Making Change in How We Live, Where We Live, in Light of Climate Change

Tuesday, 30 May 2017

Exploring Food and Travel in your carbon footprint - stories from May's 'Carbon Conversations'

TTT's 10th local Carbon Conversations series continues - the free weekly local facilitated meetings where participants can explore their own practical options for low-carbon living.

The sessions are not only about 'counting carbon' and understanding our carbon footprint; they are also about exploring our own values and preferences in a safe and facilitated setting with a small group. Understanding the meaning of our choices.... the 'why' as well as the 'what'.... means we are more likely to take steps which we can sustain over time.
Quoting one of the participants in this series:


"The beauty of Carbon Conversations is 
the optimism, creativity and ideas
that are shared and emerge"

Each of the six meetings has a theme - for example home energy, or waste. We reported on the first two sessions in this blog - read it here, and below two more participants describe the discussion points and feelings raised by the third and fourth meetings: about food and travel.


1 Food: probably the issue that goes to the core of our identities more than any other.
We did an activity reflecting on all the aspects of food production that worry us most. One of the group shared a really heart-rending story of playing a game with a child where they had to mime different animals. They wagged their tail like a dog, pranced like a horse, but when asked to enact a chicken they curled up into a ball on the floor. This child only knew a chicken as a dead body wrapped in clingfilm on a supermarket shelf. It was a poignant moment...

We also played a board game to figure out the carbon emissions embedded in all the different stages of the food production process: growing, processing, packaging, transport.


It was illuminating, but it also made us realise the complications of solely judging things based on carbon emissions. What is something is 'really low carbon' but harmful in other ways? There are lots of factors to take into account.
It also made us reflect on the foods we eat. As one group member said: 'it does make you think....what ARE we eating?!'


2 Travel: The slow and rewarding journey
As I cycled to the little flat in Tooting where our intimate group meets every week to talk through the labyrinthine emotions and values of our relationships with carbon, I was reminded of my first year after graduating from university with a degree in Geography. I wanted to live overseas and make the world a better place. That year alone I took 18 flights. 
“Take a couple of minutes to think of your favourite journey to date - and also your nightmare journey - to share with the group.” This is how Ben introduced the session of Carbon Conversations with the theme of travel. 

There was a surprising and reassuring synchronicity to everyone’s answers about their favourite journeys. A cycle trip with friends across Europe, a train ride, a walking pilgrimage to a friend’s cottage, a botched ferry booking requiring troubleshooting cycle journeys to make it to Portsmouth on time. In nearly all the examples, the journey was more memorable than the destination. 

And why are these journeys so memorable? It’s the slowing down, the views from the windows, the conversations with strangers, the human pace. But then one participants looks confused. “But you can’t do it to all the people all the time”.. she says, half asking, half hoping, about talking to strangers. True that. 

So if the journeys are the most memorable, why do we all fly everywhere so quickly? Why do we insist on so many destinations?  One participant suggests that it’s ‘constructed desire’. “I don’t want to go to Vietnam”, she says, “but sometimes I feel like maybe I should.”
And it is complex. Families are spread around the world, jobs require meetings in far flung corners of the globe, billboards promise escape on golden beaches, and that super amazing permaculture training course I’ve had my eye is in the South of Spain. So is it possible to live in the world today while maintaining sustainable modes of travel?


Since moving back to the UK, I’ve decided to live as locally as I possibly can. I only cycle, I dumpster dive for much of my food, I grow veg in a community garden, I switch off my lights when I’m not in the room, oh and I’ve cut down on international travel, to the extent that I’ve missed a friend’s wedding for the sake of reducing my carbon footprint. 

And here’s the moment of truth. Ben hands me my carbon footprint calculation. The USA average is 20 tonnes of carbon per person by year, followed by the UK at 15. The world average is 4.5 tonnes while the sustainable world average is 1.5 tonnes. Tanzania’s average is 0.1 tonnes. I’m feeling optimistic.   

I look at the sheet.
19.18 tonnes. 


It’s the two flights I took this year. Both of them to destinations which meant a lot to me. 

'Tonnes of carbon' is shorthand used to refer to the tonnes of CO2 and other 'greenhouse gases' released into the atmosphere. The impact that air travel has on our carbon footprint is undeniably unsustainable! Yet our lives are so scattered around the world already that it’s near impossible to imagine reining them in.

The beauty of the Carbon Conversations program is the optimism, creativity and ideas that are shared and emerge. The lengths that some participants go to to find solutions is admirable. So is the faith that every change each of us makes as individuals will slowly but surely contribute to a change in emissions and in the global carbon culture. 

So if you’re looking for alternatives, then two easy things you can do are:
Oh and one more thing.. if the journey is just as interesting and exciting as the destination, then I think we can make the journey towards a carbon neutral world also just as rewarding. It can be slow, full of surprises, and of course, include conversations with strangers – which is just what Carbon Conversations gets us to do!


We'll share the stories of the last two sessions in this series. And if you like the sound of the content and style of these meetings, keep in touch and look out for the next series of Tooting Carbon Conversations.  
 - Charles

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