Wild Words: Place & Environment Writing

Because I’m not already ridiculously busy, I thought I’d start a writing course in January. It’s called Wild Words: Place and Environment Writing and is going to be a mix of considering texts and writing our own responses to the topics. We’ll be considering ideas such as nature, dwelling and wilderness and ahead of the course, we’ve been asked to reflect on any previous reading which relates to place and environment.

A close up photo of a grassy meady with flowering heather and unidentifiable yellow flowers

Any long term readers of this blog will probably have realised I have done a lot of this. I spent a year or so following my own loose curriculum around nature and writing and reading formed a large part of that.

There was Tarka the Otter which captures animal calls so well, Rachel Carson’s The Sea Around Us which is a great example of her ability to translate potentially difficult, scientific ideas into a language of poetry, and there was the incredible book from Elizabeth Tova Bailey – The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating – which makes the everyday experience of illness seem so much more inspiring.

It is hard to choose just a few as I have read so widely about nature and place and environment over the last few years. And so many different kinds of books as well. There’s the question and answer format from Dr Tatiana’s Sex Advice to All Creation which offers agony aunt (or should that be ant?) style help to different creatures. There’s the wonderful series from Reakion which looks at animals predominantly through a human lens and considers how we have integrated them into our cultures and beliefs.

Of course poetry has featured in my reading, including Isabel Galleymore’s Significant Other, The Lost Spells from Jackie Morris and Robert MacFarlane, and Basic Nest Architecture from the lovely Polly Atkin.

I read books about nature writing itself, and eco-criticism, and how to guides.

And diary style formats as well – such as Mile’s Richardson’s Needwood – and collections by different writers such as The Oxford Book of Nature Writing which also takes you on a journey across time.

I read articles such as Death of the naturalist: why is the “new nature writing” so tame? by Mark Cocker, and a responding article from Robert MacFarlane, Why we need nature writing. There was also a post about the two articles considered together.

And I read myths and legends. And magazines. And journals.

Essentially, there’s been a lot of reading, about different aspects of nature and environment, and I love the variety of forms and approaches. I love the many different topics that are covered, the passion of the authors and the new ways of seeing that they introduce me to. I hope that each one leaves a trace of itself in my creative mind, a glimmer of a snail’s track, and that I can weave some together to create my nature writing. Whilst I love and admire many different writers, I aspire only to be myself, to be my voice.

Being environmentally friendly and disabled, the more positive post

This is the more positive half of being disabled and environmentally friendly and the suggestions will be applicable more broadly as well.  Again, I’m going to (mostly) use the framework from 2011 just because it does give a structure and I’m sure you’d rather have that than me rambling…

I apologise for any strange formatting, wordpress have changed their editor and it seems to have a mind of it’s own…

Eco-improving your home (retrofitting)

  • Insulating your home
  • Upgrading your heating and hot water systems
  • Fitting and using water saving devices
  • Generating own energy by installing renewables

Whether you rent or own your home will affect how well you can implement these suggestions but as a starting point, you can look at whether grants are available in your area.  I did a quick search for my area and found one for private home owners as well as one for private landlords.  Both were focused on improving the energy efficiency of the property and seemed to cover insulation as well as heating upgrades.

Simple Energy Advice also offers suggestions and can do so on personalised basis by asking you a few questions about your home.  As I am a council tenant, it wasn’t especially helpful for me but it might be more useful if you own your home.

There is something called the Renewable Heat Incentive which offers finance to help with the upfront costs of installing renewable energy sources.  I did try reading it to find out who would be eligible but I got bogged down in it and couldn’t face carrying on… Sorry.. But it does exist!

Using energy and water wisely

  • Managing temperature
  • Washing and drying laundry using minimum energy and water

There are all the usual tips of turn the heating down by 1 degree and put on a jumper but these are both common sense and talked about too much.  I get frustrated every time I see that turning down my heating by a degree won’t affect me because it does.  My flat does cold or hot and the degree in question moves us from one to the other.

I have my heating on a timer so that I’m trying to maximise the hotness at appropriate times and if I need it at other times I boost it…  But after a few years of trying, I have found no other way to comfortably live in my flat.  Even with having blankets all over the place, heated blankets, electric hot water bottles and so on. 

I have a combined washer dryer and this may seem an obvious way to save space in a small flat but I wanted to mention it as I was talking to someone recently who had her mind blown by the idea – she had never come across one.  I don’t get my clothes dirty so tend only to do 30min wash cycles at 30 degrees, with eco friendly washing powder, no softener and I throw everything in together.  Admittedly, I don’t own much that’s white but I have never bothered with delicate washes, cotton washes and so on.  This helps me to cut down on the number of wash cycles I’d be doing over the course of a week.  Occasionally we will use the dryer function –mainly for towels – but we don’t use it to entirely dry them, we get a lot of the water out so that they dry quicker on my radiators and clothes airer.

Essentially, I think my advice here is to think about how you’re using your washing machine and/or dryer.  As humans, we get into habits and washing machines have improved considerably and so you might be able to change those habits and utilise their technology in a more efficient way.

Yorkshire Water also have a free water saving kit and other areas may have similar schemes.

Extending the life of things (to minimise waste)

  • Maintaining and repairing (instead of replacing)
  • Giving new life to unwanted items eg furniture
  • Making the most of kerbside and local recycling services
Look into repair cafes to see if you can get help maintaining and repairing your existing items.  To find second hand options instead of brand new can take a bit longer so isn’t always an option but there’s an array of places to check out: • FreecycleEbay (you can set your search to bring back second hand items) • Facebook • Car boot fairs • GumtreePreloved • Charity shops • Reuse network And don’t forget to donate as well. In terms of recycling… despite what I said in the first post, see if your local council can help you.  If you have friendly neighbours, they might also be willing to lend a hand once a week to pop the recycling out. Also, think beyond the regular recycling.  A lot of councils don’t recycle the lids from plastic bottles but you can collect them and take them into Lush. Batteries can be recycled in a lot of supermarkets – we pop them into the bags we take shopping otherwise I know we’d forget them.  Plastic bags, bubble wrap and other plastic film can be recycled at some supermarkets. You can even recycle your vibrator!

Cooking and managing a sustainable and healthier diet

  • Choosing foods grown in season (in country of origin)
  • Increasing proportion of vegetables, fruit, and grains in diet (eating a balanced diet)
  • Cooking sustainable and healthier food
  • Wasting less food
  • Growing your own food

Veg boxes are a way of buying local food and some include things like eggs and meat.  Some online supermarkets offer “green” slots meaning they are already in your area at that point so you can reduce the fuel they use by choosing one of those.  Meal planning can help to reduce waste and buying frozen vegetables is one way of reducing the prep involved and also reducing waste.

Choosing eco-products and services

  • Using labelling to choose most energy and water efficient products
  • Choosing fairly traded, eco-labelled and independently certified food, clothing etc
  • Borrowing, hiring or sourcing second-hand or recycled
  • Buying ethically when travelling

If you can, financially, think about purchases as investment and buy things to last and which will be more cost effective over time.  For example an A+++ rated fridge will use less energy and hence money.

As a result of my numerous allergies, I often buy eco-friendly products.  This might mean using hankies instead of tissues, using eco cleaning products for you and your house and thinking about whether you need fabric softener, air fresheners etc.

Using and future proofing outdoor spaces

  • Gardening for biodiversity and environment
  • Enjoying the outdoors
If growing plants interests you but you don’t have much space, think about pot plants, window boxes and even herbs in your kitchen.  The latter even saves you buying herbs, means less packaging and might inspire you later to garden if you find yourself with one.  There are also community gardening schemes cropping up which often have herbs, fruit and veg so has the benefit of free food too! If you find somewhere outdoors that is accessible for you, share the information on Euan’s Guide to help other disabled people find it. Please share your own ideas and tips in the comments below!

Being environmentally friendly and disabled

In one of the papers I read about disability and the environment, I came across a Defra sustainable lifestyles framework from 2011 which I thought would be interesting to look at through a disability lens.  

The following is likely to sound a bit defeatist, like it’s virtually impossible for disabled people to have a sustainable lifestyle.  That is not my intention.  Every disability is different and impacts on lifestyle in different ways.  I am playing devil’s advocate a bit here but what I want to show is that measuring disabled people’s sustainable lifestyle against able bodied people’s doesn’t take into account a different starting point.  I also want to highlight how important it is to engage with disabled people when it comes to solutions.

Eco-improving your home (retrofitting)

  • Insulating your home
  • Upgrading your heating and hot water systems
  • Fitting and using water saving devices
  • Generating own energy by installing renewables

A lot of disabled people I know live in council housing, or privately rent.  Very few people I know actually own a home, let alone the disabled people I know.  This means that we have very little control over the insulation, the ability to fit solar panels, the type of heating and so on.  I strongly believe that there should be a landlord minimum standard around eco-improvement because they are the ones who can make the changes needed.  And I believe that this should be a stronger standard when it comes to council housing.  Why don’t council houses have solar panels on?  Why aren’t they all appropriately insulated?  Why aren’t all the windows double glazed?

One note on a kind of rental agreement which includes all bills – based on my experience, this tends to result in excessive use of heating because there is no financial incentive to be careful.  It’s also most common in shared housing and so you end up with no one taking overall responsibility. 

Using energy and water wisely

  • Managing temperature
  • Washing and drying laundry using minimum energy and water

Managing the temperature of your home when you are disabled can have different consequences.  You may not move around or might use a wheelchair and it gets a lot colder when you aren’t moving.  You may be home all day and thus needs to use more heating.  You may at risk of illness if temperature is not managed appropriately.

However, as disabled people tend to be poorer, you may end up using less heating because it is literally a choice of heating or eating.  An environmental benefit as a result of living in poverty…

When it comes to laundry, some disabled people need to do more loads of laundry and often space is a premium in rented properties, so there may not be a practical place to dry laundry.  If you have a wheelchair user, you need more clear floor space and that can mean having to use a dryer.  You might also be using your spare room – an obvious place to dry laundry – for your carers to stay in, or for all the random bits of equipment which tend to come with being disabled.

Extending the life of things (to minimise waste)

  • Maintaining and repairing (instead of replacing)
  • Giving new life to unwanted items eg furniture
  • Making the most of kerbside and local recycling services

This isn’t too badly hindered by disability, of course depending on the nature of the disability.  When it comes to maintaining and repairing, I physically can’t do this most of the time but I do get friends and carers to help.

I prefer second hand things, which have stories and aren’t run of the mill, so giving new life to unwanted items is actually something I would do regardless of the environmental benefit.  It is often a cheaper option – I got a bedside table for £3 because it was second hand and it has worked fine for me for maybe ten years now.  York has a few charity shops which focus on furniture and the wonderful Community Furniture Store which offers reduced rates for people on means tested benefits.

When it comes to recycling, I feel this is an area where the council could do more to make it easier for disabled people.  When I moved into my flat I was asked if I needed help getting my recycling to the kerb and I said yes.  Nothing ever happened.  I was ok as I just asked friends and carers to help but I wonder how many people aren’t recycling because of difficulties getting it to the kerb.

On a slight aside, it really winds me up when the refuse workers abandon bins and recycling boxes in the middle of the pavement… I can’t just hop off and walk round… Infuriating…

Cooking and managing a sustainable and healthier diet

  • Choosing foods grown in season (in country of origin)
  • Increasing proportion of vegetables, fruit, and grains in diet (eating a balanced diet)
  • Cooking sustainable and healthier food
  • Wasting less food
  • Growing your own food

Choosing foods grown in season often means being able to get to local shops – often not accessible – or receive a (heavy) veg box.  It also means being able to prepare fruits and veg which can be a nightmare for many of us.  Growing your own food is also difficult and many people don’t have space, disabled or not.

Choosing eco-products and services

  • Using labelling to choose most energy and water efficient products
  • Choosing fairly traded, eco-labelled and independently certified food, clothing etc
  • Borrowing, hiring or sourcing second-hand or recycled
  • Buying ethically when travelling

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, disabled people are more likely to be living in poverty and the first two suggestions often end up costing more initially.  Yes they might be long term more cost effective, but that assumes someone has the money at hand when they need to make the purchase.

Travelling sustainably

  • Making the most of cycling, walking, public transport and car sharing for short journeys
  • When buying or replacing a vehicle, take advantage of lower-emission models available
  • Making the most of alternatives to travel, eg video conference
  • Making the most of lower-carbon alternatives to flying, eg trains
  • Driving more efficiently

Oh how wonderful it would be to have public transport as a realistic option… But buses don’t turn up, they turn up but with no space for a wheelchair, they don’t always go where you need.  Trains are a nightmare as your booked assistance may not turn up so you miss your train, or you get on the train but no one turns up to get you off… The stress that these unpredictable factors add to a journey is awful but it also means you have to plan for things to go wrong.  You also have to arrive 20 minutes early for a train if you need assistance, so a half hour trip suddenly takes nearly an hour, one way.  Instead of spending an hour traveling somewhere and back, you’ve doubled that.  Assuming nothing goes wrong.

Cycling and walking are clearly not options available for everyone.

When it comes to vehicles, finding a vehicle that works for the disability is likely to be a priority, otherwise what is the point.  If you are able to get a Motability vehicle, then you are limited to their options and I might be wrong but the end of the price range I was looking at didn’t have any eco options that would work with my wheelchair.

Setting up and using resources in your community

  • Setting up car share and using car clubs
  • Installing community micro-gen
  • Sharing knowledge, skills etc

Car share schemes and car clubs seem to be gaining popularity and I see more of them parked around York meaning they are more accessible and there’s more likely to be one near you.  But I’m yet to see one you can get an electric wheelchair in.  And they won’t be much use for people who can drive but require adaptations to do so. 

Community micro-gen assumes you have the authority to make that sort of decision about the home you live in. I’ve not checked, but I’m going to assume it’s not that straightforward if you’re renting. My old landlord wouldn’t even let me change energy providers…

Using and future proofing outdoor spaces

  • Gardening for biodiversity and environment
  • Enjoying the outdoors

Again, this requires space for a garden and the physical ability to access that garden, and to actually be physically able to garden.

Enjoying the outdoors is more accessible but isn’t problem free… Think steps, lack of suitable paths etc…

Being part of improving the environment

  • Volunteering
  • Getting involved in local decisions

These are more achievable than many of the other sections in the framework.

As I said at the beginning, this isn’t meant to be a list of reasons why it’s impossible to be an environmentally friendly disabled person but to highlight some of the barriers that exist.  Many of these barriers are easily overcome but require societal level change, not individual level change.  Further, if disabled people weren’t automatically at increased risk of poverty, a number of these suggestions would be easier to enact. 

I’m thinking about doing a follow up post which looks at the ways disabled people can follow some suggestions, despite and acknowledging, the barriers that exist.  For example, when it comes to outdoor spaces, I’ve already written about engaging with nature when you’re disabled.  If you have any suggestions or tips, I’d love to hear.