Lord have mercy.

Generous God, 

we have poisoned the waterways and flooded  them with sewage, 

we have drained lakes and rivers to water our crops.

We have ignored what happens downstream, we have not measured true to your plumb-line:

Lord have mercy.

Generous God, 

We have dredged the seas and overfished the oceans. 

We have over consumed fossil fuels, melting icecaps and inundating islands.

We have ignored the science, we have not measured true to your plumb-line:

Lord have mercy.

Generous God, 

we hunted some creatures to extinction, and pushed others to the margins;

we have destroyed their homes, and taken away their food.

We have despised them as co-habitants, we have not measured true to your plumb-line:

Lord have mercy.

Generous God, 

we have demonised our fellow humans, and used them as slaves; 

we have taken their wealth and left them to starve.

We have spent more on war than on peace, we have not measured true to your plumb-line:

Lord have mercy. 

Open our eyes to see the error of our ways. 

Open our hearts to overflow with love.

Open our hands to be generous in sharing. 

May we act justly and  love mercy and  walk humbly with you our God.

Amen. 

The Green Tau: issue 45

Earth Overshoot Day 28th July 2022

Leviticus 25 explains that the land should have a sabbath rest every seventh year. In that year no crops would be sown and the people would live off the surplus of previous years. Farmers over the millennia have learnt that you cannot constantly expect the land to keep on producing crops year on year without fail. The land either needs to lay fallow (rest), or it needs to be sown with a restorative crop such as nitrogen fixing beans or clover, or it needs the input of artificial fertilisers, so that it may recuperate its productivity. It is a lesson we are sometimes reluctant to heed. The Dust Bowl disaster of 1930s in the USA destroyed vast acres of farm land because farming practices did not maintain the fertility of the soil. An equivalent story can be told about the Aral Sea. This inland lake, once the fourth largest area of fresh water in the world,  has been reduced to nothing because more water has been extracted year on year – to irrigate local cotton crops – than the rate at which water flowing in fills the lake.

Ideally what we consume from the natural world – crops, timber, drinking water, clean air, energy – is balanced by the earth’s ability to regenerate. Prior to 1970 that was the case. Since then we have been using up the earth’s renewable resources at a rate faster than they are replenished. Scientists each year calculate that point  when we pass from credit to deficit. This is called Earth Overshoot Day. This year the predicted date is 28th July. Seven months into the year and we have already – globally – consumed as much as the earth can replenish in one year! 

Surely this state of affairs can not continue? What can we do about it and why aren’t we doing it? 

Since 1970, Earth Overshoot Day has been falling earlier and earlier each year. Only in 2020 did it reverse: the reduction in world wide consumption because of Covid gave the earth a three week reprieve. Consuming less has to be the answer which means consuming more carefully and more sustainably. If we could do that in 2020 whilst coping with a pandemic, surely we could do it every year? 

The Earth Overshoot website has details of various ways in which the global community could do this. https://www.overshootday.org/ Meantime we as individuals can make changes to our own lives  and  patterns of consumption. And we can ask or push for our churches, places of work, sports clubs, local authorities, museums, retailers, and government, to make similar reductions in consumption. We need change to happen at all levels.  

28th July is 2022’s Earth Overshoot Day at the global level. That date is the average  of each nation’s own Overshoot Day. These dates range from 20th December for Jamaica (ie Jamaica pretty much balances its books,  consuming only slightly more than it can regenerate in a year) to 10th February for Qatar. The UK’s Overshoot Day  was 19th May. We would need three United Kingdom’s to satisfy our current consumption levels, whereas in reality we rely on other countries to help make up the shortfall.  

Not only should we be addressing the conservation and safe use of resources here in the UK, we should also be offering  support to those other countries on whom we rely to ensure we don’t deplete their resources and rather enable them to develop economies that benefit their own ecosystems. 

Eco Tips: Stuff 

What does sustainability look like in daily life? I thought I would share my experiences.

Previous pages have looked at the use of heating and energy, food and travel for which it is generally easier to calculate one’s carbon footprint and assess the sustainability of alternative choices. Today I am going to reflect on the none food things I buy such as books, clothes, things for the house and garden. These all have a carbon footprint and have more or less sustainable credentials. Here are some of the ways I try to ensure that I use stuff sustainably.

*Not acquiring things that I don’t actually need. It is surprising how often we are tempted  – or encouraged by advertising – to buy things we don’t need. Do I really need it? Do I need to buy it now or could I wait and see if I still need it at a later date? Have I got something similar that will fulfil the same purpose?

* Research – find out what choices are available: which product is most sustainably, how long it will last and, if electrical, its energy efficiency. The internet is useful, as is Ethical Consumer which has both a web site and a magazine. When we needed a new printer, we bought a more expensive Epson model that instead of using disposable cartridges (which hardly last any time at all) has an economical  refill system  – and 8 months later we have yet to need to refill these. 

  • Buying second hand – or more endearingly, preloved – items allows existing resources to be reused  rather than consuming even more fresh resources. I buy clothes and books from charity shops with the plus of funding a worthwhile cause. Sometimes I can also find household items here too – such as a saucepan or a pestle and mortar – but then I do have to be patient as what a charity shop stocks is not predictable! I bought my mobile phone and iPad from Music Magpie – an online second hand site.  When I need a particular book I try web sites such as World of Books and Oxfam – I avoid Abe Books and The Book Depositary being subsidiaries of Amazon. If I buy new books, I use our local independent book shop. 

* Repairing rather than replacing. When something breaks, see if it can be repaired – either at home or via a specialist. Years ago, I bought a Globe Trotter suitcase because of their reputation for quality. When the handle broke, I was able to take it back and have a new one fitted. I frequently darn socks and T shirts, patch up tears, glue broken items in the kitchen, mend punctured tyres, takes shoes to the cobbler,  and buy spare parts from the manufacturer.

  • Up cycling – sometimes rather than buying, I can make what I need from something I already have. Eg pillow cases from worn sheets, plant pots from have cartons, a seed sprouted from a jam jar and a piece of muslin. Old inner tubes become garden ties, and shoe laces are reused as string. Old trousers become shorts, and trouser legs bags for root vegetables.
  • Making do with – enjoying! – what I have: I could buy a food processor but instead I use the knife and the ballon whisk I already have. We have an old kettle whose automatic switch no longer works but since the rest functions, we continue to use it. 

* Lending and borrowing: do I need to buy something if I am only  go to use it occasionally? As well as libraries for books and videos, there are libraries for things. I prefer to rent skis  knowing that they are going to be well used, as opposed to buying skis that would become obsolescent before they wore out.

* If I can, I look for options that will make a positive contribution to someone else: eg choosing a fair trade or organic option, supporting a local producer, buying from a B corp.

  • Packaging – I often make choices dependant on packaging, choosing not to buy something because it comes wrapt in plastic. For example buying a pencil I might choice the pencils sold loose over those pre-packed in plastic.
  • I prefer to spend money on doing rather than having: going to a cafe for a coffee and a cake rather than buying a magazine, going to the theatre rather than buying clothes, buying membership for a nature reserve (eg The Wetlands Centre) rather than cosmetics.

Eco Tips: living sustainably and travel 

What does sustainability look like in daily life? I thought I would share our (me and my husband) experiences.

The single biggest issue that affects the sustainability of travel is the use of fossil fuels. Fossil fuels are used directly in the form of petrol and diesel to fuel cars, motor bikes, farm vehicles, lorries … as aviation fuel for planes, diesel for trains where there is no overhead or third rail electrical current,  the low grade petrol or bunker fuel used for ships. In addition fossil fuels are used indirectly where electric powered transport uses electricity non renewable sources. World wide transport contributes around one-fifth of global carbon dioxide emissions. (https://ourworldindata.org/travel-carbon-footprint)

Sustainable travel has to be that which minimises the use of fossil fuels. 

Setting aside the means of transport used to get products from farms and factories to our homes and tables, and leaving aside the transport used by the emergency services etc. I shall focus on the transport solutions we use to get from A to B.

We live in a suburban part of London. We have good range of local shops for food, books, bikes, paper and craft materials, tools and timber, household and homewares. There are also schools, churches,  gym, library, GP, green spaces all within a mile of our house.

  • Our main mode of transport is walking. Cotton bags and rucksacks provide carrying capacity, waterproofs and umbrellas protection against the elements.
  • Second to this would be cycling. This makes the dentist, swimming pool, theatre, cinema, shoes shops and department easily accessible – all within a half hour cycle. (Cycling is a would-be as my recent neck injury requires a year’s restraint from such activities). When I both worked and studied in central London, cycling was quick, reliable and enjoyable. A well maintained bike, panniers or rucksack, waterproof clothing, lights and a helmets are essential.
  • Next comes the bus for short trips, plus the train and the underground network. This gets us all over London. 
  • Trains also provide long distance travel both here in the UK and across Europe, for holidays, visiting friends and families, etc. Starting off in London makes this easier: when we visit places less well served with public transport we do have to rely on family or a taxi to drive the last leg of the journey. Did you know you can go from London to Berlin or the Swiss Alps by train in a day? London to Glasgow or Edinburgh can be an overnight journey.
  • Flying we avoid. Next year we would like to visit North America and are looking to travel with one of the passenger carrying cargo ships. 
  • There are some trips which we do choose to make by car. For example when my husband volunteers on a steam railway in Hampshire, or when transporting a model railway to exhibitions. At other times we use a taxi for my mother who struggles with escalators on the underground. 

A rough calculation of the carbon footprint of the journeys I make annually by bus and train comes to 0.56 tonnes of CO2. If I were to make those journeys by car (even a reasonably fuel efficient one, 52 mpg) it would have produced 1.52 tonnes of CO2. If I had flown that same distance, it would have produced 2.27 tonnes CO2.

What I haven’t calculated is what my carbon footprint would have been if I had made all my local journeys by car rather than on foot. If say I normally walk 4 miles a day but instead make those journeys by car, I would produce a further 0.43 tonnes of CO2.

A further advantage of walking or cycling in terms of sustainability, is the low capital outlay or expenditure of resources. In the case of walking that would be resources used in making a pair of shoes, or for cycling, that of making a bike. Both will be significantly less than is needed to make a car. The resources needed to build a bus or train are considerable but when apportioned across the number of users and the life time of the vehicle, is probably less than the equivalent for a private car (which will often carry a single passenger as well as spending 95% of its life parked on a drive).

If you want to know more about the carbon footprint of cycling, taking into account the cost in resources of building and maintaining the bike and the calories consumed in pedalling, visit: https://www.bikeradar.com/features/long-reads/cycling-environmental-impact/

The Green Tau: issue 43 

“MAKING SUSTAINABLE LIVING THE DEFAULT OPTION”

– strap line for the UN’s Earth Day. 


What is sustainable living? And how do we go about it? Something that is sustainable is something that can keep on going for a lengthy period of time without diminishment. We might look at household budget and apply the Micawber principle: 

“Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen, nineteen and six, result happiness.  Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds ought and six, result misery.”

As long as the required input is equal or less than output, the budget is sustainable. When what is consumed exceeds what is coming in, the budget is no longer sustainable. Sustainable living is the same: our lifestyle is sustainable if what we consume is equal to or less than resources we use. 

Let’s us taking heating for our homes as an example. 

If say we were to heat our homes with a wood burning stove, for that to be sustainable, we would need sufficient mature woodland to produce each year the wood we would burn. (This is not taking into account the cost to society of the pollution to the air). 

What if we hear our homes with oil and gas? That is ‘sustainable’ only in the short term as both these fossil fuels are non renewable. Once they are gone, they are gone. They cannot be replaced. Aside from air pollution, the major problem with soil fuels is the amount of carbon dioxide that they release into the atmosphere. It is a rate that far exceeds the rate at which it can be absorbed by the planet. This is why heating our homes with fossil fuels is not sustainable in either the short or long term. 

The most sustainable way of heating our homes is not to use any fuel but rather to build/ refurbish them with insulation levels that make extra heat (over and above our own body heat) unnecessary. Houses equipped to this standard are known as a “passivhaus” – https://www.passivhaustrust.org.uk/

Retrofitting is not without its financial cost which puts it out of reach for many people. (Sadly our government doesn’t understand that the whole nation would all benefit if insulating homes was state funded). Nevertheless any improvement we can make to the insulation of our homes will reduce our carbon footprint and energy bills and therefore makes heating our homes more sustainable: https://energysavingtrust.org.uk/insulating-your-home-back-to-the-basics/

A related area to that of heating, is electricity. What determines the sustainability of electricity?

Electrical production can be divided into two categories, renewable and non-renewable. Non-renewable electricity comes from power stations powered by coal/ gas/ oil. These fossil fuels are finite and cannot be replaced. Because of the scale of their carbon emissions, using them is highly destructive due to the adverse effects they cause of climate change and air pollution. Electricity produced by a fossil fuel driven generator is similarly non-renewable. 

Renewable electricity is produced using wind, solar, tidal or geothermal energy. These sources of energy are not diminished through use; they are available on an ongoing basis. In other words, they are sustainable.

Less easy to define is electricity produced using nuclear energy and that produced using biofuels such as wood chips, sugar cane etc. The amount of nuclear fuel needed in proportion to the energy generated is minuscule which is why nuclear power is often included along side renewables, but there are huge problem surrounding the safety of nuclear power stations and the disposal of nuclear waste that raises questions about its sustainability. 

Wood chips and sugar cane are both renewable resources but using them as an energy source is questionable. In a world where many go hungry and where more and more of the world’s natural or wild landscape is being lost, is it sustainable to use scarce land resources to grow crops for fuel rather than food?  

Questions around the sustainability of energy sources also apply to the sustainability of different forms of transport. The most sustainable means of transport is walking. It’s what we are designed for and uses no more energy than that required to feed us. The same is true of cycling, although according to Mike Berners Lee in his book, How Bad are Bananas, suggests that, depending on whether our diet is made up of beef burgers or bananas, a battery powered bicycle may have a lower carbon footprint! As above any transport reliant on fossil fuels – whether that is a petrol car, a diesel train or a plane – is not sustainable. Electric powered transport where the source of electricity is renewable is more sustainable but there are downsides to consider. Electric vehicles rely on batteries which are made from non renewable minerals such as lithium and cobalt – and cobalt in particularly comes predominantly from mines where employee welfare is minimal.

In sparsely populated areas, transport systems that rely on buses or trains may need to develop on-demand rather than time-tabled services, in order to make their use of limited resources sustainable. 

Plants are a naturally renewable resource but that doesn’t make all food equally sustainable. Factors to take into account include water, fertilisers, transport to markets, food waste, and whether the plants are feeding us directly or indirectly. Some crops such as rice, strawberries, blue berries and almonds,  require large amounts of water. In water sensitive regions irrigating such crops may divert water away from supplies used by local people for growing staple foods, as well as for drinking. It may also divert water away from aquifers and wetlands regions thus damaging local flora and fauna. In such circumstances, these crops cannot be classified as sustainable.

Fertilisers, especially artificial ones, use up limited non-renewable mineral resources, as well as contributing large amounts of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. In addition the run off from fertilisers damages water courses and kills plants and creatures, compounding existing biodiversity losses. 

Where foods are imported over longer distances – and especially so when the mode of transport includes airfreight -will consume more resources and in particular will increase the food’s carbon footprint. Imported Spanish  strawberries, out of season avocados and air freighted asparagus are a few examples of unsustainable foods. In some instances the sustainability of a product becomes questionable when it takes over land used to grow staple foods for the local population or where it involves the clearance of indigenous wild vegetation such as the clearance of tropical rainforest to grow sugar cane. 

The majority of farm land globally is used not to feed people directly but to grow food for animals intended for human consumption.  It takes 100 x more land to produce 1kg of beef than to produce the equivalent in plant based food. In terms of feeding the global population a diet with high levels of meat consumption is not sustainable.

Plants as a renewable resource are also used for making things – clothes and fabrics, paper and furniture, rubber, paints etc. As with plants brown for food, similar questions about sustainability arise. Cotton for example is a heavy user of water – water abstracted for cotton growing was the major factor causing the disappearance of the Aral Sea. The growth in demand for palm oil used in products as diverse as lipstick and margerine, has led to the clearance of vast areas of natural habitat including mangroves. Demand for paper has seen naturally biodiverse forests replaced with monoculture pine plantations. 

The sustainability of every product we use needs to be measured in terms of renewability, carbon footprint, water footprint, impact on biodiversity, impact on local populations, the working conditions for those who grow, produce or sell, transport footprint, and the ease with which at the end of its life it can be recycled or disposed. Sustainability may begin as a question about individual lifestyle but quickly becomes a question about global sustainability. 

 Counting on …day209

10th June 2022

According to the WWF, ‘Local communities are key to equitable, sustainable food systems’. They see working with local communities is the best way of developing climate resilient farming practices that enable communities to feed themselves. The charity Practical Action takes a similar approach using on the philosophy of Dr E. F. Schumacher that ‘small is beautiful’. The Fair Trade movement also puts communities at the heart of its work. Supporting groups like these and opting for fair trade products are ways of creating a sustainable world.

 Counting on …day 208

9th June 2022

Sustainability is also about maintaining communities. Communities are good because they provide support for those who are vulnerable as we saw when neighbours helped with shopping. Communities are good because they can rally together, sharing skills and resources, whether that is to celebrate jubilees or to cope with disasters such as floods. According to the  World Bank,  ‘Sustainable communities are resilient to social, economic, and natural shocks. They are well prepared for natural disasters, which are increasing in intensity and frequency due to climate change’.
Being good neighbours, being committed to our local communities, means we can count on each other to share the hard times and celebrate the good times.