10 Easy Ways To Save The Climate

For over 20 years, government representatives have been meeting to agree how to limit the warming of our planet. At the Paris Convention last year a miracle occurred and „they“ finally achieved something that would go some way to protecting the next generations from our already out-of-control carbon addiction.

2013-climate-talks-warsaw

Visiting the Climate Convention in November 2013, pictured with Friends of the Earth Germany’s giant blow-up Earth on my birthday!

For the millions of families who have lost their lives, homes and livelihoods already, due to hurricanes and rising sea levels, or suffer hunger and thirst due to drought, it is too late. But we have a shared responsibility to do everything we can to stop billions more people being affected. Every single person and organisation must make changes in their lives to make a difference, because everything we do now matters.

Together we can move mountains and right now there is a huge orange mountain in our way: A climate-change denier just became US President. If you think we had a crisis due to high numbers of people seeking a safe haven in Europe in 2015, well, you ain‘t seen nothing yet.  But there is no time to panic. Instead, let‘s get organised because there are hundreds of things we can do, because, PEOPLE POWER! I have listed a few here:

  1. Switch to an ethical bank. Especially if you are with Deutsche Bank, who apparently donated funds to Trump‘s campaign. In Germany we are lucky to have GLS Bank  – a social-ecological bank, that does not invest your money in weapons, food speculation or other destructive things.
  2. Change your electricity provider. In Germany we have a choice of four energy providers who get energy directly from natural sources.  From personal experience I can recommend naturstrom for both gas and electricity.
  3. Eat more vegetables and pulses, while reducing intake of meat and dairy produce. 20kg of plant protein is fed to a cow in order for it to produce 1kg of beef.  Most cows around the world are fed soy beans from Brazil and Argentina – and we wonder why the rainforests are disappearing! Sticking to my favourite subject (food):
  4. Go seasonal, regional, organic – and stop wasting food. The first three things usually cost more, but you save money with the last one! Additionally you can enjoy the feel good factor knowing you aren’t supporting the oil industry that produces artificial fertilisers, the diesel-freight industry that transports vegetables multiple times around the world or the near-slave-trade that makes the poorest people suffer from skin and breathing complaints caused by carcinogenic chemical pesticides. If you live in Berlin, you can also support organic farmers and get a regular discount at LPG by becoming a member of the LPG Supermarket.
  5. Put the environment on the agenda at your workplace. It is often believed that, as individuals, our capacity for having an impact is minimal, at least compared to companies. But, to state the obvious, companies are not living breathing organisms. In fact, they are run by people! Employees, shareholders and customers are all people – us! All of us can have an impact on internal practices, product development, logistics chains, etc., if we were only to use our voices (e.g. swapping any unnecessary plane travel to video meetings). And this leads me nicely to:

    age-of-stupid-still-las-vegas-desert

    Film still from The Age of Stupid 2009

  6. Cycle to work and go on holiday by train. My favourite and most depressing quote from the cheery film The Age of Stupid goes something like „The single most worst thing an individual can do is fly. Every time we fly it is the equivalent of burning a forest“. As an economic migrant to Germany with family and friends still in the UK, this is a difficult one. But thanks to a fantastic train network I can (mostly) get the train home and move across Europe to a million different holiday destinations. It is impossible for my American friends in Germany to get home that way, so consider going home for longer instead of making frequent visits and investing in tree-planting programmes and plant a forest or two. Talking of tree-planting….Switch to Ecosia for your search engine.  A social business where 80% of profits are invested in tree planting! A massive way to reduce your carbon footprint is to…..
  7. Reduce domestic energy bills. I received 1,200 EUR back from energy companies after carrying out recommendations of an energy savings check from my friends at Berliner-energy-check (yes the scary woman on the home-page is me!), and my monthly bills were cut in half. German-wide organisations like Caritas and Verbraucherzentrale also offer home energy-checks. There are hundreds of small things you can change – and it all makes a difference. An example of seemingly small things adding up is standby-lights – in Germany alone 3-5 entire power stations burn coal 24/7 just because we can’t be bothered to switch-off properly! Also in the home we can learn a new mantra…..
  8. Reuse/Repair/Recycle/Buy-used/Buy ethical. I recommend the brilliant Story of Stuff animation to help motivate everyone to reduce cheap, plastic, battery powered rubbish in their households. Our culture makes it easy for us to peacefully shop without considering the far-reaching effects of the exploitative, damaging systems that produce affordable goods in massive number. Being less materialistic is great for our levels of happiness and the things that make us happy are not what the advertising industry will have us believe. Check out Action for Happiness to help focus on the important things in life.

    wirhabenessatt

    Wir haben es Satt demo, held in January every year

  9. Write to your Member of Parliament and tell them that climate justice is the single most important issue for everyone, sign every petition and put the „demo“ back into „demo“cracy – we are needed on the streets. Next demo in Berlin is about the agricultural and food industry on 21st January 2017 – it is pretty cool, especially if you like dressing up as a chicken or want to see a beautiful procession of tractors.
  10. Make regular monthly donations to environmental organisations who dedicate every hour of every day to protecting the air we breathe, the water we drink and the climate that allows us to produce enough food so we can all survive. What is more important than that? I have worked for Greenpeace New Zealand and currently work for Friends of the Earth Germany and am inspired by the tireless campaigning and actions of every single employee at both organisations. They are just two of many fantastic organisations who give the voiceless a chance – whether animals, eco-systems or marginalised people (and they also welcome Volunteers!)

None of this is difficult to do, but some things just take a bit of time and organisation. Many things are structural, they just need to be done once and then you don’t have to think about them again. The biggest problem is dealing with our own guilt and guilt of others around us. But we need to get over ourselves and get on with it. Make the changes and share what you are doing with your friends and colleagues. Don‘t alienate yourselves from your loved ones (remember there are lots of fun things to do with friends too like organising a clothes swap party or cycle rides).  Everyone is on a different journey and will get there one way or another. Right now we have the privilege of being able to look away and ignore the people currently most affected by climate change in other parts of the world, but it is only a matter of time before the results of our indifference will turn up on our doorsteps. I refuse to turn away. Who is with me?

Stiff upper lip and huge doses of patience

Mohammed, 33 from Aleppo Syria, in my flat, Berlin-Kreuzberg

Mohammed has arrived and is angry. Very angry. I know, because he is using swear words, even without apologising like he usually does before he says them. I cannot complain because I am sure he has picked up some of this colourful vocabulary from me. I have been swearing a lot over the past six months because even though there are many things to be happy about in 2016 Berlin, there are many more things to swear about. Take the office of health social security – LaGeSo – the place in Berlin where all new arrivals have to wait everyday sometimes even for months, often overnight in the cold, to get accommodation vouchers and money for food. Due to this disgusting situation that sees no sign of easing it is no longer possible for me to mention “LaGeSo”, without using a fixed prefix of a very bad swear word.

Whilst Mohammed stands in our hallway removing his warm second-hand Red Cross shop bargain coat and sturdy second-hand Caritas bargain boots, he elaborates on the latest problem he has had to face since arriving in Berlin almost eight months ago. And this really is a big one. It appears that the law being discussed for ages by politicians in Germany has just today been passed. “Asyl Packet II” includes new measures restricting people like Mohammed from inviting family members to join them.

His wife Maha and two-year old son mean the world to him, but he hasn’t seen them for nearly a year. I can’t even bear to try to empathise with him about this because the pain of separation they are suffering is far too much, and I really cannot spend every day crying about the awfulness of this. I guess like so many refugees and friends of refugees we all have to maintain some resemblance of “stiff upper lip” or whatever the German version of that is because we would all go to pieces otherwise. Up until now Mohammed has played the waiting game very well, requiring huge doses of patience and hoping every day for a letter to confirm his asylum has been processed. Unfortunately he regularly meets people who arrived after he did and hears they have got their asylum request processed. Where relevant, these people can finally start the family unification process. On his regular visits to me after his daily German lesson, he updates me with so-and-so who got their asylum and I can see it is always a kick in the teeth for him. We talk longer, often making a new plan or writing another letter and he always bounces back somehow able to remain positive despite everything. This time is different. I am unable to maintain my stiff upper lip but instead of crying I actually feel physically sick. Sick because I feel the knife turning, the salt in the wound, the straw breaking the camel’s back – any number of cliché sayings fit the bill. As he stands in my hallway telling me about this heartless change in the law I can see in my mind’s eye hundreds and thousands of other people behind him, somehow also fitting into my hallway, all of whom will also be devastated. That is why I feel sick. The last morsel of hope for all these people has just been extinguished. How will this help them get on with building a new life for themselves? How will this help the women and children stuck in war zones and refugee camps, waiting for a legal and safe passage to join their partners?

We sit down among the chaos of our flat (he is actually here to help us paint our living room) and he curses Merkel for inviting him to Germany in the first place and wishes that “excuse me for swearing ?!*”ing-Immigration Ministry” didn’t still have his passport so he could go somewhere else. I listen, and later risk defending Merkel –  saying that I still respect her stance – in fact she saw no alternative to her humanitarian response to the refugee crisis. However she probably expected that other countries would follow her brave, common sense lead but unfortunately the opposite has happened and we are arguably seeing a rise of right-wingers all over Europe. The fact that no other countries in Europe have made a significant contribution to solve this problem (apart from Sweden) means it is inevitable that Germany will have to make some U-turns. Had other countries chipped in maybe Germany would carry less of the burden, instead Germany is doing it all pretty much alone.

****************************************************************

After a few hours of what I hope is therapeutic painting in our living room he is finished and I ask him if he has told Maha the bad news yet. Fearing her reaction he has avoided talking to her all day. Finally they talk and as I have got used to my small flat being filled with the sound of musical sounding Arabic conversations I tune out and continue my work. Suddenly though, Mohammed gives his phone to me and I am live with Maha in the Middle East. I feel so bad and I don’t know what to say – this time I am out of the solutions I normally offer to boost her mood and curb her worry. But she surprises and amazes me. “We must not give up we will keep going and I do not want to hear talk like this again from Mohammed, because there is always hope”. I feel guilty about our previous hopelessness and despair and I am again in awe of the strength and resilience of the people I am meeting who, in the face of the most desperate situations, manage to remain sensible and strong.

Later on, standing at the front door when we’d already said goodbye, but as is so often the case we continued talking for at least another thirty minutes, he tells me he’d been pondering on our earlier conversation about Merkel: “The more I think about it, the more I believe that men are the source of so many of the problems in the world. Look at Merkel – she welcomed the refugees and it is mainly macho men who have voted against helping refugees. Plus, it is men who are fighting and causing all the wars in Syria and other places. Meanwhile who are the people helping refugees everyday in Germany? It is nearly all women”.

As he leaves he adds, “men are, excuse-me-for-swearing, bastards”.

 

What???? A refugee?!?

Alyssa from Nigeria – Part Three

Text messages reacting to our news about refugee hosting

Text messages reacting to our news about refugee hosting

After receiving the call at the end of May 2015 from Flüchtlinge Wilkommen (refugees welcome) asking whether we were still in the market for refugee-hosting, I needed a day to think about it. It felt best to be completely sure that my husband and I both agreed our somewhat spontaneous decision made a few months earlier, was still valid. For a fleeting moment, I did consider not actually telling him, so that he would come home from work one day and get a bit of a surprise. But I kept my weird sense of humour in check just this once – most definitely the more advisable option!

WA serious cropJust two days after the call I met Alyssa for the first time. She came to view our flat with a lovely social worker from SOLWODI, a charity supporting trafficked women and we spent an hour or so together. Alyssa seemed very quiet and shy whilst I babbled on nervously. All the time I was trying to think of what sort of questions I should be asking, or appropriate house rules to introduce. Instead, I randomly showed them the newly built-in wardrobe we’d just had fitted. Alyssa’s enthusiasm for the wardrobe was unremarkable, however she didn’t seem to be put off and it was quickly agreed that she would move in the next day.

Carrying all her belongings in a large plastic shopping bag I showed her to her room – she seemed very happy to see the small bunch of flowers I had put there. She then slept whilst I tried to carry on as normal with my tasks in the living room, but it is quite distracting knowing there is someone quite unknown in the guest room! After a few hours she woke up and I offered a trip to the supermarket to buy essentials like a toothbrush, as she possessed no toiletries at all. We then walked up to the top of the Kreuzberg and took our first selfie together. I tried to hold from back asking too many questions but I am a very nosy person so I soon discovered a bit about our guest. Before long she was no longer the shy awkward person I had first met and I stopped being nervous. Among other things, she told me she left school at 11 because there was no money to pay for secondary education and that she had never worked. Even with an education she believes it is a corrupt system and impossible to find work unless you are the right side of the system. I believe she wanted something better for herself and this meant specifically to experience life in Europe which means, according to the recent note from UNHCR, Alyssa is possibly officially a migrant, not a refugee. But this reminded me of my own status, I am a migrant too. Albeit often known as an “expat” due to my privileged background. But how can we have the same status on paper when everything else is so completely different? And why did she have to nearly kill herself several times to visit Europe and I can just hop on a plane to visit Africa? And I could even kill a lion whilst I am at it. Maybe in the interests of fairness I should abstain from visiting places where citizens have less rights than me to travel to other countries, otherwise it is totally unfair. However in the case of British passport holders we can travel visa free to pretty much ANYWHERE IN THE WORLD – this blog outlines passport power of most countries and is another example of privilege that I didn’t even realise I had.

But we don’t need to travel to exotic places anymore – which is great news for our carbon footprint – as we can experience the world in our own living room and we fully intend to! Everyday I learned something new and there will be more to follow about some of the many very cool things we experienced as hosts. Thanks to Alyssa’s positive attitude and great insight into people, we were able to talk openly and in fact we quickly became friends. I actually really miss her. But as I say, more about that in Part Four (coming soon!).

View of sunset from Alyssa's room

View of sunset from Alyssa’s room

The decision to host

Princess Alyssa of Nigeria – Part Two

A good place to begin is always the beginning, but when was this? How did we become the sort of people who let a complete stranger live with us in our small flat?

Nannie Oma and sister in River Oder, Küstrin 1930

Nannie Oma and sister in River Oder, Küstrin 1930

Was history turning the cogs of fate already in 1945, when my grandmother was displaced along with 11 million Germans living to the east of the Oder-Nieße Line? Did hearing stories of my Nannie Oma‘s escape from the advancing Red Army make me sympathetic to the plight of modern day refugees? Maybe this is also what motivated Conservative MP Martin Patzelt to host refugees, as he was born and lives just 30km from where my Grandmother grew up.

Or should we fast forward almost exactly 70 years to our arrival in Vienna in May, for the Eurovision Song Contest. (My apologies, I had to get that in somewhere, I swear more Eurovision is what this world needs. Aherm, Globovision?). Upon our early arrival via the overnight sleeper from Berlin – yes we hug trees as well as refugees – we checked into the swanky Hilton Hotel. Even treehuggers need luxury sometimes, and in our room big enough for 15 people to practice their dance routine, we turned on the local news and saw a report about the tents being erected in Austria to “house” the refugees.  Something just didn‘t seem right.

However I seem to remember that the actual decision to allow a complete stranger from another continent to stay in our guest room was made several months before, in around March 2015. Looking back at the news from that time, I see there were several headlines about refugees drowning in the Mediterranean, as well as reports of the refugees arriving onLampedusa.

Above all I was motivated into action by two photos. One from Syria where thousands of Syrians queue in front of a backdrop that could have been superimposed from any one of a number of tacky post-apocalyptic movies.

image

Photo: AFP/Getty Images

And another photo of a 4 year old boy, somehow temporarily separated from his family on the long walk across the desert. There was a fair bit of hu-ha surrounding this when it turned out he was only „temporarily“ separated but I feel that was a handy distraction from the fact that HE IS A FOUR YEAR OLD WALKING ACROSS A DESERT

image

Photo:Andrew Harper UNHCR Twitter @And_Harper

Despite being regular donors to UNHCR and having given several suitcases of clothes to the local refugee homes it just didn’t feel like enough. So when I stumbled across the Flüchtlinge Wilkommen (refugees welcome) concept it seemed like exactly the right thing to do. So we signed up and it was whilst still suffering from severe post-Eurovision blues that we got the call asking if Alyssa could come to stay.  And this is where the real story of our time with Princess Alyssa of Nigeria begins. Part 3 to follow shortly!

*Name changed

Twitter: @beriyani

The latest en vogue, or should I say „in Mode“

Princess Alyssa of Nigeria – Part One

I read yesterday that an MP made the news because he has two African refugees living in the penthouse flat of his villa. Dear Martin Patzelt, someone should inform you that taking in refugees is so three months ago (Dahling!). We already did it, at the end of May. We didn’t have a spare flat to give away though, instead our refugees stayed together with us in a 69 sq. m. two-bed apartment.

Prenatal scan of our tiny refugee

One really tiny refugee

OK, OK admittedly we hosted only one pregnant refugee – therefore one of our refugees was very much smaller than one of Martin‘s. But thankfully, or maybe unfortunately, this isn’t a competition about refugee hosting, although if it were, we might have a chance of sorting out this problem. So just to be clear, despite my teasing, I think Martin Patzelt is a hero, what a fantastic thing to do. I decided to find out a bit more about him and to my surprise discovered he is a Conservative MP in the German CDU party. Maybe I am being mean, but can anyone imagine a Conservative MP in the UK hosting refugees in their own home? I can see the Daily Mail headline now! But Martin Patzelt is not alone in wanting to help refugees. Hundreds of other people in Germany are taking refugees into their homes**. Meanwhile, sadly, the top immigration headline in the UK yesterday was about the proposed new measures requiring landlords to evict „illegal“ immigrants currently being piloted in Birmingham.

BBC news headline

Immigrants Bill: Landlords “must evict” illegal immigrants

One of the many reasons I love Germany is that pretty much the entire system appears to be to the „left“ of the UK, apart from the direction of traffic and the neo-Nazis of course. But then we live with the „helpful“ reminder of how damaging crazy right wing fascists can be if they get into power. The people I know in Germany benefit from a system and culture that to British ears sometimes sounds like full-on socialism. I have noticed hundreds of small subtle differences that add-up to making life in Germany and certainly in Berlin, a whole lot easier for most people. Not all of course. And certainly not forever, as times-are-a-changing. But all these good socialist-type benefits occur under a Conservative Prime Minister, admittedly one who presides over the current Conservative/Labour coalition government. Maybe if Cameron actually adhered to the values he espoused previously, the UK too would be a much fairer, healthier, less fearful and stressed nation. But this is a story about how we came to provide a temporary home to Alyssa. This story is about Alyssa who had to leave school at 11 because there was no money to pay for her education, not David, who attended Eton and Oxford. All the same, I know who I would rather share my flat with!

*Name changed

**Be great to know if this UK project has been successful, or if any others of its kind exist in the UK. Please comment below!