George Monbiot has an interesting, if depressing, article out this week about the British Govt. doing more or less nothing to solve the environmental crises we are facing.
We all know the shit is approaching the fan, and it will surely hit it at speed and force should we so blithely as we currently are, continue to do our business as usual on the planet.
I have used in Easter Island as an example in my biology classes for more than a decade now. I had my students read use the essay Twilight at Easter by Jared Diamond in The Best American Science and Nature Writing 2005 before he I read his book Collapse.
It’s an instructive, if depressing, lesson on how people can undermine their own future by going with the business as usual way of doing things, even when that means short-term gains lead to long-term destruction.
People often wonder what the person who cut the last tree on Easter Island thought as he did so.
And the answer of course, is that he didn’t cut down a big tree, he only cut a small tree that he needed to cut to cook his meal, and it looked just like all the other bushes around, so he didn’t think very much of it at all – the big trees had been gone for a while.
We always assumed those poor sods were ignorant, that they didn’t have the benefit of hindsight like we do. If we, with their example, do the same stupid thing, then we would be so many times dumber than they were.
However, perhaps the Eastern Islanders weren’t all that stupid. I mean, perhaps all of them were not that stupid. The ones who weren’t so blind were nearly stymied by the majority of stupid.
I’m sure some saw it coming.
It’s clear that they didn’t do very much to stop it.
More importantly than asking what the guy who cut the last tree, we should ask what went through the mind of the guy on Easter Island who was shouting out to stop the cutting of all the trees. The guy(s and gals) who were predicting the future, pointing out the disappearance of the birds they used to eat, lamenting the old state of the canoes that could not be replaced and meant dolphin and deep-sea fish were off the menu, etc.
You can almost imagine a Monty Python-esque scene where the proto-ecologist says to the crowd that the big statures aren’t going to help get more food or help make canoes to catch tuna, and one of the stone masons shouts back say to him, “Shut up, you, or I’ll bloody throttle you – I’ve a good job here making them statues.”
If it were indeed case that some knew the collapse of their society and lives was imminent, well, it would make Easter Island an even more instructive, and depressing, lesson for us today as we face the guardians of the status quo.
Even more so than the statues of Easter Island, the status quo is a hard stone to roll off us.
“But if we cut down all the trees, Bob, we’ll be fucked!”
“Shut your face, BigNose! I’ll look much more enigmatic surrounded by grass.”
I’ve favoured a return of our wild megafauna to our mountains for some time, now as a general wish to see wildlife flourish on our island. This includes letting the red deer extend their range beyond the small confines of Killarney NP, where it seems only those with friends in the right places and a pile of cash in their back pocket can get to hunt stags. It includes getting wild boar back, as far as our scant natural habitat is still suitable for them. And of course in includes letting the wolf roam the uplands, as those uplands regain their balance in terms of flora as well as fauna.
There are clear barriers to such steps. One of them is the lack of that suitable habitat, and another, connected to that, is the extent of sheep farming.
Sheep in a field. See any trees? Only habitat for tellytubbies. Photo by Paul Mutton.
I have long marvelled at the fact that sheep are still farmed in Ireland. I’ve spent decades hearing about and seeing how destructive they are to the uplands – anyone whose seen the golf green fields where farmers have them on the lowlands can imagine their effect on a wild landscape. When I was still in college in the early 90s we learned about overgrazing at important conservation and recreation areas of Ireland (like the slopes of Errigal Mountain in Donegal, Connemara NP). Some call them woolly maggots, for obvious reasons.
Sheep in the mountains. Hard to spot a tree here, either. Photo from http://snowdonia-active.com/news.
Simultaneously, I’ve spent decades pushing these animals ahead of me, both in cars on the roads and while trying to hunt or just hill walk without them scattering every shred of wildlife I might have otherwise had the chance to see. I even spent an hour saving one, which had got its leg caught in the wooden slats of a footbridge. It gave me scant thanks, and I was sure the farmer wouldn’t have been too pushed either way, given the huge numbers of dead animals you see while walking in our mountains. But I didn’t think letting it die of thirst was a valid option for anyone with a conscience. If my car jack wasn’t able to push up the slat, I was going to smash its skull in with a wrench, or a rock. A better end, despite the visual image you’re probably conjuring up right now…
Anyway, I remember a farmer telling me more than a decade ago that the wool was barely worth the effort to shear the sheep, and that the merchant only took it from him under no obligation to actually return money to the farmer. If it sold, he gave a portion of the sale, if not, then he… I’m not sure what he’d have done with the wool – throw it out, donate it, or what.
I’ve only eaten lamb a few times in Ireland, and I never liked it much. How much lamb is eaten round here and how much a lamb is worth, I’ve no idea, but I never imagined it was much (again, seeing how little attention is paid to them on the hill).
George Monbiot has the numbers. He reckons it’s less than 1% of the British diet, and the wool has almost no value. And it’s probable that the flooding caused by overgrazed hillsides means less food is grown downhill than otherwise would be, meaning sheep grazing actually reduces agricultural production.
He’s submitted a whole list of problems with the current Common Agricultural Policy and its effects on the environment.
One of these is that without subsidies sheep farming on uplands would be so clearly a waste of time that the sheep would disappear from the mountains by themselves.
And if that happened, well, two obvious effects would be that there would be no problem with sheep kills by reintroduced wolves up there (down the slopes any remaining sheep are easily protected in electrified pens at night), and the deer and other fauna would have something to eat and habitat to hide in as they spread over a landscape currently almost devoid of plant cover.
And real money could flow into these areas from people who want to see the wildlife, just like the reintroduced red kite (hopefully right now spreading across and out from Wicklow) brought £8 million in tourism revenue to parts of Scotland.
Seems simple maths to me.
Among the things I’ve done this summer, is take part in the village festivals. It’s a very small village, but very village has its festival, even if it’s just a dinner for the one family left there. During ours, one of my jobs is to help with the kids game where they’ve to break a flowerpot with a bat, to get at some sweets inside.
It’s called a botijo. It’s like a piñata, but more heavy duty – hence the bike helmet. The older kids are blindfolded to make it interesting. And to spice things up, in one of the pots, instead of candy, lies a creature of some kind – usually a frog or a toad.
It’s been my job to catch said amphibian for the last few years.
This year, instead of a frog, we’d many. And salamanders and newts into the bargain. About twenty or so animals all told (very small, on the whole – there was plenty of room in the flowerpot!).
I’ve no photo of that pot or its contents, because I’m too busy running the event to take photos, and the one above was sent to me since it’s my own daughter knocking the pot to pieces. However, when the pot was cracked open, there was pandemonium.
As you’d expect.
But not for the reason you’d expect.
There were kids everywhere, trying to catch the fleeing animals. And catch them they did, much more eagerly than they’d gathered the sweets that had been scattered for them earlier (in the pot piñata, they know that the sweets are for the kids who breaks the pot, so they hold back).
Once they’d caught them, some of the older kids wanted to keep them. We didn’t allow them, of course, but it shows how starved these kids are for such experiences, and how enthusiastic they are to have them. Another example of the urge to rewild ourselves that George Monbiot describes.
And yet, some of the adults (parents of these delighted kids handling the amphibians) were critical of me and my fellow amphibian catchers for capturing the creatures
It is good that they were concerned for the animals, but at the same times it’s easy to criticise from a position of ignorance. These were mostly people who would scream if they touched one, and who wouldn’t know where to go to see one if it hadn’t landed on the lawn in front of them.
I find that those who can catch such animals are usually the same people who love them, and would not harm them.
The simple reason we’d so many amphibians this year was because we’ve not had rain for over a month and there were scores trapped in a disused swimming pool that had dried up. Only a layer of pine needles in the bottom provided any moisture to keep alive those that were still alive – most of the big frogs and toads had died. Only a week before forty salamanders were rescued from their certain death, and a couple of fat snakes which had had easy pickings. We had collected the remaining animals we could find.
So, while we’d some fun giving the kids a new experience with the animals, we’d not gone and collected scores of salamanders from their pools, but saved them from certain (and unknown, unremarked) deaths, and as soon as they’d been collected, set them free in a 2-metre-deep pool fed from the village spring and never let dry up – and filled to the brim so any which wanted to leave could seek pastures new.
Which was what I saw happening later, when, ironically, I went to that pool to capture a frog again – a much more difficult exercise, I can tell you!
The salamanders, and some frogs, were on their way out of the already busy pond, no doubt to find less congested environs where competition for insects is less.
I’d been asked to get a frog by a Montessori teacher trainer, who’d a course two days later on how to teach the five classes of vertebrates to kids. She’d never used a frog for the course, despite the fact that the course material uses a frog as an example, and had always had to rely on a fish provided by a colleague who’d a pet goldfish in a tank at home.
She’d never know known how to go about getting a frog before….
I showed her. It required patience. And man, was it hot in the sun that afternoon.
But these are the things animal lovers do to spread the word about the creatures we care about.
As I get back into the swing of things after summer, first thing I have to do is congratulate David Devins of Co. Leitrim and Damian O’Sullivan of Co. Cork, who both won copies of my children’s novel, Peter and the Little People in the summer IWT Irish Wildlife Magazine’s book competition.
As you might know, I have pledged to give 10% of my royalties on Peter and the Little People to this NGO (if you’ve read the book you’ll know why) to help the great work they do.
At the moment a new battle has emerged for them, and us all, to tackle – the possible introduction of more destructive insecticides in Ireland, which threaten bees and other useful and important insects.
It seems that the fight to protect bees, like the fight to stop much environmental destruction will be continual, as companies try to introduce more chemicals.
It’s similar to George Monbiot’s post this week, that though the TTIP agreement seems to have been abandoned in the face of so much negative public opinion against it’s implementation, there are other similar treaties in the works, all designed to take power to legislate international companies from government – and thus public – hands. At the end he suggests we can never let our guard down, for the corporations and their cronies are always working against us and our environment, and they only need to succeed once, while we have to beat them every time.
Similarly, the bees and other insects only have to be erased from the planet once, and we have to save them every year, every week, every day.
Do your bit – join the IWT or whatever similar organisation operates in your country. And be vocal, even through the internet. It’s not quite the direct action that seems necessary to protect the Dakota water supply, but it’s effective when there are enough of us.
I read an interesting article about rewilding today – calling it the “new Pandora’s box in conservation.”
Hardly a title to inspire confidence…
One problem the authors see with rewilding is that the term is fluid and quite ill-defined as yet. It would be better to firm up exactly what rewilding is and is not, and define what it aims to achieve.
I agree, as a scientist, that it would be better to know exactly what we are talking about.
But I think there is room for maneuvering yet.
Rewilding is a new term that has yet to come into its own. It has yet to capture the public consciousness.
And in order to let that happen, I think the term should be as broad as possible for as long as possible.
In fact, perhaps we can have two meanings – just like the word “theory” has two meanings – one in common parlance, and the other in scientific terms. It won’t be that problematic if we have a broad meaning for the wider public discussion and then a more precise, concise or even split terms for use in ecology – for example, the Palaeolithic rewilding, or passive rewilding as mentioned in the article.
I say this because what we don’t want to have happen is that the general public decide that rewilding is some scientific activity which only trained ecologists can pursue, or have a hand in, or a stake in.
Because we will need lots of rewilding, of all types, if we are to get through this century with functioning ecosystems. There are some, such as passive rewilding, which the general public can have a great, and direct, impact on. There are things they can do themselves at home, in addition to supporting more extensive projects and translocations by voting, signing petitions and going to visit places which have had formerly extinct species reintroduced.
An article in the Guardian today, about not mowing the lawn so often so that dandelions can flower and feed the multitude of insect species that rely on them highlights this.
As we live in a world steeped in pesticides, we will need the gardens of our suburbs and cities to give a refuge to the species which would otherwise die out. While research suggests that farmers should plant wildflowers themselves to aid keep pests down in their crops, it’s plain that insects like bees are suffering as we continue to spray.
Luckily, the terrain of the farms I visit near Pamplona makes wildflower verges almost unavoidable, though even here the number of butterflies seems to have plummeted in recent years.
To a certain extent, rewilding is just allowing that little slice of wildness to exist alongside our lives and our lawns, instead of keeping wilderness far from us as we push into that very wilderness.
The man on the street with a garden can help this rewilding, just as the building companies who can’t get financing to build on the lots they bought during the boom can let the weeds grow in the meantime. It might not provide habitat for wolves, or bison, but it can keep bees alive, let butterflies and lizards and small mammals survive.
Instead of even planting grass for lawns, home owners, and councils and building management companies, can plant wildflower meadows instead. I showed an example of one in Pamplona last summer. I look forward to it blooming again this spring.
Wildflower meadow planted in Pamplona park about to bloom in 2015
One type of rewilding that the article didn’t mention, but George Monbiot among others does, is rewilding ourselves – getting back in touch with the nature we have too long either ignored or tried to tie up, impound, mow short and neat. I’ve seen the kids approach this wildflower meadow in a much different way to how they’d approach a lawn. I’m sure you can imagine which they’re more excited by.
We might be disinclined to let our kids dig in the muck these days when everyone’s so obsessed with cleanliness, but allowing them romp through a few flowers will set us smiling more than any pretty new frock or well-maintained playground.
What child can resist making petal angels? And collecting conkers can be done in a clean frock.
And just as we might one day be delighted to have dandelions, we will be grateful for the general public’s work in keeping our lives just a little bit wild.
(photo copyright: babies-dangerous-wild-animals.blogspot.com)
I watched this video a while ago. ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eYG0ZuTv5rs) It’s very interesting. It’s about stress and how it can kill you. If you don’t have time to watch the whole thing, don’t worry. That’s not really the point of this post.
This article summarises the most interesting part for now…. (http://www.upworthy.com/something-fascinating-happened-after-these-male-baboons-died-men-should-keep-this-in-mind?c=ufb1)
Basically, the dominant baboons in a troop, which was being studied to investigate stress, died of TB. Half of all males died from the disease, which they’d contracted from infected meat in a dump they’d taken to foraging from – the head honchos took more meat than their subordinates.
When they died, the surviving males down the totem pole didn’t become the bastards their predecessors were. They remained chilled, and were nice to the females (who now outnumbered them two to one) and young. And everything was rosy for them from then on.
Seems only a few baboons are assholes (though the guy researching them does describe them as backstabbing Machiavellian bastards that hurt each other) but they control the situation in most troops. This sends their shittiness down the pipeline. As the narrator says in Snow White and the Huntsman said, the queen’s “reign was so poisonous…. that people turned on each other.”
But new males joining this troop learn that being a wanker is not allowed. They chill out and groom instead of harassing others.
I was reminded of the baboons when I read George Monbiot’s recent article about Human Kindness. He points out that we are in general, good folk, who are nice than we assume when we glance about us on the train home from that shit job where your boss sucks the life out of you. In fact, we’re innately good.
But it’s something we usually aren’t aware of, this fellow kindness. All those videos of people ignoring homeless people etc. you see on the Internet doesn’t help with our own image, either (nor the videos of kids beating up one another).
And this other recent article about Twitter becoming just a forum for abuse indicates that we’re all participating in being assholes, or at least letting them rule our conversations.
It points the blame at the fact that our lives are an abuse, where we are put to work by the those holding the reins:
“We have created an abusive society. We have normalized, regularized, and routinized abuse. We are abused at work, by the very rules, norms, and expectations of our jobs, at which we are merely “human resources”, to be utilized, allocated, depleted. We are abused at play, by industries that seek to prey on our innocence and literally “target” our human weaknessses.” (https://medium.com/bad-words/why-twitter-s-dying-and-what-you-can-learn-from-it-9ed233e37974#.68hxb243u)
We are acting like assholes because the assholes are creating the rules. Just like most baboons farther down the hierarchy get abused by those above just because those just above have gotten shit from their own superiors. And they have highly stressed lives, which lead to illness, obesity and earlier deaths.
So how do we get rid of the asshole baboons who are ruining life for the rest of us?
This is the problem. They’re not going to die of a disease we all avoid – they eat and drink only the best of food, taste wise and health wise. They also can afford access to healthcare that most can only dream of. Even their excesses can be solved by buying a heart or a liver when their own break down.
We might need to rely on the old adage – “they got the guns but we got the numbers.”
When I wrote a blog post about us humans allowing our own extinction in the imminent ecological collapse, I had thought to include those instances when people stand around and “let” people get attacked without either trying to stop it, or even calling the cops. They’re not bad folk – they just assume someone else is going to do it. Our current situation is more akin to allowing the assailants to beat us up without raising our hands to protect our face.
For ourselves, our fellow non-assholes, and for the planet, we have to start fighting back. I’m not saying we become as violent as these Alpha males who would continue their abuse. As Russell Brand suggests in his book Revolution, we just band together, walk up to them and take their weapons away (their weapon is money, by the way). Because those asshole baboons have to go.
The term rewilding has become part of our language. Just a couple of years after it was coined, rewilding is happening across Europe. Rewilding Europe (http://www.rewildingeurope.com/) have made great strides in returning emblematic animals like the bison and brown bear to former haunts on the mainland.
Without constant persecution, numbers of large mammals, including predators are up across Europe (http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2014/dec/18/brown-bears-wolves-and-lynx-numbers-rising-in-europe).
But what about the European islands?
Are they a lost cause?
Well, the word is being used, and calls are being made (http://www.thesundaytimes.co.uk/sto/news/article1498773.ece).
A slew of articles have backed up George Monbiot‘s constant mantra for lynx at least to return to the rewilded birch forests of Scotland: Wildlife trust calls for return of lynx to curb deer numbers (http://www.thesundaytimes.co.uk/sto/news/article1498780.ece), Simon Barnes: bring back the cat (http://www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/others/article1842743.ece).
But it will be harder to have bears returned to Britain like they are returning to Italy and other mainland nations because citizens of that island are unused to living with them (http://www.iflscience.com/plants-and-animals/if-you-go-down-woods-today-you-re-big-surprise-europe-s-bears-are-back)
In Ireland, the lynx wasn’t around as recently as the bear and wolf, and it’s the wolf that most rewilding thoughts are focused on, including my own: https://davidjmobrien.wordpress.com/2014/03/05/further-information-about-wolves-and-deer-management-in-ireland/
And yet, it seems we’re farther back even than Britain. A recent article on Irelandswildlife.com (http://www.irelandswildlife.com/grey-wolf-re-introduction-ireland/) discussed the matter, and concluded that the time is not right, and probably won’t be for a long while yet.
It’s hard to disagree. I recently discussed the matter with an ecologist colleague. He laughed out loud at the suggestion of bringing back the lynx to a country whose farmers can’t stop themselves killing white tailed eagles they think are killing their lambs.
But we can’t stop pushing the word, the work that lies ahead. As long as people are talking about it, as long as people who would not think about it are beginning to understand it, to see what it’s all about, we’re making progress.
I had a lot of these ideas in my head when I was writing my new novel, The Ecology of Lonesomeness, last summer. It’s set in Scotland, where a lot of rewilding the island of Britain is focused, and rewilding is discussed often and in depth by the characters.
“Loch Ness Rocks” by Ben Buxton – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Loch_Ness_Rocks.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Loch_Ness_Rocks.jpg
I will tell you all about the story in another post.
However, I will say now that it turns the rewilding problem on its head, and asks what if there were an endangered species discovered to have hung on there, despite our cleansing of the countryside? Would it be protected?
First, thanks to all of you who read and liked my blog posts about Five Days on Ballyboy Beach, and thanks to my hosts for having me on their blogs. Also, welcome to the new followers!
I wanted to post this link to a radio show on the BBC about rewilding, http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p026lnqs
and features among the guests, George Monbiot, author of Feral – book I haven’t yet read, but don’t really need to in order to know I agree with 95% of what it says.
I was intrigued to hear George talk about the feelings he got when spear fishing for flounder in Wales at the start of this programme: George is against hunting, I think, especially the kind of hunting that goes on in Scotland among the rich (one of the reasons he was for a Yes vote last week) and he knows many of his readers are, too, yet the passionate feeling he experienced in the tidal flats were identical to what hunters feel when stalking. It is one of the reasons why, my non-fiction book about the sociology of hunting will argue that hunting will continue and become in some circumstances accepted by nature lovers of all stripes.
Hunting makes one feel part of the ecosystem, part of nature. Our genetic memory, our brains, cannot separate us from these feelings because we hold a gun rather than a trident like George did: the concentration is the same, the intensity of the feeling is the same, one becomes immersed in the hunting experience.
I also wanted to post a few photos from just beside my house in the country outside Pamplona from two weeks ago.
This for me was a metaphor for rewilding.
It’s a privilege to be able to see such spectacles still, since Spain still has a lot of wildlife now lost to much of the rest of western Europe.
A dead cow had been left in a paddock (used for storing straw and farm machinery nowadays) on Friday. The truck that normally collects dead livestock since the BSE crisis was busy. Nowadays, the carcasses are taken to a place where vultures and other scavengers can feed from them – Spain has large populations of endangered scavengers as well as other bids of prey – because starvation was affecting breeding successes, and causing some vultures to harass non-quite dead yet lambs, at least according to some farmers – otherwise these large scavengers might end up the way they did elsewhere.
On Sunday, the carcass was spotted by some vultures and within minutes, there were dozens. It was spectacular. The great birds came in from all directions, making a bee line for our village when they saw others descending.
And I thought, this is the way it is supposed to be. Nature is out there, waiting to come back in, and if we just let them, wild creatures will return, swoop in to take their former places.
Then the farmer realised they’d landed.
And he was worried that if he didn’t have a carcass to show the collection truck on Monday morning, he could get a fine – even though he’d reported the death and was told that they’d have to wait till Monday – so he came over and chased away the vultures.
They reluctantly took to the air and wheeled around above us, waiting, then hoping he’d leave. But he stayed all afternoon. And eventually, the last of the great birds stopped circling and glided off in a straight line, making for a roost on the last of the afternoon thermals, disappearing off into the blue distance from whence they’d come and the sun set on a dead cow as if they’d never existed, had been extinct for years.
And that was another message for me – we expend energy in keeping Nature at bay, with our rules drafted only because we now do extremely badly what we had once done well, for centuries.
The dead cows of yore were taken by mule team to a spot not 200 metres distant and left for vultures. But now the same farmer chases them away.
And if we let Nature do what it wants to do, it would be so much easier for us in the end – who needs to call a truck if the birds come to you for free? Nature does for free what we waste time and money and carbon dioxide doing ourselves.
Time to rewild.
A prominent activist for conservation and rewilding advocate, he’s got a lot of good reasons the Scots should separate entirely from the UK. They’re being given the chance to do painlessly what many other countries shed much blood for, so they should take it. Later if it doesn’t work out, well, there’s always the chance to join again. After all, their ancestors fought for freedom and then later the countries joined by marriage, so it’s not unprecedented.
Using things up used to be a good thing, but I’m not so sure anymore.
I love to use things up. I’m the kind of guy who starts planning what to eat each day a week before I go on holidays so that I use up everything in the fridge that won’t last the week I am going to be away. I stir-fry everything that’s left on the day before I leave and freeze it for eating when I come back.
That seems only common sense to me, but I know many who don’t bother, who come home to unpack, and to throw out seeping lettuce, rotten courgettes, brown carrots, and tomatoes gone to mush.
Instead of throwing out the bottle before going through airport security, I drink the last drop of water and put the bottle in my bag. Then I fill it up from the nearest water fountain on the other side.
I have clothes that I refuse to throw out despite their having passed into the out of fashion box long ago. I am not waiting for them to come back into fashion. I’m still wearing them. I plan to wear them out.
I love the phrase, “that tee-shirt/pair of shoes/ owes me nothing.”
Even the stuff that does wear out, I wear anyway, just in different situations. I have a pair of shorts on me now that has a gaping hole in the arse, which I am about to go for a run in (I’m in the countryside, so I won’t meet any other joggers, relax). Many keep old clothes to paint in, to wash the dog in, to clean their car in to collect mulberries in. (That last one is a bit specific to this village, I suppose.)
With me it’s an innate tendency to make the most of something, to refuse to waste, to get my money’s worth. My insensitivity to the vagaries of fashion is a big advantage in this. It upsets my wife somewhat, but I think I’ve worn her down (not out). It’s not that I’m a miser with money, but having lived most of my life with relatively little, I don’t feel the need to spend the little more I have now – and I warned my Irish brethren about doing as much in the boom years back then.
I’m glad I have this tendency without having to think about it. With others, it’s something they’ve been (well) educated to do. I wouldn’t have been… My own mother throws out lettuce that looks flaccid, sausages and rashers that were opened more than two days ago, even though they haven’t reached their sell-by-date. If she thinks they’ll go out of date while she’s away, she throws them out just to be sure. (I have to add here that my mother’s always worries about poisoning her children, grandchildren or guests. She’s not that worried about my Dad… And we have dogs, so at least the food gets eaten (and very much enjoyed, I have no doubt – except for the lettuce.)
But there is a trend growing now, that is thwarting me in my urge to make the most of things, and feel good about it.
George Monbiot recently explained that saving money is not going to be a useful incentive to actually save the planet.
And he’s right.
In fact, if this trend grows, it could be counter productive.
This is not, I suppose exactly new, but it really hit home while on holiday in Menorca last week (second time, recommend it whole-heartedly, even if it is a little more congested than it was twelve years ago. Ciutadella is still one of my favourite places to stroll and eat out, and I was made to live on small islands, I’ve discovered – but no joking that Ireland is a small island: it’s not small enough for comfort).
It’s similar to the idea that having paid for a hotel room, we should, indeed use up all the soaps and shampoos. But at least if we don’t, we can take the little bottles home, along with the mini sewing kit (I have several of these and I do actually use them. Though all those needles are perhaps a waste…) and use them later. But what I have recently experienced is not so ? useful.
In Menorca we didn’t stay in a hotel (last time we did, and we took bread rolls from breakfast for lunch – different times, but good times, as the formerly-poor always seem to say). We rented an apartment and a car. Both were ok – small but comfy (even if the car had no power). It was the extras (or lack of them) that was the problem.
Ok, so I just said that the little bottles in hotels are probably a waste. But only because you know that the hotel is going to throw out the half-bottle that’s left over.
When we had lunch out we noticed that the bottle of oil we had for our salad was brand new and unopened – a new law that says you can’t refill the small oil bottles on the table from a larger container. Perhaps there were a few people putting crap oil in good bottles and some were probably not too clean after a few weeks, but not the best way to save money and resources. I mean, I can see the point with a bottle of wine being unopened, but most bottles of wine get drunk at the table. Who can use a whole bottle of oil in one salad, though?
It’s a great way to make everyone have to buy more oil, of course, and that’s good for the farmers. Who cares if it means more tons of plastic bottles? Not the government, apparently.
Anyway, in our apartment, there was no olive oil, or vinegar, or anything other than salt and one (yes one, and not even a full one) roll of toilet paper. There are certain things a house needs. One of those, in Spain, is oil and vinegar. Another, in any country, even in Greenland, is bog roll. Washing-up liquid is usually handy, and well, some detergent to put in the washing machine that the website advertised would also be nice.
We had to buy all these necessities ourselves. Not that much expense, and that’s not the point. The point is we can’t buy holiday-sized containers of vinegar.
We got through the bottle of oil in the course of the week – cooking and on salads etc. but it wasn’t a big bottle. The rest, no.
But god did I feel like trying!
I knew that the next tenant sure as shit wasn’t going to see them. Who ever arrived the afternoon after we left would find the cupboards as bare as Old Mother Hubbard’s dog.
The cleaning lady would take all this stuff home, to save her own money. I saw her take the stuff that was in the freezer in front of me.
So we poured copious amounts of washing-up liquid on the dirty dishes, creating lots of foam just like in the adverts (we didn’t pour copious amounts of vinegar on the salads, because, well, it’s vinegar.) because we knew we couldn’t take it home (unlike the little bottles of shampoo in hotels, a bottle of fairy adds to the weight of a suitcase and in these times of scrutiny of the baggage weight at check-in, that’s just a no-go).
We did take back the clothes detergent, and yes, I did take the left-over rolls of toilet roll, just on fucking principle.
But if the landlord and/or the cleaner had just left the stuff from the previous guests – or would leave my stuff – then perhaps 4 or 5 families could spend less and waste less while on their holidays over the course of a summer.
The car was also annoyingly wasteful.
Instead of the usual deal where you bring the car back with a full tank, in this instance they let you bring the car back practically empty, but they charge you for the full tank you leave the lot with. And they charge you at least 50% more than you’d pay at the petrol station (90 Euros against the 60 it costs me to fill my larger car).
They do this because they know the chances of you actually using up all that petrol is practically nil. The island is only 50km long with only one main road, and you’d have to do the length of the island and back every day of your week stay to go through it.
But we found ourselves trying to use up the petrol. We put on the AC all the time (ok, it was hot, but we’d have been a bit more sparing had we not been shafted up the arse by the rental company), and we dropped the car into 3rd gear to overtake cars that we really didn’t need to, since we were on holiday and only on our way to the beach.
Actually, that’s a lie. We were in a major rush to the beach, because the car parks filled up early, and the small idyllic coves turned into mini Benidorms (Revere Beach to the Bostonians) after a while.
Of course, we knew that it would be bad for the environment, but we had to consciously overcome our urge to get our money’s worth, to get one over on the scheming car rental company (it’s called Owner’s Rentals and they’re the car rental equivalent of RyanAir, which is a good or bad airline depending on your view – ok, so they removed the wasteful mini-drinks that weren’t really necessary but charging for water is just abusive – and there are fair few airports with no water fountains in the boarding gates, because the vending companies are paying them off [I have no proof of that, but it’s common sense…]).
So what’s my conclusion?
My innate tendency to use things up will have to be tweaked.
I’ll have to learn to use as little as possible just for the sake of it, even without that pleasurable feeling when something’s empty, or done with, or worn out having rendered long and commendable service.
So what if the company is making more money from us. At least the petrol is getting used.
I just wish the frugal weren’t getting taken advantage of. But that’s the way of the world these days, ain’t it?
And as for government policies that impulse waste to increase production under the guise of public health concern (when they are granting zoning exceptions left and right for chemical plants to set up on rivers and estuaries) well, that will have to be filed under “ways the government fucks us over” and dealt with another day…