I hope lots of people already know about Earth Hour but if you don’t it’s not too late because Earth Hour in 2018 is on Saturday 24th March from 8.30 pm until 9.30 pm, so there’s still time to get involved.
So what is it and what do you have to do? A bit of history first – Earth Hour started out as an initiative of the World Wildlife Fund back in 2007 in Sydney, Australia. The idea was to turn off lights for one hour on one particular day in March to call for action on climate change. Since then this event has gone from strength to strength and now virtually every country in the world takes part. In the UK alone, nearly 9 million people got involved last year. You can read more about Earth Hour and watch a video of the lights going out on the WWF website.
But why take part at all? What difference will one hour of lights make? The answer is not a lot in energy terms. Lights are considerably more efficient than they used to be and, arguably, the event is not without its critics. If you watch the WWF video it does look like a lot of fun – but I also noticed how many candles and torches were being used. Hmmm. Nevertheless, the critics are missing the point, which is that Earth Hour is largely symbolic. It’s a call to action to governments and corporations. And, hopefully, by signing up to Earth Hour individuals also go on to take additional personal action.
Which is why, in 2018, WWF is asking everyone taking part to go one step further and to ‘make a promise to the planet’, ie promise to make at least one change to your lifestyle which will benefit the planet. So I’ve been having a look through a few of WWF’s suggestion to see if there’s a promise I can make.
Refuse plastic cutlery with a take-away. Surely that’s an easy one? For me it is, since it’s been so long since I bought a take away I hadn’t realised take aways had stopped being finger-food, so was a bit surprised to learn you get cutlery with them. But surely if someone is going home with their take-away they don’t need cutlery? If they’re not going home, how difficult can it be to take along a reusable fork or spoon (or spork)? Recently I was horrified to be given a plastic straw with a soft drink in a pub. Why? I’d always thought straws were for children so maybe I looked a whole lot younger than I actually am (which would be flattering if unlikely). On the other hand, maybe I looked like someone who would dribble without the help of a straw.
The next suggestion is also an easy one. Use a reusable coffee cup. I don’t buy take-away coffee either, but if I did I’m sure I would buy one of those nice reusable cups, particularly since some coffee shops offer a discount to those who bring one along. Win-win for the planet and the purse.
Suggestion 3 is another easy one. Turn washing down to 30°C. I’ve been doing that for ages. I use a short cycle and hardly any washing liquid/powder and everything ends up perfectly clean and fresh. Another money saving suggestion that saves the planet too.
Suggestion 4 is to use or compost left-over food. Again, this is something I already do since my Scottish genes make me allergic to waste. I usually look to see what I have in the fridge or veg basket that needs using up when I plan the week’s menu. So, very little other than veg peelings goes in my compost bin, and I also have chickens to give those outer cabbage leaves etc to, thus turning waste into eggs. So, with a little planning, this ‘promise’ is yet another money and planet saving option.
The next suggestion, switch to a green energy supplier, is something I’ve not yet done but really ought to be thinking about, because, in Scotland we have a lot of renewable energy generation. But let’s not be complacent. It’s been estimated that the annual savings in CO2 emissions resulting from Scotland’s current wind-farm capacity are wiped out by a few hours of global emissions!!! So switching supplier is only a small step in the right direction. I’ll definitely look into this one, but felt I had to choose another promise.
But the next suggestion is a difficult one for me personally. Buy an electric car. I have a couple of problems with this, the first being that I need a 4×4 and there are no electric 4x4s available to buy as far as I know. The second is that the infrastructure for charging isn’t yet in place. Where in Tayport could I charge an electric car? I don’t have a driveway and I doubt if I’d be allowed to run a cable across the pavement. But I will certainly revisit this one in the future if the technology advances sufficiently.
Which brings me to the promise I’ve decided on 2018. Become a flexitarian This is ‘a person who has a primarily vegetarian diet but occasionally eats meat or fish’. At the moment I’m sort of the wrong way round – a meat eater who occasionally eats vegetarian food. But I’ve been aware for a long time that, on balance, it’s better in climate change terms (and probably health-wise) to become a vegetarian. The arguments for vegetarianism as part of the battle against climate change are well put in this Guardian article. But I’m also aware that, with all climate change issues, the situation is complex. It might be, for example that the carbon footprint of a piece of locally-sourced chicken is smaller than that for the equivalent number of calories from beans air-freighted from Kenya – and it’s difficult to find out. So I’m going to have to think quite hard about the changes I’m going to make to my diet. I also have to bear in mind that simply substituting dairy products such as cheese for meat isn’t the answer either. They too have a high carbon footprint compared to vegetables.
So, taking everything into account, I’m still going to eat meat but an awful lot less. And when I do eat meat I’ll choose chicken rather than red meats, since poultry has a lower food carbon footprint. I’m also going to try to buy more seasonal vegetables and to grow more of my own, to cut down on food miles. I intend to start buying more locally too. After doing a bit of research I learned that the Coop and M&S are the most ethical supermarkets with my usual one (Tesco) well down the list. Also the Coop is just around the corner so, hopefully, I can walk there rather than drive to Tescos quite so often.
I don’t expect any of this will be easy, but I don’t think it should be. Environmentally, we’ve all done a lot of damage to our planet and now it’s time to pay.
So, what do you think you could do to save the planet in 2018? Any of the above? Or how about making up your own promise? If you’re a gardener, why not make a pledge to grow vegetables (or more vegetables) in your garden? Or, to grow bedding and hanging basket plants from seed rather than buying them from a garden centre and thus reduce your use of plastic plant pots? Or stop using peat-based compost? Or sow some bee-friendly flower seeds? Here’s just one of many articles about ethical gardening which might give you some ideas. And of course, you could take a look at Kaska’s recent blog about up-cycling food packaging. You could even get involved in Tayport’s Carbon Conversations starting this summer at the Tayport Community Garden and which are aimed at exploring ways of reducing your personal carbon footprint (more information here).
So what will I actually be doing for Earth Hour in 2018? I’ll be turning off the lights at 8.30 (if not before) and lighting one or two candles (soy-based if I can find them). I’ll be making a low carbon meal using as many locally sourced ingredients as possible. It will be meat free and possibly dairy free, and definitely involve carrots since I still have lots in my garden. Here are a few recipes I’m toying with. Vegan Shepherd’s pie. I made this recently and it was delicious! I’ll be buying coop tinned tomatoes and cooking dry lentils rather than using tinned. For pudding I may do a blackberry and apple crumble with UK-grown apples and some blackberries I picked locally and froze. The crumble will be dairy free. (Try my crumble recipe – it’s easy and brilliant! For four servings. 100g each dairy-free ‘butter’, plain flour, rolled oats, Demerara sugar. Rub fat into flour and stir in the other ingredients. Pile on top of about 500g fruit and bake 180°C for 40 mins. ) Or I may make carrot halwa since I need to use up carrots. I usually make this with regular milk but a trawl of the internet generated lots of recipes using nut milks. So I may give this a try with coconut milk. Being a flexitarian is beginning to sound quite interesting.
So why don’t you sign up for Earth Hour, make a promise to the planet, then celebrate by inviting friends and/or family around for a low-carbon celebration? It might be a challenge – but it should be fun too!