Raquel’s Blog – Walking my Own Talk…

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In summer 2014 I left Bristol for a spell. While I was away, dreaming about coming back, I realised I hadn’t gotten involved in Bristol’s community vibe in the way I’d wanted to: I hadn’t put time into my local community and my values hadn’t translated into action. So I started researching green groups in the city, and was drawn to Easton Energy Group (EEG) and Bristol Energy Co-operative (BEC).

April 2015 was the perfect time to return, and engage with Bristol Green Capital events. I went to lots of great talks, and it was a steep learning curve. From a talk by Andrew Clarke from The Resilience Centre, I learnt that for the UK to be carbon neutral by 2050, we’ll need to reduce our energy demands by 40%, mainly through space heating reductions and electrification of transport (or the poo bus alternative we are championing in Bristol). Hareth Pochee explored some radical ways of achieving carbon neutrality, including knocking down all Victorian houses in London and replacing them with well insulated new builds! His conclusion was the best thing we can do, is insulate the hell out of our old buildings. And from Dan Quiggin, I learnt we make 60 billions cups of tea each year in the UK, and that if we all appropriately filled our kettles, we would save 30 times more CO2 emissions, than all our current solar installations. That blew my mind and began pointed kettle remarks (and a few heated discussions) with my housemates.

How did all this translate into action? I started volunteering with EEG and BEC, because I wanted a balance of working closely in my community, and on a city-wide project like the Bristol Energy Co-Op, who are raising money for solar installations on 20 community buildings and two solar farms. I made a commitment to pour time and love into these projects for 6 months, and see what happened…. so I mucked in and did everything from the inspiring to the mundane. Everything from engaging with local residents house-by-house, to photojournalism, to marketing spread sheets and handing out leaflets in December rain. Slowly I’m seeing ways to apply my particular interests: on Saturday 13th of February I ran sun dance for BEC in Millennium Square, and at a recent Bristol Energy Network meeting, we formed a nascent steering group for engagement on climate change through art. Watch this space.

On a personal level, I’m seeing that to take action on climate change is a lifestyle choice of many small changes, alongside big dreams like opening a Bristol zero plastic packaging shop. Bottom line, acting responsibly on climate change isn’t sexy, and to sustain my own interest, I have to make it into a game. I learnt about the Bristol green capital 15 for 15 campaign a little late in the year, and so I’ve pledged 16 for 16. My top 3 are:
1. To reduce my time in the electric shower, one of my indulgences. I’ve sent off for a free water efficiency pack, which includes a timer (you can get the freepost request cards from the EEG showhome until the end of March).
2. Sign up to the Bristol Pound.
3. Reduce my waste (landfill and recycled).

I signed up to the Bristol Pounds to support participating local businesses in their commitment to buy local and keep money circulating within the region. Signing up was a bit of a faff, but I am incentivised to shop and visit cafes that accept Bristol £’s, probably to the tune of 40% of my grocery and leisure spend (as I write this I’m thinking about how I can move towards an 80% ideal). And text to pay has lots going for it:
• there is no minimum spend
• you get an instant balance update
• it’s fun – well, I get a kick out of it every time, knowing I’ve just contributed to the local currency I’d like to see be the norm.
When I asked a couple of local businesses if they are able to use Bristol £ to pay their suppliers, they said yes, because to change Bristol £’s back to sterling incurs a cost. But they also admitted they struggle, and it’s still a very small percentage of their total spend. I guess at some point in the supply chain the model may breakdown, and I’d like to understand the wider mechanics better. But I’m confident the more we use Bristol £’s, and ask these questions, the more local businesses will be motivated to find supply solutions and work with people who accept our local currency. (More on local currency at http://www.goinggreengoinglocal.com. It’s an action research project of four local people doing just this: testing it out in their own lives and writing about their experience.)

Trying to reduce my waste is a harder game to play. But I was inspired by Lauren Singer’s zero waste lifestyle, to look at my recycled and landfill waste. And maybe attempt the challenge of one Kilner jar for one year (last week the Guardian’s Modern Tribe column featured Zero Waste Warrior by Catherine Bennett, so you know this is a fashionable game to be playing).

Like the folk who set up Bristol’s City to Sea campaign, single use plastic bottles upset me. Like them, I can’t continue to pretend that the plastic bottles I put in my recycling bin, don’t end up in the sea. So I’m taking on their lent plastic challenge, and pledge not to buy another plastic bottle for 40 days. This is where the rubber meets the road: a couple of weeks ago when I ran out of conditioner, and couldn’t find anywhere to refill, I went online and learnt how to make conditioner out of just two ingredients: water and apple cider vinegar. I’ve been using it for 2 weeks and it works well – when it dries it doesn’t smell anything like vinegar, although one time I did use olive oil after washing. I’ll definitely shop around for more DIY recipes (because I’m worth it!), but it seems I’ll save a fortune on toiletries. So I’m sticking, and we’ll see what happens when the shampoo and toothpaste run out…. It’ll take lots of small changes and uber mindful shopping for me to keep even a month’s waste within a jar, let alone a year’s (do they recycle better in the States?). I keep making rookie mistakes, like buying a chocolate bar and then realising the wrapper will have to go in the jar (doh!) but it’s high time I started taking some bigger strides into walking my own chat. Mum, dad, I know you find my vegetarianism hard. You’ll be baffled by this. Remember you love me… and maybe take a walk in my shoes?