Why making small, green changes to your lifestyle is more beneficial to the environment than you think

The Independent employs reporters around the world to bring you truly independent journalism. To support us, please consider a contribution. How can something as simple and homely as making raspberry juice in Peckham have anything to do with saving the planet?

Many writers and environmental campaigners argue that greening our own lifestyles is a waste of time as we should be devoting all efforts on pressing for government action. If changing our own lifestyles is all we do, then, of course, it won’t make a vast difference but I am still doing it as best as I practically can, and so should you. Why?

Because it builds the moral foundation from which we can insist that our governments, businesses and communities protect the climate and what is left of nature.

Gandhi understood the sense of personal empowerment that arises from being the change we wish to see in the world. If we all do the best we can in our own lives, it will make a collective difference, showing others that it is possible to live green, happy, healthy lives.

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Making my life greener gives me little victories that bring me strength during the ups and downs that campaigning and protesting entail. It also helps to prevent burnout.

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Over 34 years, I have gradually made my life greener.

I am now veggie, car-free and enjoy flight-free holidays. My home was the first London house to sell metered solar electricity to the national grid in 1998 and became its first net carbon-negative home six years later. My gas bills average about GBP12 per year and I have produced on average only half of a wheelie bin of non-recycled household waste per annum for over a decade.

But often it is the very small changes that bring me joy – the latest being homemade raspberry juice. For years, I bought organic apple juice to moisten and sweeten my muesli, which reduced my high-carbon milk consumption.

Using 200ml of milk for my daily cereal consumed 73 litres per year, which emits a quarter of a ton of CO2. If a family of four uses a litre of milk a day, it would emit the same amount of carbon from driving 4,700km, while the land used by the cow would span 10 tennis courts.

Imagine all the fruit and vegetables we could produce with an allotment of that size. Five years ago, I realised I could make my own apple juice from the apples from some neglected local apple trees. I have been using this on my muesli ever since, from late July until February, when the stored apples run out.

I have also been building up the range of perennial soft fruit in my small south London garden. I now have apples, pears, raspberries, strawberries, plums, damsons, purple and golden gooseberries and black and red currants growing with varied success. As the weather impacts different fruits each year, having a variety helps ensure you have some fruit every summer.

Together with foraged blackberries and apples, I supply over half my annual fruit locally; my ambition is to get to 100 per cent.

Two portions of fruit a day equates to 728 a year per person. This is more than my little garden could produce. Hence the dependency on additional foraging, especially for apples and blackberries.

This year I had too many raspberries for my daily two portions but not enough to make jam, so I hit on the idea of experimenting with juicing the excess and using that to moisten the muesli instead of shop-bought apple juice. It took just 30 seconds in the liquidiser with some organic sugar and water to make it. As the raspberries were home-grown and the second-hand liquidiser was powered by my solar panels, juice production was almost zero-carbon, other than a couple of spoons of added sugar.

The UK imports a staggering 83 per cent of our fruit and most of it is industrially produced.

This involves a plethora of environmental damage including carbon emissions, water-consumption, packaging, fossil-fuelled electric refrigeration, pesticides, artificial fertilisers, flights, HGV road pollution, wildlife destruction, insect deaths and soil loss. Foraging or growing our own organic fruit using rain-water storage avoids almost all of these issues.

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1/20 California

In this decade, humans have become ever more aware of climate change. Calls for leaders to act echo around the globe as the signs of a changing climate become ever more difficult to ignore

Getty

2/20 Athens, Greece

Fierce wildfires have flared up in numerous countries.

The damage being caused is unprecedented: 103 people were killed in wildfires last year in California, one of the places best prepared, best equipped to fight such blazes in the world

AFP/Getty

3/20 Redding, California

Entire towns have been razed. The towns of Redding and Paradise in California were all but eliminated in the 2018 season

AP

4/20 Athens, Greece

While wildfires in Greece (pictured), Australia, Indonesia and many other countries have wrought chaos to infrastructure, economies and cost lives

AFP/Getty

5/20 Carlisle, England

In Britain, flooding has become commonplace. Extreme downpours in Carlisle in the winter of 2015 saw the previous record flood level being eclipsed by two feet

AFP/Getty

6/20 Hebden Bridge, England

Hebden Bridge in West Yorkshire has flooded repeatedly in the past decade, with the worst coming on Christmas Day 2015.

Toby Smith of Climate Visuals, an organisation focused on improving how climate change is depicted in the media, says: “Extreme weather and flooding, has and will become more frequent due to climate change. An increase in the severity and distribution of press images, reports and media coverage across the nation has localised the issue. It has raised our emotions, perception and personalised the effects and hazards of climate change.”

Getty

7/20 Somerset, England

Out west in Somerset, floods in 2013 led to entire villages being cut off and isolated for weeks

Getty

8/20 Dumfries, Scotland

“In summer 2012, intense rain flooded over 8000 properties.

In 2013, storms and coastal surges combined catastrophically with elevated sea levels whilst December 2015, was the wettest month ever recorded. Major flooding events continued through the decade with the UK government declaring flooding as one of the nation’s major threats in 2017,” says Mr Smith of Climate Visuals

Getty

9/20 London, England

Weather has been more extreme in Britain in recent years. The ‘Beast from the East’ which arrived in February 2018 brought extraordinarily cold temperatures and high snowfall.

Central London (pictured), where the city bustle tends to mean that snow doesn’t even settle, was covered in inches of snow for day

PA

10/20 London, England

Months after the cold snap, a heatwave struck Britain, rendering the normally plush green of England’s parks in Summer a parched brown for weeks

AFP/Getty

11/20 New South Wales, Australia

Worsening droughts in many countries have been disastrous for crop yields and have threatened livestock. In Australia, where a brutal drought persisted for months last year, farmers have suffered from mental health problems because of the threat to their livelihood

Reuters

12/20 Tonle Sap, Cambodia

Even dedicated climate skeptic Jeremy Clarkson has come to recognise the threat of climate change after visiting the Tonle Sap lake system in Cambodia. Over a million people rely on the water of Tonle Sap for work and sustinence but, as Mr Clarkson witnessed, a drought has severley depleted the water level

Carlo Frem/Amazon

13/20 Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

In reaction to these harbingers of climate obliteration, some humans have taken measures to counter the impending disaster.

Ethiopia recently planted a reported 350 million trees in a single day

AFP/Getty

14/20 Morocco

Morocco has undertaken the most ambitious solar power scheme in the world, recently completing a solar plant the size of San Francisco

AFP/Getty

15/20 London, England

Electric cars are taking off as a viable alternative to fossil fuel burning vehicles and major cities across the world are adding charging points to accomodate

AFP/Getty

16/20 Purmerend, The Netherlands

Cities around the world are embracing cycling too, as a clean (and healthy) mode of transport. The Netherlands continues to lead the way with bikes far outnumbering people

Jeroen Much/Andras Schuh

17/20 Xiamen, China

Cycling infrastructure is taking over cities the world over, in the hope of reducing society’s dependency on polluting vehicles

Ma Weiwei

18/20 Chennai, India

Despite positive steps being taken, humans continue to have a wildly adverse effect on the climate. There have been numerous major oil spills this decade, the most notable being the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010

AFP/Getty

19/20 Amazon rainforest, Brazil

More recently, large swathes of the Amazon rainforest were set alight by people to clear land for agriculture

AFP/Getty

20/20 California

This decade may have seen horrors but it has led to an understanding that the next decade must see change if human life is to continue

Getty

1/20 California

In this decade, humans have become ever more aware of climate change.

Calls for leaders to act echo around the globe as the signs of a changing climate become ever more difficult to ignore

Getty

2/20 Athens, Greece

Fierce wildfires have flared up in numerous countries. The damage being caused is unprecedented: 103 people were killed in wildfires last year in California, one of the places best prepared, best equipped to fight such blazes in the world

AFP/Getty

3/20 Redding, California

Entire towns have been razed. The towns of Redding and Paradise in California were all but eliminated in the 2018 season

AP

4/20 Athens, Greece

While wildfires in Greece (pictured), Australia, Indonesia and many other countries have wrought chaos to infrastructure, economies and cost lives

AFP/Getty

5/20 Carlisle, England

In Britain, flooding has become commonplace.

Extreme downpours in Carlisle in the winter of 2015 saw the previous record flood level being eclipsed by two feet

AFP/Getty

6/20 Hebden Bridge, England

Hebden Bridge in West Yorkshire has flooded repeatedly in the past decade, with the worst coming on Christmas Day 2015. Toby Smith of Climate Visuals, an organisation focused on improving how climate change is depicted in the media, says: “Extreme weather and flooding, has and will become more frequent due to climate change. An increase in the severity and distribution of press images, reports and media coverage across the nation has localised the issue.

It has raised our emotions, perception and personalised the effects and hazards of climate change.”

Getty

7/20 Somerset, England

Out west in Somerset, floods in 2013 led to entire villages being cut off and isolated for weeks

Getty

8/20 Dumfries, Scotland

“In summer 2012, intense rain flooded over 8000 properties. In 2013, storms and coastal surges combined catastrophically with elevated sea levels whilst December 2015, was the wettest month ever recorded. Major flooding events continued through the decade with the UK government declaring flooding as one of the nation’s major threats in 2017,” says Mr Smith of Climate Visuals

Getty

9/20 London, England

Weather has been more extreme in Britain in recent years.

The ‘Beast from the East’ which arrived in February 2018 brought extraordinarily cold temperatures and high snowfall. Central London (pictured), where the city bustle tends to mean that snow doesn’t even settle, was covered in inches of snow for day

PA

10/20 London, England

Months after the cold snap, a heatwave struck Britain, rendering the normally plush green of England’s parks in Summer a parched brown for weeks

AFP/Getty

11/20 New South Wales, Australia

Worsening droughts in many countries have been disastrous for crop yields and have threatened livestock. In Australia, where a brutal drought persisted for months last year, farmers have suffered from mental health problems because of the threat to their livelihood

Reuters

12/20 Tonle Sap, Cambodia

Even dedicated climate skeptic Jeremy Clarkson has come to recognise the threat of climate change after visiting the Tonle Sap lake system in Cambodia.

Over a million people rely on the water of Tonle Sap for work and sustinence but, as Mr Clarkson witnessed, a drought has severley depleted the water level

Carlo Frem/Amazon

13/20 Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

In reaction to these harbingers of climate obliteration, some humans have taken measures to counter the impending disaster. Ethiopia recently planted a reported 350 million trees in a single day

AFP/Getty

14/20 Morocco

Morocco has undertaken the most ambitious solar power scheme in the world, recently completing a solar plant the size of San Francisco

AFP/Getty

15/20 London, England

Electric cars are taking off as a viable alternative to fossil fuel burning vehicles and major cities across the world are adding charging points to accomodate

AFP/Getty

16/20 Purmerend, The Netherlands

Cities around the world are embracing cycling too, as a clean (and healthy) mode of transport. The Netherlands continues to lead the way with bikes far outnumbering people

Jeroen Much/Andras Schuh

17/20 Xiamen, China

Cycling infrastructure is taking over cities the world over, in the hope of reducing society’s dependency on polluting vehicles

Ma Weiwei

18/20 Chennai, India

Despite positive steps being taken, humans continue to have a wildly adverse effect on the climate.

There have been numerous major oil spills this decade, the most notable being the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010

AFP/Getty

19/20 Amazon rainforest, Brazil

More recently, large swathes of the Amazon rainforest were set alight by people to clear land for agriculture

AFP/Getty

20/20 California

This decade may have seen horrors but it has led to an understanding that the next decade must see change if human life is to continue

Getty

Providing my own two portions of organic fruit per day for over half the year saves me about GBP400 and providing my own fresh fruit-juice daily saves about another GBP200. My apples and raspberries have zero food-miles, while the 45,000 tonnes of apples the UK imports annually from New Zealand travel over 18,000km. I cannot describe the simple joy of making little discoveries like these.

They help maintain the inner strength needed to face the challenges of being an ecological campaigner, while recognising that green perfection is a process, not a destination. Taking these steps and telling others what we are doing and why inspires others to do the same. This is how bottom-up social change often happens.

It is slow at the beginning and then accelerates once over 10 per cent of the population has transformed.

It is also a way that politicians can be assured that changes are practical and safe to implement.

Of course, the climate and ecological emergencies are now so urgent, that they cannot wait for this process to play out.

That is why practising what we preach as well as campaigning hard to get the media, banks, oil corporations and governments to change is so crucial.

Once we make the kinds of adjustments we need, it’s easier to then demand our governments practice what they preach on climate and protecting nature, comfortable in the knowledge that you are only asking of them what you have already asked of yourself.

Donnachadh McCarthy is an environmental auditor, campaigner and is the author of ‘The Prostitute State – How Britain’s Democracy was Hijacked’

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