Impact Living Initiative.
Apart from trying to cut CO2 emissions, we are keen to minimise
our impact on the environment in other ways.
Organic and local
We try to buy organic food (and other products) partly to minimise our own
intake of pesticides but mainly to reduce the impact of farming on the
environment. It does look as if the sharp decline in populations of many British
wild birds in recent years is related to the way most farming is done. It would
be good if protecting the environment were 'automatic' and we did not have to
pay a premium for it. Supermarkets seem
to be slipping into the temptation to water down organic standards. Soil
Association standards are the ones to go for.
It has been argued that, because much organic food is currently shipped from
abroad by air, that the environmental damage caused by air transport outweighs
the environmental benefit of the food being organic. This may be true but we
believe the answer is to tax aviation fuel at levels that strongly encourage the
development of alternative air transport technologies and also encourage the
development of home-grown organic food.
We also try to buy from local sources such as our near-by farm shop (avoiding
the few products they sell that are not local). As with the argument about
imports of organic food, we believe that local food will get the market it
deserves when the environmental costs of transporting food over long distances
is reflected in the prices people have to pay.
In an interesting and thought-provoking
article, Jonathan Porritt says that "An average burger man (that is, not the
outsize variety) emits the equivalent of 1.5 tonnes more CO2 every
year than the standard vegan. By comparison, were you to trade in your
conventional gas-guzzler for a state of the art Prius hybrid, your CO2 savings would amount
to little more than one tonne per year." But the implication—that we should
all become vegan—is not as straightforward as it may superficially appear:
- It is true that feeding grain to an animal and then eating the animal (or
drinking the milk that it produces) is less 'efficient' than eating the grain
directly in the sense that less land would be needed to feed a given number of
- But the figures for CO2 emissions that are quoted by Jonathan
Porritt appear to be based on the assumption that farmers will carry on
fuelling their farm machinery with fossil fuels. But farmers, like everyone
else, will have to cut their CO2 emissions and that means using new
sources of power for their machinery (as discussed on the section on transport).
- There is no mention of the fact that animals have a useful role in
farming. Unlike people, cattle and sheep can, via the bacteria in their
digestive systems, digest cellulose and derive nourishment from it. This means
that they can make productive use of land—mountains for example—that would
otherwise be useless for food production. Also, manure from farm animals is a
very useful source of nutrients for plants, especially in organic farming.
- Any attempt by politicians to persuade us all to become vegan is unlikely
to have much success. And trying to make it compulsory would be electoral
suicide. From the standpoint of practical politics, there are much better ways
of making deep cuts in CO2 emissions.
As of February 2004, Anglesey County Council has introduced a trial recycling
scheme for some categories of rubbish. Each house in the trial area, including
ours, has been issued with a red box for fabric, paper and cardboard and a blue
box for plastic bottles, glass bottles and jars and tin cans. The scheme seems
to be working quite well but there is still quite a lot of packaging that is not
recycled, especially cartons for fruit juice and milk which are made of layers
of cardboard, polythene and aluminium and must be a headache for any recycling
The county councils in North Wales (including Anglesey CC) are providing
composting bins at approximately 50% of the normal retail price. As of May 2002,
we have two in the garden and they are taking fruit and veg waste from the
kitchen and grass cuttings, hedge trimmings and weeds from the garden.
Links: The Wastebook, Greenfinch Biowaste Digester.
We believe GM organisms are a potential can of worms from an environmental
standpoint and could easily be a problem in terms of allergic reactions and
other negative effects on human health. It is nonsense to say, as Tony
Blair has said, that "GM foods are safe". Every gene and combination
of genes is different and each one should be assessed for safety to at least the
same standards as are applied to new drugs. Environmental assessment means
releasing genes into the environment but once they are released, they cannot be
recalled! So far, no answer has been provided for this Catch-22.
Buying organic products (to Soil
Association standards as far as possible) is one way to try to avoid GM
products since organic standards exclude GM products. For anyone like ourselves
trying to avoid GM products, there are pitfalls:
- GM cotton may creep in to many products including fabrics made from
mixtures of fibres. There seems to be no guarantee that there will be
- GM products may be used in animal feed. Alongside worries about animal
welfare, this is a reason for trying to avoid animal products unless they
- There seems to be no obligation on restaurants to make clear which dishes
on the menu contain GM products or may potentially contain GM products.
- GM contamination of supposedly non-GM products has already occurred on
more than one occasion.
We try to avoid the use of chemicals that may harm the environment or health
or both. So far this means not using pesticides in the garden or for house
plants and favouring paints or varnishes that minimise the release of volatile
solvents into the atmosphere.