As part of Planet B festival in Peterborough next month I am setting up a temporary queer eco-commune (read all about that here). The wider programme has some brilliant events, talks, interventions and activisms! One of these is The Precariat - a paper full of brilliant conversation kick starters, heres an article I've written about eco-products and class. See you at the festival?
My Mum thinks I’m posh, in fact she thinks I’m middle class. She’s come to this conclusion because my husband and I don’t have a telly, the fact we cycle, grow our own food and bake bread has nothing to do with it, it’s purely because I’ve made the decision to buy out of Britain's Got Talent.
My husband and I are working class millennials - we have with no kids and we like to think we are doing the world a favour by shopping at co-operatives, bringing our own bags and buying cleaning products that smell of eucalyptus - its this reason we shop at Waitrose. Before you think I’m holier than thou, we don’t have a car my Dad drives us to the edge of our town in his diesel truck. to elevate the guilt of emissions my parents shop there too.
My Mum and Dad shop at Waitrose because they grew up in post-war poverty in social housing. The fact they can shop at Waitrose is, I suppose a mini-victory - reminding them they survived, life changed a bit, they can join in with the Jones, even if it’s only for an hour. Their money goes on satellite TV, keeping the heating on and the fridge full - this is something that will never change, the result of growing up hungry and cold.
Mum always remarks how different our trolleys look “yours is full of colourful things, ours is full of shit”. We both love cleaning, we take pride in our homes being as presentable as possible. Whilst traipsing the cleaning aisle I trolley all of Waitrose’s own-brand eco-range - bathroom cleaner, kitchen cleaner, multi-surface cleaner, fabric conditioner, even the washing up liquid - I buy two of some things because they are on offer. Mum reaches for her stables - Vanish, Bleach and Flash each with child safety locks and hazard warning.
I tell Mum she should consider using the eco-line, that it’s better for the planet (I’m basing this on nil personal research, but it sounds about right). I tell her it would better for her skin (again, no evidence to back this up), that it would be better in general, because the product tells me so - its “eco”. She asks “does it go very far? Is it any good? Is it very dear?”
Instead of convincing her otherwise I realise that perhaps the reason I’m able to buy, gloat and elevate my impression of my carbon footprint is because I can afford to do so. I can afford the extra £1 per bottle, I can afford uninformed ethics.
Eco-ignorance wasn’t something I was born into, grew up with or has been something I’ve practiced for very long. Like my parents I grew up on an estate - recycling wasn’t a thing until about five years ago there. Composting is something I’m still learning to be able to stomach - like my parents food is a tricky one for me.
I learnt how and why to recycle because my husband taught me - he was brought up in a house, a house that did that sort of thing; yes, I’m clumsily trying to demonstrate that if you are posh and/or if you grow up in a house where ecology is on the menu it will be something you will unquestionably bring into your adult life.
I now live in a working class area of the Essex sea side - every Wednesday we separate our rubbish into four separate bags for Southend Council - red bags for plastic, blue for paper, white for textiles, black for anything else. As I leave for work my road is a wash with mountains of black bags, part of me wants to knock on each door and tell them off, the other half wants me to sort their rubbish for them - but neither help, neither change anything because next Wednesday is just a week away.
If we’re going to affect change greater than just the usual long haired, flip flop wearing, Glastonbury going eco-warriors saving the planet we must accept a few eco-truths - recycling is considered a classed and gendered activity.
Like it or not eco-mindfulness is something people like my parents think people with money do. OK, there's an argument that not all eco-products cost more, not all methods of reducing our outputs mean we need money but the choice of cheaper is first and foremost for what the Tories call ‘ordinary working families.
Without decent self sufficiency education, without eco-familiarity, without VAT exemption and sizeable tax breaks for low-carbon business’, ridgid regulation on those pumping chemicals into world ecology it will always be something someone else with the luxury of time, land and wealth will do - it’s why the Prince Charles is such a smuge Duchie arsehole.
We must also accept ecology is gendered - blokes like my Dad (by blokes I mean working class men) are less likely to buy these soft, namby pamby, “enrich your life” products - it’s why the market is saturated with brutal, aggressive, highly scented, chemically coloured ‘for Men’ shower gels.
I’m willing to lay a bet that chances are the fact you’re reading this article, in a paper about ecology, promoting an eco-awareness festival means you already recycle, you already buy so-called eco-friendly stuff made from plants, sold in plastic bottles. You’re reading this thinking this is about someone else.
You can buy as many eco-reusable-biodegradable things for your solar powered home as you like but eco-socialism will never be achieved if you’re not willing to share your privileges - wealth, knowledge and (solar) power.