Northern Ireland Green Party Leadership Hustings

Posted on December 14, 2010. Filed under: Uncategorized |

I was asked by a blogger to answer a number of questions about in relations to my candidature in the Green Party in Northern Ireland leadership contest.  These were my responses:

1. Could you tell me something about yourself outside of the Green Party?

I have a two year old son and he is my best escape from politics.  He’s an absolute dream.  He smiles a lot and cries little.  If I don’t have another child it will be because I know I can’t get this lucky twice.  He has slept through the night since he was four moths old (apart from when he was teething) and he still sleeps from 7pm until 8am.  I suspect that every parent reading this now hates me.

Before being a parent and getting into politics full time I went to a lot of gigs.  I still do when I can but am now much more choosey about which gigs I go to.  I like either punk influenced guitar music or stripped down singer/songwriters, particularly Elliott Smith and Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy.

I also starred in an independent film called “I Wanted to Talk to You Last Night” made by my good friend Michael MacBroom.  During the summer I played a cameo role in his second film “Endless Life” which will hopefully get some kind of release next year.  I have also sung onstage with a few local bands, but I would neither consider myself a singer or an actor.

2. Please describe your political experience or history to date.

I joined the Green Party in 2003 after meeting then leader John Barry at a protest march against the invasion of Iraq.  I would not have considered myself to be interested in the politics of Northern Ireland which was limited to the arena of ‘the troubles’.  I was interested in human rights, animal rights and social justice issues such as homelessness.  These issues did not seem to fit into the political discourse in Northern Ireland.  John seemed to be able to articulate my interests into a coherent political philosophy and soon I was campaigning for him in North Down, where four years later we would get our first seat in the Assembly.   I hope to retain that seat next year.

In 2007 I stood as a poster candidate in East Belfast but it was in 2009 when I stood for the Party in the European elections that my political career really took off.  A strong media campaign coupled with the message that the Greens were big players in Europe led to the Party getting its biggest vote to date in a Northern Ireland election.  Along with the election of Brian Wilson as MLA, this campaign gave the Green Party the credibility that it been previously lacking. 

In May of this year I stood in North Down in the general election.  It was a tough campaign and I learned the importance of having a good campaign team around you, something I had during the European elections but lacked for this one.  I now have a very strong team in place for the Assembly and local government elections next year and am raring to go.

3. What do you think the priorities of the Greens should be in the coming years?

In Northern Ireland the first task is to increase our number of councillors, retain our Assembly seat, and hopefully gain one or two more.  If we do that we will have cemented our place in Northern Ireland politics but should we lose our Assembly seat and fail to gain any others we will struggle to make any impact for many years to come.

In terms of our message I think it is important that we use this election to put to bed the myth that the Green Party is a single issue party and assert are credentials as a party of the left fighting for social justice.  While it is our responsibility to keep climate change on the agenda now that all other parties have abandoned it in the midst of the economic crisis, we must address the people’s concerns about job insecurity and show how Green Party policies really will help improve their lives.
4. Could you outline what lessons Greens should learn internationally from the experience of the Irish Greens in government?

I am proud of the achievements of the Irish Greens in government.   There is no doubt that the current Irish government is unpopular, but we knew our vote when we went into government with Fianna Fail, a party whose policies we had opposed for many years. 

We were a party with six TDs in government with a party with over seventy yet we managed to secure the Civil Partnership Act despite much opposition.  The insulation scheme which the Greens spearheaded is helping to tackle fuel poverty and create jobs.  We increased investment in renewable energy and electric vehicles, and we extended the broadband network to many rural communities.  One of our major achievements was the reform of the planning system which had allowed the building of what are now ghost villages during the housing boom.  The Green Party has ensured that the type of irresponsible rezoning that was one of the major causes of Ireland’s economic crash will not happen again.  We get very little credit for this as few recognise its importance.

But there are lessons to be learned.  In the first year we were seen as too cosy in our relationship with Fianna Fail.  I remember when Bertie Ahern announced his resignation; Green Party Leader John Gormley was at his side.  This literal closeness suggested that the Greens were all too comfortable in government with Fianna Fail.  I think Nick Clegg is making the same mistake, although in his case I believe that his and Cameron’s ideologies are not that dissimilar.  We changed tact somewhat after the first year and Dan Boyle, the Party’s Chair, became the voice of protest at the senior Party level.

Any party going into government as a junior partner will find it difficult.  The question every member has to ask themselves is “is it more important that the Party stick to its principles or is it worth making compromises if we can make a real difference to people’s lives?”.  I believe the compromises were worth it, though no member is happy with the ECB/IMF imposed budget that has just been announced.

5. What one policy of the Green Party are you most passionate about personally and which one policy would you like to change?

I am passionate about social justice.  While environmental policies are important, I am not a ‘deep green’ in that I think they are only important in so far as they make life better for people and other sentient beings (I believe that animal rights have to be given a higher level of importance).  So I think that making the lives better for the most vulnerable in our society should be our first objective. 

I think the proposal for a national insulation scheme is a key Green policy and one that sums up the approach of our Party.  It would improve people’s lives by making them more comfortable in their homes.  It would help the economy both by creating jobs and by reducing the amount of money that we are sending out of our economy by spending it on imported fossil fuels.  And of course it would reduce our emission thus helping in the fight against climate change.  It is economy for people and planet.

I would like to change our branding.  If I could borrow Marty McFly’s time machine I would go back and tell the founding members of the Party not to call it the Green Party.  Every day we fight a battle against the public perception that we are more interested in protecting every blade of grass than we are in improving people’s lives.  While improving people’s lives and protecting the environment in which they live are inextricably linked, this is a hard message to get across. 

Or maybe I just want to change the name so I don’t have to listen to any more rubbish puns on the colour green.  So I’ll finish with one I never grow tired of; “it’s not easy being green”.

These responses were first published on The Daily (Maybe):


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Hunting with Dogs: Dispelling the Myths

Posted on December 8, 2010. Filed under: Uncategorized |

My colleague and Green Party MLA Brian Wilson has put forward a Private Members Bill to the Assembly to ban the hunting of wild mammals with dogs.  Three in four people support the ban in England and many in Northern Ireland are unaware that the ban is not in place here.  It is time to put this right.

Of course the hunting lobby is up in arms claiming that this is a necessary activity, but ultimately people hunt because they enjoy it and all other arguments are just smokescreens. Let there be no mistake, there is only one question to answer: Do we as a society believe it is acceptable for people to take pleasure in cruelty to animals?

There is no distinction to be made between lamping, badger baiting and the hunting of foxes with dogs.  These are unsavoury activities where people set dogs on other animals to chase and kill other animals for human pleasure.  As Oscar Wilde put “it is the unspeakable chasing the uneatable”.  Putting on a red coat and mounting a horse may make you look gentrified but clearly it does not make you act so.

Let’s put to bed some of the myths. 

Myth One: Fox hunting is part of countryside management and pest control.

 Fox hunting is a spectator bloodsport.  If this was simply about pest control why the need for all the pomp and ceremony, and why do so many people come to watch?  When you have a rat in your house you don’t invite your friends and family to watch it being killed.  The reason why people watch a fox hunt and the reason why people take part in fox hunting is because they enjoy it.

Myth Two:  That this is an attack on rural culture 

The Green Party understands the important of culture to rural communities and that is why we advocate drag hunting as an alternative.  With a drag hunt the dogs follow an artificial scent rather than an actual fox.  All the trappings of the culture can be maintained.  In fact many hunts are already taking part drag hunts as opposed to fox hunting.  Those who insist that hunting cannot continue without a fox being killed again expose themselves as taking pleasure in the killing of an innocent animal. 

Myth Three:  That a ban would cost jobs in the rural community

Research shows that the ban in England has actually led to an increased number of people taking part in drag hunting meaning an increase in economic activity in rural communities.  So to suggest that the Green Party proposal to ban hunting would cost jobs is misleading. 

Myth Four:  That all rural people support hunting

Another advantage of drag hunting is that you can plan the route of the hunt.  When you chase a fox it can go anywhere including onto land where the hunters do not have permission to be.  People’s fences and hedges often get damaged and there was incident this year where a family pet was ripped apart by uncontrollable hounds.  If that was your pet would you support hunting?

Myth Five:  That the ban is unenforceable

The ban acts as a deterrent from hunting but if necessary it is enforceable by law.  Since the ban was introduced in England the number of people convicted of hunting has increased.  However there are loopholes in the English legislation and I have worked with Brian Wilson on this Bill and we have closed those loopholes.  The PSNI already have a responsibility to police wildlife crimes such as badger baiting and the like so again it is a myth that this will have an impact on police resources.  In fact we consulted with the PSNI on our Bill and they raised no concerns. 

Myth Six:  That there are already laws to protect animals from “unnecessary cruelty”

It is true that the Animal Welfare Act 1972 legislates against “unnecessary cruelty” but it specifically states that hunting is exempt from this and the Agriculture Minister has confirmed that there are no provisions to change this within the new Animal Welfare Bill.  The hunting lobby are at best ignorant of this fact but it seems much more likely that they are well aware of this and are deliberately misleading the public.  Every objection letter that we received referred to this piece of legislation to justify their position.  We did not receive a single letter that stated a genuine reason to oppose the ban.

Fox hunting is anachronism which has no place in the 21st century.  It’s time it came to an end.

N.B. This article appeared in the Belfast Newsletter on 8th December 2010.

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What the Channel 4 Programme Got Wrong

Posted on November 5, 2010. Filed under: Uncategorized |

Straight away I’ve misled you with the title because I’m going to start by discussing what the Channel 4 programme got right.

It was right in highlighting the fact that climate change is happening, it is a major problem and that we have to tackle it using the best solutions available to us.  It was right in its assertion that we should not dismiss any possible solution or any technology on ideological grounds.  And it was right to point out that we cannot use climate change as an excuse to deny the world’s poor a decent standard of living.

However there was so much wrong with the “What the Green Movement Got Wrong” programme that the much shorter debate programme which followed it only scratched the surface of how the programme misrepresented the facts and the arguments.

First of all ‘the green movement’ describes a diverse range of ideas, individuals and organisations.  The programme would have you believe that we’re all singing from the same hymn sheet.  It is not a religion, there is no sacred text and there is no ‘green god’.  So here’s my disclaimer; I do not represent ‘the green movement’.  The views in this blog are my own and there may be others who disagree with my views but have as much right to call themselves ‘green’ as I do.

Because that is another myth of the programme.  There is, nor should there be, an individual or organisation which has a monopoly on being ‘green’.  Can you be green and support nuclear power or GM?  Yeah, why not?  There are people who call themselves environmentalists but protest against wind farms.  I am not going to tell them they are not green.  We greens are a (bio)diverse bunch.

So the title needs to be changed to “What Some in the Green Movement Got Wrong”.  Maybe not such a catchy title but a step towards greater accuracy.

So were those who opposed nuclear power wrong to do so?  And are those who oppose nuclear power today wrong to do so?

No, and no again.  Why?

Nuclear is expensive.  From the mining of the uranium to the storage of the waste it is the most expensive way to create energy.  The only reason why nuclear power has ever been affordable is because the industry has received massive government subsidies well above the levels of investment needed for renewable energy.

Nuclear is not a benign energy source.  Again we must look at the whole process from the mining of the uranium to the storage of the waste.  The ecological impact is massive, so while the actual production of the energy might be low carbon, the overall impact of nuclear is much more significant and cannot boast the advantages of genuine renewable energies.

Nuclear power and nuclear weapons go hand in hand.  Why else do you think that the UK and American governments are so keen to stop Iran building a nuclear power station?  It is not because they suspect that Iran is actually trying to develop nuclear weapons.  It is because they know that if Iran develops nuclear power, they will develop nuclear weapons.  And what right have we to say they can’t?  We’re planning on renewing trident after all.

We do not have the money to invest heavily in nuclear and renewables so we must choose the option that give us the best return economically as well as socially and environmentally.

This week I attended the launch of the business plan for the first phase of the Green New Deal.  The Green New Deal Group brings together organisations from the business sector, trade unions and environmental NGOs.  Economy.  People.  Planet.  When you consider all three together you get a strategy for investment in energy efficient measures such as insulation and renewable energy technologies such as wind, wave and solar.  Nuclear doesn’t get a look in. 

So were those who opposed GM crops wrong to do so?  And are those who oppose GM crops today wrong to do so?

No, and no again.  Why?

GM crops will not solve the problem of hunger and malnutrition.  The problem is not that we do not have enough food in the world; the problem is one of inequality.  While the world’s poorest go hungry we in the UK have an obesity epidemic.  GM will not right this wrong.

We cannot allow a situation to arise where we have to pay for the right to grow our own food.  GM crops are patented.  What the likes of Monsanto want to do is to create a food industry modelled on that of the highly lucrative pharmaceutical industry.  We saw the lengths that African nations had to go to, to gain the right to develop their own anti viral drugs to combat HIV. 

What the Channel 4 documentary did show was the lengths Monsanto will go to, to gain access to new markets.  The Kenyan woman who promoted GM in the programme had had her studies funded by Monsanto, and is now employed by Monsanto.  We greens sometimes get accused of being naïve but it would be naïve to think that this was anything other than aggressive marketing.  We need only look at how Nestle entered the African market to see the lengths these massive corporations will go to, to create demand for their product.

So thanks to Nestle many Africans are reliant on milk formula they couldn’t afford.  We are all addicted to Glaxosmithkline’s patented drugs.   Let us not hunger for Monsanto’s patented seeds.

Does the fight against climate change prevent the world’s poor from lifting themselves out of poverty?

As I said at the start that we cannot use climate change as an excuse to deny the world’s poor a decent standard of living.  Many in the green movement have campaigned internationally for a strategy of convergence.  As countries around the world industrialise they will inevitably increase their carbon emissions.  Only if we commit to reducing our carbon emissions to sustainable levels can we ask other nations to limit their growth to these levels.  Then together we can develop a standard of living that is sustainable for us all.

What the Channel 4 programme got wrong was that it tried to present a two sided debate within the green movement.  The truth is if you got George Monbiot and Mark Lynas together they would agree on the problems which we face and many of the solutions.  They may disagree over nuclear and GM (and on nuclear they are not too far apart), but they are both part of a discussion which is evolving all the time.  While there may be some within the green movement that are ideologically driven, the majority of us continue to question our own assumptions, are informed by the science and on the balance of the arguments, are opposed to nuclear power and GM crops. 

However I prefer to define the green movement by what we are in favour of.  We are in favour of new technology; including laptops and the internet that allows me to write this blog.  We are in favour of genuine renewable energy technologies that can create jobs, reduce emissions and build long term energy security.  And we are in favour of a more sustainable way of life for all.  This is what the green movement is getting right.

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Green Consumerism Diary – Days 24-28

Posted on September 8, 2010. Filed under: Uncategorized |

Wednesday 25th – Sunday 29th August

No new dilemmas during this period but perhaps instead a chance to reflect on how keeping this diary has influenced my consumer behaviour.

As outlined in the intro I have given a degree of consideration of the ethical dilemmas of consumerism for some ten years.  Given that it maybe isn’t a surprise that the compromises that I make in my daily living are the compromises that I’m prepared to live with.  Over time I have found a balance between my desire to be an ethical consumer and my needs to eat, live and be sociable without being an angry, bitter, uptight stereotypical vegan.

The one exception is car usage.  I have been driving for just under two years and I still haven’t found the right balance yet.  Unfortunately I’ve come to the conclusion that on an economic level there are only two options; don’t own a car.  Alternatively if you need a car don’t use public transport.  Having done some figures it doesn’t pay to own a car and not use it.  Now I’m not saying that I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m not going to use public transport anymore, money is not my only driver.  But it does mean when it’s getting tight at the end of the month and there’s petrol in the car I’m probably going to use it.

Here’s the breakdown:

  • Public transport

It costs £125 per month for a zone 2 i-link card.  That’s £1,500 per year assuming you don’t go outside zone 2.

  • Car

£60 (average) per month on petrol = £720 per year

£160 per year on tax

£55 per year MOT

£150 maintenance (guestimate)

£300 cost of the car, have had it for two years, hoping to get another year out of it = £100 per year

£43 per month on insurance = £516

Total £1701 per year to own and run my car.

So overall it would be cheaper to use solely public transport if I could.  Considering I have a tin can with an engine rather than a real car, and have quite a low mileage, for most people it would be a lot cheaper.  Unfortunately given the public transport provisions to and from Stormont I don’t think I could get by without a car without spending an inordinate amount of money on taxis to get me to and from meetings and home on the nights I’m working late.


I am no different from anyone else; I could definitely do more to ensure the impact of my consumption is reduced.  Equally, I would be happy to do more if the ‘right’ choice was made easier for me.  Some examples: 

  • If a higher proportion of the transport budget was spent on public transport (currently its 19% in NI compared with 60% in England and moving towards 66% in ROI) it would be cheaper and there would be better provisions.
  • If there was a proper cycle network (and cars weren’t parked in the cycle lanes) I might be persuaded to conquer my fear of cycling on the roads and therefore keep the car at home without incurring the extra costs of public transport.  I have tried cycling on the roads but I am a nervous wreck and I do and do not feel safe at all. 
  • If I could walk into a high street store and buy a Fairtrade, organic cotton suit without paying an extortion price for it, I would do so happily. 
  • If there were vegan options on menus in restaurants and I didn’t have to pay £10 for “the chef said he could do you some pasta in a tomato sauce” or “a veg stir fry in a soy sauce” both of which I could make myself for under two quid.  Okay I am still a bitter vegan but credit where it’s due; the chef in Stormont is going out of his way to make me a tasty vegan dish any time he sees me.  The occasions where, instead of missing out you get extra special treatment, are almost worth all those other times when you have to explain to a chef that no, pasta in a cream sauce is not vegan. My favourite question though is this one; “Can you have vegetable oil?”

I have been asked this twice.

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Green Consumerism Diary – Days 19-23

Posted on August 26, 2010. Filed under: Uncategorized |

Friday 20th – Tuesday 24th August

(recyclable) Paper plates and cups vs (reusable) plastic?

Part of the joy of being me is receiving texts such as this, rarely warranting a lol.  This one was from a colleague who was hosting a veggie barbecue.  My initial response was to go with the reusable plastic as I don’t think that paper plates are recyclable if contaminated with food waste.  Then I thought, how often in life is reusable plastic actually reused and how often does it sit collecting dust in the corner of a cupboard?  “There is a third way!” I told my conscientious friend; ask the attendees to bring their own cutlery and crockery.  So he cancelled the barbecue, which was much greener all round.  Though I suspect his reason was more due to a lack of interest.

I’m pleased to announce that I haven’t used the car since Thursday.  I got a seven day top up on a Zone 2 i-link card and headed to Belfast and back on the train on Friday and then used it again to get me to Whitehead on Saturady.  Unfortunately Whitehead is just outside Zone 2 so I had to pay from Carrick when I changed trains.  The journey (taking into account my walk to the station and then to my colleagues house from the station at Whitehead) took a total of two hours compared to about an hour if I had taken the car.  However I was going to Whitehead for a meeting so taking the train gave me the time to do some valuable prep work.  Also the journey was much less stressful than it would have otherwise have been (I hate driving, especially to places I don’t know.  I inevitably get lost).  The weekly ticket cost me £35 so one day’s usage would have been £5 plus the £2.50 for the final leg of the journey.  I’ve never bothered to work out how much petrol costs me per mile but I imagine the cost would have been comparable.

I did get a lift back from a colleague who was travelling to Lisburn therefore taking him well out of his way, but there were emissions savings overall compared to if I had taken my car.

I stayed in Bangor all day on Sunday (in fact I stayed in my dressing gown for most of the day) and got the bus to work on Monday and Tuesday.  It was hard to break the habit of taking the car to work and this wasn’t helped by the fact it was heavy rain on Monday morning.  Despite getting wet getting the bus has allowed me to get work done on my journey, although the bus is much more cramped than the train.  I have also concluded I need a good waterproof coat.

The trip to Belfast on Friday was to visit a friend in hospital who has cancer and is receiving chemotherapy.  As someone who does not believe that animals should be used in medical research I do not give money to cancer charities that fund such research.  People have suggested in the past that I would change my mind if someone I knew got cancer.  I can honestly say I haven’t.  I am certainly grateful that due advances in cancer treatment my friend should be okay.  However I still believe that it is unjustifiable to deliberately inflict suffering on millions of animals in experiments, the value of which is debatable.  There are an increasing number of alternatives to animal testing that could and should be used.

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Green Consumerism Diary – Days 11-18

Posted on August 19, 2010. Filed under: Uncategorized |

Thursday 12th – Thursday 19th August

The domestic cat is above all laws of house and state and our cat is no different.  Despite the fact that Ozzy has only three legs he is afforded special status in our house in that he is the only member of the family who is allowed meat.  A can of it a day in fact.  He’s fussy about what brand he eats as well, so unlike the rest of us he doesn’t get the most ethical brand (or the most economical) he gets what he likes the most.  We fear that if we feed him anything else he will leave us, and thus his tyranny is tolerated.

I have researched veggie cat food but to the best of my knowledge there is no complete veggie cat food.  There is Vegekat which is a supplement that you can add to recipes but I’m not so dedicated that I am going to start cooking for my cat, unless he demands it of course.  We have in the past had a veggie dog who lived into his old age.  A dog can live happily and healthily on a veggie diet.  A cat, however is a different matter and without vital nutrients found in meat can suffer blindness amongst other things.  It has been pointed out that cat food is so far away from meat that it is fortified with artificial supplements that in theory could be added to veggie cat food.  This is probably true but until there is a tried and tested product I am not going to experiment on my cat.

Other than that our shopping basket is pretty green.  However when it comes to the bigger purchases this is often where challenges lie.  I recently bought a desk.  Ideally I would have liked to buy a unique hand crafted desk made from the wood of fallen trees.  However I’m on a limited budget so I bought a cheap flat pack from Argos.  It happened to be FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) approved as it was made of wood from ‘sustainably managed forests’.  I have to admit though, I did not know this in advance.

There is some debate in the green movement about just how sustainable these forests are.  We are often suspicious of anything that is too successful so there is an assumption that given that the FSC is now approving Argos flat packs that they must have reduced their standards (rather than everyone else upping their game).  The truth is it’s probably a bit of both.  I would argue that if that is the case then it means that standards have been improved across the industry and therefore FSC is doing its job.  The fact that KitKat is now Fairtrade doesn’t devalue the FT brand.  However it won’t make me start buying chocolate from Nestle, a company that is the subject of a boycott for its irresponsible marketing of its baby milk formula which has allegedly led to the deaths of children in Africa.

A big issue of late has been banking.  I have had an account with the Cooperative Bank for over seven years.  They were stricter about mortgages than many other banks were during the construction boom but they have been proved right in that they did not require a government bail out.  My reason for moving to the Co-op was that they do not invest in certain sectors such as armaments, the oil industry or any companies involved in animal testing.  I remember being strangely impressed that they sent out a letter to their account holders detailing how many millions in investments they had refused.  Certainly they do things differently.

Which has always made me wonder about the Presbyterian Mutual Society.  You would assume that a group linked to the church would have had ethical investment and lending policies, including prudence over greed.  Yet the PMS was involved in property speculation, a risky business, and they were using other people’s money.  Many PMS savers would have expected better from a group which they associated with the values of their church.  Remember, Jesus threw the money lenders out of the temple.

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Green Consumerism Diary – Days 6-10

Posted on August 11, 2010. Filed under: Uncategorized |

Saturday 8th – Wednesday 11th August

The end of the week brings new dilemmas for the green consumer as the weekday work routine is replaced by weekend leisure time.  I am someone who very much enjoys a takeaway and in that regard this was a weekend of indulgence.  On Saturday evening I had Indian food and all the packaging that came with it, including paper and plastic bags and polystyrene and plastic containers.  The plastic containers I keep and reuse but I now have a drawer full, much more than I am ever likely to need.  They are not particularly good quality so eventually they break and end up in the bin.  Some restaurants have started to introduce biodegradable or recyclable packaging; the best I’ve come across is starch containers.  However these are rare, in NI at least.

An obvious alternative is to sit in, but this is both more expensive as well as not always being practical for parents.  A was in bed by the time D and I sat down to have our food on Saturday.  Also I’ve noticed an increasing number of fast food restaurants using disposable containers for eating in.  Not just the usual suspects but also the likes of Boojum and Oodles Noodles in Botanic.  The restaurant industry is certainly one that could buck up its game in this area.

On Sunday I was at a friend’s house and he was having an impromptu, and therefore not veggie friendly, barbeque.  So I got a pizza (without cheese!) from a nearby restaurant.  At least with pizza the packaging is recyclable but still it is more waste.

The weekend is the time that I normally use the car very little but that was not the case last week.  D and I were out in the car on Saturday and Sunday.  We were also out sailing in her dads boat (it’s not as swish as it sounds) though we cut the engine when there was enough wind.  Sailors were using wind power long before the Greens came along.  Then I drove to Belfast to see friends.  Usually I would take the train but as I was going to a number of different places the car was the more practical option.  So all in all, a high impact weekend.

Writing this diary has led to D and I assessing our level of car usage.  We would both consider ourselves to be ‘green’ but we are a two car family and clearly we could do better.  D got a train and a bus to work today at a cost of £10.90 which was definitely more expensive than taking the car, it was also an extra 1.5 hours in travel time (taking into account the walk between the house and the train station and the time between bus and train).  This is time that could have been spent sleeping later in the morning and with A in the evening.  If we both start using public transport every day A could be spending around an hour extra in nursery rather than with his parents.

The cost could be mitigated by buying an i-link card.  However we are discriminated against for living outside Belfast so have to pay for the more expensive ‘zone 2’ card.  At least we don’t live in Derry where it is even more expensive again.  Fine if you are commuting to Belfast but not much use if you are not.  Other benefits include a more relaxing journey.  Both D and I get stressed when we drive, in fact I suspect that most people do.  Travelling by public transport would also allow me to read so I can be working on the bus (although I usually listen to the news in the car which is equally important for my job).  The extra exercise from walking to and from the station is another obvious benefit.

I think there is an acceptable balance to be found in one of us taking a car each day (the person who takes Alex to nursery) which will mean A doesn’t lose out in the deal, we can buy a weekly/monthly i-link card between us which will save us money and hopefully in the long term we can ditch one of the cars.

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Green Consumerism – Days 3-5

Posted on August 6, 2010. Filed under: Uncategorized |

Wednesday 4th – Friday 6th August

Am I drinking responsibly?

Well, the Captain Morgan’s Rum I’m drinking now I have no idea about.  D bought it, decided she didn’t like it, so either I drink it or it goes to waste.  My usual alcoholic drink of choice would be vodka.  I usually buy Vladivar.  Despite the fact that the name would suggest otherwise, Vladivar is made in Scotland so there is less air miles than most vodkas.  There is an Irish vodka, Boru, but it taste like salt.

Alcohol is not a problem (that’s what I tell myself) it’s what I choose to drink to with.  Coke aka Corporate Cola.  I know that they suppress trade unionism in Columbia.  I know that there are villages in India that have no access to clean water because it has all been used to make Coke.  But it is the one consumer vice that I can’t shift.  Pepsi contributed millions of dollars to George Bush election campaigns so they are hardly an ethical alternative.  Whole Earth Cola’s is okay, but it’s not widely available and they certainly don’t stock it in bars.  Beer and wine doesn’t agree with me so I am restricted to spirits and there is no other mixer that I like.

So what else have I been up to these past days?  Well on Wednesday and Thursday I took the car into work again.  I need to make a conscious decision not to because it’s always the easier option.  There was nothing vegan on the menu in the canteen on Weds so I had chips and beans again.  On Thursday the veggie main wasn’t vegan either so I had the leek and potato soup and a side salad.  The side salad wasn’t completely vegan either, as there was some feta through it, and I can’t be sure about the soup.  D keeps telling me to give it up my claim to veganism.  I can see why she says this but the Vegan Society definition of Vegan is “someone who actively seeks to avoid all animal products” which I would do.  I still use soya milk, non dairy spreads, vegan fake meats and pesto etc.  I also request vegan food at restaurants and events I’m attending so I think while I compromise sometimes I still am (mostly) vegan.  If a rule is so inflexible that it doesn’t bend then it breaks.

I had a meeting on Thursday so I went into work in my suit.  The shoes and belt are from Vegetarian Shoes therefore leather free and made in the UK.  The suit itself however is imported sweatshop labour.  I have looked for Fairtrade/organic suits without success.  I have found individual FT trousers and blazer but the prices have been astronomical.

I worked from home today so I haven’t used the car at all, although I haven’t left the house either.  As well as a work day it’s been a housework day.  Washing clothes and washing dishes.  I use Ecover washing up liquid which is eco friendly and while it doesn’t score as highly as Bio-D in the Ethical Consumer, it actually works, which is a big advantage.  We have a dishwasher which I never use but D does.  We have debated about the dishwasher’s apparent efficient use of water but I’m not convinced.  The energy used to make all the dishwashers in the world and the subsequent waste convince me that the world would be a better place without them.  But mainly I just hate the things.  Either you have to rinse the dishes before you put them in or you don’t and you end up having to hand wash the dishes the machine finds to tough to deal with.  D does use Ecover dishwasher tabs.

We also use Ecover laundry liquid.  However I did use Vanish today as well.  A pen leaked in the pocket of my jeans and as a Green colleague pointed out, it’s better to use the harsh chemical than throw out the jeans.  I must confess I also used the tumble dryer today.  But before you think I’m not very green at all I must add that this is a rare event.  The clothes are currently drying on a clothes horse but I washed bed sheets today and in this weather drying them outside would be impossible.  If I had my way we wouldn’t have a dryer and I suspect that D would let me get rid of it  . . . as long as I agree to do all the washing.

Think I’ll put my guilt away now and enjoy my drink.

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Green Consumerism Diary – Day Two

Posted on August 3, 2010. Filed under: Uncategorized |

Tuesday 3rd August

Thought about my clothes today and where they came from.  My t-shirt is Fairtrade, D bought it for me, I think it was from M&S.  My jeans are second hand from Mike Hunt in Belfast.  My belt also came from there, free with a different pair of second hand jeans which I bought a number of years ago.  It’s leather and it’s also branded (Diesel) but I’ll generally have a t-shirt or a jumper over it so it never shows.  I take issue with being a walking advert and not getting paid so I tend not to wear clothes with a logo.  The belt is the only piece of leather clothing I own (being vegan I tend not to wear leather, wool, silk or any other animal products) but I don’t see the point in getting rid of it as I’m not increasing demand for leather by wearing something I got free many years ago.

My socks and boxer shorts are from Primark and Next (I think), and probably therefore some form of slave labour.  Next receive negative marks by EC for “operations in 4 oppressive regimes” and are rated 6.5 overall.  Primark are even worse with an overall rating of 3 with negative marks for “abuse of the human rights of Bangladeshi garment workers” and “workers paid less than a living wage”.  I remember once remarking on the difficulty of finding ethical underwear at a party.  I’ve had better nights.

I have in the past bought underwear from the Amnesty webshop and you can now buy eco friendly, ethically produced, bamboo socks and underwear.  However you do pay significantly more for them and I found the socks wore a lot quicker than those I’d bought in the high street.  Sometimes you just need to go into a shop and but a multi pack of socks and boxer shorts and you don’t want to have to pay much more then a tenner for them.  There is hope that M&S have said that they aim to one day source all their cotton Fairtrade though I am not sure how far that has gone to date.  However it is good that you can now buy FT t-shirts on the high street.

I tend to wear skate shoes when in casual clothes.  Luckily there are a number of vegan/veggie skaters who will only put their name to non leather shoes.  This means there is quite a decent selection.  In the past I would have got my shoes in skate shops.  Some staff were better than others at knowing which ones were vegan.  Now I tend to get them online from Kate’s Skates for convenience.  The webshop has a search engine so all you need to do is type vegan and you can see what’s available.  Again, I know it would be better to support a local indie skate shop but I hate having to check the label of every pair of shoes or having to ask the shop assistant who often won’t know.

The shoes I have are made of “synthetic nubuck” and it has been put to me that synthetic materials aren’t very eco friendly.  However the tanning process for leather is also very environmentally unsound so I don’t find this a compelling argument to wear animal products.  The shoes are also made in China, I suspect under poor labour conditions.  I have in the past bought shoes from Vegetarian Shoes a mail order company all of whose shoes are made in the UK.  However, while I have found their formal shoes to be very good I have had less success with their casual shoes.  I once bought a pair of hemp shoes which were ridiculously uncomfortable, which is hardly surprising given that hemp is used to make rope (I did once have a 50% hemp/50% cotton jacket which was much more comfortable but didn’t hold it’s colour).  They also let in water and I can’t abide having wet feet.  I had another pair of casual Vegetarian Shoes but they were so bland looking that I couldn’t bring myself to pay in the region of £60 for a pair of shoes I really didn’t like.

So I haven’t yet found the perfect solution to ethical shoes.  I generally wear a pair of shoes for a year of more (until they start letting in water) which mitigates the environmental impact, but I remain conscious of abuses of workers rights.

I was getting A up and ready for nursery this morning.  I wouldn’t know where to begin with his clothes.  So much of his clothes are gifts from family and friends, I assume from high street stores meaning more workers rights issues.  A lot of bleached cotton shipped from who knows where so there will be environmental impacts as well.  We have bought him the odd item of clothing online from an ethical store, but to do this for all his clothes would be impractical, as he needs clothes so often, and much too expensive.

My breakfast was the same as yesterday.  A had Ready Brek with soya milk and water.  Ready Brek scores 7.5 in EC which is quite low.  He likes it and it’s good for him but if I can find a more ethical equivalent I would considering changing (I’ll have to speak to D).

I walk him to nursery despite the fact that I now have a child car seat (free, second hand of a relative) which I’m quite pleases that I’ve stuck to.  It’s only a 5/10 minute walk and it’s good for him and me.  I am adamant that he won’t grow up dependent on lifts and afraid of the weather.  He gets fed in the nursery and they know he’s vegetarian, which caused some problems at first because it’s a relatively new nursery and he’s their first vegetarian child.

Sending him to nursery was an ethical dilemma in itself.  Both me and D were raised by ‘stay at home mums’ so found it difficult to send him to a nursery.  We both reduced our working week to four days with D taking Mondays off and me taking Fridays off.  This meant A is only in nursery a maximum of three days per week, meaning he is home more often than not.  It actually seems to be working really well.  While we have had to make financial sacrifices A gets a good balance of time with his mum, time with his dad, family time and time with other kids.

I was working in our Bangor office today so haven’t used the car at all.  It’s about a 15/20 minute walk from my house which isn’t a problem.  I went to a local independent café to get a take away sandwich for lunch.  I’ve been in there before and the girl who works there knows I am vegan.  They do a mixture of different sauces that you can have with your sandwich which means that it’s not too dry, which can be a problem when you don’t take butter of mayo.  I suggested today that they should do hummous.  It’s practically a treat when you’re vegan to be able to get hummous in a sandwich shop.  She then gave me my sandwich in a Styrofoam box which I thought was completely unnecessary when I paper wrap would do.  I probably should have said something but I am the type of person who doesn’t like to make a fuss.  I think if I pointed out every little thing like that life would become very difficult.

On the way home from work I stopped in to Ethel Austin and bought two t-shirts for my friend’s newborn son.  I did not check the label for country of origin, nor can I find Ethel Austin on the Ethiscore website.  I also stopped into a local printer’s to pay him for some work he had done for me.  I request that all my printing be done on 100% recycled paper and pay slightly extra for this.  He had originally argued that there is more energy used to produce recycled paper than to produce non recycled, but given the land needed and time taken to replace trees, overall I believe recycled paper to be the better option.  I would be interested to see if any research has been done on this.

I also stopped into a local grocer to buy broccoli for dinner.  I made stir fry tofu and veg in Sharwoods kung po sauce with boiled rice.  The broccoli may have been local but I didn’t check.  The onions and peppers that I used were bought from Sainsbury’s and were unlikely to have been locally produced.  The rice was also from Sainsbury’s and was not Fairtrade.  I usually buy FT rice from the Co-op when I shop there.

For ‘dessert’ I had two McVities plain chocolate digestives.  They are not completely vegan (they contain butter oil) but contain less dairy than milk chocolate digestives.  It baffles me how and why companies manage to get dairy into products when it doesn’t need to be there.  In my stricter days I was reduced to eating nothing but Co-op bourbon creams, but I love chocolate digestives and the only vegan ones that I know of are Lidl’s and I am almost never shop there.

That’s pretty much it for day two.

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Green Consumerism Diary – Day One

Posted on August 2, 2010. Filed under: Uncategorized |

Background Information 

I became vegetarian when I was 19 and vegan when I was 20.  This was the beginning of the self regulation of my consumption on ethical grounds.  I was evangelical for the first few years of my vegetarianism and was very strict about my veganism.  However over time I was more relaxed on the issue, happy to answer people’s questions about my lifestyle choice but less inclined to push it onto others.  I also relaxed my veganism when on foreign holidays and then as my life became busier I relaxed it a little more.  I would now describe myself as ‘mostly vegan’.

I have subscribed to the Ethical Consumer magazine from the year 2000.  I suspect that I saw it advertised in the ‘Animal Free Shopper’, which I used to describe as the vegan bible (it lists all products and ingredients that are vegan and those that are not, and the introduction answers “why vegan?”), but the truth is I cannot remember how or why I started to subscribe to it.  I used to read it cover to cover but now I scan through it for updates and articles of interest.  I occasionally refer to the EthiScore website when making major purchase but generally I know the ‘goodies’ and ‘baddies’ and my purchasing habits are pretty set.

At the onset of the invasion of Iraq in 2003 I asked to have my pay reduced to below the level required to pay income to tax and wrote to each of the political parties and the Prime Minister about my decision.  I also limited myself to essential purchases (food and travel) to avoid paying VAT.  Essentially I wanted to send the message “Not in my name and not with my money”.  I continued this until the end of the bombing campaign, which lasted just over two weeks if memory serves me correctly.  However I felt this kind of individual action was ineffective and I joined the Green Party after meeting then Party Leader John Barry at a peace march against the invasion.

I have been a Green Party member ever since and have stood in three elections to date.

I have a (loose) hierarchy of categories of product:

  1. Second hand
  2. Fairtrade
  3. Local
  4. Organic

I would also pay more for a product from an independent retailer rather than buy it from supermarket.  However my partner D does most of the shopping and she tends to go to large supermarkets (this has caused more contention than it should have!) though would buy organic and Fairtrade if it’s available.  We get a bag of veg delivered fortnightly from Helens Bay Organic Farm.  Our son who is 22 months old is vegetarian, except that the omega 3 in his formula milk is sourced from fish.  We also suspect that his maternal grandmother gives him meat on occasion when she is babysitting.  We have agreed that we will let him eat meat if he chooses to do so when he is older but that we will not buy or cook meat in the house.  We will see how this works in reality.

Our house is quite modern and is well insulated.  It has a condensed gas boiler.  We would both like a more eco friendly house but we are not committed to living in this one long term and are therefore reluctant to make improvements.  All the light bulbs are energy saving except for the spotlights which are still the original ones which came with the house.  We compost and recycle.  We grow some fruit and herbs in our garden but it is a tiny proportion of our consumption.

I drive a 1.2 litre Fiat Punto which is 12 years old.  It is my first car.  I purchased it in November 2009 shortly after I passed my driving test at the age of 29.  I had never wanted or needed to drive as I lived in Belfast but I then moved to Bangor and became a father and not driving became increasingly impractical.  I still try to use public transport when convenient but I do use the car more than is absolutely necessary.

Monday 2nd August 2010

Breakfast:  Jordan’s Strawberry Country Crisp with Alpro Soya milk, both bought in Sainsbury’s.

I have just discovered that Jordan’s cereal which used to be an Ethical Consumer ‘best buy’ is now rated 5 (out of 20).  While the founding company Jordans gets a rating of 16 the brand is now part owned by a number of different companies.  I suspect that I will continue to use the product as the product itself still seems relatively ‘good’ (it uses conservation grade oats) and is made in the UK, however I will keep an eye out for a ‘better’ product.  However many of the higher rated cereals are muesli which I don’t find appealing and the others are not widely available.

Alpro Soya gets a rating of 9 which is lower than I would have expected.  Again the higher rated brands are not ones I know.  Alpro is widely available in supermarkets but I tend to do a monthly shop in Eatwell, an independent health store, so I will check it for the other brands.  I generally find one brand of soya is as good as another taste wise, so long as it’s sweetened.

Sainsbury’s is rated 3.5 by the ethical consumer but to put this in context the highest rated supermarket is the Co-op with 7.  If D does the monthly shop it will mostly be from Sainsbury’s possibly supplemented in M&S and Tesco.  I would always buy as much as I can from independent stores and the rest in the Co-op.  D has almost completely boycotted Asda (0 out of 20) for the passed two years and Tesco (0.5) is next on her list.  My supermarket hierarchy would be:

  1. Co-op (Good)
  2. M&S
  3. Sainsbury’s
  4. Tesco
  5. Asda (Evil)

I used Co-op toothpaste to clean my teeth, which is BUAV approved ie it does not contain products tested on animals.  I usually buy Kingfisher toothpaste (15.5 and an EC best buy) but I can only get it in Eatwell which is in Belfast so buy Co-op own brand as my second choice.  I have a toothbrush which has a changeable head which I got from Honesty Cosmetics.  All Honesty products are vegan and eco friendly and the company is an EC Best Buy (14.5).  My shower gel, shampoo and conditioner are all from Honesty.  All my Honesty products are mail order and I realise that as well as the impact of the shipping I am not supporting my local retailers.  However vegan, eco products are not widely available in Bangor, or Belfast for that matter, and when they are they are often more expensive than I can justify paying.

I work in Stormont and drove there today (9.5 miles).  There are two buses that I can get to Stormont; one which leaves at 0815am and the other at 0930am.  Realistically I am unlikely to get the earlier bus especially on the days (usually Tues and Weds) when I get my son ready and take him to nursery before leaving for work.  The other problem is that the only bus back is at 5pm.  My work schedule is quite flexible and I can do a certain amount from home but it is rare that I finish in the office before 5pm.  My boss also lives in Bangor.  However he works equally erratic hours and travelling together does take a level of organisation.

When I first moved to Bangor I did use public transport to get to work and/or lifts from my employer.  However when it came to election time I increasingly needed my car during working hours.  Currently work is more predictable and there is no good excuse for me to take my car every day.  Maybe time to break this bad habit.

I had lunch in the Stormont canteen.  The only veggie main was a vegetable lasagne and I didn’t feel like the lentil soup so I had chips and beans.  I have spoken to the catering staff and they are aware that I am vegan, though I am the only one they know of in the building.  I have asked that they keep this in mind and when possible with keep cheese as an option on the veggie choice.  When the veggie option can be made without cheese they do this on request and are very helpful in general.  As part of my more relaxed attitude to my veganism I do not ask about the stock used in the soups (some veggie stocks would contain milk protein and/or lactose).

D and A (my son) had lunch with me today as we had to take A to the hospital.  A had creamy mash and peas and D had a prawn salad.  There would have been a time when I would have refused to buy someone lunch unless what they had was vegan, and much of what I/we buy A involves compromise as will be apparent throughout this diary.

I believe that the caterers are asked to source as much of their vegetables as possible locally but I have never looked into this.  I am not aware of any of the produce they use being organic though they do sell Fairtrade tea, coffee, chocolate, biscuits and fruit.

We drove to the hospital and back in D’s car, to get public transport would have been completely impractical in this case and there was no dilemma.  On the way back we stopped at Tesco and bought Huggies (9) nappies for A. They are the highest rated of the widely available brands.  We did try using reusable nappies when A was first born but stopped when he got nappy rash for the first time.  It was a lot more effort though it was doable.  However when we started to uses disposables for when we took A out they became increasingly the more practical option.  We did have a lot more confidence in them and they are more convenient.  I also suspect that A would not have slept through the night as early as he did if he had stayed in reusables.  I have the utmost respect for anyone who uses reusable nappies.  We have tried different brands of ‘eco’ nappies with mixed success.  The best were Sainsbury’s but we were unconvinced as to how ‘eco’ they actually are.

For dinner I had homemade (by D) sweet potato soup with Irwin’s (local) wholemeal bread with M&S Non Dairy Sunflower spread.  I usually buy Suma Organic Sunflower spread which is an EC best buy but D prefers M&S for taste.  I can console myself in the fact that were it not for me she’d be eating butter from flatulent mistreated cows.

After dinner D and I ate some chocolates from a box of Cadbury’s Heroes that she was given as a gift.  This is one of the ways in which I have relaxed my veganism out of plain, simple weakness.  When I lived alone I would never have had dairy chocolate in the house to tempt me but now that this is not the case I cave in all too easily.

A had Hipp Organic (6.5) formula milk for supper.  He was solely breastfed for the first three months and part breastfed up to six months.  I did some research into soya formulas but there is very little info.  NHS advice is not to use soya formula unless advised to do so by a GP.  I suspect that this is due to a lack of research as opposed to evidence that soya formula is dangerous but the only source that I could find that said soya formula was safe was through the Vegan Society which is hardly an independent source.  While I had major concerns about the links with dairy to allergies and asthma as well as my own ethical objections (which are slightly mitigated by Hipp formula being organic) the warnings about soya formula were so severe that I did not wish to experiment on my own child.  This was a very difficult choice for me.  Recently Hipp changed their formula and it is no longer vegetarian as it contains fish derivatives which really annoyed me, but as A will be coming off formula soon we have decided not to change.

Finally for today, I am using a power hungry lat top (provided by work) but I have been using battery power after it was fully charged.

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