Meet the Young Green Radicals

I’ve been spending a lot of time with an exciting new environmental movement, called the Young Green Radicals. Be aware: its members ignore the norms of society in order to pursue their eco-friendly ways.

None of them drive; they walk, run or propel themselves at speed on scooters or bikes. Pedestrians can find them antisocial with their use of the pavement, but they believe the roads are too dangerous to use. They are fascinated by nature, devoting much time to the study of the smaller insect. The group likes to engage with the ‘real world’ and considers rudimentary levels of hygiene more than adequate.

The Young Green Radicals sound rather extreme and alternative, so it may come as a relief to learn that they are not a real group. They in fact reflect a bunch of typical five year olds.

Children of this age make me realise how many of our environmentally unkind ways are imposed by society and convention. If we behaved more like unspoilt kids then we would be more sustainable, closer to wildlife and healthier as well.  To help those who want to change I have consulted with a five year old boy to discover his manifesto.

Home management as practiced by a five year old boy

  1. Don’t flush wees (dramatic water saving).
  2. If you drop it on the floor, it’s still fine to eat (cutting our outrageous food waste).
  3. Licking something cleans it (reducing our use of marine harming chemicals).
  4. Clean a top by rubbing the dirty bits (minimise the use of the washing machine and tumble-drier).
  5. Don’t have a bath or shower every day (save water and energy).
  6. Welcome nature and mud into your life and home (reconnect us with the outdoors).
  7. Scoot don’t drive (avoid the car, it’s boring, polluting and makes us fat).
  8. Wee alfresco when possible (fertilise and water plants, feel at one with the planet).
  9. Hide the car keys once per week (you are doing the grown-ups a favour, they need the exercise).
  10. Eat cereal directly out of the box (avoid the wastage of water and chemicals for washing-up).

Of course, there are plenty of things that young children do that aren’t great for the environment. These include falling for over-packaged plastic tat in the shops and wanting junk food at the supermarket checkout. However, many of their natural instincts, which we spend a lot of time correcting, are for a generally messier, grosser, greener existence.

The planet is their inheritance. We should be showing them how to care for it and how to nurture wildlife. Instead, we are making them mini grown-ups, and quite literally training them in all our polluting ways.

It’s time to vote Young Green Radicals and embrace the toilet talk. We need to create a wild area in our gardens, wash our clothes less and use fewer chemicals. Let the children show us a thing or two about how to run the world.

First published in the EDP and EADT 22nd November 2013

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Close the door

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My friend loves her house to be welcoming and friendly, so we all enjoy visiting. The fridge is filled with drinks, there are chocolate biscuits on the table and the tea is brewing. She keeps it cosy and warm for us, with the heating turned right up. Also, her front door is permanently open so we know we can just pop in.

Now if I really did have a friend like this, she would definitely need to have more money than sense. Her energy bills would have most of us sobbing and pleading with her to turn the thermostat down and close the door. So why we are not similarly shocked and disbelieving when we walk down the high-street?

A quick scamper through Norwich city centre reveals a scene typical around our region. Despite plummeting temperatures, more shops have their doors pinned wide open than carefully closed. As you walk down the street, you are blasted by hot air from many doorways, which quickly disappears off into the ether.

The worst offenders are shops with air curtains or overhead heaters. Using pretty ancient technology, they are meant to keep the warm air in, but research by Cambridge University shows they actually burn a vast quantity of energy. They don’t work effectively anyway, for example when someone walks through, the air currents are disrupted.

There is a myth that open doors mean higher footfall into the shop. The Close the Door Campaign aims to show that a shut door can in fact be better for business. Firstly, staff are more comfortable as opposed to freezing cold near the entrance or burning up next to the heater.  Comfy employees results in a more friendly, productive atmosphere and better customer service.

Also, the overall temperature in shops is better for browsing customers as it is more constant throughout the store. Some large retailers have carried out research and proven that a closed door definitely doesn’t reduce their income; meanwhile, it can slash energy bills in half! As another bonus, shoplifting is discouraged.

 I’ll be honest, when I have the pushchair in tow, I will brace myself before entering a shop with tricky looking doors. The inevitable juggle with door, buggy and bags can be annoying. However, automatic doors or, radical suggestion here, attentive staff, would solve that issue for parents, those in wheelchairs or the elderly. Help from a friendly staff member would be so much more welcoming than an open door and blast of air.

Some well know retailers have already closed their doors to this unnecessary waste. John Lewis, Marks and Spencer and Costa Coffee are some of the larger firms leading the way and many independent stores have caught on too.

As we head towards colder weather and festive spending, competition on the high-street will be hotter than an air curtain. ‘Tis the season to vote with your feet and refuse to go into shops that are needlessly wasting our precious carbon. 

Meanwhile, my imaginary friend has decided to put in revolving doors instead, so her place is still very welcoming. She’s saved so much money that she’s hired a butler.

First published in the EDP and EADT

Making the most of things. The story of our pumpkin

Take one simple pumpkin and really make the most of it.

(I’d love to say it was homegrown but that’s not the point.) 

First of all, it was of course the statutory spooky lantern. Pretty basic, but the kids are still young enough to be impressed by my rudimentary carving.

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Secondly, it was lunch. Yum, with cumin and coriander to give it something extra. The children even ate it.

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Next, we’ve saved some seeds so next year’s will be homegrown. And the other seeds have been painted by my toddler to keep her entertained on a wet afternoon. Then, I threaded them onto cotton for a glamorous necklace for her.

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Final step, compost Mr Pumpkin so he can feed the worms and our plants. He does look a bit sad but also quite satisfied with the role he has played.

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Job done!

Darkness descends – changing the clocks is bonkers

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Have you adjusted to the clocks going back yet? I live in fear of forgetting. It’s entirely possible – I once managed a whole holiday on a Greek Island without changing my watch. I just couldn’t understand why we were always the only ones in the restaurant; it was because we were eating two hours earlier than was usual.

However, I did remember to change my clocks the other weekend. Each year, as British Summer Time ends, the gloom descends upon me. Any chance of getting outside after work is gone in an instant.

Now that we are plunged into darkness an hour earlier, our children suffer. Sport and playing outside after school become impossible. The walk home becomes dangerous. No wonder accident rates soar and more and more kids end up travelling home in the car and then zone out in front of the telly.

The environmental implications are bad. The past two weeks, you will have used far more electricity than the weeks before (unless you were unlucky with the storm!). In fact, researchers from the University of Cambridge calculated a few years back that if we didn’t change the clocks, it would save a minimum of 500,000 million tonnes of carbon dioxide each year. In a time when energy costs are spiralling, it seems a total no-brainer.

Historically, this clock set up was all for the sake of agriculture. Now even the majority of the National Farmers Union’s members back a change. After all, we do have electric lights for those early mornings in the barn and bright headlights on the quad bikes and tractors. The conditions that livestock live in are far more controlled than when the daylight saving system was first implemented in 1916.

The desire to shift our winter day is nothing new. Back in 1968, we experimented by putting the clocks forward as usual in spring, but then not changing them in October.  The result was ambiguous – no one could agree if it was worth it and so the Government ended the trial.

Life is very different now. Obesity is a growing problem with our children. We know about climate change and that we should be saving energy. There is more traffic on our roads and statistics clearly show that we are more likely to have a crash on a dark afternoon rather than a dark morning because we are tired out after work.

Our politicians are fretting over impossible energy pricing choices. Removing green levies would be yet another backwards step for the environment, but with many people suffering the ‘heat or eat’ dilemma, it is clear that drastic action is needed. Simultaneously, we have been warned of the risk of blackouts this winter. Our need for power is racing ahead of supply.

So why oh why have we just missed this opportunity to help the energy crisis, reduce accidents and increase the activity levels of our youngsters? Life gives you few easy wins, but this is one of them.

It’s not the clocks that should be changed; it’s our mind-sets, and fast.

First published in the EDP and EADT on 1st November 2013