Climate calling

There is a bee in my bonnet this week and it is the deaf ears around the world that the climate catastrophe is falling on. I have written before about how the piles of rubbish in East Jerusalem were an assault on the senses when I first arrived last year. Sadly, they remain, however, having just spent three weeks in the UK, there is little to be smug about there.

It has been interesting to see countries around the world taking a different approach to Coronavirus depending on the politics, risk appetite and behaviours of their population. Would we have had a solution by now if there had been more global coordination? It is certainly more likely, and so it is with climate change.

The situation in East Jerusalem is such that the politics prevents environmental issues from being dealt with properly. The Jerusalem municipality does not offer comparable services across the East and the West of the city. The East Jerusalem skips are testimony to that, as are the woeful lack of recycling facilities.

This results in a very visual display of waste on the streets of East Jerusalem and the tendency for everything to be thrown in together.

East Jerusalem street skip

I’ll admit, I was shocked that the awareness and also the facilities for recycling were so poor in East Jerusalem. When I thought back to our waste collection system in Scotland it seemed far advanced in comparison. Plastics, tins and paper went in one wheelie bin that was collected fortnightly, organic waste had its own weekly collection, garden waste was collected separately, and glass was well served by on-street bins that were emptied regularly.

As if by magic, huge piles of household rubbish would disappear and we never had to give it a second thought. So, we didn’t….and that was very much the problem.

I was appalled when I started researching the issue to discover that each piece of plastic takes on average 450 years to break down. The sad reality is that very few plastics can be recycled, and most single use plastics are of such a low quality that they are either destroyed locally or shipped abroad where they are burnt.

UK supermarkets have a lot to answer for. Food is sourced from around the world with a sky-high carbon footprint and is often packaged in single-use plastics. Being in UK supermarkets over the past few weeks has been great for choice and cost but it has been sad to see bananas and cucumbers in unnecessary plastic wrappings.  

In the UK public’s defence, everyone carries their reusable bags since the carrier bag charge came in, awareness of environmental issues is generally high and vegan and vegetarian diets are on the increase. It is unfortunately small fry however, compared to the plastic that the fruit alone is wearing. Covid, Brexit, and other excuses just aren’t good enough and the UK needs to seriously step up its environmental commitments.

On the flip side, East Jerusalem and Palestine has a much better story to tell about the food that is consumed. There is an abundance of fresh produce available locally and it has been fun to discover which fruits and vegetables are seasonal by their price and availability. In most cases the fruit, vegetables, meat, eggs and other produce has not travelled far, and packaging is minimal.

One of the weak spots however in the Israeli and Palestinian supermarkets remains the entire aisle often dedicated to single use plates and cutlery. Generally eating out involves being offered an array of single use plastic items as it is more convenient for the host. 

Despite the urgency of the situation, Governments around the world are not giving the situation the attention it deserves. I feel a sense of helpless disbelief that that it might soon be too late to make the massive changes needed. Acting individually feels small and insignificant but it is an important step. It is only by starting to demand more and refusing products and services that aren’t environmentally friendly that large companies and Governments may start to take notice.

This means reducing what we consume, rethinking what and how we consume things and reusing things where possible. Recycling should be a last resort.

The good news is that in these Covid times, there has never been a better opportunity to make positive lifestyle changes. You have probably already done more for the environment this year than ever before with commuting restrictions, staycations and other social sacrifices.

If you want to learn more about the problem, I recommend David Attenborough’s new documentary. If you want to take action, three things that will help to make a difference are:

  1. Saying no to single use plastic;
  2. Reducing your meat and dairy intake; and
  3. Flying less and greener modes of transport.

Right here in East Jerusalem there are already people doing amazing things. For ideas and inspiration, check out Najla’s great blog on living a Zero Waste Lifestyle.

I would love to hear your thoughts on green habits you have adopted, products you recommend and ideas for things we can all do to make a difference.

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