Adventures of Frangipan

Saturday, 29 March 2008

Heathrow Terminal 5

I couldn't be happier that it's all going so badly. Let this be a lesson for the future too: building a third runway will not ease any pressures, because demand will increase and outstrip supply once again.

I've been worrying recently about my planned Caribbean and South America trip, due to my carbon footprint, with two long-haul flights, and probably a few between islands. My initial plan was to offset. But then I had a better idea. If I learn to sail, I could join a boat across the Atlantic and probably between islands. I'm not exactly a big fan of open water, but I'm really excited about this idea. Just the very idea of being away from everything, and the slow travel, and the sense of achievement.

And there are many places in the world easier to get to, avoiding flights, than South America. There are ferries and trains across to Europe all the time, which you can walk around on and see different views, unlike a plane where you basically stay in your seat and see the same view apart from take-off and landing. The journey you take is as important as the destination.

Anyway. I just wanted to show my support of the anti-expansion campaign. If you're interested in finding out more, visit Plane Stupid and read their '10 reasons to ground the plane'.

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Tuesday, 11 March 2008

Fairtrade Coffee

I'm fed up of being nice about this. I try to do "my bit", buying Fairtrade coffee (amongst other products) to help people out of poverty.

But after watching Black Gold on Tuesday, I realised what a feeble effort this is, and that I have to do more to make other people change their buying habits.

The price difference is now so marginal between Fairtrade products and non-Fairtrade alternatives that it cannot be much of an issue for most people.

As consumers we have the power to give people a better life. We have demanded our goods at artificially low prices for too long and multinational corporations have been all too obliging. It's the producers who are paying, both a home and abroad. And I would expect those of us from rural communities to be more empathetic about the situation, considering what our own farmers go through.

It's not charity: it's justice. Fairtrade allows profits to seep back to the producers and their communities, so they build bette lives. They're not expecting or even wanting enough money to go on holiday or even get electricity. They just want to be able to afford food, clean water and to send their children to school.

Our governments in the 'First World' have set up the global trading system in our favour, according to our rules. It is precisely because of this that the 'Third World' are in this position. We may not have explicitly said that this is what we wanted, but we benefit from their loss. But I believe it is possible to live in win-win world.

So do your bit: buy Fairtrade products wherever they are available. You can get coffee, tea, chocolate, bananas, clothes, and Tate & Lyle are about to change their entire production to Fairtrade: the biggest commitment by any of the major players. The Cooperative supermarket is also doing a lot for Fairtrade, changing all their own-brand tea and coffee over. Personally I would prefer to stay away from the big multinational-branded Fairtrade products altogether, and support the companies that only produce Fairtrade, such as Cafedirect, Equal Exchange, and the Day Chocolate Company. I think I'll support Tate & Lyle for what they're doing. Maybe it'll lead to organic products too.

And it's not just about the third world: small producers in this country are in poverty too. Help these farmers by buying locally-sourced meat at your local butchers, and use a local farmers' market for other products.

Fairtrade is gaining ground and taking up a bigger chunk of the market share, but it's a trend that needs to continue.

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Ethical Fashion

I was going to give out "instructions" for buying ethically with all my Christmas presents this year. Didn't turn out that way. Most of the gifts I bought were ethical, but I never got round to giving presents out to my friends. So I thought I'd post those instructions here instead. It applies mosly to clothing, but can be applied more widely.

(These instructions have mostly been taken from "Green is the New Black", written by Tamsin Blanchard)
  • Fashion uses 25% of the world's pesticides, is a huge waste of water and has high levels of CO2 emissions
  • 500,000 tonnes of unwanted clothing ends up in landfills each year in the UK

So think about what you're buying. Go for quality over quantity: better to have a few timelessly stylish pieces than wardrobes of clothes that barely get worn and then change each season. Ask yourself a few questions before buying, or even before going shopping.

  1. Do I really need it?
  2. Why is it so cheap?
  3. How much are the workers likely to have been paid? Are they in a good working environment, with recognised unions and decent working conditions? What about child labour?
  4. Is the packaging excessive?
  5. Is the fur trim real? (real fur has been known to get into supposedly fake fur, and I'm not talking about years ago)
  6. Is it recycled, fair trade or organic? (Charity shops and ebay also count towards recycled, and farmers get a 50% increase in income for growing organic cottonAs consumers, we can empower the people who make our clothes, to get better wages, better working conditions, and generally a better standard of living. All for a small price rise.

I remember being on a night out with four friends years ago, and we all wore dark blue jeans and a black strappy top. The tops were all different, but we still all looked the same. And that seems to be happening on an ever-increasing scale: the McDonaldsisation of fashion. It's bad enough that we accept crap chain food outlets spring up everywhere, and now it's happening with clothes (I'll discuss coffee another time).

At least people can buy different clothes if they shop in charity shops and vintage shops. They don't take up as much of your income, and with a little imagination they can be customised. Fair trade and organic are more exclusive by definition; and if can afford designer or bespoke, why would you want to buy the same clothes as everyone else?

Style is ultimately about self-expression. By purchasing more and more clothes, and demanding lower prices, we have allowed ourselves to buy poor-quality, badly made items, and lost our sense of style in the process.

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