Category Archives: Thoughts

Free the Fruit

I just got back from a field-trip with my university to Morocco. It was an incredible experience. But what I want to talk (write) about today is not the sun or the spices or the camels or snake-charmers, nor the invigorating thrill of leaving Europe for the first time, but the orange trees.

In the city of Marrakech, the streets outside the central medina are lined with orange trees. They’re very beautiful and they smell amazing, like someone passing by has a stylish citrus perfume that lingers after they’ve gone. But what I was more excited about was the possibility of abundant fruit. Seeing as the trees were in a public space and there were many poor people who could do with a free snack, I thought maybe the oranges were free for the picking: a civic resource. Upon asking our guide, I found out that for some ungodly reason they weren’t edible oranges, they were some bitter un-eatable variety.

I have no idea why, and it seems like a lost opportunity to me. I’ve always thought cities would be much improved with a sprinkling of fruit trees, lining avenues and adorning parks. I mean, trees already make oxygen, and you can’t really get anything more useful than that. When you consider they also absorb carbon, look pretty and offer food and shelter to wildlife, it’s a done deal. But while you’re at it, why not sweeten the deal with a bounty of fresh fruit?

In the UK and all around the world, we could have local councils and community groups get on a fruit-tree-planting-mission and tick off a tonne of jobs in one go. It’s really important that the fruit be free for local people to pick and eat though. That’s the beauty of the scheme. People shouldn’t be allowed to hog the harvest or take away bagfuls to sell, but they should be able to have their fill. Allowing something to be free does require bursting out of that sad old everything-is-for-sale mentality that seems to pervade our everyday lives. I realise that would be kinda difficult for some people to get their heads around, but I happen to think it’s a nice idea. It would improve poorer people’s chances of getting plenty of fresh fruit, which as a student I happen to know can be expensive. It’d also cut into our food miles and boost food security. Considering the UK imports around 90% of its fruit*, a little action wouldn’t go amiss.

Free peaches! Not my image.

Free peaches! Not my image.

And could it really be more obvious that fruit trees might as well produce edible fruit?
I don’t know what those Moroccan town-planners were thinking, but I bet if they’d done a survey close to 100% of people would have opted for free delicious oranges over useless inedible ones.

* Statistic from The Constant Economy by Zac Goldsmith.

Not my image

Geographical Community

There’s a lot of intelligent comment in sustainability circles about how globalization (among other forces) has degraded geographical community. People don’t tend to know their neighbours as much, or at all. People move around the country in search of quality employment (labour mobility, in economic speak). And people move around the world in search of a better life, or just out of curiosity. Continue reading

An Environmentalist’s Evolution

Sometimes I find myself wondering how I came to be so fiercely concerned with the state of the world; with all it’s complex social and environmental aspects. The truth is, my interests have developed, evolved and broadened as I’ve grown from a wide-eyed bubbah to a 20 year old university student.

My interest in the environment was probably given a good head start by my parents, my mum especially. I enjoyed a pretty unconventional upbringing, which involved home education, growing up in a woodland low impact settlement, plenty of wacky life experiences and a healthy dose of skepticism towards government and general authority. My mum taught me to respect plants and animals, to be grateful for my food and never waste it, not to waste water, how to make a fire and which wild plants were edible.

Whether because of this or for some other innate reason, I remember always, from as young as I can remember, being extremely fond of animals. I used to read zoology books constantly and fantasize about opening an animal sanctuary. When I was eight years old, I distinctly remember engaging two of my friends in conversation about the issue of animal cruelty. We decided we would do something about this broad and prevalent issue, and Tiger’s Eye Kid’s Club was born. Our parents thought it was great and helped us a lot, it would never of happened without their work. I made all my friends join and we basically raised awareness about animal rights issues and raised money for action groups. We had a website, which my dad made, and we had information stalls at Glastonbury Festival for two years.

I eventually dropped Tiger’s Eye as I became older and needed to focus on my GCSEs. But that was really where my interest in environmental issues came from, because my research told me that many animals are threatened mostly from habitat destruction and pollution. The more I learned, the more I began to see environmental damage as a problem in and of itself, rather than just because of the animals it affects. I took Environmental Studies at A Level which consolidated this view, and also showed me how complex environmental problems really are, and how many human effects they have. It was around my time in college that I began to look more at the human perspective, seeing pollution, hazards and climate change as problems that have severe and important social repercussions. I started reading and thinking about the concept of sustainability, which is being environmentally responsible because it makes sense from a human standpoint, rather than conservation which is good for ‘the rest of nature’. From there it was only a short jump to caring more deeply about social issues in the broader sense.

During my gap year, I did lots of reading around these subjects and I began to realise how most environmental and even social issues are caused by the way our economy is set up. This led to me taking a sudden interest in economics, and especially new or ecological economics pioneered by the Post Growth Institute, nef and CASSE. I spent countless hours scribbling in notebooks and racking my brains, trying to envision or design an economy whose rules would automatically encourage a sustainable and happy society – a kind of utopia that I was obsessed with imagining.

I went to university for a degree in Environment and Media Studies and so far I’ve loved every second of it. Last year we studied subjects I hadn’t really considered before, which broadened my interests still further. I became incredibly interested in politics, feminism, human rights, and especially with world development and poverty reduction. I continued to do lots of reading about alternative economics, and when I read Enough is Enough everything seemed to click into place. When I stumbled upon this concept of a post-growth or steady-state economy, where the goal is sustainable and equitable human well-being rather than profit, and the economy doesn’t grow but stays balanced within the Earth’s limits, I felt like I’d found the recipe for the philosopher’s stone or something…

I was elated.

This was the solution I’d been trying to dream up, already laid out neatly if slightly inconclusively by like-minded thinkers.

My attitude towards modernity, cities and technology has also changed radically since I was a young teen. I used to think people should ‘get back to the land’ and that technological advancement was no good for humanity or the Earth. I no longer think that way. I think cities are here to stay, and rightly so. I think technology can be harnessed to do great things and I’m a little bit in awe of the internet. I think there’s no sense in trying to return to a rustic idyll that wasn’t actually that romantic; I think we need to evolve to a state we’ve never read about in history books.
I used to be in love with the past, but we’ve broken up and now I’m infatuated with the future.

I’m just about to start my second year of university, and I can’t wait to begin soaking up more knowledge and learning even more about my subject. As ever, I’ll continue to post my thoughts, ideas and discoveries on this blog.
I’m now convinced that a post-growth society is our best possible hope of having a sustainable society with a high quality of life, as opposed to living very frugally amidst environmental desolation. I endeavour to learn more about this new but growing concept and maybe even add something of my own, one day.

It’s very interesting to study how interests evolve.
If I could tell my five-year-old butterfly-chasing, squirrel-feeding self that one day I’d be fascinated by economics, I don’t think I’d of believed it!

 

Ethical Investments

You’d expect there to be a trade-off between ethics and profits when it comes to investments. But last month the independent comparison website moneyfacts.co.uk found that investments in the ethical sector have been growing faster than mainstream investments during the last year, and also over the last three years, within the UK.

“The average ethical fund has posted gains of 24% over the last year,
compared with 18% growth from the average non-ethical fund”.
– Moneyfacts.co.uk

I found this quite surprising, given the current economic climate. Of course, economic growth in general is causing more problems than it’s solving in the world today, because our global economy is too big for the biosphere to sustain. I honestly think countries like the UK should begin to look towards transitioning to a steady state- a no-growth economy with a sustainable scale and focus on human well being. To reach a sustainable scale, a temporary period of degrowth will be necessary. So from that point of view, even green growth becomes oxymoronic and not as innocent as it seems. However, post-growth economics has a long way to go before it’s accepted as a national goal, and being realistic about the shorter term, ‘green growth’ is a lot better than standard growth.

So in that light, this news about ethical investments raking in the cash is a cause for celebration. Ethical investments avoid certain industries such as fossil fuels, the arms trade, genetic modification, animal testing, tobacco and nuclear power, and the best ones focus on industries that have a positive impact such as renewable energy and waste management. I’d be even more jubilant if all investments in the category were this proactive, but most of them just avoid the worst stuff.  Still, ethical investments have really taken off, as their performance at first was pretty meagre and experts predicted they wouldn’t grow above £500 million in the UK. 10 years ago they had reached £4 billion and now they’ve reached £11 billion. Hopefully this will be sending a clear signal to well-meaning investors everywhere that they can make money while maintaining some morals!

Most of us may not be of the investor class, but we do have bank accounts. Banks invest our money (plus extra funds that they create out of thin air, via the magic of fractional reserve banking) by loaning it out to businesses. I’m sorry to say that if you use one of the larger high street banks then your money is in all likelihood being used for all sorts of nasty ends that you probably wouldn’t agree to if you were asked.

I use the Co-Operative Bank because not only do they offer decent overdrafts on their student accounts, they also have a comprehensive ethical policy. It covers human rights, international development, ecological impact, animal welfare and social enterprise. I was happy to see they reject fossil fuel and factory farming companies, among other commitments, and they make an effort to invest in renewable energy and social enterprises. They also made some commitments that I hadn’t even considered, such as rejecting companies that sell arms to repressive regimes or torture equipment! The fact that they even mentioned this implies that, scarily enough, other banks do invest in this kind of stuff. If you’re interested in ethical banking, then check out Triodos Bank as well as the Co-Operative Bank.

I think it’s really important to think about where our money goes, as well as where it comes from. Learning to take ethics into account while investing could be the stepping stone we need before embracing the transition to a steady state economy. To be fair, it’s not long ago that anything green was considered pretty niche. I think we can safely say that ethical investing is a huge step in the right direction!

earth

Happy Birthday Earth Baby!

WordPress informs me that Earth Baby is 2 years old today!

It may be a small achievement compared to the mega-blogs that have been going for years and have thousands of subscribers, but for my part I’m incredibly proud of myself for actually keeping up with this hobby. Before I started blogging I was much more fickle, and would constantly be starting projects and then leaving them in the dust after a short burst of activity. I secretly thought Earth Baby might see the same fate, but 2 years on I’m still as excited as ever about this little internet haven.

I really do think internet publishing is such a fantastic invention. I love writing, and I love doing things on my own terms. The fact that I can essentially publish my own work for free, and have people from all around the globe reading it for free, is a really empowering concept. Updating this blog makes me happy and gives me a sense of purpose in my everyday life. I may not have thousands of readers yet, but the fact that I have any readers – who might be inspired by my words – is to me a great achievement.

Here’s to many years of writing and the revolution I can feel brewing with every day.
Peace,

Tegan Tallullah x