Monday, 17 July 2017

On trying to live an ethical life

Like most people I try to lead an ethical life, but it’s not easy. Every aspect of your life has an impact on other people or on the planet.  And, as a writer, used to analysing and reflecting, you can’t shut yourself in a dark cupboard and hope all the difficult issues go away.

The state of the planet is the one concerning me most at the moment.  Last week I went to a showing of the film A Plastic Ocean, made by a very distinguished team who worked on David Attenborough’s  Blue Planet series, and it's narrated by journalist Craig Leeson who started out looking for the rare and elusive Blue Whale in order to film a documentary.  What happened next was horrific.  The diving team surfaced under a curtain of plastic pollution, much of which was going into the whales’ stomachs.  As their search for the whale went on, they found more and more plastic accumulating in even the remotest parts of the ocean.

The plastic pollution of the ocean has intensified over the last decade to numbers that make your hair stand on end.  Millions of tons of plastic waste go into the ocean every WEEK.  And most of  it comes from us and our addiction to single-use plastic.  Supermarket carrier bags, drinking straws, fast-food trays, freezer bags, take-away cutlery, bottles of water . . .  on and on and on.  Some single-use plastic has an active life of only 10 minutes.  The film showed the consequences for wild life and I have to say that it was upsetting. Endangered species are dying of starvation because they have stomachs full of plastic.  Albatrosses are feeding plastic to their chicks, turtles are mistaking plastic bags for jellyfish, whales are sieving it out of the water instead of krill.


I have been trying not to buy plastic carrier bags from supermarkets - but I’m not perfect and there is always the time I forget to bring any with me. I try to recycle, but it’s not easy around here because the council don’t collect and it all has to be driven to the dump. I carry my own water bottle, but sometimes on a train I end up buying water in a bottle because there’s no way to get a clean refill.

It’s clear that we have to do something before the ocean becomes a huge refuse dump for humankind. The film offers a number of solutions and carries a message of hope.  We can’t get rid of plastic entirely - it’s too useful, but we can drastically reduce our consumption of single use items.  My local shops offer paper bags for produce, which I always take.  But we could do more.  In New Zealand my daughter gave me some supermarket fruit and veggie bags as a present.  They’re made from mesh fabric with a drawstring at the top and are washable.  They’re completely transparent and replace the plastic bags that supermarkets encourage you to use to put your fruit and veg in and which invariably get thrown away as soon as you get home.  If everyone used these it would cut out an enormous amount of plastic waste.


These new thoughts are affecting my reading habits too.  E-readers are made from precious metals, plastics and other finite materials and the manufacturing process is not eco-friendly (or human friendly either as they’re often made in the ‘3rd’ world by poorly paid workers).  A paper book is made from trees, which means that trees have to be planted and grown in large numbers.  As trees help to take carbon out of the atmosphere, maybe that’s a good thing?

The dilemmas are everywhere.  How does one lead an ethical life in the 21st century without retiring off-grid to live in a log cabin in the woods?



6 comments:

  1. I understand your dilemma - I think all of us who care about the world we will bequeath to our children and grandchildren try to do our ethical best. And that's all we can do - use materials thoughtfully, and be kind to those around us.

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    1. You're right Jo. And I've just read an article that says that all our individual efforts are a drop in the ocean, compared to the contribution that corporations make to pollution. We have to reform them in order to change things.

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  2. I trid to reply to this from my smart phone but couldn't log in.
    You've given me a dilemma, I always try to be ethical, careful, buy fairtrade and organic etc but kindle (paperwhite in my case) v real books? My family are, in general, really fedup with my book buying, collecting/hoarding. I've been making hugee efforts to reduce and let go, equalise the buying/giving away ratio. But I have, of course, thousands most of them 'old friends' and close to another thousand on my kindle (most classics are now free). The kindle I have is my 6th though most have been bought as presents - because I made that initial purchase giftees have access to all I buy and I have access to those I buy for them - it took me a while to realise this! This doesn't help the authors which really bothers me but I'm such a reading addict many of my actual books are purchased second hand, good for the planet but not the writers, iffy/upsetting again. I deliberately allow myself to buy books to read that I know I will let go to Oxfam as soon as red ie not keepers. The market for second hand books is lessening, I learn to my distress that an enormous number end up in land fill.
    In the meantime I've just finished a wonderful novel that kept making me think of you as it happens in the north west of Canada including the Haida culture island area. The Mountain Can Wait by Sarah Leipciger, wonderfully written and paced, atmospheric, detailing the tough care-full work of outdoor life, communication going awry between generations and couples, so much more. I'm trying to think who would love this as much as I have so that I can pass it on to be appreciated.

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    1. I hadn't come across the Leipciger book, but it has some interesting reviews. I will put this on my to read list for the winter! The list gets longer and longer as I find I have less and less time for reading. Sad.

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  3. Shall I send my copy to you? I'm not in the Lake District for ages so can't leave it somewhere for you..
    Or we might pass each other in lLndon?

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    1. I'm in London in October - any chance?

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