I’m sorry to begin such a lengthy post with them: Donald and Boris and Jair have added petrol to each their own countries ablaze, the decline in insects are actually noticeable if you look and our lives are still being sold to the highest bidders (and we’re getting cheaper). On the other hand hope in me has been woken by the School Climate Strikes and Extinction Rebellion that have sprouted since last September when I last wrote to you here; a worthy adversary to challenge the suicidal neoliberal growth economy business as usual mad men/women.
Our leaders aren’t even pretending not to be demons. – Kate Tempest, Three Sided Coin.
A direction to focus our growing fears is what we’ve needed and these movements have also been filling the gap where traditional media have failed – to spread the word about our reality. As a result, denial is shrinking and it seems climate crisis conversation is happening everywhere. 11 years though – which is what we’re told is the new deadline – for radical global change is a very short amount of time. I’m 43 tomorrow, and when you’re 42 and 364 days old, you know just how quickly it takes 11 spectacular journeys around the sun.
Although my optimism and dread are fighting for power, I’m still going to give the limelight to the idea we can renovate this crazy house, avoid mass starvation and live peacefully and in harmony. It’s going to be awesome! (See contradiction below).
What’s to be done? We’ve got to at least go out with a ‘bing bang bong’ trying to survive, haven’t we? Not just fizzle away on a dying planet lead by a bunch of ignorant morons. There’s collective action, and there’s taking personal responsibility for our part in the problem. In my case I decided to further destroy the world in order to save it, and the plan goes thus: For nearly five years I’ve lived as a nomad, more or less; staying in spare rooms and on floors, often in remote places in order to lead a quiet life and write my book; to deliver on my promise to myself and crowd funders. Meanwhile, I’ve had a growing need of a home; my own door and I’ve also been hoping to free myself from the neo-con con economy as much as possible. A friend in London worked out she’d spent over £60,000 on rent in seven years. This is ludicrous, given that the house had been built 100 years ago and it’s still being paid for! (And that does take account of renovations). We all have better things to do – especially with regard to the unfolding end to life as we know it.
“The bird fights its way out of the egg. The egg is the world. Who would be born must first destroy a world. – Herman Hesse, Demian. (? – does this apply?)
One of my solutions to the problem involved moving to my cousin’s farm in Denmark, where I was going to build a cabin in one of the woodlands and get closer to the land; learn resilience through farming and foraging and community in order to ride out the coming turbulence. I planted seeds and restored buildings, tidied, organised and planned utopia, milked goats, gutted chickens (with heads bitten off by a Pine Marten), and played a lot of Table Tennis (that has inspired another book). A rich experience, and yet, it’s a long story, but the Danish farm project had to go on hold. I came back to the UK with a big question; I was 41 and still in need of my ‘own’ front door.
Then in August 2018 appeared a tiny house on eBay: A 2000 Mercedes Vario commercial transporter vehicle for passengers in Bolton, that had since been converted to a motorhome. The wagon came fitted with solar panels, leisure batteries, gas heating and other useful bits and bobs, but to my taste, the decor had, as they say in Norwegian ‘smaken i ræva’. (I’ll leave you to wonder). For these wheels to feel like home, I would have to redo the whole thing. My tools and timber I’d bought to build my cabin were all still in Denmark, so I planned to refit the bus there.
Now, I don’t buy a fossil fuel-powered vehicle lightly. I think there should be an end to private vehicles, especially in cities, so grabbing this bargain has come with a price on my conscience. To illustrate my point, just a few days after driving it away from the seller, I woke up in a sweat at 4am with a nightmare: The bus’s engine was a mass of greasy writhing black snakes. I had essentially decided to increase the life expectancy of something that should be dismantled and the raw materials recycled to build wind turbines for example. This was the part that involves destroying the world, so can I justify the compromise? I had considered completing the work on the bus and then in the style of Michael Landy’s 2001 artwork Break Down, I’d put the whole thing in a crusher – to make the point. Nah.
A litre of burned up diesel produces 2.6391 KGs of CO2
In one year driving my bus 3920kms / 2,435miles I used 773.2 litres of diesel, which makes 2.04 tonnes of CO2.
Two tonnes of CO2 for housing, heating / cooking energy and a vehicle is still below the average UK citizen, but what is actually an acceptable amount of CO2 for an individual to release? The Paris agreement aims to keep warming below 1.5 degrees, but it seems we may already be on course for a planet 2 degrees hotter than pre industrial levels. So even if we stopped releasing those molecules now, we really only have a carbon budget for breathing. We can’t ask us to emit less than breath but you get the point. (2 degrees probably equals mass starvation, migration, wars etc. It’s a jolly future, and this is the contradiction to my optimism above).
To placate my fear of hypocrisy I’ve tried to reduce my emissions and save fuel by fitting a hydrogen additive device to the engine. The engine does seem to run smoother but I’m yet to discover if it is really working as it should. I’ll get back to you.
Nine years ago during my tree climbing project, I calculated the carbon footprint of my life and I pledged to plant as many trees as necessary to absorb that mess; I would take responsibility for what my life had cost the planet. For me, since I had flown back and forth to Norway to see family (from 1976 until 2011), and the figure came out as 444 trees. (A carbon calculators can be found here).
One broadleaf tree over the course of 100 years can take up about 1 ton of CO2 though, and it should be well understood by now: the CO2 within the fuel my engine burns was locked in millions of years ago. We must replant forests, give phytoplankton the chance to thrive, transition to regenerative agriculture and regreen the deserts; maximising photosynthesis must be our top priority to draw ‘our’ carbon down, but offsetting by planting is not a justification for driving my bus or drinking Australian wine (unless you live in Australia). So how can I justify the compromise, I repeat to my growing cognitive dissonance?
With my plans to plant and the bus-abscess expanding over my conscience, I collected over 200 chestnuts and popped them into a bed of soil under a canopy of chicken/squirrel wire before leaving to Denmark. I also gave soil to 40 acorns and 20 fig cuttings. Cleaning my life’s mess would have to start somewhere.
So! Winter in Denmark – reconnecting with my cousins and the local community while working on the bus was great. (Only played Table Tennis once though. A sad story). I returned to England in March 2019, with the bus 2/3rd’s finished, just as the sweet chestnut saplings began to appear. Whoo-hoo! It works! All the while I’d been reimagining the bus, those nuts had been quietly making ready to go for it. It’s bloody exciting when a hundred nuts you planted (of 200) appear out of the soil; unpacking their leaves and making a go of it. It seems miraculous. The question remained of where they would all live. Sweet chestnuts ideally need seven metres between them. ‘My’ trees would need about an acre of land to thrive.
My friend Maija Nygren (as well as designing ingenious knitwear for kids, has been drawing pine seedlings grown from seed. As you’ll find out, a very special scots pine is woven through my book that will now feature Maija’s animated drawings. Maija is in Scotland, so Scotland seemed a fitting place to begin writing again: because I’m a seed, about to reemerge from the soil of refitting my bus (or something).
I’m telling you this to explain how I ended up in Scotland where I planted out the sweet chestnut saplings. Oh yeah, squirrels broke into my plantation and decimated many of the trees in their hunger for the sweet nutmeat and acorns. Some survived, castrated, but I lost about 60 little sweet chestnuts and nearly all the oak trees in the squirrel massacre. Of about 240 – 41 are making a go of it on a hillside near Creiff at Comrie Croft.
By Jove, I’ve got to get this out before my birthday tomorrow – which happens to land on the first Global Climate Strike! I’ll be there for it in London and getting involved with Extinction Rebellion in October too – will you? Go on – we need everyone! Go on. Come on. See you there… Yeah?
I’ll finish the tree planting story and what I learned in my next post. Ahhh man, I really want to tell you about another side project that I ‘launched’ during Extinction Rebellion at the Oxford Circus blockade in April 2019: Extinction Ceremonies, pictured below and the website found here. I’m afraid I’m a terrible fidget creatively – if I’m not doing the book or the bus, there will be something else.
To conclude my bus story though, and how I have justified the pollution, I have generally dedicated my life to fixing this mess we’re in and perhaps with the extra time on my hands – freed from chasing rent and hopping from spare room to spare room – I can plant tens of thousands of trees and support the revolution. I’m a total amateur rewilder and revolutionary, but restoring habitats for biodiversity and inspiring positive change is what inspires me the most.
I’ve put this signage on the side of my bus as a pledge to myself as much as a message to others. This autumn I plan to up my game and plant 2000 tree foetuses in readiness for their birth next spring. I can aim to absorb my own life’s mess – but help others with theirs too. Wouldn’t planting a whole forest be a joyous achievement? Said Miss World.
How my conscience finally settled with my bus:
Extinction Rebellion’s 2nd demand is that we achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2025. So unless there’s a totally green way to power my bus, in 2025 it will become a cabin in a wood, and the wheels on the bus won’t go round and round.
Finally – for those of you who are wondering about the book: Throughout 2018 I had been working with an editor, Charlotte Du Cann, who corrected, made suggestions and on one occasion offered that something I wrote was ‘a bit Miss World’. She helped me look at the book and myself with a different lens. When I left for Denmark Charlotte’s edit was complete and it was time to go back and respond to her thoughts. However, I’ll confess that bar note consistent taking I nearly stopped writing altogether while finishing my home. I did make some art for the book – one piece that I’ve inserted at the top of this post. (That’s my brother Magnus with my foot on his head). I should have known that I’m not a good multi-tasker and the bus would take a lot longer than expected. However! Now I have a home with a desk and a chair and a view, my excuses for completing my book are running as dry as the Aral sea.
To put it another way – the end of this journey has begun. I’ll gaze at my laptop and the view instead of the saplings.