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The repair revival

Last month I had the joy of being involved in the launch events of two repair cafes.

For those unfamiliar with the concept, a repair café is a community pop-up event where people bring items that they watch being repaired by local volunteers. It was an idea dreamt up by a woman called Martine in Amsterdam – and you can read more about it here.

It sounds simple, but getting an event like this up and running is complex. Add the last 16 months to the mix and it is even more so.

But it is totally worth it. Years ago people repaired because they could not afford to buy a replacement. Now we repair because we cannot afford not to.

But for me the most striking thing about attending a repair café is the confidence that it gives you to tackle your own repairs at home. For us as a household it has given us the confidence to undertake a repair we would not have considered previously avoiding having to chuck out a TV. And that was just the beginning…

The unsung heroes of “using less”

A few days ago, a person I consider a friend posted a work success on Facebook. In her role she had helped reduced a substantial number of car commuter journeys – and had good evidence to back this up.

Was this celebrated? Yes, by those who knew her. But others lambasted her achievements. Why? Because she worked for a local authority and as such their “tax payers’ money” was being “wasted”.

If you have ever worked in sustainable travel you will know what an uphill struggle it is to get people happily and permanently out of their cars. It is a niche role, because getting people to do less is an unsexy sport – whether it is driving or consuming. Waste management champion Zoë Lenkiewicz summed it up on Twitter this week; “I think waste prevention strategies are ‘praised but reluctantly applied’ because nobody makes money from reducing consumption. It’s the way of the world.”

Helping people drive their car less does not compare with the kudos of opening a shiny new piece of transport infrastructure or launching an all-electric bus fleet. For starters, there is nothing obvious to pose next to for the photo-call. And in the past the role has often been done by people, pardon the pun, who don’t actually walk the walk themselves. Driving less was something we expected other people to do, not us. This is not so in the case of my friend mentioned at the start of the article, who is one of the most passionate sustainability professionals I know.

Yet, simply driving less has an instant impact on terms of cutting carbon emissions. In terms of tackling the climate emergency, doing less of something that adds to the sum total of greenhouse gas emissions is surely a no-brainer. And in the case of travel it is absolutely essential. Whereas UK carbon emissions have fallen in some areas such as industrial and home energy consumption, for private vehicles they remain stubbornly growing.

Much discussion has been made of the role of electric cars as the saviour to our current predominantly fossil fuel guzzling greenhouse gas producing fleet. But just replacing one thing with another isn’t going to help on its own. Plastic? That helped stopped the ivory trade and look where that got us. We need a system change around the way we live – not just the substitution of one product for another. We need to cut our consumption. I sold my car last year and honestly, it has been a pain occasionally, but it was the right thing to do. I feel like a huge burden has been lifted from me. Not only can I manage without my own car, but the resources that were contained in that metal box are better off being used elsewhere.

Greenpeace is one of the organisations that has indirectly sounded the alarm bell over the country’s fascination with electric cars as the solution to our driving problem. In its quest for a strong UN Global Oceans Treaty it is calling for an absolute ban on deep sea mining. Yes, right now, across the globe people are prospecting areas of the planet, the deep-sea oceans with hydrothermal vents that are thousands of years old, to plunder them for precious metals and minerals. The predicted boom in electric vehicles is mentioned specifically as one area where these precious resources will be used. Yet a car spends most of its time unused – so r the deep seas would be mined to make a vehicle that will spend most of its time parked in a garage or on the street. Continued private car ownership and use on the scale we have now is not sustainable – whether or not those cars are electric. It is not just a vehicle’s tailpipe emissions that are the problem – but the huge volume or resources that go into making it.

So, on behalf of everyone in the prevention, reduction and minimisation business (yep it does NOT sound sexy) carry on with what you do because this is where the real bread and butter change needs to happen. Oh, and if you come up with a great photo shoot idea be sure to get in touch.

Paving paradise

About four months ago I sold my car. I live in an area with acceptable public transport, flat enough to cycle and with most of what I need not far from home. Although I had owned a car on and off for my adult working life giving it up left me feeling a little trepidation. What came as a real surprise after it was gone was the immense relief I felt. Driving for me was always about doing a deal with the devil. Every time I filled up with petrol I felt like I was giving up a little bit of my soul to the oil giants of the world and eroding another piece of Mother Nature.

Is it inconvenient? Yes. Not having the power to get up and go wherever you want, having to plan ahead instead (remember how that feels?) But as the diminutive Peter Parker once learnt; with great power comes great responsibility. And if we are honest about it driving – or rather our current model of car ownership, is really not that responsible.

Toxic air, congestion, obesity and road accidents are downsides of driving. But, owning a car rarely makes any sense just from a resources point of view. As Donald Shoup pointed out cars remain unused for 95% of the time. That is a whole big waste of the world’s resources, sitting on your driveway/street/car park. It is a waste of the world’s resources (because new cars are being made while these ones are sat there unused) and it is a waste of our land. It is a waste of that precious natural environment that supports biodiversity that keeps us and this planet alive.

For the first time the next generation is driving less than the one before it. Yet transport is the one sector where carbon emissions are not reducing. Congestion is going up, so our cars our achieving less for us than they ever have. So it should be the number one area to tackle if we are serious about saving the planet and ourselves from the climate emergency.

For an event the impact of audience travel will dwarf the carbon impacts of all other aspects (waste, water, energy). It can account for 80% or more of an event’s environmental impact. Yet when people talk to Planet Aware about making an event more sustainable their focus is often almost exclusively on reducing waste – particularly plastics.

The need to drive – and the assumption of car ownership appears to be a given in most sectors – even those that should be looking at alternatives. I was really irked this week when I looked into attending an event that billed itself as a “sustainability exhibition”. Opening its web page the statement “free parking” screamed out at me, but no mention of how to get there by public transport, no options for car sharing, no suggestion of offsetting travel miles or encouragement to cycle. No matter what technological fixes are being pedalled at events like these unless they address the inherent assumptions about car ownership and driving they are never going to be sustainable.

Image by Niek Verlaan / Pixabay