Christian · Ecological concern · Ethical living · Social justice

Extinction Rebellion

This is Just Reflections first ever interview! I’ve tracked down someone who took part in the Extinction Rebellion protests and asked him a few questions as I wanted to find out more (it wasn’t that hard as he sits next to me at work).

Dido: Thank you for agreeing to this! Can you explain why you took part in the Extinction Rebellion protests? 

I’ve known that climate change is a big issue for a long time. When I was at school I used to make what I thought was a really clever joke telling people that they needed to switch off lights when they left a room if they didn’t want to drown. A joke is never really funny when you have to explain the punchline, which I always had to do – the electricity for the lights was generated from burning fossil fuels. The burning of fossil fuels increases C02 in the atmosphere, which increases the greenhouse effect, which will warm the planet enough to eventually melt the ice caps, causing sea levels to rise, resulting in massive flooding! 40 years later the joke still isn’t funny, but this time it’s because everyone knows about climate change but we still leave the lights on! 

Last year I went with a few friends (from a group we have at my Church called Just Living) to a Green Party meeting where someone read out a statement about Extinction Rebellion. It was the first time I had heard about them. The statement pointed out that all the talk we make about climate change doesn’t seem to make a difference to how people and the government act. Everyone knows about the problem but no-one seems to do anything about it. Now is the time for action – non-violent direct action. They drew parallels with the civil rights movement and talked about how we need to undertake acts of civil disobedience to force people and governments to act. There is a moral imperative to act in disobedience as the issue is so important to the survival not just of humanity, but to a lot of life on the planet. It was a powerful message, but I had reservations; were we really going to change people’s hearts and minds by blocking roads and annoying them? I cycled home pondering these things in my heart, but I didn’t actually do anything about it for quite a while.

Dido: Can you
describe the demonstrations? What did you do? 

I missed the bridge protests last year as I was visiting my son at university, but I went to the Blood of our Children demonstration in March this year. I was deeply touched by this protest which involved pouring litres and litres of fake blood on to the streets outside Downing Street to symbolise the catastrophe that awaits our children if we don’t act now on climate change. It was incredibly moving – the visceral sight of so much ‘blood’ flooding into the gutters, the poignancy of the funeral atmosphere, the powerful and profound speeches. Afterwards I walked down to the Tate to see the documentary photographs of Don McCullin. It was a really upsetting exhibition – image after image showing the terrible things that humans can do to each other. I couldn’t stop crying. And I kept thinking how important it was to stop climate change becoming the cause of more suffering. As the speeches at the demonstration pointed out, it will be the poor who will suffer first, millions of people. We can’t let that happen just to preserve our own comfortable lifestyles.

I also attended the recent protests in London around Easter. Once again I was more of a supporter than an active participant. I brought along my reservations and unease along with my support, thinking, “Well, I have to do something!” I went down to Waterloo Bridge with my daughter (taking photos for an A-level project) and as a small act of disobedience we added a couple of plants from our garden to the growing garden on the bridge. Fired up from the first day of protest I bought some spray chalk and was prepared to re-appropriate the congestion charge road markings at Marble Arch, transforming the two Capital Cs into a message about Climate Change or Cutting Carbon. But when I got there someone had beaten me to it! I got my money back on the spray paint. The next day with a pack of chalk sticks and the help of my son I did help to transform a BUS LANE marking on Waterloo Bridge into the message BUST PLANET. I was amazed that everyone who passed stopped to take a picture! We were only re-chalking someone else’s faded work, so couldn’t really take credit either as wits or true activists!

The atmosphere at the protests was amazing, it was like a week-long street party. Everyone seemed to be in a good mood. Rebels had all been asked to commit to a ‘no drugs or alcohol’ rule and I’m sure that helped. The few interactions with blocked drivers that I witnessed were firm but very polite.

On Easter Monday my wife and I were took part in a citizens’ assembly at Marble Arch, a kind of open democracy where small groups discuss their ideas and feed them into the decision-making process. Extinction Rebellion are advocating this as a way to involve everyone in coming up with ideas on how to tackle the climate emergency. Our Easter Monday discussion was just to decide on the direction of the protest after the first week.

Dido: Do you think
the protests have had an effect?

To be honest I didn’t expect too much from the recent protests. I still had my reservations on whether inconveniencing people helps to change their minds, especially stopping public transport. Also I wasn’t expecting a few thousand rebels to make much of an impact. I’d recently been on the anti-Brexit march where the streets of London were blocked by literally millions of people, in a procession stretching all the way from Marble Arch to Parliament Square, and that march was completely ignored by politicians. I suppose that’s the Extinction Rebellion’s point – direct action can make more impact than big marches. I think the protests resonated through strong imagery like the garden bridge, the pink boat in the middle of Oxford Circus and through the commitment of the thousand plus arrestees. The timing was perfect too, with David Attenborough’s TV programme, The Committee on Climate Change (CCC) report, and Greta Thunberg’s visit all happening at the same time. So the issue of climate change really did come into the public’s attention – and Parliament’s attention. Parliament acknowledged the climate emergency, reacted positively to the idea of citizen’s assemblies, and even admitted in the last week that the Heathrow expansion needs to be looked at again in the light of climate change.

I don’t know if this will result in real political action, but I’m much more hopeful now.

Dido: You’ve already inspired me to swap to vegan pizza and vegan ice cream! (The Ben and Jerry’s cardboard-packaged, vegan, fair trade ice cream was very popular at dinner with Family Pilgrim!) What else can we do as individuals in the fight against global warming? 

Eat all the food that you buy (food waste is one of the major contributors to global warming – methane does more damage to the atmosphere than CO2,).

Eat less meat (none if you can)
From farm to fork, meat production emits way more damaging greenhouse gases – methane, CO2, and nitrous oxide – than a plant-based diet!

Eat less dairy (none if you can).

Drive less.

Don’t fly (greenhouse gases emitted higher up in atmosphere cause even more damage than if emitted on the ground).

Reduce your consumption
(of everything!)

And of course switch the lights off when you leave a room… it’s no joke! 

books · Christian · Ecological concern · Ethical living · Social justice

Inspirations

I’ve been inspired this week:

  • Inspired to pray by this video from Christians in Politics.
A video from Christians in Politics about Brexit
  • Inspired to take the train by Professor Kevin Anderson who appeared on Radio 4’s Today programme on 9 May. He last flew in 2004 and travelled to a conference in China by train – it took him 11 days. He believes we need to radically change how we live our lives if we are serious about climate change. Have a listen on BBC Sounds – it’s at 1hr 15mins.
  • Inspired to reduce meat and dairy. There is a growing awareness of the damage we are doing to the planet by eating meat and animal products and so when a new vegan cafe opened near my office this week, I was keen to visit. The chocolate brownie I ate yesterday was rich and chocolaty and I’m looking forward to trying the spinach filo pastry.
  • Inspired to pray (again!). I was given a copy of a little book called Five Ways to Pray for Your City. Using words from the Bible, it has short sections with ideas for prayers. Sometimes I find it hard to pray and a new tool can reinvigorate my prayers.
  • Inspired by Rachel Held Evans: #becauseofRHE was the hashtag on Twitter this week as people described how Rachel had inspired them in their faith. Heartbreakingly, Rachel passed away last weekend following a short illness, leaving behind her husband and two young children. I have cried – wept for her bereft family and friends and wept too as I remembered the impact of reading her book A Year of Biblical Womenhood. Writing about Junia, the concubine in Judges 19 and Huldah, she gave me a new perspective on myself and on the Bible. She gave me the the words Eshet Chayil – woman of valour. I will miss her writings and her wisdom.

Christian · Ecological concern · nature · Uncategorized

Creepy-crawly love

I love insects. Really, I do. Over the last year, I have grown to love creepy-crawlies. Now, I’ll still shout for Mr Pilgrim if I see a spider in the sitting room and I’m not saying that I won’t ever swat flies or mosquitoes but I think bugs are pretty awesome.

I’ve written before about my new enthusiasm for butterflies but who doesn’t love butterflies?! They are graceful, colourful, and an inspirational metaphor. Other insects are harder to love but the more I discover, the more my fascination and appreciation grows. I’ve just ordered Extraordinary Insects: Weird. Wonderful. Indispensable. the Ones Who Run Our World.

My enthusiasm has been ignited by the wonder of Small Boy at all things insect. He is currently enthralled by a library book called Find out Bugs. We’ve found a new favourite caterpillar, the woolly bear caterpillar, who lives in the Arctic and takes 14 years to complete the cycle from egg to moth. We’ve learnt there is only one insect which lives in Antarctica, a midge, and we’ve had fun being bug detectives!

Butterfly Conservation have a campaign called Moths Matter, and yes, they do. (Don’t tell Small Boy but Mr Pilgrim and I have signed up to go to a moths night!) Moths matter and so do bumblebees, stink bugs, dragonflies, bombardier beetles and jewel beetles.

Why do they matter? I think insects are great because they just are – created by the Creator, they are valuable in and of themselves. But they also provide many benefits to us, such as pollination and pest control.

Insect populations are decreasing around the world and so let’s do what we can to help. Let’s not mow our lawns as often, avoid pesticides, plant wildflowers, build bug hotels and make sure we always have water in our gardens (if we have one).

allotment · Ecological concern · Ethical living · nature

Spring observations

60% of children have never seen a peacock butterfly*. Is this surprising?

I’m such a Proud Mummy; Small Boy and Little Miss have not only seen peacocks but can point them out on our ID sheet. They also like to pretend to be peacock butterflies! 

Yesterday, I spotted five different species of butterfly at our local nature reserve: brimstone, small white, small tortoiseshell, peacock and holly blue. Sadly, there was no sign of tadpoles in the pond where we’d seen frogspawn. Small Boy asked me what ate tadpoles. I had no idea but Google tells me dragonfly larvae, water boatmen, grass snakes, birds and hedgehogs eat 90% of frogspawn, tadpoles and froglets.

Mr Pilgrim and I enjoyed a early morning walk on Sunday morning in Christ Church Meadow in Oxford which was full of the colours of an English spring: yellow cowslips, purple snake’s head fritillaries and bluebells. Listening to birdsong and the cathedral bells, we saw swallows – or possibly house martins – engaging in avian aerobatics above the meadows.

Work is slowly and joyfully progressing on our allotment. We’ve enjoyed meeting more of our neighbours and we’ve done lots of digging!

In the spring, at the end of the day, you should smell like dirt.

Margaret Atwood, Bluebeard’s Egg

A happy morning was spent in the warm sunshine with bubbles, bees, birds, butterflies and buns (hot cross!). Onion sets have been planted. The climbing frame is almost ready to be installed and I think that I have found a second-hand shed which we can collect in a few weeks’ time. We hope to plant some seeds over the Easter weekend.

I hope you are able to spend some time outside over this week – even if it’s just a few minutes – to look up and to listen.

*YouGov online survey 16th – 20th October 2015 commissioned by The Wildlife Trusts.

Christian · Ecological concern · mental health · nature

Season of singing

For now the winter is past; the rain is over and gone. The flowers have appeared in the countryside; the season of singing has come, and the cooing of turtledoves is heard in our land. (Song of Songs 2:11)

Frogspawn in our local pond; Mrs Blackbird and Mr Blackbird gathering building materials from our garden; bright splashes of celandine by the roadside; the soundtrack of birdsong as I walk to collect Small Boy from school – Spring is here.

A spring is in my step. For the first time in a while, I laugh inside and feel like a carefree girl.

community · Ecological concern · Ethical living · nature

Searching for spring

Today we (mostly I!) tried Wild Lent’s ‘Searching for spring’ activity in the garden. Yellow, pink, indigo, violet and green – the garden is waking up.

Small Boy found a ladybird and took a photo.

Spot the ladybird!

I’ve enjoyed taking photos this month as winter ends and spring begins.

Inspired by another family’s bird feeders, Mr Pilgrim ordered a ‘gift box’ from the RSPB and fixed our bird table. We have already had visits from a blue tit as well as a pigeon and a magpie (but I discount those!)

We are slowly making progress on the allotment.

Our Christmas present from
Grand-père

Our carrot box from Grand-père is in place, we have chitted potatoes, bought seeds, and purchased a second-hand climbing frame from e-Bay!

We plan to turn the section of our garden where we grew courgettes last year into a wildflower area for bees and butterflies.


I’ve been eating oven-baked chilli and lime cashews with peanuts and roasted corn as as I write this! To celebrate Fair Trade Fortnight, I ordered some products from Liberation Nuts, a fair trade company I read about in the magazine from Shared Interest. They are very tasty!

I’m writing this in the afternoon as I’m turning the computer off in the evening as a way of fasting from electricity throughout Lent. But as I do this (and attempt some of the activities from Wild Lent), I will remember these words from a contributor to the Plastic Less Lent group on Facebook:

The falling short is part of it!! It wouldn’t be a Lenten activity, if, at the end of it ( and during) we weren’t made aware of how much we fall short. Easter brings a message of grace and forgiveness – whew! So, do what you can – it won’t ever be enough, but that’s ok.”

community · Ecological concern · nature

First butterfly of the year

Spring is in the air! The Pilgrim Family have enjoyed a beautiful day at the allotment and in the garden, underneath the warm sun and the blue skies.

Digging, weeding, chopping, cutting, scooting, cycling, bouncing, throwing, chasing, laughing.

Made all the better with the company of friends from faraway.

Travelling home from the allotment in the car, I spotted a brimstone flying up ahead of us. We found a place to park and I span around trying to catch site of it again – and I did! Small Boy and Mr Pilgrim saw it too. He (it’s likely to have been male) flew off over a hedge into a garden and we got back in the car and drove the rest of the way home.

And then we saw it again! (I expect it was the same one.) He flew into our front garden and then up the road.

Winter is over. The world is coming to life again once more.

books · Christian · Ecological concern · Ethical living · mental health · nature · Uncategorized

A blue tit in the bird bath

Illness, an allergic reaction and stress meant our weekend didn’t go to plan. Yet, in the tiredness and tears, were some memorable moments of joy.

One of the reasons we bought our house (and not the one next door) is that the kitchen sink overlooks the garden. Washing dishes on Saturday morning, I caught sight of a blue tit splashing in our small bird bath.

We love blue tits in our house. Small Boy found me reading about birdsong and we discovered that blue tits tweet ‘see see choo choo’. We often pretend to be birds, bugs and sea creatures in our house and Small Boy enjoyed being a blue tit: ‘see see choo choo’.

(If you are interested in learning how to hide like an octopus, find food like a bee or hop like a frog, I recommend reading Howl Like a Wolf).

All four of us gathered by the windows and excitedly watched our garden guest bathe.

In the afternoon, we headed to our allotment. As we parked, we saw a small bird hopping on the grass (a red wing) and long-tailed tits were in the bare trees at the foot of our plot. Later, a robin drew near hoping for some worms (good news for us and the robin, Mr Pilgrim dug up lots!). Mr P threw one to the robin but the bird was too timid and the wise worm wriggled away. Probably for the best!

Little Miss got bored and kept declaring: ‘I want to go the library!’ Mr Pilgrim kept digging while the children enjoyed choosing books and I picked up my order of Fascism by Madeleine Allbright.

I’ve not seen any butterflies yet although there have been sightings on the Herts and Middlesex Butterfly Conservation website. I’m looking forward to seeing my first butterfly of 2019 and wondering what it will be.

My Valentine’s present was A Sting in the Tale by Dave Goulson – all about bumblebees. They are fascinating little creatures and it’s a delight to read Dave Goulson’s humorous yet scientific (he’s a professor of biology) prose.

Lent is approaching and I’ve bought Wild Lent (full of outside activities to help us encounter God through creation). I’m also thinking about taking up one of the Living Lent challenges, organised by the Joint Public Issues Team.

Ecological concern · nature

Big Garden Bird Watch

This afternoon the Pilgrim family took part in the RSPB’s Big Garden Bird Watch for the first time.


I placed myself by the patio doors with some binoculars, a pen and the RSPB bird identification sheet. Setting the timer on my phone for an hour, I waited.


A bird has to land in the garden to be counted so the gulls flying overhead and the crow over the fence were ignored. 


Surprisingly after a short wait, a robin appeared in the garden. Small Boy and Little Miss were very excited and I dutifully wrote ‘1 robin’. 


Photo by James Wainscoat on Unsplash


Then I waited and watched.


We looked at the snow drops.


I asked for a cup of tea.


A bumble bee appeared. 


I drank the cup of tea.


The children tried the binoculars: ‘Everything looks smaller, Mummy!’


We looked at the garden.


We looked at the timer.


Branches danced in the wind.


We watched.


And waited.


‘How much longer, Mummy?’


I watched – sometimes alone, sometimes with a child in my arms.


Birds flew overhead, almost tumbling in the wind.


We kept looking.


And waiting.


We saw the bee again.


We looked at the garden.


We looked at the timer.


I looked.


I spotted two birds in the branches of a tree. Too far away to really look at without the binoculars, I urgently called Mr Pilgrim over.


We stood still, staring and studying.


What were they?


And then they were gone.


We kept watch a few minutes more and then the timer sounded signalling the end of the hour.


Using the Collins bird identification app on my phone (recommended at the duck workshop we attended), Mr Pilgrim identified the birds as goldfinches. 


I filled in the RSPB Big Garden Bird Watch form (robin 1, goldfinches 2) and then Small Boy and I walked to the post box to send off our results. 


I’m surprised and delighted – I wasn’t sure we’d see anything! 

Ecological concern · Ethical living · Social justice

Quack!

Mr Pilgrim lovingly agreed to attend a Duck Identification Workshop with me (run by the Herts and Middlesex Wildlife Trust) last Saturday. We spent an hour in a community centre listening to a fascinating presentation about local waterfowl and their habitats, and then walked around nearby Stockers Lake looking for ducks. The workshop leader had great binoculars and a telescope plus expert knowledge which we needed!

Coots and some gadwells (kleptoparasitism in action!)

We saw: coots, tufted ducks, a swan, cormorants, goldeneye, gadwall, great-crested grebe, mallard, pochard, shoveler, wigeon, moorhen, lapwing, lesser black-backed gulls and black-headed gulls.

Tufted duck

We learnt:

  • Ducks can be dabblers, divers, grazers or predators
  • Ducks can’t fly when they are moulting
  • Gadwalls kleptoparasitise coots
  • Coots and moorhens operate in different ecological niches (and so have very different looking feet!)
  • An unfamiliar bird Small Boy and I had spotted earlier that week was a little egret

The presentation finished with some ideas of how we could help ducks (interestingly, mallards – the ducks of our childhoods, the ducks of picture books – are in decline). One of the ways we can help local waterfowl is by using less water; households in Hertfordshire (for reasons unknown) have above average use of water (160 litres per day rather than 150 litres).

Mallards

So what can we do to reduce our household water use?

  • Affinity Water suggest having four minute showers rather than a bath. I’m not sure this is realistic! I’ve been timing my showers this week (try it!) and I can have a shower in under four minutes if I don’t wash my hair but it’s nine minutes if I do.
  • Ensuring the washing machine and dishwasher are full before using.
  • Turn off the tap while brushing teeth (does anyone still leave the tap running?)
  • Only boil enough water for immediate use.

So much of choosing to seek to live justly is about less – less comfort, less convenience, less choice, and maybe less cleanliness!