Week 52: I will reflect.
Updated: Apr 30
In some of the most important parts of our lives, imperfection is beginning to replace perfection.
We are beginning to realise that as humans, we are flawed. We are emotional and irrational. Our minds are in constant conflict. We need to exercise our mental health as much as a physical health. We are all vulnerable, and we are getting better at admitting it to ourselves, and to the world. We have begun to celebrate our sonder.
Or perhaps our perception of perfection is changing. We never measured up to the perception of perfection that was invented behind filters and barriers that do not exist any more. But the way we are now connected means that we can realise that we are all different, beautiful individuals in our own way. We realise that our bodies are not always what we want them to be. Even if we look after ourselves, things still wobble, and ache.
It could also have been there all along, and I have learned to see it. I’m open to this too. I love the idea that I have changed how I see the world, because it means that others can too.
Half way through this project, I wrote about the things I have learned about being planetwise. At that point, it was six months since my perception of the how we care for our planet became so disillusioned, that I felt compelled to add my small voice to the big world.
For the final week of this year, here is a slightly updated list, because in a world of reinvention, immediacy and zeitgeist – it is important to remember that some things are not always solved by a million fresh ideas, but by understanding more deeply a few patterns that do not elevate the individual but help us all.
A warning though. All of these require us to be imperfect, but that’s OK, right?
We are all connected.
1) Recycling is a last resort (and you are better than you think you are).
I believed that recycling was the pinnacle of being kind to the planet. I believed that washing more yogurt pots, was the path to sustainable glory and accolade.
Yet recycling is only one of the three arrows that we see on our boxes and bags, on our packets and tins. The other two – reduce and reuse, can even remove the need for recycling.
For example - and to start with reduction. At the heart of reduction, is consideration. Consideration when we make a purchase. Any purchase.
If we firstly think about whether we need something, then it is amazing what we might not need. By fighting our natural and forgivable human instinct to be impulsive, we can make a difference. By leaving items in our online basket for 24-hours before making a purchase, or resisting the urge to jump in the car to the drive through more than before and to jump into the store cupboard or dive in the freezer instead.
We can then notice how what we consume was made, and where it came from. This goes for everything from staple to luxury. Everything was created somehow, by nature or by humans. Everything came from somewhere. We live in a world of alternatives, and by asking or researching for a few moments, you can always find something that was produced more locally, or in a kinder way. We don’t need to boycott all supermarkets, or only wear hemp.
And of course, nothing is a choice too. What we don't consume, does not get made.
Then re-use, can mean that we think about what happens to our stuff when we are done with it. This is a lost art. If we look after our toys or our books, then someone else can enjoy them afterwards. Using old containers to store food, does not photograph well, but the pasta doesn’t mind. Being less quick to trash things - because most things that are broken, can be fixed.
If we practice reduction, reuse, and recycling in your life, even imperfectly - then the chances are that we can get a long way towards living a sustainable life.
And a final thought here, is that we are all better than we think we are.
Unless we begin to realise we can’t be 'zero' everything immediately, and until we realise that failure is normal and real, experienced by everyone and more common than success - frankly all of our mental health will continue to suffer. You can read more about my thoughts on failure in week 48.
2) The thing, is not always the thing.
Labels are dangerous shortcuts that pitch us against each other. Labels create bias.
For example, a committed vegan would disagree with a passionate farmer about many topics. The vegan might point to animal welfare, and the farmer would in return defend the respect they have for the animals in their care. Those who fish our reefs have a love for the ocean and for the fish that many would find hypocritical.
If labels create division, then trying to ignore them can reveal common ground. The common ground for the farmer and the vegan, might be the commoditisation of any food.
I believe that bees shouldn't be shipped around to pollinate plants. That bones shouldn't be jet-washed, rivers shouldn't be diverted to irrigate crops, animals shouldn't live in tiny cages. Land shouldn’t be cleared to grow something else solely because of profit.
No matter if it is a meat, a fish, a plant, the production should not upset the balance of nature in an unsustainable fashion.
And we should never, ever pay £3 for the life of a chicken, even if it is a marketing tactic.
I feel really strongly about that. We have our own hens, they give us fabulous eggs from the bottom of the garden. They are wonderful creatures.
It is often how we do or use things, not exactly what they are, that is important. Considering this, means we can realise that we seem to have lots of different ways of saying the same thing. We say we should be zero-plastic, but what we are saying is perhaps that we are against the disposable nature of our mass consumption. It is more relatable and feels like we can really make a difference.
And on the subject of plastic, single use plastic in the bathroom was one of the things that we tackled first, in week 2. Then more broadly we tackled other common plastics in week 10. There are solid deodorants, shampoos and soaps that are available widely. I've not used a aerosol or roll on deodorant for over a year now, and no-one has noticed. We have not bought a single use plastic bottle for about the same amount of time.
There is positive opportunity everywhere to make a change, and positive common ground everywhere that we don’t realise exists. We have to listen and hear each other, and seek it out.
3) Nature is amazing.
Nature is fabulous, calming, enduring and still.
Not much appears to happen in nature in each moment, but it is slow and relentless. Nature has existed, adapted, and continued to exist at its own pace, despite the accelerating pace of our own lives.
Reminding ourselves of this, however we can, is good for the planet, but also good for mental health. Looking after a pot of basil, can teach you as much about nature as trying to cultivate the perfect allotment, and can give you a moment of quiet.
Nature does also not give style points. If we want to grow something, then as long as we care for it, then it doesn’t matter what it looks like. We should be proud of our imperfect attempts, because we tried. Nature won’t judge, and will never, ever *like* your Instagram posts. But nature will reward you for your care by giving you joy.
We should take walks, stare out of the window. If we have space on our desks, we can fill it with green, and then start each work day by taking half a minute to tend to it. By taking little opportunities to be closer to nature, we will perhaps remember more often that a football pitch sized area of trees and habitats that are destroyed each minute, all over the planet.
Nature just does, and is.
4) We all have time.
Most of the little changes that we have made in the last twelve months, can be planned in the time it takes to have a cup of coffee. And that includes sourcing better coffee.
It does take a little bit of planning, in a world where being planned and being organised has become unfashionable or not required. We can outsource anything we need with a click or a swipe, but it does not mean we always should.
Being planned works. And it is beautifully therapeutic.
If we take a half hour each week, to plan a menu for the following week then we can be more resourceful and less wasteful. Even if we don’t exactly stick to all of it, if we mostly stick to it then it makes a difference. Being planned, enables spontaneity because we have to know what we were going to do, before we can rip it up and do something else.
It can also become a habit, and thirty minutes becomes twenty, becomes ten.
Finding time may require trade-offs, but if we use our three minutes of time on our tiny screens during the morning coffee run, to make a new decision or think about what we’re going to have for tea tomorrow, then these tiny changes can change the world.
It might as a by-product, also create a world that could have a positive cycle of helping each other and sharing knowledge via our daily scroll, rather than a negative cycle of competing, boasting, and ultimately making us all feeling a bit more sad than before.
This year, through our little family project, we have managed to cut our carbon footprint in half, and then finally mitigated the rest. This is despite the fact that we never really have time, for anything.
We are imperfect, and we are a work in progress. We have made lots of great changes, but there are more we can make. Our next choices will be as important as the ones we have already made.
Start small, make tiny changes where you can, and it is possible.
5) Planetwise, can also mean humanwise.
Being aware of our planet, and trying to be kind to our planet, is also about being kinder to each other. Just as the ground we walk on, and the air we breathe is important, so are the people we share it with.
Some changes that appear to be kind to the planet, are just kind.
It is better to pick up litter, as much for the creatures who may accidentally eat it, as it is for those humans who might enjoy the beaches or the countryside that we also enjoy.
When we do these things, we don’t need to be angry. We don’t need to do it for show and post it for everyone to see. Taking a stand on something, does not mean that you trample on the opinions and behaviours of others. You can disagree and be kind – and as humans we will not always agree with each other, but at the same time we don’t need to argue.
We can be firm with what we believe is right, and try to understand why others might think differently. Trying to understanding worldviews was a life-changing moment for me that you can read about in week 45.
I feel over the last year, I have started to join a conversation, and understand more about why we are perceived to be kind to the planet, and reasons we are not. It has softened the views I had a year ago on all sides of the discussion. But it has also made me more certain that change is needed, not just at an institutional level, but at an individual level.
It might be 'others' who are perceived to be harming the planet. I have seen statistics that suggest that the responsibility should lie only with large corporations. But in lots of ways corporations are simply reacting to forces that eventually lead to us. If a factory is polluting the planet, it is because they are making something that we want.
There are many corporations making big changes, and just because that is an unfashionable opinion it does not mean it is not true. After, they are just made up of individuals trying to live their lives, not evil robots from Mars.
We are all connected, and if we all believe we can individually make a difference, and share our ideas - we can create a direct positive impact, and a collective positive pressure.
It has also made me believe there is no magic product, and no secrets. It is all here for you to read.
We didn't invent anything. Everything we have done is from the ideas of others, and can be found online or through conversation with others who are doing amazing and positive things for our planet.
I believe that real change, does not happen in the cool, romantic and photogenic way we are led to believe. I believe change is way more about sticking with something, failing, trying again, and asking others to do the same with you.