Tag Archives: environment

29.04 – anti-vivisection?

This blog post is part of my series on passages in Quaker faith & practice which were written specifically for it, in 1994.

The status of the passages in the final chapter of Quaker faith & practice is a little different to the rest of the book: this chapter, called ‘Leadings’, is an attempt to predict which issues Quakers in Britain might deal with in the future. Since we are now in or beyond that future – I think that, twenty-seven years on, we’re probably past most of what the 1994 Revision Committee could have called ‘the foreseeable future’ – we can ask whether or not the community did move in the directions predicted.

As far as I know, the Yearly Meeting as a whole did not in any formal way take up the challenge presented in 29.04, which asks us to oppose vivisection, the testing of medical and cosmetic products on live animals. This is partly because wider society moved fairly quickly on one part of the issue: other methods were created and testing cosmetics on animals was banned in the UK in 1998. Animal testing in medical research is heavily regulated but also still an important part of the process for some fields. I haven’t heard debate about this among Quakers recently. I get the impression that there’s a general acceptance of a minimisation of harm: a small amount of carefully regulated testing on animals which enables us to relieve suffering in humans is a balance a lot of people can live with. Even if we have worries about it and hope other processes for medical testing will be found in future, it’s a compromise which reflects the reality of a complex situation at the moment. Or perhaps it’s just something people don’t talk about at the moment.

This isn’t to say that there isn’t a good deal of concern about animal welfare among Quakers. Quaker Concern for Animals is still going strong and with increasing awareness of the role of animal agriculture in the climate crisis, arguments for reducing or removing animal products from our diets are more visible in wider society than ever before. With convenient vegan foods becoming much more widely available, and debates about the role of sheep in damaging the ecosystem and the role of cows in creating greenhouse gases reaching the mainstream media, Quakers are also engaged in these discussions. 

Of course, the situation is not simple. We need to pay attention to the circumstances in which human beings produce food, including ensuring there is fair pay for work done. The non-human animals involved are not just those which might be killed and eaten, but all those which live alongside crops: the mice in the wheat field and the bees pollinating the fruit as well as the cows who produce milk and the male chicks thrown out because they won’t lay eggs. And some animal involvement in a wider farming practice supports the fertility of the soil, and issues about what can be farmed (or picked or caught) locally and what is a sustainable use of wild resources and what is culturally appropriate all factor in as well. Mention veganism or plant-based diets in a general Quaker Facebook group and you are likely to hear from people concerned about all these aspects and more – and trying, as we saw with the example of animal testing in medical development, to hold all these perspectives in balance at once. Working out what is best for people and plants and ecosystems and the earth and every living thing is not simple and the rules of thumb we develop to make decisions on a day-to-day basis, like, ‘I’ll try and eat only plants whenever I can’ or ‘I’ll try and eat things produced as close to home as possible’ are compromises which let us get on with life but cannot be pushed as universal solutions.

In 2021, animal ethics are important to many Quakers but in the Society as a whole they tend to be positioned within a wider discussion about sustainability rather than an end in themselves. If I had to guess, I would predict that over the next thirty years, some other aspects of animal ethics might come to the fore – perhaps through debates about rewilding in Britain and the role of native animals (say, wolves, beavers, and wild boar, rather than the animals our Neolithic ancestors brought from the Middle East), and perhaps through ongoing research about animal intelligence and the complexities of ecosystems (involving all animals including humans but also plants, like the recent work on tree communication). In this process, Quakers might become more sensitised to our interdependence with the whole of existence, less focussed on single issue campaigns and more aware of the endless web of connections.

Am I right that Britain Yearly Meeting didn’t take a formal stance on vivisection? Are there Local or Area, Preparative or Monthly Meetings who have made minutes on these issues?

Am I right that vivisection is now not so commonly discussed, with animal ethics debates focussed on other issues? If I am right, is that change happening because of the move I describe in towards a focus on sustainability or for other reasons?

Where do you think this discussion will go in the next thirty years? Are there factors you think are relevant to this which aren’t being considered at the moment?

Climate Strike

In support of the Global Climate Strike, I am not engaging in paid work today. I’ll also be posting about the climate crisis on social media, writing to my MP and local councillors, and joining a local protest.Why strike? Because we cannot continue as if everything is normal. Because our house is on fire.

I have been trying, for over a decade, to lower my personal carbon footprint and to be aware of the environmental impact of the choices I make – but the political system and the infrastructure of my society has not changed far enough or fast enough to support me in this. I can buy green energy at home, but when I go into a public building I have to assume it is running on fossil fuels. I can wash out and save up my recycling, but I don’t have kerbside collections and I have to ask a friend with a car to help me take it to the household waste centre. I can limit the amount of flying I do, but 15% of people in the UK are taking 70% of the flights.  I can work hard to avoid using fossil fuels personally, but we still haven’t banned fracking.

What am I asking for? For society, structurally, to take this seriously. For our society to commit to a transition to much greater economic equality (‘make wealth history’  as the Earthbound Report used to be called) and much less emphasis on paid work as the bar to entry in the community. For government to commit to ending fossil fuel use. For every organisation to ask whether they are part of the solution or part of the problem – and to have the courage to say: no. This work – extracting fossil fuels, travelling regularly, producing luxury goods, making unrecyclable items, making items with planned obsolescence – is part of the problem and therefore we will stop. For everyone to start thinking and talking in terms of doughnut economics.

I can’t install a Digital Climate Strike widget because I don’t pay WordPress anything to run this blog. But I will refuse to talk about anything else today.

Vegetables and sadness

How should we feel about trying to save the planet?

A joke has been doing the rounds again on Facebook. It’s a conversation between two people: the first one says, “Wakey wakey eggs and bakey.” The second ones says, “But I’m a vegan” and the first one replies, “Wakey wakey vegetables and sadness.”

It’s a joke about how delicious bacon is, right? It’s a joke about how vegans are depriving themselves of good things because they’re… what? Sanctimonious? A lot of things like this aren’t funny unless some people think they’re true, and when I read this joke for the umpteenth time I suddenly realised that at some level it’s about this post, which I have been trying to write for a while.

When I write or talk about wanting to change my lifestyle to have a lower carbon footprint, there are people who are supportive and people who aren’t – but in both groups, I find there are some people who want to tell me how to feel.

(Hint: telling me – or probably anyone – what I should feel about anything is basically a hiding to nothing. That has, in my experience, never stopped anyone trying.)

There are the people who want me to be happy, and as a consequence suggest that I should eat eggs/bacon/whatever makes them happy. (Here’s a food which makes me happy: Linda MacCartney sausage rolls. Vegetables and sadness indeed!) There are people who want me to be happy, and as a consequence are very worried that I might be feeling guilty about something. (A bit of guilt isn’t that bad. If it’s crippling or out of proportion, that’s a problem. If it’s information for the decision-making process about the cons as well as the pros of, for example, flying across the Atlantic for a conference, then it’s just that – information.) There are the people who don’t want to do whatever I am doing or proposing to do at that moment, and consequently need me to admit that whatever it is does or would make me feel bad. (The people who couldn’t live without a car are a good example. Does being a non-driver affect my transport choices? Absolutely. Do I dislike it? Only when some ridiculous planning scheme means there’s no way to get to the cinema by public transport. You know who you are, Silly Local Council and Failure of a Bus Service.) And there are the people who want me to be happy, and consequently want me not to worry my pretty little head about the environment, and definitely not to make the difficult lifestyle changes which actually cutting one’s carbon footprint might demand.

I am experimenting with the following radical proposal: it’s okay to choose to do things which make me feel bad sometimes. As outlined above, a lot of the things which people think would be difficult actually aren’t – being a vegan does not equate directly to sadness if you eat a wide range of plant-based foods instead, and not owning a car does not equate directly to loneliness if you are able to access a good public transport system. But some things are still difficult – refusing to fly to see friends, for example, when that would be cheaper or even the only way to make it possible. And that’s okay. That’s a case where I’m clearly allowed to choose, and there comes a point at which I’d rather name and own, and respect, that sadness than have the guilt of flying when I didn’t really need to. Guilt that someone would probably tell me I shouldn’t be feeling.

Next time someone says that sort of thing to me, maybe I’ll ask them: whose feelings are you trying to control? Mine? Or yours?


I need new shoes.

I need them to:
* fit well (on feet which are not the shape of the last they use for ‘normal women’ feet, so to achieve this I need a wide-fit option and/or to buy from the so-called ‘men’s’ range),
* have genuine arch support (so that it passes inspection by doctors and physios),
* be hard-wearing (I walk an average of perhaps two miles a day and hate shoe shopping), and
* be waterproof, and black, and smart enough to wear to work.

Ideally, I want them to be:
* ethically produced
* climate-friendly
* not involving the death of an animal.
I eat mainly vegan and people think I’m a hypocrite when they realise my shoes are leather (although I would also feel like a hypocrite if I had plastic shoes which turned out to have a higher greenhouse gas emission).

Ideally ideally, I’d also have some choice about what kind of gender markers my shoes display, but fit and comfort and ethics all tend to come first.

Usually, in order to fulfil the first list I end up at Clarks again, but obviously this doesn’t meet the requirements of the second list. At the moment I am wearing my old pairs of Clarks shoes to death, but I can see the end coming. People who are interested in the second list mainly seem to buy shoes online, but I suspect I’d spend a lot of money on return postage before I met the first list’s requirements that way. (I don’t mind spending good money for good shoes, but I’d rather spend it on shoes than on returning pairs of shoes that don’t fit!) I have needed new shoes for some time, but I hate making this kind of decision.

Actually, I had written most of this post when, a few days ago, my current shoes seemed particularly worn and I happened to be passing a Clarks shop. I found a pair which looked about right, tried them on, tried them on a wide fit – and said to the person who was serving me, “They still seem a bit narrow,” expecting that I wouldn’t be buying any shoes. But this salesperson said, “We have them in a extra wide fitting.” Extra wide fitting! Wonder of wonders! Shoes which are wide enough and not too long and comfortable and black and even slightly femme! And made of leather and plastic. And from a brand which is reliable and hard-wearing. Needless to say, I bought them, which has staved off this problem for another few years while I wear them out.

I’m not sure whether this was the decision making itself for me in a positive way (shopping always seems to me to contain a fair amount of luck/intuition/space for Spirit), or me defaulting to a bad habit because I haven’t the commitment or imagination to escape, but there it is. Invective about how I hate animals and the planet (and support sexist shoe design and all sorts of other terrible things I’d know about if I subscribed to Ethical Consumer) on a postcard please.

Single use plastics

A week ago, I started out with an empty bin. Today, I spread out on the kitchen floor all the things I’ve put it during the week, and photographed them. I haven’t included my recyclables, just the ones which will go straight to landfill.


This has become a fairly standard exercise in some environmental activist circles, and I knew what to expect. The aim is to motivate giving up single-use plastics. The problem, as a quick inspection of this photograph will reveal, is that to give up single-use plastics pretty much means giving up eating.

In the photograph there are sixteen individual plastic items. Fourteen of them are food wrappers – including the Lockets packet, which is bordering on medicinal. One is the blister pack from some painkillers. One is a train ticket – mostly cardboard but with a plastic/magnetic strip on the back.

Some things I’ve already swapped. The three apple stickers in the picture came from organic apples bought in a paper bag, so that’s less plastic than it might have been.

Three of these items are bread, and if you are about to say that I could have baked it myself using flour from a paper bag (and yeast from a plastic bag, but at least it would be less plastic) you are right. However, I am also a lazy so-and-so whose past attempts to eat only homemade bread have resulted in just not eating bread.

Not shown here are some packets which last for a while – this happened to be the week when I finished a bag of frozen sweetcorn. That usually lasts me over a month and is much more efficient in terms of food waste than buying fresh veg for one person with a moderately unpredictable schedule. I also ate pasta and rice and all sorts of other things also stored in plastic bags.

Also not shown here is the growing pile of damson stones which I will probably end up putting in landfill because there’s no way they’ll compost in my little bin. Since the damson tree is providing a large amount of plastic-free fruit, though, this might be a trade-off of some kind.

This post does not have a happy ending. It has a pit of despair – how will I ever help to save the planet if I can’t feed myself while I’m doing it? – and some questions. To what extent is this my fault, as an individual, and to what extent is it a structural failing in the system within which I live? How much am I cheating by not including recyclables? How far can I get outside this system, and how far can I work to change it while I’m also supporting it by buying these products? How long can one live on nothing but organic sweet potato?

Why am I standing as a Green Party local council candidate?

Some of my readers may have seen on Facebook, or discovered through a general Google search, that I am standing in Holywell Ward in Watford as a Green Party candidate. In this post, I’d like to outline some of my personal reasons for standing. They’ll be different for everyone and what follows isn’t official Green Party policy in any sense.

I’m a paper candidate, in the sense that I’m not seriously expecting to get elected – we are hoping to have Green Party councillors in Watford soon, as we have done in the past, but Holywell isn’t a ward likely to produce them. I’ll be going out leafleting with our team on the other side of town. But even paper candidates need strong reasons to stand, because it’s a public commitment and requires some networking and paperwork behind the scenes. I’ve got three reasons I am standing and one reason I reject.

I’m NOT standing against anyone. Some of the other council candidates in other parties are well known to me; one I would count as a personal friend. My aim in standing is not to see other people’s perspectives put down. I certainly disagree with some of them, but I want their voices to be heard equally with mine. The voting system we use here might make it seem like we are fighting one another, but my reasons for standing don’t include this.

I AM standing so that voters in my ward have a wider choice. Having more candidates to choose from, representing a wider range of parties, gives voters in Holywell ward the opportunity to express more nuanced political views and let everyone in the council, whether or not they got the votes directly, what matters to them. In Holywell ward this year we will have candidates from six parties, and to me that represents a healthy spectrum of debate.

I AM standing because justice and the environment are important to me. As a voter, the issues I want to raise are most closely aligned with those represented by the Green Party. I am personally concerned about inequality, climate change and the environment, and having made personal lifestyle changes to reflect this – such as doing voluntary work, not to driving a car, and eating mainly vegan – standing as a Green Party candidate is a next step for me in trying to make changes. To put this in my religious terms, standing as a Green Party candidate is part of my witness to the possibility of a better world and my dedication to helping to create it.

I AM standing because I can – because I have the vote, and because you could be involved too. Anyone can get involved in their local politics and make their voice heard. Voting itself is important, but there are also lots of other options. By standing for the Green Party, I make my views known and help others to do the same. There are lots of ways to get involved – every candidate needs ten nominations, and every party needs supporters, canvassers, fundraisers, and a wide range of other help. I’m getting involved – will you?

Carbon footprints: a number I do worry about

For all I wrote last week about not living life by numbers, there is a number which I do try and keep in mind as I make my day-to-day choices: the CO2 equivalent emissions.

In fact, it’s very hard to pin this down to a precise number for many things, because of the complexity of them, so usually I’m trying be aware of which things are higher and which lower, which raise my carbon footprint and which reduce it. Of course, carbon footprint is not related to quality: it may well be that my quality of life would be higher if I did things which produced more carbon dioxide, and the global trend at the moment – which is for the poorest in society to produce the least CO2 – might lead us to think that, to a certain level at least, we should all be entitled to a carbon footprint.

There are three problems with this. One is that the carbon footprint of something represents a hidden cost, to the environment and to other people. (In particular, some of those who will be soonest and worst affected by climate change caused by CO2 and similar emissions will be among the poorest.) Another is that carbon emissions, like the use of many other resources, are hugely unequal in distribution. Individuals in countries like the UK take up much more than their fair share of the carbon footprint of the whole population of the world. The third is that my ‘fair share’, the amount to which in an ideal world I would like to reduce my carbon footprint, is actually not mine, but emitted on my behalf by the government.

In 2012 I became a vegan, not because I thought it would improve my quality of life (although the quality of my life and my food hasn’t suffered at all, as it happens), but because I was ready – called – to do something to lower my carbon footprint. I’ve written about this in the past, but the point here is that worrying about a number, a difficult-to-calculate removed-from-my-observation but nevertheless relevant number, was in fact a big part of my motivation.

And it remains so. As I contemplate my choices for the future – places to work, jobs to work in, places to live, ways to live, participation in society – I am intending to try and keep that number in mind and let it affect my choices. I think that’s the right way to go about this because the ultimate aim of both exercises, letting go of some numbers and trying to remain mindful of others, is about awareness: being aware of myself in the world and the way things are. If I dropped the idea of the carbon footprint, as I can drop some other numbers, I would lose track of it altogether. I can get feedback on, for example, the time in other ways – my body, the sky, other people. The effects of CO2 are so removed from me that without a number, I could ignore it altogether, and that has been one of the chief causes of the problem.

E is for… Environment

We tend, actually, to group our environmental concerns under the term ‘sustainability’, but I didn’t want to wait until then to write about them. (I note, too, that when I wrote about Environment last year I meant it in quite a difference way.) In my mind, my environmental position has four aspects, one for each of the four most commonly cited Testimonies: Truth, Equality, Peace, and Simplicity.

The first step on a journey to sustainability is to care about, find out about, and support further research into the Truth about the situation. This is composed of the many truths which scientists establish by observation and experiment. If you’re not familiar with this body of work, I recommend starting with NASA’s page of evidence. In a world in which some people have not yet faced up to this evidence, are in denial about it, or just not sure what to think (or think that a snow storm in Yorkshire in January is somehow evidence that the polar ice caps can’t be shrinking or the globe getting warmer overall), it’s important to be clear about the facts: climate change is happening and human beings bear responsibility.

In responding to climate change, some people’s first instinct is to look after themselves. I’ve seen Transition Towns groups (generally a good idea) who wanted to only include the middle-class part of town. I’ve heard it said that because climate change will cause starvation in other parts of the world, we should tighten up our asylum laws and make sure we don’t accept too many refugees. I’ve heard a lot of people propose what the rest of the world should do about climate change (‘it’s no good unless the Chinese shut down their factories’, ‘we need to educate Africans so they don’t have so many children’).

I think, however, that in we need to hold on to our ideal of Equality – front and centre, even when facing the potential disaster that is climate change. We need to look at what we can do, as individuals and as communities: whole communities, for preference. We are actually all interdependent, and we need people to stack our shelves and people to study geology (to pick two jobs recently in the news). We need hairdressers and telephone sanitizers. We need politicians, too. I find it sometimes helps to hold my elected representatives in the Light while I write to them.

I’ve already hinted, I think, at how a commitment to sustainability will need us also to be committed to Peace. We will need to create peace in our communities if we are to work together, and the conditions created by climate change may lead to outright war over resources if we are not careful. Using those resources wisely, and being seen to share them fairly, will help, but it may need more than that. It worries me that even my Quaker community struggles with conflict (I’m not worried about us having conflict, there are always going to be misunderstandings and personality clashes, but that we struggle to handle it constructively). No wonder the wider community can’t cope!

Finally, Simplicity is perhaps the Testimony which people most readily connect with our Sustainability Testimony. Living a simple life goes along with trying to live in a more environmentally friendly way… except when it doesn’t. Don’t get me wrong, I think that often it does. Downsizing can be a move towards sustainable living (but remember, speaking, as we were a few paragraph ago, of equality, that not everyone can downsize and some people urgently need to upsize). Being focussed on what is important in life can lead to more sustainable living. Refusing to buy things to keep up with the Jones family next door can lead to keeping your life within a more reasonable carbon footprint. Going vegan or ordering an organic vegetable box (oh, the middle-class privilege!) can make life simpler and also be in line with environmental commitments.

I’m not sure, though, that fitting solar panels is simpler. It’s probably a good idea if you own a suitable roof, and it’s a very visible green statement. It’s complicated, though – researching the options and deciding what to do, the science and construction of the panels themselves, studies of shade and light to see how well your roof will do. Once you’ve got them, the electricity bills get more complex, too. Actually, a lot of things in this example can be generalised: it’s complicated to work out how to eat in the most sustainable way possible (fairtrade or organic? local supermarket, deliveries, home grown? Tetrapak or plastic bottle?), let alone buy anything else (new book already in this country or a second hand copy posted from the USA? DVD or cinema ticket? will my granny cope with my idea of a green present?). The things we buy are themselves complicated (parts made in many places, and usually travelled all over the country if not the world).

I’ve sometimes wondered whether the simplest things will last longest – setting aside foodstuffs, tools with fewer moving parts are easier to repair and maintain. The problem is that some complicated things are really useful. But if simplicity is ‘not having anything extraneous to your purpose’ rather than ‘the absence of complexity’, we might be allowed to keep our laptops and our solar panels while we are using them and source them responsibly.

E is for… Environment

Some people think that you can only worship in a sacred space – a consecrated building, for example.

Some people think that nowhere is sacred – that you can worship anywhere (or that worship doesn’t work and you can’t really do it anywhere at all).

I’ve heard it argued that the concept of sacred space doesn’t help us protect the environment. If we focus on saving the bits we call ‘special’, we’ll miss out lots of other important parts.

I think everywhere is sacred.

There are some spiritual practices which involved being thankful for, or accepting of, everything around you, even when it might be a problem. If you can get caught out without an umbrella, and say, “Thank heavens for rain”, or feel pain and still say, “I accept my body fully as it is”, that’s amazingly powerful. (Note: I said it was powerful, and I called it a practice. I didn’t say it was easy, or that I manage to do it.)

Everywhere is sacred.

Forests are sacred.

Gardens are sacred.

Cracks in the pavement with dandelions growing in them are sacred.

Houses are sacred.

Community centres are sacred.

Church halls are sacred.

Mosques, churches, synagogues, temples, and all places built for worship are sacred.

Recycling points are sacred.

Car parks are sacred.

Landfills are sacred.

And by the time I’ve typed all that, the word ‘sacred’ no longer looks like a word at all. I don’t know what it means anymore – but this is what it means to me now: an object or place which should be valued for its inherent nature, taking into account its function, its place in the life of the community of all beings, and treated with respect.

For example: I wish we didn’t need so many landfills, but they are important to the life of the community in which I find myself. Like death, they tend to be hidden and taboo; like death, we might learn a lot from looking them in the eye. I try to treat my local landfill with respect, sending her only what really needs to go to her.

For example: I don’t live near a forest anymore, but I visit and support and love the woodlands I can reach. (Some are best supported if I stay away; rainforests must be beautiful and amazing, but flying to see one is counterproductive.) I find it easy to call a forest sacred, and hard to call a building sacred, and very hard to call a rubbish tip sacred, and yet it seems to me that this is what we need to do.