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Opinion: The Glamour UK Interview That Awoke My Earth Activist Side

I always thought I lived as environmentally consciously as I could. I don’t buy plastic bottles and litter pick when I can; I drive a hybrid electric car, use reusable nappies for my baby, vote for local Government candidates who I think will bring in a greener economy and I petition against policies I think are damaging to our planet.

But when I interviewed New York model and sustainability campaigner Renee Elizabeth Peters for Glamour magazine a new wave of frustration about politicians’ inaction over climate change crept over me.

In the story Renee argues that living sustainably is only possible if you’re privileged with enough ‘time, accessibility and money’ to do so.

She was referring to the fact that for many people living on low-incomes, juggling several jobs on top of life’s usual pressures, living sustainably is out of reach. They don’t have the money to buy organic food or clothes, the knowledge or time to invest in planning more vegetarian or vegan meals and they can’t necessarily afford to live in a neighbourhood where waste is collected or where the air and land isn’t polluted.

I’d agree with her. Since trying to go more green this year I have been feeling pretty stressed and overwhelmed. It comes at a time when I’m striving to set up my own freelance business and earn an income while coping with my baby’s sleepless nights all while managing the daily grind of being the best mum, wife, friend and daughter I can be. Not to mention the fact that I’m going green solo in a house of three.

The result is I find I have little time to research and implement greener practices around the home as I’m tired and would rather play with my baby than investigate a plastic and toxic free household cleaning alternative.

The fact is I’m privileged enough live in a nice neighbourhood where good recycling is the norm and I afford that milk bottle delivery instead of buying milk cartons.

But what about those who can’t? What about those who are even more exhausted than I am from dealing with severe health complaints, work 12 hour shifts, or lack the access to information and education to be more green?

I have tried hard to be more green in 2019, but I’ve found it difficult while juggling my business and being a busy mum. But what about those who are less privileged than me?

In the Glamour article, Renee relieves the intense pressure upon individuals to shift the emphasis on to governments.

Instead she asks what they could do be doing to enact policy that would make a more significant difference to climate change.

As part of the story I had to immerse myself in research on climate change and interrogate what the UK Government was doing to stop it.

I was shocked to realise that there were so many areas of policy that could really make an impact and angered to see such slow progress despite our politicians knowing for 30 years environmental catastrophe was heading our way.

I always supported policies that enabled more renewable energy and been horrified at our Government for allowing fracking in the UK. But I hadn’t, for example, considered that subsidies for organic farming rather than dairy farming, which fuels climate change, could be a progressive policy.

I hadn’t also appreciated how modernising our housing stock to make it energy efficient had stalled because of a lack of political will. And I’d also never felt so angry about the woeful lack of responsibility manufacturers and supermarkets currently have after interviewing Women’s Environmental Network co-director Beth Summers, who is campaigning for more affordable eco-friendly products to be accessible to us all.

I should think that’s the case for many people. We simply don’t have the time to consider these things in the depth they deserve because we are too busy making a living and let’s face it – trying to live our lives as happily as can be with those who are most important to us.

That’s nothing to be ashamed of. On the contrary politicians have access to all the information and they are in power to make the right decisions on our behalf. That’s what they are employed to do.

But the buck has to stop somewhere. And when you’re in power you have to make uncomfortable decisions that may not make you popular.

Yes they are often at the whim of public opinion, which can be limiting in an age of increasing populism. And yes some politicians in power also chose to deny that climate change is happening despite compelling evidence that shows even modest C02 emissions could set off a cascade of melting ice, warming seas and dying forests could send the Earth into a “hothouse” state beyond which human efforts to reduce emissions will be “futile”.

So eschewing that plastic bottle and saving your crisp packets for recycling, is a virtuous act, but it is only scratching the surface.

It’s politicians that can truly facilitate a more sustainable lifestyle for us, so in the absence of them acting on the issue, the single most effective thing you can do is call upon them to do more.

The fact is the future of our planet is up to us if we act collectively and engage in politics. How do we do that? In the article Renee gives some good pointers, but here’s some more ideas to start a climate revolution.

One way could be to approach the candidates of key marginal seats in the upcoming local and general elections to discuss whether they would support serious climate-related legislation.

You can ask them on social media, by email, or by going to one of their surgeries. Don’t worry about constructing a sophisticated argument, a few lines spoken from the heart will do. You can find your MP here. Here’s another good website for knowing how to target your representative.

An anti-fracking march. Credit Campaign Against Climate Change.

Supporters of climate-friendly policies then need to leaflet and door knock these constituencies to support them – here’s a few local groups if you want to help, but there will be more.

In doing this a serious grassroots conversation could sprout, turning it into an election issue. With a large group of people outside parliament and inside poised to lobby for the necessary transformative legislation on climate mitigation and adaptation, real change could come.

You could also email or message your favourite clothes brands and tell them how you love their garments, but you don’t love their sustainability practices and want them to do more. You can find out who is hot and who is not in the fashion industry on the Good On You app.

Some of these ideas could only take 10-15 minutes, some may take 10 hours. But given that our environmental impacts are so long-lasting, the future is the politics we make today.

Solving climate change is about power, money, and political will. By adding your voice to growing calls for climate justice you can help change the political will of those in power with all the money. So that’s 10 minutes or 10 hours well spent for a future that’s less impacted by climate change in my opinion.

Gina Martin: ‘We All Have A Role To Play In Calling Out Upskirting’


“This isn’t about me — this is about every woman and girl who has messaged me for the past year”. 


Gina Martin. She is the everyday activist who made upskirting illegal in England and Wales.

It hasn’t been easy for Gina. Her year-long campaign started after the police declined to prosecute a man accused of taking photos up her skirt without permission at a London music festival in 2017.

She was then subjected to hundreds of attacks through social media – some as severe as rape threats. She fought on however and now, seven months later, upskirting is an official gender-inclusive offence.

But worryingly one in ten men don’t think upskirting is sexual harassment. According to a GQ and YouGov poll, some men going as far as buying shoe cameras to take non-consensual pictures up women’s skirts.

So how does she feel when people play down upskirting and sexual harassment as a laddish prank and how does she react when women don’t speak up about the issue for fear of being seen as ‘boring’ or making a fuss?

“I feel like in society we reinforce ideas that make women feel judged, unsupported and blamed for the majority of what happens to them, so it’s not surprising that women don’t feel empowered to stand up for themselves.

“People separate upskirting from the bigger picture and see it as ‘not an important crime’.

“But it is part of systematic and huge problem that, at its worst, results in violence against women and death at an extraordinary rate.

“So when people tell me solving a smaller part of a bigger problem is not important I remind them that it’s only possible to solve something systematic by focusing on each small part.

“Then I ask them what they’ve done to make the world a better place!”

An unlikely hero inspiring other victims and highlighting it can ‘happen to anyone’

How would you react if you saw someone upskirting? A BBC documentary shows how normalised upskirting is

Dressed in bright eye-catching clothes Gina, 27, who lives London with her boyfriend, Jordy, and rescue tortoise Gary Tortellini, is an unusually regular-looking colourful campaigner amid the grey of Westminster.

Her ‘ordinariness’ is one of her appeals: in one of her latest Instagram posts she is humbled by the support and affection from her followers, saying: “I have been overwhelmed and I am cried out. 💗 …”

Her normality serves to highlight how an issue like upskirting is so prolific in society. In fact girls as young as 10 are now victims. Two thirds of girls and women ages 14-21 have been sexually harassed in public according to a poll by Plan International UK.

But the social acceptance of the issue is profound.

When Holly Willoughby was upskirted on a red carpet while holding a #TimesUp rose to campaign against sexual harassment in the workplace, she drew attention to the multitude of similar photos taken everyday of celebrity women that mostly go unnoticed as anything untoward.

The question of why the issue is so normalised is one many a commentator has tried to answer. Writing in the Guardian, Hadley Freeman said:

“There is nothing sexy about a blurry camera phone shot of an oblivious stranger’s vagina, unless you find humiliation sexy.

“This is about young women being shamed for going out and having fun, and men wanting to tell them they have power over them.”

The campaign carries on

With the bill through Parliament, is it time for Gina to rest?

Not quite. During her 18 month campaign, Gina received some sickening social media abuse, but sought solace from supporters online.

“My strength came from the hundred of messages I received from young girls and women who have been upskirted and feel lost and humiliated and has no support.

“That kept me going even when I felt completely out of my depth.

Her experience has led her to encourage her many Instagram followers to send messages of support to fellow upskirting victims seeking justice.

Along with these social acts of compassion, an education programme for schools, colleges and universities on social media awaits.

Gina Martin
Gina’s campaign has just started

And Gina thinks we all can help get involved.

“We ALL have a role to play.

“We should all be talking to our kids about the reality of the world, social media and the internet. But we should also remember to never make assault the victim’s problem.

“Banning skirts is a straight road to victim blaming, and we must educate in a progressive and positive way.

“We also all need to better bystanders.

“Especially men – who hold a lot of privilege and who other men will listen to more than women – need to be calling out sexist behaviour, and if they see upskirting.

“Because this is not just a problem for cis women. Trans people face a lot of this due to cis people’s morbid fascination with their bodies.

“It’s also a problem with men in kilts (why scotland made it illegal 10 years ago) and we need to stop politicising people’s bodies and ensure more legislation is gender neutral.”

GQ and YouGov

What to do if you’ve been subjected to upskirting crime

In the first instance, Gina wants you to speak up.

“By speaking up you’re speaking up for every woman who has felt the same way as you and it sends a message to everyone that hears you that this kind of thing is not okay at all.”

That may feel a hard thing to do, but Gina promises messages of support in the form of herself and her Instagram community.

“Sexual harrassment does not have to be part of you life. It’s does not have to be ‘just the way it is’, and if you don’t like something, you can change it. I am living proof of that”, she says.

The next, and most important thing to do, is to report the crime.

You can find details of your local police station on the Police.UK website.

Further advice is available from Victim Support.

How To Shop Sustainably Like A Fashion Pro

The January sales have hit and with it my New Year’s resolution not to buy any more clothes has taken a beating.

At the start of the year I made a commitment not to be so wasteful after seeing one too many reports on the severity of the climate change threat.

But with temptation all around, holding on to my particular resolve to buy less clothes is being sorely tested, especially for a secret shopaholic like me.

So my question is: if I do shop, how can shop sustainably and who are the most environmentally friendly brands to buy from?

Remind me, why do I have to be careful?

Did you hear how microplastic fibres in clothes are poisoning our oceans? On average, synthetic fleece jackets release 1.7 grams of microfibers each wash. Up to 40% of them go on to enter rivers, lakes and oceans where they have the potential to poison the food chain.

Unfortunately buying clothes that have been made by recycled plastic, like Patagonia and Polartec do, could be worse than doing nothing at all.

So what type of material should I avoid?

Understanding the types you should avoid is easy: they’re largely man-made synthetic fabrics, such as polyester, acrylic, nylon, rayon, acetate, spandex, latex, Orlon and Kevlar.

But understanding the scale of how prevalent these fabrics are is quite surprising.

Take that shirt on your back. There’s a 50/50 chance it’s made from cotton, which when made conventionally, can take 20,000 litres of water to produce one single t-shirt or a pair of jeans. If you didn’t already know, wasting water is bad for the environment.

It also involves the use of synthetic fertilisers and toxic pesticides that can poison wildlife and rivers and kill an estimated 16,000 people a year. Not to mention the questionable ethics and humanity issues involved in the majority of cotton production.

A cotton worker. Synthetic fertilisers and toxic pesticides kill an estimated 16,000 people a year. Credit: Developmentnews.in

30 second guide to sustainable fabrics

Understanding the true sustainability value of apparent eco-friendly fabrics can be confusing and, quite frankly, requires a Phd.

But in a nutshell, look out for the stamp of approval from the Soil Association, the UK’s certification body, Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS), or Oeko-Tex, which checks processes for harmful chemicals.

Nothing can beat organic cotton’s benefits for ‘people and planet’, according to The Soil Association.

Other sustainable fabrics are organic wool, bamboo lyocell (TENCEL), recycled cashmere, hemp, denim and recycled polyester (rPET).

Chemicals such as azo-dyes and fluorocarbons in waterproof clothing are also cut out of many sustainable brands, because they can cause skin irritation and damage the environment.

For a more comprehensive understanding of the so-called sustainability value of certain fabrics, read to the bottom of this page.

A selection of the more sustainable brands

Unfortunately many of the more affordable brands do not use 100% organic or sustainable fabrics, but some are making an effort in the right direction. Here’s a pick and mix of the brands doing it a bit better than the rest.

Patagonia.

Hauled over the coals for its ethical practices in 2015, Patagonia remains one of the most respected outdoor brands. It tackled consumer culture head on with its ‘Don’t Buy This Jacket’ ad in New York Times. With its Worn Wear programme, which restores the brand’s pieces to good as new, it is discouraging customers from buying more. It also uses sustainable fabrics in its range including Yulex natural rubber in their wetsuits, which apparently reduces C02 emissions by up to 80% in the manufacturing process.

This lightweight, limited edition organic cotton T-shirt uses no GMO seeds or toxic pesticides.

Seasalt.

The Cornish-based brand known for its iconic bretons, easy-to-wear tunics and practical clothes uses organic cotton from several different countries and back in 2005, they were the first fashion company ever to gain Soil Association certification for its products.

The Sailor Shirt is Seasalt’s take on a classic Breton top

Lucy and Yak

A look around their website is like being joyfully smacked with a colour gun. These people know how to create a cool corduroy dress responsibly.

Lucy and Yak organic
Organic Cotton Original Dungarees by Lucy and Yak

Beaumont Organic

This Manchester-born brand’s garments are made from organic, fair-trade and eco-friendly fabrics, with most incorporating GOTS-certified cotton. The brand specialises in produces comfy casual dresses, slouchy sweaters and tees.

Beaumont Organic
Nail the transition from office to evening in the Mila Lyocell And Cotton Shirt 

People Tree

Relaxed, pretty outfits to more luxurious garments are a staple of People Tree. Emma Watson once collaborated with them. If you buy from here, you can be reassured that they are made from environmentally friendly fabrics like organic cotton and wood-pulped Tencel.

This V&A Poppy Print jumpsuit is one of those pieces you can wear with sneakers on off-duty days or sleek heels for evenings out. 100% organic cotton.

Thought

The London-based company, formerly known as Braintree Clothing is made from natural, recycled and organic fabrics and make outfits for men and women. They use azo-free dyes too.

Thought’s soft organic cotton jersey skirt featuring a spot print.

Sustainable clothing for those with slightly deeper pockets

Finnesterre

If you’re a surfer worth his or her salt, you’ll know this brand. They don’t just have an effortlessly cool look, they have a heart for the planet too. Not surprising given much of their free time is spent in the sea, so ocean plastics are always ‘front of mind’. Their range contains organic cotton t-shirts and jackets with recycled polyester insultant. They aimed to eradicate single-use plastic from their supply chain by the end of 2018.

Designed exclusively for Finisterre by illustrator Gareth Sanger, the Forelsket Tee is inspired by cold water surf adventures, and takes its name from the Norwegian word for the euphoric feeling of falling in love. 100% organic cotton.

Outland Denim

When Meghan Markle wore a pair of the Harriet jean in 2018, the brand sold out in hours. The company pride themselves on their ethical values not just their investment in organic cotton and recycled packaging. Founder James Bartle started it to offer female victims of human trafficking a sustainable career path as a seamstress.

The Dusty jean by Outland Denim is cut from organic cotton to feel good with every wear.

The brands that need to work harder despite steps in the right direction

H&M 

The Swedish brand guarantees that 59% of the cotton it sources is ‘sustainably sourced’ in its Conscious range. By that it means either organic cotton, recycled or cotton sourced through its Better Cotton initiative. It hopes to make all of its clothing sustainable by 2030, but this feels like a long time away and the brand’s sustainable plan has room for improvement.

CONSCIOUS. Jumper in a soft, fine knit containing some wool with a V-neck, a visible seam front and back, dropped shoulders and long sleeves. The jumper is made partly from recycled polyester.

Marks and Spencer

This high-street stalwart and favourite of Mums all over talks a big talk in its Plan A manifesto. But surprisingly appears to aim low when it claims that by 2025 it wants to have increased the proportion of Fairtrade, organic and recycled sources to just 25%. It claims it aims to source 100% of cotton from ‘more sustainable sources’ by April this year. In good news though, the brand says its raised £21M for people living in extreme poverty through its Shwopping recycling scheme with Oxfam.  

The brand claims a lot of its Kidswear range is made from sustainable cotton.

Primark

The brand were voted ‘not good enough’ by Good On You website in 2018. However, according to their website they have invested in what it calls ‘sustainable cotton’ since 2017. That’s investing in educating farmers in India and Pakistan how to grow and produce cotton with less fertilisers and pesticides. The garments in this range are mainly in pyjamas (one in three pyjamas in the UK are bought in Primark apparently). Just be careful and look out for the Primark Cares label when rooting through those hangers.

You can read more about Primark’s ethics here.

So if I buy more organic or sustainable fabrics can I have a guilt-free shopping fix?

Simply put: no. There’s no silver bullet for shopping sustainably without leaving some imprint on this planet.

We need to change our relentless throw-away consumer culture for good if we are to make a real difference, or simply, mend more, buy less and buy better.

One final thought I’ll end on it’s that producing clothes is entirely dependent on a healthy planet.

More than 90% of cotton growers live in countries that often lack the infrastructure, preparedness and political will to respond to climate change challenges.

So it’s the least we can do to be a bit more mindful when we shop, if you still want the world at your feet and the shirt on your back in years to come.

One last tip

If you want to know about which brands are better for the environment, try the Good On You app. It gives you the ethical low-down in the palm of your hand.

A deeper look at the more sustainable fabrics to look for

According to The Soil Association nothing can beat organic cotton’s benefits for ‘people and planet’. Organic fibres are grown without the use of synthetic fertilisers, toxic pesticides, genetic modification and uses less water then the non-organic process. It’s more ethical for the workers too.

Other sustainable fabrics are organic wool, although it depends who you speak to. Wool is a byproduct of the meat industry, so some campaigners will always support a boycott. However it’s natural, hardy and potentially biodegradable so has greater eco-credentials.

Bamboo can be highly sustainable if grown in the right way, but most bamboo fabrics are a form of rayon where the manufacturing process is highly intensive and involves harmful chemicals. The slightly more sustainable version of bamboo fabric is bamboo lyocell (TENCEL)

Brands increasingly make garments from eco-friendly fabrics, such as Tencel, made from wood pulp. Recycled cashmere, hemp, denim and recycled polyester (PET) also tick sustainable boxes.


How To Make An Individual Difference to Climate Change

Ever felt completely overwhelmed by climate change and unsure how you can make a difference?

In a game-changing report, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPPC) – a United Nations agency, warned the world has just 12 years to reverse global warming.

It said there’s a 93% chance we’re tumbling toward a world that is 5 degrees celsius warmer by the end of the century – just two years away.

That’s far beyond the 1.5 degrees estimated as a plausible goal to contain the type of global warming that could cause “a mass extinction event…by the end of this century. Unnerving for anyone with a heartbeat.

Climate change is an issue I’ve avidly followed since it hit our collective conscious 30 years ago, but since having a child I feel even more responsible to raise the next generation in a sustainable way.

What’s being done about it?

To reach the 1.5 degree target we need to drastically reduce carbon emissions to reach a net output of zero by 2030. We also need a way to remove future greenhouse gases from the air.

Scientists are exploring using bioenergy with carbon capture and storage, planting more trees by afforestation and reforestation and seasoning the oceans with iron dust creating algae blooms that could take carbon dioxide out of the air and thereby cool the planet.

Other strategies include community scale programmes focussing on land use, energy used in the building sector, transportation and infrastructure (paving).

But these carbon removal technologies are still in their infancy and a coherent global climate change strategy does not exist.

President Trump has also undermined efforts by mocking the evidence, preferring instead to pull the US out of the Paris international agreement and causing chaos this January by cutting back the US Environmental Protection Agency.

What can I do about it?

Reducing your carbon footprint
Credit Seth Wynes and Kimberly Nicholas. Environmental Research Papers

You may feel there’s no point in taking individual action if governments don’t commit to a more equitable and sustainable society.

What difference can one person make in an ocean of humanity?

Yet there are profound ways to make a difference. The only problem is how confronting they are.

According to a study by Lund University, the greatest impact individuals can make to climate change is having one fewer child.

The next best actions are living car-free, avoiding long flights and eating a plant-based diet.

Lead author Seth Wynes said: “For example, living car-free saves about 2.4 tonnes of CO2 equivalent per year, while eating a plant-based diet saves 0.8 tonnes of C02 equivalent a year.

These actions reduce emissions many times more than accepted green activities, such as recycling (which is 4 times less effective than a plant-based diet) or using low energy light bulbs (8 times less effective).

However, the researchers found government advice and school textbooks rarely mention these high impact individual actions.

But it’s so hard changing my lifestyle to be green

Green living
Making green resolutions are hard – everyday I chuck out one box of recycling. I think my son is equally appalled.

Yes it is. We’re so conditioned to accept our modern day practices of eating roast beef on a Sunday and flying abroad on holiday that it’s an anathema to change such ingrained habits.

Not to mention the choice to have children. As a woman grateful and fortunate enough to have one child I accept how galling preventing that would be.

Calculating the actual difference you’ll make by making a lifestyle change can also be thwart with difficulty.

Consider not drinking dairy; it can be paralysing when you consider the implications of another alternative: almond milk as an example – mostly grown in drought-hit California – needs millions of litres of water to be produced.

Nevertheless, always one to accept a challenge,  I’m going to give living a more green lifestyle a go as far as I possibly can.

That’s going green throughout my home, with the products I use, the travel I make, the food I eat and the energy I consume.

That’s no small test. Every day I chuck out one box of recycling. We also consume meat and take air travel as much as the next person.

So I’ll be taking a more realistic approach to going green. No patronising and no nonsense.

I’ll be trying to navigate the complicated nuances of the advantages of apparent green activities, such as using cloth nappies compared to disposable ones, when balanced against other environmental impacts for that product, like harvesting and production costs.

I’ll also be celebrating women and men who are making a difference to a more sustainable planet along the way.

You can follow my progress on Instagram here, using the #realgreenmum and on this blog.

Call it a New Year’s vow, call it a list, call it what you like, but this year I’m making a conscious resolution to leave a lighter footprint on planet earth.

Perhaps the best way to describe it my change game for the planet. Who’s with me?

resolutions blackboard
I’ve set our family some ambitious green targets for this year. What’s yours?