Ego versus Eco

8 October 2007

So it’s a new year, you’ve a new room – perhaps your first ever away from home – and the last thing you want to think about is being a teensy bit environmentally-friendly. After all, isn’t being a Cambridge student all about delicious decadence? Work too hard, so play too much, drink too much, spend too much.

Your room is the centre of this, and with often negligible electricity bills, it’s easy to forget that somewhere, somehow, things might be getting a little bit worse simply because you haven’t switched your computer off for eight days.

I know, I know, global warming, melting icecaps, dying planet blah-di-blah we’ve heard it all before. Let’s face it, the only sort of ‘green’ you want to be is that peculiar shade which warns of imminent embarrassment after a night out at Cindies. And it would be no bad thing if Cambridge were to warm up a little.

And yet… what if the planet really is dying? Surely, as individuals with all the privileges of modern ‘civilisation’ and just about as well-educated as can be, it would do us no harm to heave our consciences out of that hangover-induced abyss in order to live, think and act more responsibly.

After all, is it really acceptable to be more concerned about tourists trampling on a manicured college lawn than bulldozers decimating half of the Amazon rainforest? I think not.

I’m not asking you to itch yourselves silly with underwear made of hair, or quit your degree in order to hand-rear monkeys on the other side of the world. I’m not even asking you to shiver your way through a Cambridge winter with your central heating turned off. But there are a few small things we can all do, and as Tesco so frequently reminds us: every little helps.

1. Switch things off at the wall, instead of leaving them on standby. It takes about a minute extra, and makes a world of difference.

2. Recycle. Paper, cardboard, cans and glass. These daily features of a student existence all have friendly bins just waiting to gobble them up. And then you can buy them back, brand spanking new and give yourself a pat on the back.

3. Recycling doesn’t just have to be about relinquishing used goods to the munching machine however:

• Old jam jars and food cans make quirky (I actually hate that word) flower vases

• Wine bottles hold taper candles

• Used wrapping paper will line your drawers to protect clothing

• Use both sides of a piece of paper, even just for rough notes and

shopping lists

4. Make sure your heating is turned off before you open any windows, and similarly, close windows before turning the heating up. Along the same lines, add layers of clothing and blankets to your bed in preference to full-power radiators.

5. Seek out organic and fairtrade clothing brands – not too difficult now the high street is catching on. Even ‘cheap’ stores have their own ranges of organic cotton products so there’s really no excuse… Alternatively, be extra-keen and super-stylish by going treasure-hunting in Cambridge’s many charity shops. And once you’re done with your stuff, be sure to pass it on to them.

6. Buy local produce, either British, or better still, from the market. Consider the amounts of fuel needed to transport fruit and vegetables from countries like New Zealand and South Africa, and the fabulous range of seasonal produce on offer here will seem all the more appealing.

7. Exercise by walking and cycling. Not only are bikes environmentally friendly modes of transport, they are also friendlier than your average high power output gym complete with bright lights and sound system. If that wasn’t incentive enough, cycling is also kinder to your joints and skin.

8. Don’t be ripped off by counterfeit ‘traditional handmade’ goods. They are a waste of your money, and damage opportunities for genuine craftspeople. Stick to reputable stores, or ask more about the origin of the products if unsure.

9. Avoid purchasing things, particularly food, which come with heaps of unnecessary packaging. This packaging is frequently non-biodegradable and almost always completely pointless. Stick to simpler foodstuffs and you’ll be doing your health a favour into the bargain.

10. Finally, consider the state of the country you’re buying from. If they have a poor human rights record and low quality of life, it’s likely that someone’s suffered in the making of your potential purchase. Just think twice,

that’s all.