What can I do about the environment?

There are so many interesting and alarming environmental problems right now, including those I summarised in my previous post, that it is hard to know where to start with finding out about them, and finding ways to help.

Some of the things I have been doing to improve my knowledge, in no particular order, include:

  • Reading an A-Level Environmental Science textbook. I’ve not yet decided whether to pursue an actual qualification – time-commitment vs benefits being the main consideration.
  • “Liking” every ecology and environment-related group I can find on Facebook (I discover more every week) – to try and get a better sense of ongoing issues and action than I could ever obtain from our rather environmentally-light mainstream media. As well as providing useful news and other information, these groups often provide links to…
  • Online Petitions (including with petition.parliament.uk, greenpeace, change.org and 38degrees) and “Email Your MP” campaigns by those and other organisations. The latter often includes pre-written emails that are very handy when I otherwise wouldn’t have time to compose it well myself.
  • Finding interesting threads to pull on, in terms of deeper reading in specific areas.

Some of the practical steps I have been taking include:

  • Switching to a green energy-provider – specifically Octopus Energy (those others are around) – whose electricity is 100% carbon-neutral (their gas is carbon-offset, which feels more dubiously green).
  • Replacing my old diesel estate car with a plugin-hybrid electric vehicle. This allows me to carry out all my day-to-day commuting and morning/evening run-arounds with no carbon emissions.
  • Working towards having a wildlife-friendly garden (esp. for pollinators) – including planting a wildflower border, sewing more clover on the lawn and allowing it to flower, growing lavender and other pollinator-friendly flowers as I discover them.
  • Finding ways to make a difference at work – where colleagues numbers in the high hundreds – including encouraging colleagues to cut down on single-use plastic and be more mindful about recycling by handing in their small personal rubbish bins, and using the more plastic-efficient large shared recycling and general-waste bins. I am currently informally discussing ways to reduce the usage of plastic bottles provided by the company with some other interested colleagues, suggestions including a poster campaign. Whether we form an official focus group, or continue to do such work on an ad-hoc basis, will be interesting to see.
  • I eat less meat and dairy in my diet. Going vegan is something I’ve considered – but such a step-change in diet is something I don’t want to do without reading up about it first (ditto vegetarianism) . In the meantime, as much as I loved mixed grills – my conscience told me they had to stop. Days now go by without me having no meat at all, and when I do it’s in much smaller quantities. I hate black tea, but Peppermint tea is proving to be a tasty and healthy dairy-free alternative.
The River Mersey near Paddington Meadows, Warrington, UK.

In terms of deeper reading and action, as well as developing an active interest in wildlife gardening, I have chosen to take a specific interest in the River Mersey. This is inspired in part by the fact that I enjoy rowing and coaching rowing on it with Warrington Rowing Club, and the shameful amount of litter I often see washed up or discarded directly onto the banks, in the river its self, and on surrounding land. It is also further inspired by my finding out that it used to be prohibitively polluted with sewage, chemicals and other urban & industrial pollution until the Mersey Basin Campaign in 1985 began to lead a 25-year collaborative effort to clean it up.

It is now once again habitable by seals, fish, and the occasional damp rower – but made the headlines again recently by Greenpeace’s report (available here) on how the “River Mersey contains proportionally more plastic pollution than the infamous Great Pacific Garbage Patch, an area recognised by scientists as one of the most plastic-polluted expanses of water on earth . ” . This follows a 2018 report published by the University of Manchester about similar plastic-pollution in the River Tame which merges with the River Goyt in Stockport to form the River Mersey.

I am not clear on whether the implication is that most of the pollution comes from the Tame, or whether there are significant contributors further downstream in the Mersey – but I am very keen to find out.

While digging around for information, I soon came across the Mersey Rivers Trust who I discovered have an upcoming River Guardians course for training volunteers to periodically – at least once a month – measure the chemistry of and invertebrates present in the river. Both of these factors are strong indicators to the overall health of the river. I will be attending that training next weekend, and hope to make some useful contacts and gain some useful insight.

In the meantime I have purchased a couple of books in order to try to further my understanding of river ecology:

  • The Biology of Streams and Rivers – an introductory undergraduate-level textbook on general river ecology. Not exactly bed-time reading, but that’s when I’m reading it!
  • Ecology and Landscape Development: A History of the Mersey Basin – a collection of reports from a 1995 conference. Just arrived, and jostling for my bed-time reading slot, despite also being on the heavy side. It’s so specific to my area of interest I’m tempted to put the first book on the back-burner for now.

I suspect I will report back here, if I find anything interesting to share. In the meantime I am looking forward to becoming a River Guardian, and hope that off the back of that I will find opportunities to help find and tackle the key causes of Plastic Pollution in the River Mersey.

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