Tuesday, 20 December 2011

I'm Dreaming of a... Green Christmas! (See what I did there?)

Only 4 days till Christmas! And in light of this merrily festive season, I thought I would write a post about the growing carbon footprint of this predominantly consumerised holiday. Driving with the masses to the shopping centre, buying presents and food produced god knows where, wrapping all your presents in heaps of paper, having the TV on all day watching the Queen's Speech (or Doctor Who in my case), driving to see your fam-


Hey what do you mean 'Bah Humbug'?! Oh alright... I'll keep things holly and jolly. But just in case you were interested in how Christmas carbon footprints have changed over the years, Best Foot Forward have made this Christmas Carol Infographic: The Carbon Footprint of Christmas Past, Christmas Present and Christmas Yet to Come.

Infographic Developed by Best Foot Forward. More information can be found on their website

But anyway, back to the merry side of Christmas! I just received a card with this picture on the front. I think, for me, this is as appropriate as it gets. And I'm proud that people feel the need to get me these cards. It shows that my green colours are shining out. It's also quite comical!

Having said that, Santa really is very un-green. I mean, my gosh, have you seen how much energy goes into his yearly traditions?! According to this very accurate study undertaken by Ethical Ocean, Santa releases up to 69.4 million metric tonnes of CO2 in ONE DAY! And approximately 97% of that is held within the life cycle of toys. This is simply unacceptable!

Graph taken from Ethical Ocean's infographic: Santa's Carbon Footprint.

From production to packaging and disposal, toys are by far the single most devastating contributors to climate change. So-called 'good' children around the world are leading to the untimely demise of this Earth. Not only that though, but the reindeer Santa uses to fly across the world are horrific methane producers. And, of course, there's Santa's polluting factory in the North Pole, which emits around 983,000 metric tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere.

I think, having gained a better idea of Santa's inefficient and polluting methods, it is safe to say that - for the greener good - Christmas should just be cancelled. Or at the very least, he should get operations ISO 14001 certified.

Nooooooo don't worry kids this is all completely made up. Santa is nothing but goodness. Don't you know he uses magic to make all the toys in a special room where he lives; he has a few elf helpers, but that's got nothing to do with child labour. And his reindeer are way too awesome to ever let out any methane - except Dasher, I hear he suffers from IBS.

On a more serious note though... (I know, I know, bah humbug - but I wouldn't have this blog if I never put any green messages out), have a think about your impact this Christmas. Wrapping is obviously a big issue but it goes a lot further than that (and that's easy to recycle anyway). Christmas is so consumption-driven these days and that's when things get the least environmentally-friendly. And remember it's not about the presents... Haha, OK it's not ONLY about the presents, it's about sharing the good times, stuffing your face with (locally-produced and organic) food, and realising that you're half way out of the dark and wintery months.


Sunday, 18 December 2011

The Triangle: A Case of Logical, Effective and Inspiring Eco Housing.

Anybody been watching 4oD's British Property Scandal series? I haven't watched all of them, but I've been keeping up with Kevin McCloud's Grand Design. It's all about HAB (Happiness - Architecture - Beauty) and their most recent development in Swindon: The Triangle.

I first came across this project about this time last year when Kevin McCloud came to University to present his views on eco-housing and architecture. From the point of view of a sustainability geek (as I am proud to announce that I am), HAB and The Triangle have proven to be an exciting and inspiring movement in the housing sector. So that's why it was great to be able to get a better sense of what this initiative stands for, and the troubles it has gone through to achieve it's aims.

I think one of the most exciting things about The Triangle and Kevin McCloud's objectives is that they actually aim to achieve all three elements of sustainability. I mean, there are a huge number of eco-housing projects growing around the country, but these are often only available to those with limitless funds. Likewise, 'eco-projects' tend to focus on the design of the house or the technologies used, but completely ignore the more social issues of communities and neighbourhoods. So it is refreshing to finally find a development which is not only environmentally-sound, but which also puts emphasis on community spirit while at the same time affordable.

A few brief facts about The Triangle:

Environmentally - the houses are build around simple 'eco' designs and technologies. High walls are used to provide a spacious atmosphere and huge windows make the rooms seem light and expansive. Hempcrete is used as an insulator and natural stack ventilation keeps the houses cool during the summer months. All in all, simple technologies provide a low carbon environment at minimal costs.

Economically - The Triangle comprises of a range of 2, 3, 4-bedroom houses and apartments, and these are available in the most affordable way possible. While some inhabitants are on Rent-to-Homebuy schemes, others were previously homeless or were on a housing lists. The idea is that, as good ol' McCloud puts it himself in the show, "even for a £160,000, you can live in a contemporary, beautifully-designed 3-bed eco home that feel bigger and lighter."

Socially - the houses are built around a communal green and residents share an area of land to grow vegetables. A neighbourhood agreement is set out and there are voluntary trips and workshops (for example, to learn how to grow lettuce!). And all of this is to help regain a sense of community, to make sure that kids can play safely outside on the green and to help people feel that they live not in a house, but in a neighbourhood. In fact, I think that's one of the most exciting things about this project. I don't even know my neighbour's last name! I speak to them occasionally, but it's always very brief and I would never feel that I could ask them for help in any situation.

Having watched the programme on 4oD, I would say that it is (overall) a success! That's not to say there weren't any problems (notably, a lack of storage space "for spare curtains" as one resident complained... who on earth keeps spare curtains?!), but these seem to be issues of design and a sign that things perhaps weren't too well thought out at the initial stages. Nonetheless, these are fixable. And indeed, they were fixed, leaving behind an innovative and friendly place to live. Not only that, but it is also a step away from what McCloud terms the 'bog standard'. Why do all houses in the UK look the same? (And I'm talking particularly about the more modern housing estates here). Bleak. Boring. Depressing. And at the end of the day, ridiculously energy intensive.

There is no doubt that change is needed in the housing sector, and The Triangle has proven that developers don't need to stick to the same dreary blue prints. So here's to Kevin McCloud for having shown that 'eco' is not simply for those who can afford to stick solar panels on their roofs. Eco-housing is inspiring. In it's most successful form, it is friendly and communal. It is the logical step forward.

HAB has got three more projects under way. If you want to find out more about them or about The Triangle, you can find out more at: http://www.haboakus.co.uk. Or do it the easy way, and watch Kevin's Grand Design on 4oD!

Ahhh Kevin McCloud... what a legend.

Monday, 5 December 2011

The Five Stages of Dealing with Job Rejection

Like the 5 stages of mourning... but with more anger.

Stage 1: Getting the e-mail.

You haven't read it yet, you just know that they have made their decision. Hope mixes with fear as you read the first line... but a quick glance over the e-mail and the sight of just one word brings you agony: sorry. You know 4 Weddings and A Funeral, the first scene where Hugh Grant is late in getting up for the wedding... yeah that's right Hugh: F*ck F*ckiddy F*ck F*ck.

Stage 2: Rage

Pretty much summed up with: 'WHYYYYYYYYYYY?!' You wasted my valuable time! You gave me hope and then you just drop me! Whyyyyyyyyy!

Stage 3: The 'Well-It's-Their-Bloody-Loss' phase.

It's like denial, but with a touch of self comfort.

Stage 4: Depression 

Also quite easily summed up with 'WHYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYY?!' but then followed by self-doubt. Suddenly, you see yourself having to live on the streets, playing the guitar to earn a bit of money, or worse... you will be 30 and STILL living with your parents. Oh GOD NO!!

Stage 5: Acceptance (with a bit of resentment)

Fine! I'll find something better... eventually... hopefully. And then I'll rock that job. And then... people will be coming to me and asking if I can work for them!

Like Dory from Finding Nemo... Just keep swimming. Just keep swimming! Just keep swimming!

Monday, 28 November 2011

COP-out (Attempt Number 17)

Sshhhhhh.... Can you hear that? Listen. Very Carefully.

That's the sound of politicians and delegates from over 200 countries failing. Failing to communicate. Failing to listen. Failing to see anything beyond their repertoire of 'sustainability is inherently bad for the economy'. Yep. That's right. It's COP-17!

I remember 2 years ago, when the Climate Change Conference was happening in Copenhagen. The news was just littered with stories about it. I had never really heard about these conferences before. My interest in the environment was only just budding and suddenly the media was chock-a-block full of (mostly) positive stories! What action plans will these countries come up with? Will China act? What will become of the Kyoto Protocol?? And then I quickly learnt that, despite the media buzz, none of these politicians were going to come to a decision.

One year later, and COP-16 in Cancun is spectacularly exemplified in this picture:

(Picture taken from BBC Online article)

So it's now it's Durban's turn to host this years conference. And to be truthfully honest, I reckon heads will stay in the sand. Oh such cynicism, I know! Don't get me wrong, my faith in the potential of sustainability remains unharmed, I just don't think politicians are going to be the ones to the lead the revolution. Whether it's environmental experts, businesses or consumers taking the lead, I'm not sure. But I can see politicians only having a follow-up role, after a lot of prodding and poking. I have this picture in my head... you know those movie sequences with old-school battles where rugged men just start charging, screaming and wielding heavy instruments? Yeah, I sort of picture that, except replace the heavy instruments with mini-windmills and home-grown cabbages. And the men are not really rugged, they're just angry every-day people, and battle strategies are drawn up by environmental experts. But it's not really a battle as such, more just a huge mass of people chasing after oblivious politicians in 4x4s.

My name is Maximum Sustimus Greenius, commander of the Armies of the Renewable, General of the IEMA Legions, loyal servant to the true emperor, *enter name of your sustainable idol here*. And I will have my local and organic soup, in this life or the next.

Urrrrr... yes well anyway you get the picture. Back to COP-17!

It's only Day 1 so there is still hope of some decisions being made. The biggest issue to deal with is the future of the Kyoto Protocol. I've never been a big fan of the Kyoto Protocol, because I've always had the sense that it just isn't working! The emission-reduction targets are barely satisfactory, and the most polluting countries haven't even ratified the Protocol (either out of choice *cough*US*cough*, or out of exemption *cough*CHINA*cough*). Having said that, I still think it is important to have a binding treaty for countries to keep to. Without the Kyoto Protocol, or perhaps a new treaty altogether, there just wouldn't be any political motivation whatsoever.

Kelly Rigg, in one of today's Guardian articles on the subject, sums it up pretty well:

"At the root of this failure is the perception that solving climate change is solely about sacrifice, about limiting rights to development."

And that's just it. A lot of people just picture sustainability as a cost, as a fashion, as a bourgeois fad, or as a hippy's religion. When really, sustainable development is an opportunity! I'm not saying it's free. Obviously, there are some initial investments - like companies who improve their heating systems, there are high upfront costs, but the rewards are quickly felt! Savings. Jobs. Markets. There is so much potential within sustainability, in so many different aspects; energy, food, housing, transport, business. Hell, even international cohesion would be a benefit... if these countries could only decide to make a decision.

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

CO2 is Totally (Recally) Green!

I just wanted to share this video. I love this. So much.

Firstly, there is something brilliantly clever about this. Portraying an extreme climate sceptic as a Sasha Baron Cohen character - that's mocking at its best! How the hell they managed to get an interview in the first place, let alone keep it going, is just beyond me. In a Guardian article, Craig Reucassel (the interview) explains:

"The interview was going for quite a while but when I hinted that he might be a comedian, he ignored it. as the interview went on I tried to make it more and more about that - but he just wasn't twigging."

Secondly, those eyes! Those horribly googly eyes! It took me a while to figure out what they reminded me of, but then it clicked... Total Recall! I was going to stick a picture here but a Google image search reminded of how disgusting that film is. In a very 90s special effects kind of way.

Thirdly, it ain't a YouTube video without the hundreds of comical, irritating and completely out-of-place comments. I've trawled through the despair to pick out my favourite:

"Stop listening to Al Gore, CO2 is Green. More CO2 in the air means more plant growth."

I mean, if you think about it... it makes sense! My gosh we've been looking at this climate malarkey in completely the wrong way! I was going to leave it at that. But then I found this little gem... a good way to end this post I feel. As Ali G used to say... Respect!

"Shut the *bleep* up with your pseudo intellectual *bleep* comments, this is YouTube, take that *bleep* elsewhere."

P.S. Apologies. This is arguably the worst post title I have ever come up with. 

Friday, 11 November 2011

Green... the Christian Dior of the supermarket.

So I'm not a big fan of Asda. I'm not quite sure why. Maybe it's because I associate it with my cheapest student days... and therefore that horrific Asda Smartprice Vodka (every student or past student who knows what I am talking about is now going 'Eeeeurgh'). Maybe it's because I don't like their shop layout; it just made my shopping experience that tiny bit more depressing. Or maybe, it's because of that ridiculously annoying advertising campaign... what the hell does slapping your ass have anything to do with 'saving you money every day'?! And don't tell me it's because you have change in your pocket because a) nobody keeps money in their back pocket and b) if they did, they wouldn't slap their butts to confirm it! But I digress...

Despite annoying adverts, it cannot be denied that Asda/Walmart is a hugely successful company, and it sure does some things right! Cheap prices for one. I mean, you can buy a bottle of Smartprice Vodka for only £3.50 - although you pay for it later as your esophagus is burnt by what is effectively paint stripper. But interestingly, Asda have recently put out a study entitled 'Green Is Normal'. And I have to say it is very interesting indeed!

They questioned over 3000 customers each month between January and August of 2011 about their values and attitudes towards sustainability and 'green consumption'. I'm not going to lie, I love me some value/behaviour studies - it was at the centre of my dissertation after all. Even better, I love value/behavioural studies with a happy conclusion. I won't outline the entire report, but five "new facts" came out of the study, all demonstrating that buying green is no longer considered strange or 'out there'. It is now the norm to consider where products come from, how they were produced, and what their impacts are. "The new weird is to do nothing".

Briefly, respondents stated that:

  • Green is normal; considering sustainable issues is 'intelligent' in terms of savings and energy efficiency
  • Consumers should play a more important role in discussing environmental issues
  • Green products should be easier to find; there needs to be clearer signposting to guide customers
  • Respondents claimed they planned/wanted to increase the amount of green products they purchase
  • Buying green shouldn't be more expensive; it isn't a 'fashion' which you should pay more for. 

Some very positive points here! ... But I wouldn't be a post-grad if I didn't look at it critically now would I?

It is honestly great to see that sustainability is penetrating the minds of the public in such a way. I would love to live in a world where environmentalism isn't only associated with Greenpeace members, but with the Average Joe who tries to make his office that tiny bit greener. However, if there is one thing I know about values and behaviour (and I know a fair bit), it's that values don't necessarily mean behaviour change. So Asda's study shows that people want to buy more 'green' - but that doesn't mean they will! And at the end of the day, it's action that counts.

Values are extremely important - they place the individual in the right state of mind to act in a specific way; but there are a huge number of barriers which could easily stop them. And this study has already highlighted two of them (albeit in a very positive way): clearer demonstration of green products, and - of course - price. It seems to be like this in every green-behaviour situation; I found exactly the same in my dissertation research for example... if people want to be green, they do as much as they can, but their full potential is hindered by organisational barriers. In the case of my research, it wasn't so much about price but about people with conflicting values and opinions.

So who's job is it to ensure that people can be greener if they so wish? Is it the consumers who have to push harder? Is it the supermarkets (or whatever organisation that may apply in this situation) who have to restructure their operations? Is it the environmental experts who have to come in and sort everything out (while also annoying all those who feel it is a waste of time)? Or maybe we just need to make sure that absolutely everyone feels that 'green is normal'... that would sort things out, it's unlikely to ever happen, but it would sure sort things out!

In my unimportant opinion, it's about getting all of the above to work together. And I reckon Asda have stumbled onto something good by doing this study and by asking the opinions of their customers. Communication is key after all.

It's a good report, and it's not too dense. If you're interested in reading it for yourself, click here.

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Keeping Up Appearances.

Well I have now been on the job hunt for nearly a couple months and … *drum roll* … I still don’t have a job!! Wooohooo. But that’s fine I’ve gotten so good at this whole application business that it’s actually become like a little job in itself. And when I say a ‘little job’, I really mean a ridiculously labour-intensive task with little positive return and definitely no financial return. On the plus side though, I reckon I’ve got more of a routine than I ever did at University.

Get up. Drink tea. Get a few applications out. Lunch. More tea. Research more people/companies to contact. Even more tea. If I’m feeling particularly keen, get some more applications out.

Today, I feel like writing though. Haven’t blogged in a while so it seems appropriate. I miss writing about environmental issues (and this post is sadly not environmentally related). I just seem to have no time to do anything other than job applications. So I’m not really being inspired much at the moment. I’ll make an effort for my next post. Writing about rejection is only interesting if a lesson is learnt from it… or if it’s funny. I’ve yet to receive a funny rejection, I quite like the idea though! Stick a little joke in there. Or maybe just a link to this picture…

Hahaha yeah that would put a smile on my face. If a little tactless.

So anyway, for those who do find rejection funny, here’s my job application tally so far:

Sent out approx. 100 speculative e-mails out.
Sent out approx. 20 advertised job applications.
Received two invitations to next step in process.
Received approx. 25 rejections.
And the rest is just silence on the airwaves.

Not good odds really are they?!

So what can we learn from this? Well there’s a few things I reckon are important:
  • Keep positive, but realistic. A delicate balance. But you can’t go around being miserable stating the depressing graduate facts of unemployment. And I don’t think it’s healthy either to go around thinking that you’re going to apply to this one amazing job and that they’re going to see how amazing you are. That’s just a set up for disappointment.

  • Don’t take the rejections to heart. That’s what people tell me anyway. I haven’t got this one down yet. How can you not take a rejection to heart?? It’s a lost opportunity! But, I have developed a neat little coping mechanism… and it is so… shrug shoulders (as only a French person can) and exclaim: “Well it’s their bloomin’ loss!” 

  • Apply to jobs while listening to an empowering soundtrack… makes the whole process seem a lot more significant. My choices so far have included: the Tron:Legacy soundtrack, a bit of the Offspring , any of the Black Key’s albums. Actually I’m also going through a 90s music revival at the moment! Just me? Oh… Awkward.

But anyhoo, to finish off, here’s my best and worst moments of applying for jobs. Next post will be green, I swear!

Bad Moments: When people ask you how the job hunt is going with a mixed air of pity and hope; and you answer with a very positive ‘oh well it’s just a case of perseverance isn’t it!’ when really inside you are screaming WHY WILL NO ONE GIVE ME A JOB????

Good Moments: Finding a job or company you absolutely love, and briefly imagining yourself having an awesome job with them.

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

The Job Hunt: A Game of Statistics.

I have officially been on the job hunt for a week and a half now, making a full time job of it and really trying to get results as soon as possible. It’s hard work though. That I can think of, there are 3 main methods of applying for jobs:

1) Using the people you know and nabbing a job off them; by far one of the most effective forms of job attainment.
2) Trawling through the papers/online and applying for advertised positions. 
3) Sending your CV out speculatively and hoping for a stroke of luck.

Due to an embarrassingly limited network, Option 1 is limited for me. Option 2 is always good, but then they say that about 70% of jobs aren’t advertised. And I find that the right jobs are only really every advertised every other week or so. That leaves Option 3 as my go-to method. I think I’m off to a good start – probably contacted about 30 people so far. I’ve been surprised by the amount of responses I’ve had, probably about half… I mean they’re not positive responses but at least people are actually replying to me (I was expecting a sea of silence).

So I thought I would look up the numbers on job applications and recruitment. A brief glance online, and it would seem that the average person can send about 50-100 applications off (speculatively that is) and get about 3-10 interviews from that, and then maybe get 1 firm job offer. Add to that the fact that I am a graduate with limited experience in a depressed job market, and I’m going to assume that I should double those odds. But then, I don’t know, maybe my masters will give me a bit of an advantage. So that’s basically about 150 speculative applications that I need to send off.

I’m sorry I just need a minute to let that soak in… and have a bit of a cry.

OK, OK, well I mean that’s alright? I mean after a week of research, I’ve sent 30 off in a couple days. Got 12 responses in all, of which 1 and ½ are actually potentially useful. I just need to keep them coming. I’m going to play those statistics like a dog chasing its own tail. And yes, it feels like that sometimes, going round and round in circles that is. At the rate I’m going, I could have my 150 applications out in about a month, and I will just have to see how far that gets me. And who knows, I may beat those statistics! Positive thinking right… 

The question is: how do you keep your head held high after endless rejections? 'Hope' is a good start. I'll see how far that gets me. 

Friday, 16 September 2011

The Return of Kermit: Prisms, the 'End of an Era' and Kevin McCloud

Today, I officially spent my last day as a student. The handing in of my masters dissertation marked the end of an era... and a good one at that. I have to say, I was pretty damn good as that whole 'student thing'. I rocked primary school in both English and French, I found my geographical calling at college, and university... oh university... I loved that so much I went back for more.

And that's why I'm sad to have finished. I'm not saying that this is the end of my education; I'm sure there's plenty more that I will be learning in the near future - business etiquette, how to cope with recurring job rejections, how to bake a tart without the pastry rising. But I can no longer be a "student". No... students are care-free and still waiting for life to reveal itself to them. I'm no longer waiting, I'm making it happen. That's a scary thought in itself; it means responsibility, it means hard work and occasional failures, it means not giving up on goals and dreams. But then, at the same time, that's what makes it exciting!

Of course, there's the added worry of this damned recession. I have not a penny to my name and it would appear (from a preliminary attempt at job applications) that my recently acquired Masters is in fact worth \\CENSORED// compared to those people who have "experience". Well here's what I have to say to any prospective employers:

Experience is gained. But endless dedication, enthusiasm and ideas are inherent - they cannot just be learnt.

OK that last paragraph was a bit miserable. I don't want to be grouchy about the current graduate situation, I know that will get me nowhere. And my Masters is in fact worth a lot, most importantly to myself. Somebody recently asked me where I wanted to be in 5 years time, and for the first time in my life, I actually had an answer. I don't know if that thought will ever come to reality, but it is the past 12 months of my life which has allowed me to really gain a sense of what I want to do with my life (because, as it turns out, 'professional party person' is not really a valid option). Just like necessity is the mother of invention, goals and hopes are the parents of great lives.

Still, I will miss university and the freedom it entails - not only to live but also to think. My SPEP time has especially become a huge part of my life. Not only have I met some great people, and not only is it fun to say (SPEP!), but it's also made me think about how I want to lead my life and where I want to end up in 5, 10, 20 and 100 years time (yes... I will reach the grand age of 122). So in honour of SPEP, here's the three best and worst moment of the last 12 months.

The Good Times:
3) Those moments of insanity when the work piled up to the point of mental breakdowns. While working late one night on a presentation with my group, exhaustion eventually set in around midnight, quickly followed by near insanity. Never has the word 'prism' invoked such hilarity... it's inexplicable, it's ridiculous, but for some reason those 'prisms of sustainable development' were godamn funny at the time. PRISM!

2) Coming out of my lecture and finding myself amidst the filming set of Dr. Who. For fear of sounding ridiculously lame, I will say no more.

1) Most importantly, I have to say, some of the best moments this year have come from the numerous conversations that can only really be appreciated (and initiated) by SPEPers (and any environmental cousins). To name but a few conversation topics: biodegradable tampons, cheating the allotment queue system, Access:Sustainability, the excitement of solar panels, the numerous SPEP-related phrases ('may the SPEP be with you; 'to the SPEP-mobile!'; 'let there be SPEP', etc. etc. etc.). And of course, let us not forget our deity, for whom we sat in the front row, keener than any professor: the one and only Kevin McCloud.

And just for a balanced review, here's the 3 worst moments:
3) The chronic lack of money.

2) Repeatedly using the lecture breaks to get a much needed coffee only to find the coffee shop closed... even at 3PM. CPLAN Fail.

1) Those damned environmental law lecturers. Having said that, there's nothing more uniting than 30+ in one room sharing a similar thought: 'Huh?!'

(A list of proposed food to take on a field trip to the Centre for Alternative Technology - a 6 hour round trip. I believe muffins were the only things to have actually been brought).

No point living in the past though; the future is green and I look forward to being part of it... scrub that, I look forward to making it happen. And on another plus note, I am quite certain that a lack of employment will give me plenty of time to blog more often!

Here's to looking at the bright side of this
Employment Impasse/Recession/Graduate Fool-Making [select as appropriate]

Thursday, 9 June 2011

It's those little choices in everyday life that make you who you are...

May I just take a moment to express my current emotions:


Yep. I have defeated the mighty Deadlines-of-Hell warrior and I have overcome the Law Examination originating from Satan's breath. I am now free of the majority of SPEP work. And all I have left to do is a 20 000 word dissertation. Easy. I'll get back to you in 3 months time about that when I shall be once again bricking it. But until then...

I have a very exciting weekend coming up. My cousin is getting married this weekend - so many congratulations to her! I shall be heading up to Edinburgh to celebrate this wonderful occasion. 'What's this got to do with being green??' I hear you environment fanatics ask (ha). Well Sirs and Madams, this trip will mark a momentous occasion - other than wedding related fun of course - I am taking the train to Edinburgh!!

'What?? Why's that momentous? That's stupid.'

Well... it's because of a choice I made a few months ago. I was offered a free plane ticket to Edinburgh. No hassle. No fee. But I had happened to have gone through a very interesting week at university, and had been in deep contemplation about my green identity. I had also happened to have looked into the possibility of taking the train to travel up north; and I was surprised to find that, other than an excess of 4 hours on travel time, the train ticket was cheaper than a plane ticket! A decision therefore needed to be made: Make life easier and take the plane? Or actually take into account what I have been learning and working towards for the last year and take the train?

My choice was however also affected by the rather abrupt situation in which I was forced to make my decision. I was very surprised - and quite upset - to find a frosty reception when I proposed to my darling parents (who would have kindly provided the plane ticket) that I may take the train. They could not seem to comprehend the idea that I would want to willingly take the train. "The cost is of no importance." But I just kept on thinking... it's not only about financial cost. Yeah that's right, taking the plane is a massive cost on the Earth's expenses. Everyone knows that. But also quite importantly, it would have been a burden on my sense of self. You don't set up a blog on being green, you don't devote your career to sustainability, and you don't claim to be something, and then just go and blow it all away because its simply EASIER to take a plane! Hell if there's anything my wise parents have taught me over the years is that the easy path is not necessarily the best.

But I made my choice. And I made it despite certain setbacks. I am happy, nay... I am PROUD to say that I chose to take the train. It means so little in the grand scheme of things - I mean if I'd managed to get my parents to take the train, then that would be an achievement! But that little decision that I made feels like it has cemented my position in the world as someone who would consider themselves somewhat environmental. I don't just chat about this business - I act on it. Kermit ain't no hypocrite. I cannot deny that there are still so many more decisions that I can make to improve my environmental behaviour, but by explicitly choosing to take the train, I have essentially exclaimed that I am willing to work on it and keep making those decisions.

It's like that old saying: Those little choices you make are what make you yourself. Haha noooo I totally just made that up, but sounds about right doesn't it??

Now, any ideas on how best to keep myself amused during the 5 hour trip?

Wednesday, 18 May 2011


Today kids, I want to talk about the people's perception of climate change in today's society and the implicated consequences for our planet's future.

... ... ...

Actually no. That's quite a heavy topic for this time of night. But this video pretty much sums it all up. And it's David Mitchell. We all like David Mitchell, don't we. He's clever and says witty things but with very serious undertones.

I've been a gone a while but no fear I shall return to the delights of blogging soon enough! Just need to get some of this work out of the way... who knew doing a Masters would be so treacherous.

But remember:

"Life would be a lot easier if astrology was true and climate change wasn't. But bugger it all, it turns out it's the other way around [...] And if we don't do anything about it there won't be any pudding ... stroke Maldives."

Peace Out. Kermit.

Friday, 8 April 2011

Home? Where's home?

As I was researching for a presentation I had to do on bioregionalism (which I will not delve into yet...), I came across the term 'querencia'. It's a spanish term which I cannot get out of my head anymore. Lopez, in an article on the rediscovery of North American culture, describes the term as:

"a place on the ground where one feels secure, a place from which one's strength of character is drawn [...] the idea itself is quite beautiful - a place in which we know exactly who we are. The place from which speak our deepest beliefs."

I'm a romantic at heart and this concept intrigues me. In current English, it could be translated as 'home is where the heart is'. But there's something a lot more powerful about the term - it is the idea that the self and the identity is developed within a physical place, or 'a place on the ground'. The idea that we sustain our essence from the physical world around us may seem farfetched, but everything we obtain is from the physical resources our world provides - from the food you put in your mouth to the skyscrapers we associate with human modernism - so why not our identity as well?

I like the idea that my self has evolved from the world around me. I like the idea of being rooted, which is ironic because I do not consider myself to have a 'home' in the first place. I'm a nomad at heart and I have never really stayed put in one place long enough to dig my feet in; and this is my choice. I have been living in the UK for nearly 14 years now but I chose not to consider myself British, just like I chose not to consider myself French, or American. I have created myself as someone belonging to nowhere and yet everywhere.

So where does 'la querencia' fit into my identity? When I consider the physical locations that I have deep attachments to, they seem quite limited...

 I see the olive trees and the lavender of Provence, which is odd because I have never actually lived there. My family does though and I have spent many great summers in the south of France and my memories merge into a delightful mess of lovely food, sun and querky family gatherings.

And the other picture that comes to mind....

The archetypal endless road. I'm not kidding, these are the only two images that I can conjure up in my head. Although the endless road is quite significant in itself. As mentioned above, I consider myself a bit of a roamer, so the road to nowhere is in itself a reflection of my want to not root myself.

Is it odd that the two physical locations and images I can think of are neither of the many homes that I have lived in? No I wouldn't say so. But what is perhaps odd is that I do actually feel a sense of connection to these images. They model not only the memories that have shaped me, but they reflect the type of person I want to be. Attachment to location is a powerful thing indeed, and it is for that reason that I am intrigued by the concept of 'querencia', not only as a romantic but as an environmentalist.

If people are intrinsically linked to physical location, that creates a strong bond between a person and their environment (emphasis on their environment). As an environmentalist and as a human geographer, this is a concept that I am very interested in because I believe this is what people have lost, and I believe that it is because of this loss of connection that we suffer from the huge range of environmental issues which we are faced with today. 

So where do you think of when you think of home?

Friday, 4 March 2011

The Problem with the S-Word

Doing this SPEP course, my mind is perpetually on the concept of sustainability*. In all honesty, there are times when I am so sick of it, so disparaged and so dissapointed that I can't even utter the S-Word. But it's such a buzz word, it is simply impossible to forget about it. Sustainability. Global Warming. The Environment. Climate Change. Sustainable Development. You need to live in a cave to have not heard of these terms (the irony being that - if you did live in a cave - you would most likely be more sustainable than all the people who use those words). They're big words... they're so big that they seem to get people walking around like headless chickens over them; academics, politicians, students, anyone who has a care about these things. For example, nobody can agree what sustainable development is, let alone how to achieve it.

But then, every now and again, I am reminded why I study this course, why I have chosen to be 'sustainable'... because it's exciting! Actually it goes a lot deeper than that, but that's for another post. Nevertheless, I am always reminded what brilliant things that wrethced S-Word can create, inspire, build. I was watching 'The Human Planet' on BBC and John Hurt's dulcet voice was telling me about the Masdar Development in Abu Dhabi. This is a green city, carbon neutral, which creates energy not only from the sun but from waste. I mean of course, if I was going to be critical, I could rant on about the amount of energy that it's going to take to actually build this city from scratch (and that's a lot). But I don't want to do that, because it's still exciting! It's a whole new type of city where people will be able to go by their usual way of life, and yet in completely different way-of-living, one that is closer connected to their environment. But the exciting thing about sustainability is not only the major projects, it's also about the smaller things in life. Like getting away from the consumption-driven world and supporting your local economy by going to your local market. Or even going to Tescos and deciding to buy an apple from England, not New Zealand. Maybe it's that friend who is trying to 'greenify' the world's most unsustainable 1980s house from scratch.

With all the over-complications and the pressure of ethics and responsibility, I reckon people increasingly fear the S-Word. Instead, they should see it as an exciting step forward.

*If you want a bit more information on the principles  of sustainability and what it actually means in today's world, take a look at the 'What is Sustainability?' page. 

Thursday, 10 February 2011

The Story of Sasquatch...

I have a friend, whom we shall call Sasquatch, for that is his name! Now I have known Sasquatch for a while now, since university - we were both keen geographers. Well... I was a keen geographer and he just, sort of, well uhm... OK well he was that friend who just cruised his way through university while just chillout out, only mildly getting stressed every now and again when deadlines were 2 hours away. Everybody has one of those friends.

I learnt a lot from Sasquatch. Mostly the value of relaxing my work ethic (which actually did wonders for my grades). As our fellow physical geography friends slaved over hard facts and figures, we sat back and took a more liberal approach. I'm pretty sure he learnt a lot from me as well. Like the importance of actually getting up for lectures. Or that, however philosophical one gets late at night in a smoky room, taking a whole module on Nietzsche is rarely a good idea unless you are actually undertaking a degree in philosophy. (Actually he learnt that by himself, but it still makes me laugh).

But I reckon Sasquatch is onto a good way of life there. He's been patient. He's worked hard but he hasn't got himself stressed. He's honed his skills and padded out his contact book. And now he's landed himself a job doing what he loves most. Gaming. (Sasquatch is no environmentalist. He belongs in a world of gaming and designing levels and technical stuff which goes completely over my head). So on behalf of all graduates out there, employed or unemployed, I applaud him. Sasquatch is getting paid to do what he wants to do. I really hope I can do the same.

I simply don't want to end up in a 9-5 job for which I have no passion. Why bother at all then? I'd be happier working in a bar where the atmosphere is buzzing... Some people have said to me that I should keep my options open and apply to anything and everything from Barclays to Tescos. I agree that I should keep my options open - it's slim pickin's out there and I'm not one to be fussy... at least in terms of where I end up in the environmental sector. From a highly-paid environmental consultant to a more modest employee for an environmental charity, I'll take whatever is coming. But I have not invested nearly £10 000 on a Masters just to end up being an accountant! It's not that being an accountant is a terrible job (I could definitely do with the pay check), it's just that some people seem to think I chose to do this Masters for the letters behind my name or for the 'transferable skills' I am learning. I'm doing this Masters because it means I can become an expert in something that I am really enthusiastic about... how people fit in and connect with their environments. Why would I want to waste all this knowledge that I have, and all these brilliant ideas that I get, just to sit behind a desk doing the daily routine.

So here's to Sasquatch... who is doing what he does best. That sounds very exciting to me.

Friday, 4 February 2011

Buying green... Is it really that hard? And Chicken Blind Date.

I love food. No I mean really... I love food. My life mostly revolves around food. I'd say that about 60% of the conversations I have had in my life have revolved in some way around food. I know people who just eat because it is a necessity and meal times for them is just a case of ensuring they have the right balance of carbs, protein, etc. I am in no way like that. I enjoy cooking and - when I have the money - I even enjoy doing food shopping. But food shopping these days has become a personal battle between my personal values, my monetary constraints and my no-time-for-anything-but-essay-writing lifestyle.

When it comes to food, I like buying as green as possible (and no I don't mean the colour). Here's a crash course in buying green for those of you who are perhaps not in the know. It's simple. Buy local. Buy seasonal. Buy organic. Buy fresh. Why do I find it important to buy green? Well it's partly because I'm an environmentalist (self-confessed), but I think mostly it's because of how I've been brought up. Half my family lives in the south of France where the food is fresh, it's Mediterranean, it's healthy... and most importantly, it's yummy! Eating like that is cheaper over there. As for the other side of my family, well let's just say that's where I get my insatiable love for food from. With them, and my Mother in particular, I think it's more about trying, cooking and experiencing new foods.

The problem is that in Britain, there is a common perception that buying green is more expensive. I'm not going to lie - it is, especially if you buy produce from local and farmers' markets. But what most people don't realise yet is that most supermarkets now increasingly cater for environmentally-friendly foods. That means there's a market growing for this kind of produce. And in return that means that prices are not ridiculously over-priced. Waitrose is, without a doubt, at the forefront of this movement but it is not alone. Next time you go shopping, actually take a look at what you're buying. Likelihood is that product will have a label on it, and on that label is probably a country/location of origin, a logo to show that it follows British food standards or the Soil Association Organic Standard Logo. And then look at the price difference between those products and the rest of the shelf.

I'm in Sainsbury's (well... online). I'm in the poultry aisle and what I see in front of me is three choices. Now let me put on my best Cilla Black accent... ahem.
Contestant Number One! Who are ya and where do ya come from? - Hello my name is Sainsbury's Basic Chicken Fillets and I come from .... [well you don't want to know where that chicken comes from. I could write a whole post on that, but I won't. If you're interested, watch 'Our Daily Bread']. You can buy me for £6.96/kg [that's £2.50 for 360g pack].
Contestant Number Two! Who are ya and where do ya come from? - Hiya! I'm Sainsbury's Free Range Chicken Breasts (Taste the Difference thank you very much).  I've led a happy and healthy life and I can be yours for £14.99/kg [that's £5.39 for 360g pack].
And finally, Contestant Number Three! Who are ya and where do ya come from? - Hi there. I'm Sainsbury's So Organic Chicken Breat Fillets. I've also lead a healthy lifestyle, but I've also been bred in a way that hasn't harmed the environment. You can buy me for £16.99/kg [that's £6.11 for 360g pack].

If you look in most supermarkets, these will be the different options that you get. So which would you go for? I would advise anyone to steer away from Contestant Number 1 (and that's coming from a student). Of course this is Sainsbury's, so all contestants are likely to come from Britain which is a good start. But the price difference between the organic and non-organic options are not actually that significant. I don't reprimand anyone who goes for option number 2, I do it myself because I'm a student who lives off £15/week and that 70p difference makes a hell of a difference. But when I'm earning (if I ever manage to get a job), I know that I will be moving onto Contestant Number 3. OK so that makes me sound a bit like a chicken-whore... but the point is that there is not that much difference in price.

I think also that's it's not only about buying organic - that's just the cherry on top. Start off slow. Buying local is really the important thing. If you buy local, then it means that the produce is necessarily seasonal, as fresh as you can find it, and it's something to be proud about! Once you start looking at where your food comes from you, you'll see it starts to become a bit of an addiction. And then it becomes a statement. And really, Sainsburys got it right when they said you can Taste the Difference... (bad joke?)

Now... what's for dinner?

Friday, 28 January 2011


It's about time I talk about my current "career situation". Am I currently working? No. Am I an undergraduate student? No. I am what you could call 'purposefully unemployed'. Or a postgraduate student as more commonly known. This time last year, I was still not sure whether I would be undertaking a Masters... not for a while anyway. But thanks to a dying economy, funding opportunities (for which I am eternally grateful) and a lack of job opportunities, here I am! I've heard people call a Masters an investment. I hope that in a few months, that will prove to be true, but from my current point of view, it's more of an overpriced hell to put yourself though. Still... considering the current rise in tuition fees, I find myself extremely lucky to be doing it now.

SPEP stands for Sustainability, Planning and Environmental Policy - arguably the longest title for a Masters. But SPEPers are an exciting breed. I have taken great pleasure in getting to know the class of 2010/2011 who come from a huge range of backgrounds. I could spend hours talking about what we do and what makes us the best Masters course in the School of Planning at Cardiff (ha!), but I won't quite now. In short... When guest lecturers talk proudly about the economic benefits of their projects, we are the ones who raise our hands and ask about the implicated social and environmental costs. We work hard and in our free time we talk about the difficulties of being green (and we moan about the onslaught of deadlines). And when Kevin McCloud comes to the university to talk about EcoCities, we are on the front row ... OK, so maybe that's because it's Kevin McCloud, but still!

I, in no way, regret having chosen to do this Masters. I'll put that partly down to the awesomness of SPEPers, but also because I really feel like I'm doing something worthwhile. Before starting this course, I had applied to various jobs in the environmental sector, and I was surprised (or rather annoyed) at the constant requirement for a postgraduate level of education. Why had I indebted myself for three years only to be told that my degree wasn't enough?! I understand why now. The 'environment' is such a complicated mass of tangles, you need not only a comprehensive understanding of the environment as a whole but also the specific understanding and expertise of a certain area/sector. Doing SPEP is like a crash-course in the expertise area. It's also about gaining a critical perspective and not being afraid of taking a radical outlook on things - something which is particularly important from an environmental viewpoint. In 4 months, my ideas and speculations about environmentalism have been squished, expanded and re-articulated... and there's still 8 months left!

So here's to the next 8 months. And here's to my fellow SPEPers, without which I would probably be in a mental asylum repeatedly talking about the values and improbabilities of bioregionalism!

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

"Surely you can't be serious" "I am serious... and don't call me Shirley."

It's the end of a long month, culminating in a depressing exam on environmental policy. So tired. Feel like I need to catch up on 2 months worth of sleep (the joys of being a Masters student...). But I still wanted to remind people of the wise words of Lt. Frank Drebin:

"I've learnt something this week. About the Earth. And about Love. I guess love's like the ozone layer, you never miss it till it's gone. Blowing away a fleeing suspect with my Magnum was everything to me. I enjoyed it, well who wouldn't. But now I want to be the environmental policeman. I want a world where Frank Jr., and all Frank Jrs., can sit under a shady tree, breathe the air, swim in the ocean, and go into a 7-11 without an interpreter. I want a world where I can eat a sea otter without getting sick. Where the Democrats put somebody forward worth voting for."
- Lt. Frank Drebin, Naked Gun 2 1/2

Those are the wisest and most important words one will ever hear. ... Well, maybe not. Nevetheless, Leslie Nielson remains my idol.

More serious blogging coming next.  "Roger that Over. Over." "Over." "Roger." "Huh?!"

Thursday, 20 January 2011

When I'm older I wanna be...

I've been thinking back about what careers I have wanted to follow in my life. It's quite a short list, but seems to cover a huge range of sectors. For a large part of my innocent youth when TV had not yet taken its effect on me, I wanted to be a dinosaur. A tyrannasaurus rex to be precise. I remember this because I recently found a set of instructions, written by yours truly, detailing how exactly to be a tyrannasaurus rex.

It went a bit like this...
1) Bend down low.
2) Arms out, using hands as claws.
3) Snarl and GROOOOOWL.

As you can see, I was a truly gifted child... with big ideas! Come to think of it, I think I wanted to be a dinosaur because we had just got The Land Before Time on video. So I guess TV played a strong role in my life from the very beginning! My next career choice was also influenced by a famous film... Indiana Jones. I remember having a brief spout of wanting to be an archeologist. I soon found out it wasn't all about tombs, doom and big kabooms though and so that quickly dissapated.

My next career choice was a much more serious one. In my teenage years, I used to write a lot... diaries, short stories, I was even the co-editor of my own newsletter at school. It was called the Fourth Estate (use wikipedia to all those who don't know what that refers to). It really was pretty awful but nonetheless, it was an important venture into the world of journalism and press. I definitely took that pretty seriously for a while, I even did a week of work experience for a local magasine. But somewhere in between my cringe-worthy articles and the realisation that I had big important decisions to make about schools and universities, I stopped writing....

So when I was asked, in a recent job application form, why I had chosen my particular career path... I was stumped. I cannot think of one single moment where I decided to go into the environmental sector. It has always seemed like a path that I have always been on. It was a never a choice. I found geography, and since then I've just been following my nose, just seeing where it takes me! So far, so good.

Oh, and I was rejected for that job! I blame it on that stupid question. Pfff...

Monday, 17 January 2011

'Geographers do it in the field'

I am a proud geographer. I remember my first Christmas as an undergrad when we all got our geography hoodies. Never were we cooler than when we were walking around campus, all wearing our dark green hoodies supporting various geographer-related innuendo. Geographers do it in the field. Check out my pyramidal peaks. Not even continental drift can keep us apart. The list of innuendo is endless! In retrospect, I was probably wrong in chosing the catch line 'Give us a Pinch' (a reference to a legendary geography lecturer in Southampton). Other than geographers who went to Southampton, nobody gets it. And yet random strangers do still pinch me! One man even felt the need to tell me that my promiscuity was an ugly thing. I personally feel that wearing a hoody is anything but promiscuous - but each to their own! Later in that same year, we were no longer in dark green hoodies but in bright blue polo shirts supporting the words 'Sponsored by Crayola'. Yes... that is a reference to geographers and their map-making skills.

But the point is that during those 3 years, and still now, I wore those hoodies and t-shirts with pride. At the end of my time at Southampton, I didn't only get a BA (upper second class... thank you very much!), I didn't only get a new innuendo-based wardrobe, I got something to identify myself by. It sounds stupid, but I'm sure that anyone who went to university (and at least felt they got something out of it) can relate, whatever subject you studied for.

My hope is that I can keep this sense of identity and take it into my professional career. Isn't a job so much better when you actually feel a passion for it? Wherever I am in 10, 20 or 30 years time, I hope I am still proud to wear some dorky t-shirt with a company logo and some unintelligent humour on it!

Geographers... represent.

Friday, 14 January 2011

My entry into the world of blogging.

So here I am, about to get stuck into my first blog. I'm still not sure what I want to get out of this. All I know is that I had some funky dream where I was an anonymous columnist for the New Yorker and people were reading my articles with enthusiasm. Sounds fun! But I gave up on wanting to be a journalist a long time ago, so here's the next best thing... and I can thank the miracle that is the internet for this.

I used to have a diary when I was younger. There's something comforting about writing your thoughts down; it can validate them (or just be used to laugh at years later when reading old diaries). So this is what I want to do, I want to put these thoughts down and send them across the comforting anonymity of the cybernet - minus the cringy teenage love stories, only I get to laugh at those.

Who am I? No one important. That doesn't mean I can't make a difference in this world though! If you hadn't guessed by the title of this blog, I consider myself an environmentalist. No, I'm not a hippy. No, I don't want to live in a little house on the prairie. No, I'm not against nuclear energy. I'm a child of the 21st century (sort of) who thinks the world we live in is a lot more important than what we take it for. And yes, I think we need change. But let's not get into that yet!

Oh, and why Kermit? Well... It's not easy being green.