Monday, March 30, 2009

Put People First

Saturday saw the biggest public demonstration since Britain hit this current financial mess.

What I found heartening was that groups with very different agendas could find common ground to come together for the Put People First march.

Hardened trade unionists, traditional church groups and a huge variety of charities, from big names like ActionAid to smaller environmental campaigners, all walked together to press the G20 leaders to turn their minds to ‘jobs, justice and climate’.

Less peaceful protests are feared for later this week, but at least for this one day ordinary people had the chance to turn out and show that grassroots action is still alive and well.

We in the UK still have the right to march, shout and protest.

And even if you feel cynical about how much effect waving banners or chanting has, that right isn’t to be taken lightly.
It’s something that people in many countries are denied.

Watching Saturday’s protest, and the daily news headlines, makes us all wonder what’s to come.

It’s a time of confusion, from wondering what hope there is for the global economy and the environment to whether your job will be there tomorrow morning.

Some would say it’s the end of an era, and we are all being dragged into a very necessary world change, that could be the next stage of evolution.

It is possible we are witnessing the birth of a largescale shift in economic and political cultures.
But in such times of change, we all need to hold fast to some things, to reassure ourselves and shore up good feelings for harder times to come.

A good start is doing small things that make our lives more meaningful and positive.
That could mean something as simple as doing a good turn for a neighbour, putting something on Freecycle or teaching your kids about Fairtrade or climate change.

Small steps are all part of building a more positive future for ourselves and others, and what better place to start than with our homes, workplaces and families. Then, we'll be in an even better, more informed position to take to the streets to call for wider change...

Kristian Buus/ActionAid

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Thursday, March 19, 2009

Maternal instincts

This Sunday, mothers up and down the country will sit back while someone else washes up the dishes - a popular way to give mum a rest on Mother's Day.

I'm counting on a card or two (plantable
ecohip ones, if they've been listening to my hints).

If only because a few years ago, my husband 'forgot' and the fallout meant that he now has the date hardwired into his brain.

But I've also been thinking about what the concept can stand for.

In many ways, it's easy to dismiss Mothering Sunday as yet another marketing ploy, an opportunity for shops to set up big displays of presents, from chocolates to bubble bath.

I used to be pretty cynical about it, and even more about the American invention of Father's Day.

But is it really such a bad thing?

What is wrong with celebrating the role of nurturing and bringing up a family - in both women and men?

In Europe, Mothering Sunday dates back to Roman times, when the mother goddess Cybele was celebrated in mid-March. The day later became incorporated into the Christian calendar to honour the Virgin Mary and the 'mother church'.

In the 16th century it was a chance for people to return home to see family (it was called 'to go a-mothering') or attend their 'mother' church. In later times it was a rare day off for domestic servants.

Today, many people are more likely to head for a pub lunch than a church pew. But if we hold on to the original impulse rather than give in to rampant consumerism, it's still as valuable as ever.

The impulse to nurture and care is more important than ever, and ties up with being 'green' and aware of our environment.

Just as mothering/parenting isn't easy (and often a million miles away from the idealised image we start out with), caring about the planet gets more complicated the longer you do it and the more you know.

But when it comes to how we to bring up our children and choose to live our lives, thinking things through, sometimes making difficult choices, is what counts.

As any parent who has spent today with a toddler or a teenager knows, life isn't like the movies. And just as mothering can't be summed up by a box of chocolates, caring for the wider world extends beyond re-using the odd carrier bag.

But as long as we keep trying to do the right thing, and learning along the way, that's got to be a good thing - right?


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Thursday, March 5, 2009

Germ warfare

Ever wondered what goes into those antibacterial handwashes?

Those wise people at the Ecologist recently revealed the truth about how harmful they can be.

Their message is: should you wash your hands? Yes. Should you use an antibacterial handwash? No.

Some soaps and handwashes are not just harmful to our skin, but they also contain antibacterial chemicals like Triclosan, benzalkonium chloride or chlorohexidine.

These work in the same way as antibiotics and can contribute to bacterial resistance at home and in the wider environment.

Triclosan, in particular, is bad news because it breaks down into a carcinogenic dioxin compound in our rivers and streams.

When we wash our hands with soap and water, it doesn’t kill ‘germs’ – instead it creates a slippery surface so they ‘slide off’.

However, while antibacterial handwashes do kill bacteria and viruses, within 90 minutes there is generally no difference in the number of bacteria and viruses on your hands.

Many handwashes contain ‘parfum’, made up of dozens of chemicals, which have been linked to asthma, plus the fragrance ingredients citronellol, linalool and limonene – which produce a high rate of allergic reactions.

Not all handwashes contain the dreaded Triclosan, but alternatives like methyldibromo glutaronitrile can cause skin rashes.

Then there’s preservatives such as tetrasodium EDTA, a chemical that binds with heavy metals in lakes and streams.

Sodium Laureth Sulphate, a common ingredient, is a detergent that can cause skin dryness and eye irritation.

If all this sounds offputting, there is an alternative. I’ve used Ecosopia handwash in my home for ages, and both my kids have suffered from dry skin and eczema in the past.

With Ecosopia, there’s never been a problem.

And there’s a reassuringly short list of natural ingredients, including organic oils and plant extracts (plus my daughter’s happy because they are not tested on animals and contain no animal ingredients).

If you’re worried about bacteria, the advice is to use normal soap and wash your hands (or your kids’ hands) ‘properly’ - covering the hands with soap and rubbing them vigorously together for 15 seconds before rinsing.

Job done.


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