Today is the 40th Anniversary of Earth Day, a global campaign to raise awareness of environmental issues. Whilst not without its critics, Earth Day is an opportunity to reflect on our individual contributions to the core issues of environmental sustainability and to consider ways in which we could take action by changing aspects of our lifestyles.
Apparently, these changes don’t come naturally to us humans. According to an interesting article in the New York Times, our brains are not wired-up to be green:
You might ask the decision scientists, as I eventually did, if they aren’t overcomplicating matters. Doesn’t a low-carbon world really just mean phasing out coal and other fossil fuels in favor of clean-energy technologies, domestic regulations and international treaties? None of them disagreed. Some smiled patiently. But all of them wondered if I had underestimated the countless group and individual decisions that must precede any widespread support for such technologies or policies. “Let’s start with the fact that climate change is anthropogenic,” Weber told me one morning in her Columbia office. “More or less, people have agreed on that. That means it’s caused by human behavior. That’s not to say that engineering solutions aren’t important. But if it’s caused by human behavior, then the solution probably also lies in changing human behavior.” …
There are some unfortunate implications here. In analytical mode, we are not always adept at long-term thinking; experiments have shown a frequent dislike for delayed benefits, so we undervalue promised future outcomes. (Given a choice, we usually take $10 now as opposed to, say, $20 two years from now.) Environmentally speaking, this means we are far less likely to make lifestyle changes in order to ensure a safer future climate. Letting emotions determine how we assess risk presents its own problems. Almost certainly, we underestimate the danger of rising sea levels or epic droughts or other events that we’ve never experienced and seem far away in time and place …
A few years ago Weber wrote a paper for the journal Climatic Change that detailed the psychological reasons that global warming doesn’t yet scare us; in it, she concluded that the difficulties of getting humans to act are inherently self-correcting. “Increasing personal evidence of global warming and its potentially devastating consequences can be counted on to be an extremely effective teacher and motivator,” she wrote, pointing to how emotional and experiential feelings of risk are superb drivers of action. “Unfortunately, such lessons may arrive too late for corrective action.”
I don’t think however that Earth Day should be a time when we make ourselves feel as guilty as possible about the things we aren’t doing for the environment – that television we left on standby the other night, the apple core we didn’t compost and the egg carton we didn’t recycle. Instead, I believe it is far more useful if we let ourselves feel good about the things we are doing now, things that perhaps we didn’t do a few years ago or that would have been entirely alien to our way of life when we were children. Then perhaps it will be easier to think about one small extra way in which we could make a difference from today onwards.
I can remember a time when I put glass bottles, teabags and banana skins into the household rubbish bags without a second thought, when our cars were filled with leaded petrol and when our clothes weren’t washed in Ecover products. It wasn’t difficult to make those small changes – it just required a slight shift in thinking. And, far from being tedious, it was even exciting and rewarding to change to cooking on an induction cooktop!
Another small way of living in a more environmentally sustainable way is by growing some of your own food. You don’t need to have a large garden for this. As my children’s current favourite book shows, many edible plants can be grown in containers and window-boxes. We have successfully (and sometimes not quite so successfully!) grown peas, beans, garlic, spinach, potatoes, courgettes, sweetcorn, tomatoes, strawberries and pumpkins over the last three years in our small garden plot. Our huge success so far this year however is purple sprouting broccoli (do click on that link, BTW – it’s full of interesting information on how easy it really is to grow and how much tastier it is than anything you’ve ever found in the supermarket).
We didn’t really expect the plants to be much of a success at all. As they were first sprouting almost a year ago, the plants attracted a large number of beautiful, white butterflies.
“How pretty,” we thought, failing to make the connection between butterflies and caterpillars (despite having read the story of The Very Hungry Caterpillar to M on countless occasions over the course of the last four years). Needless to say, the butterflies departed and the large, juicy, green leaves of the plants were soon finding their way into the tummies of an interminable army of caterpillars.
January then arrived and covered whatever hadn’t become caterpillar nosh with a glistening frost and, just to be sure of finishing off the plants properly, a layer of icy snow.
Miraculously, the plants survived. And flourished … and continue to flourish.
I think M has more in common with a caterpillar than she’s letting on as she likes to sneak into the garden and nibble on a tender stem of the broccoli without even waiting for it to be cooked.
Yesterday evening, we delivered bunches of purple sprouting florets to friends in the village before returning home to a deliciously homegrown Purple Sprouting Broccoli Quiche for our own dinner.
Homegrown Purple Sprouting Broccoli Quiche
4 oz plain flour
2 oz self-raising flour
1 tsp salt
3 oz unsalted butter
1 tbsp cider vinegar
2-3 tbsp cold milk
4 egg yolks + 2 eggs
milk (see recipe)
1 tbsp fresh sage, chopped
1 onion, chopped
6 slices streaky bacon (optional), chopped
1 tbsp green pesto
6-7 stems of purple sprouting broccoli
3 oz Blue Stilton cheese, crumbled
salt and pepper
Note: these quantities are for a 9 1/2″ tart tin and should be scaled up or down for other sizes.
Make the pastry by combining the flours and salt, rubbing in the butter and mixing with the cider vinegar and enough milk to form a soft dough. Wrap in clingfilm and leave to rest in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.
Roll out the pastry and use to line the base of your tart tin. Blind-bake if you wish (confession time – I don’t always do this; yesterday, I brushed the unbaked pastry base of the quiche with a little melted butter, then covered it with clingfilm and popped it back in the fridge. The butter hardens again in the fridge so that it forms a protective layer between the pastry and the sloppy filling in the oven, which allows the pastry just enough time to get a head start in the cooking process before the butter melts and the bottom comes into contact with the filling).
Preheat the oven to 200 degrees C.
Put the egg yolks and whole eggs into a measuring jug. Fill with milk up to the level of 1 1/4 pints for both the eggs and milk. Stir in the chopped sage.
Fry the onions (and bacon) in a little olive oil to soften. Stir in the pesto and leave to cool.
Spread the onion/pesto mixture over the base of the quiche. Arrange the purple sprouting broccoli over the top (I placed them loosely in a grid pattern), then sprinkle with the crumbled cheese. Season.
Pour the egg/milk mixture into the filled pastry case until just before it reaches the top (add a little extra milk if needed). Poke any sticky-uppy florets into the egg mixture to coat them.
Bake in the oven for 20 minutes, then turn the temperature down to 180 degrees and bake for a further 20 to 30 minutes until the quiche is puffed and golden.
Remove from the oven and leave for 10 minutes before serving.