We've had a huge response to our appeal for advice for Ethical Man. They're all being read by Justin and Sara, so keep them coming. We'll continue to publish a selection of your mails here...
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We use cotton diapers for our child, an ecologically-friendly alternative to the disposable diapers. You need to wash them every day, and there's still some discussion about whether the washing hasn't a big impact on nature anyway. But, if you put other laundry into the machine together with the diapers, you reduce that. I'm sure there are people in the UK who can also tell you more about this. Good luck!
Annelies Vandenberghe, Horebeke, Belgium
I've got a couple of small, easily do-able things to suggest. 1 - As a veggie, I eat lots of legumes. I buy a 500g pack of beans (kidney and black-eyed beans are my favourites) and cook the whole lot up together. I then spread them out to dry and freeze them. I put them in an old ice cream carton and shake them up a couple of times whilst they are freezing to keep them separate. If I want baked beans I grab a handful and make my own with tomato puree, dried herbs and a stock cube, (no tins to discard). 2 - For whatever I need to boil on the stove - beans, lentils, potatoes, etc - I bring the liquid to a boil then turn off the heat. Over the next couple of hours they will cook in the residual heat. With legumes you may have to do this a couple of times, but green veg and potatoes will cook right through. Of course you could go the whole hog and make your own "hay-box" oven and cook your stews etc right through. Best wishes Justin! I'm hoping to pick up loads of tips from your endeavours.
Paul Youd, Taunton, Somerset
This is an interesting, innovative, and provocative approach to raising key issues - and not just environmental ones! But sticking to green issues, here are some thoughts for Justin - although he may have had them several times over from other Ethical Viewers! 1 - Eat seasonal - buy local, especially from your local market where they are likely to wrap your vegetables in brown paper bags and not polythene ones - buy local foods. 2 - Always take your own shopping bags when you go shopping - cashiers will wonder what you are up to, but you will save using up to 300 carrier bags a year! Write to the PM and ask him to put a tax on carrier bags - the Irish have been doing it for 12 months at least!
Geoffrey Jackson, Clitheroe, Lancashire
I just wanted to say good luck - I too know the challenges of trying to live ethically. I am a final year international development student and am currently writing my dissertation about the effects of a western, consumer-led lifestyle on people in the developing world. 800 words down, 7200 to go!
Christina Louttit, Chester
For over 20 years I have taken aluminium cans to our local scrap merchant, the council gets the soft steel paint tins, crown corks etc. Do we really need paper labels on plastic bottles when embossed lettering would do? Even better if supermarkets were to offer 10p per bottle returned, backed by subsidies from government and manufacturers. Just looking into rubbish skips in Torbay tells me a municipal incinerator could provide enough hot water for our many old people's homes - far better than the holes in the ground, fast foreclosing. This is standard practice on the continent. Once again we are 50 to 60 years adrift in England.
Martin Egan, Torbay
The trouble with your quest to live an "ethical" lifestyle is rather like the problem I have with "ethical" investing - namely, whose ethics are we trying to live by? In the 70s and 80s my ethics told me that by buying South African fruit and wine I was doing my bit to break the sanctions which I knew to be hurting the poor black population more than the powerful white farmers, but no reputable body ever regarded such a stance as "ethical". Likewise, why is it considered "ethical" to stop visiting far-flung places which depend upon tourism for a living? And who ever decided it was unethical to use the plastic bags from supermarkets? I for one regard them as perfect for bin liners - they then absolve me of the need to buy such things separately. So, ethical lifestyle? Whose ethics?
Bill McCudden, Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire
I think the project is fantastic! I have already advised students to log on and see the progress you make and what changes you will consider to be most practical and useful. I hear you talk about carbon footprint and am sure you are aware of the "ecological footprint" which also measures our impact in practical terms very effectively. Another thought that occurred to me was "eco-balls" and how this eliminates the need for detergent in clothes washing in your machine, if indeed you consider it ethical to use one after doing your carbon calculations! Am intrigued and will look out avidly for your progress. Good luck to you and your family!
Janet Howitt, Gibraltar
Good project - I shall follow it with interest and enthusiasm, and implement my own changes, too. I like the broader "ethical" perspective, beyond simply the environmental, although the latter is important. My advice: go vegan. It ticks lots of ethical boxes.
Peter Hughes, Durham
Having moved to California 10 years ago I am still surprised at how behind the UK is in recycling. In San Jose for example, your main trash can is a recycling only can. You are punitively charged to have anything over a small regular garbage can and all yard waste is collected by the city and re-used. While California is definitely ahead of most US states with regards to environmental issues, the UK seems out of step here for a European country?
Mark Peterson, San Jose, USA
Surely living an ethical life is much more than just switching to low energy light bulbs and other ways of reducing your carbon footprint? I would like to see Justin take on some voluntary work every week to help other people or his community. I started volunteering as a befriender for Age Concern a year ago and visit a 99-year-old lady once a week. We both get a lot out of it. Perhaps Justin could try something similar? I look forward to the rest of the show.
Helen Rodgers, Southampton
Go to bed one hour earlier. By staying up late, we are using energy to keep the lights on and the TV on. Has a calculation ever been done to show how much energy we'd save as a nation if everyone were to go to bed one hour earlier? In order to reduce our impact on the environment, perhaps we need to get up with the sun and go to bed with the sun.
Let's move beyond this jibe that "ethical living" is a middle-class indulgence. Lots of the ideas on the table - energy conservation, waste minimisation, self-reliance etc - are an intrinsic part of life for many people around the world. Not everyone can put every "ethical" idea into practice, but there's an awful lot we can learn about ecological living from people in less affluent countries. Industrialisation and economic growth have been a disaster for many so-called "developing" countries - maybe it's time for us in the west to become a bit more "underdeveloped". The much-discussed compost toilet illustrates the point - rather than using the low-tech compost toilet to feed fertility from our waste back into useful production (while saving water as well) instead we've invented a complex technology to purify water, which we then foul, move to where it's of no use, and use another complex technology to purify it again. Really smart. With simple adaptations like the compost-toilet we can begin to be a productive part of the broader ecology, instead of worrying about the destructive impact of our population.
Chris Sheldon, Bath
A few ideas for relatively low-pain ways to reduce your energy use. Turn off at the plug all those appliances that have clocks on them - eg microwave, stereo - you don't need all those clocks. Get in the habit of stopping people in shops giving you a plastic bag for every single item you buy. Carry a couple of plastic bags with you for when you do need them, and leave a couple in your desk at work. Don't leave your mobile phone charger plugged in the wall, apparently more energy is used from chargers left plugged in than is used for actually charging phones.
Claire Wilding, London
Please consider, as well as environmental and economy-based decisions, including the personal development aspect. It has already been shown that the women in your family could teach you much of the meaning of ethical and they were neither being paid nor notarised previously for doing so. You only have to look at the women of our world to see that change, although painstakingly slow, has its rewards eventually or so we hope. Honesty and transparency are ethical values; we wish you good luck in what, at times, may be painful discoveries personally, professionally and globally.
Michele Sabina and Micky Harvey, Weymouth
I have operated my own renewable generator for the past 15 months, a system of my own devising which has cost me around £3000 (about the same as a posh plasma TV), which has kept me in lighting over the winter, and outside late December and January has been meeting all of my flat's electricity requirements, apart from the weekly run of the washing machine.
Rowan Nicholas Langley, Harrow
I spent most of last weekend insulating my loft with sheep's wool. Renewable, environmentally friendly, clean and easy to install without the nasty irritation that goes with fibreglass and, most importantly, very thermally efficient. I may be imagining it, but I'm sure my house feels warmer already.
Steve Willey, London
You seem to be totally focused on the environmental impact of your life with comment on the social aspect. I would have thought that truly ethical living involves consideration for others in more ways than just your carbon footprint. What about manners, noise pollution, charitable work, paying your tax on time. Ethics involves far more than the environment, unless you have discovered a new definition.
Adam Lloyd, Peterborough
Many people seem to leave computer screens on at work all the time - that seems to be about 8lbs of CO2 per night. Perhaps if you switch off a couple of monitors at work, that someone else has left on overnight, you could claim some carbon credits?!
Carl Myhill, Cambridge
We shop at thrift stores for our clothes, drive a hybrid car, eat local, recycle - all the things you do. About the only radical thing I could add is our choices in medicine: modern technical medicine generates a lot of waste, not to mention all the energy involved in the production of drugs, surgical supplies, etc, etc. We had a natural homebirth, use homeopathy and herbal medicine. Never been hospitalized or needed allopathic drugs and I am in my 40s. Sounds like a great project, keep up the good work.
Claire Green, Santa Rosa, CA USA
Could you find room to take in a renter? Great for reducing your family's footprint! Buy as much used clothing and other "things" as possible. Watch less (TV and movies) and talk and walk more. Nothing more ethical than conscious time with the wife and kids.
Chuck Huddleson, Soquel, USA
Justin, there seems to be some confusion in the terms of your new lifestyle. Environmental concern is not the same thing as ethical concern, otherwise you'd have to kill as many people as possible and bury them, as the main problem with the environment is that there are far, far to many people in the world. Of course that doesn't seem to be a very ethical notion!
Donald Wallace, Fife
Ultimately your diet is key and the first step on the path. While vegetarianism is trendy, veganism alone really addresses the issue with action, makes a significant difference and is not that much more difficult. Why not ease yourself into it by first trying a meal and then seeing if you could survive a day or a week as a vegan? You may still encounter unethical packaging and not necessarily healthy food but in the scheme of things these may prove to be acceptable costs if it encourages producers to cater for the vegan market. Good luck Ethical man.
Kenton Presland, Brisbane, Australia
Even in winter I almost always take cold showers. And have taught my kids of six, seven and nine years old to do the same. It is not painful, impossible or awful, you are just not used to it. Tricks are being warm first through exercise. You will find you are so braced that you hardly need to keep the house warm because your metabolic rate goes up as well.
Murray Robertson, near Sydney, Australia
What I can suggest, for the good of one of your public servants, is to change your letterbox. I was a postman for less than a year, and I have a spine like a bread-stick from bending over, 16kg bag in tow, and craning into ankle-level letter-boxes like yours and stuffing wad-fulls of mail-sort in that creaking trap-door, only to have to repeat the process indefinitely... with dogs, that don't even have to jump up to chew your fingers off. My suggestion: get a proper, waist-level letter-box fitted (or a natty little post-box) and ensure that your dedicated post-person doesn't despise you for all eternity.
Francis M, London
Go vegan. Livestock and fish farming are tremendously polluting. It's cheap to get organic food when you're not buying animal products (or junk food), and there have never been so many excellent resources on cooking and nutrition for vegans as there are now. The Vegan Society has fantastic nutrition pages, for a start. And try to go as car-free as you can. I'm about to move back to the UK and go as car-free as possible - I have no intention of buying a car. Everyone back home thinks I'm crazy, but none of them have an answer for the point that if I walk and bike, I won't have to go to the gym and PAY for the privilege of exercising. There are so many resources available now on ethical living/voluntary simplicity/eco-friendliness - there is no aspect of your life that can't be turned into a liberation from the social norms and a celebration of independence. It's not a chore, it's a pleasure. And it's cheaper over the long-term. Have fun!
Did my eyes deceive me or did I see your "ethical man" on last night's programme taking advice from his sister - with her three and a half kids? It is utterly laughable to see someone discussing carbon footprints and composting toilets against a backdrop of personal population growth. Without population growth over the last hundred years the world would not be anywhere near as close to disaster as it is. So for starters forget the public transport and STOP BREEDING.
Phew, rather you than me! The trouble is that whatever you do, someone else will want to "out ethic" you. Organic bacon! Why are you eating meat at all? Organic milk! What happens to male calves? Become vegan! Shouldn't you just live on forest fruits that have fallen naturally? On the basis that you're not going to be living in a tipi in mid-Wales on a diet of nuts and magic mushrooms, here are some practical tips: 1) Cycle as much as possible; 2) Have compost heaps and grow your own tomatoes etc - they're much better than the shop ones. 3) Buy local produce, but bear in mind that some poor chap in Kenya may well depend on you buying his produce as well. This will make you feel a lot fitter and you'll enjoy your skiing holiday in Zermatt that much more.
Patrick Stevens, Llangollen
Have you considered a vasectomy? Having more than one child per adult (in your case two children for you and your wife) is contributing to depleting the earth's resources. Overpopulation in the world has the highest impact on physical resources. Poor people across the world have little access to contraception (thanks to poverty, religion and male power) but why do middle-class people in the UK fail to understand their responsibility in this area? As for your sister, I suspect she doesn't work a night shift as a single parent with four kids, nor does she have an illness or a disability preventing her from pulling and pushing heavy loads. Individual changes are important, but just as important would be for you to use your job to report on transport policies, food production practices here and abroad, etc.
Don't forget to introduce water efficiency measures if you wish to reduce your environmental impact. By the way, during your discussion, Bjorn Lomborg missed the point: it is too easy to say that the problem is too great for an individual's behaviour to have a significant effect. Our relative insignificance as individuals does not absolve our individual responsibility, as it would in any other ethical dilemma. None of which denies the part to be played by collective actors!
Brendan Monaghan, Amsterdam, NL
I regularly watch Newsnight and was sparked by the ethical man to write in. I'm glad to see you tackling this issue but I hope you can take seriously the living conditions of so many suffering people, who are suffering due in large part to globalisation and world trade. There's a reason for all those nutters banging drums at the G8. I think there needs to be a clarification of issues and priorities, "carbon cost", being vegan are on one level of priority. Highlighting the suffering of individuals due to world trade - this to me is of much higher priority. Keep up the good work and I look forward to seeing how your ethical man gets on. I hope he doesn't suffer too much.
What about ethical investments? Do you know what the money you save every month is used for? What does the bank do with the money in your savings account? What does your pension fund do with the money you save? What shares do you hold? Are those companies ethical? Just a few questions for you to think about.
Roz, Munich, Germany
So Sara, your producer, wants a devilishly tough ethical task? How about dealing with the fact that thousands, maybe even hundreds of thousands, of people live in small flats that don't have gardens. I'm thinking about getting a wormery. A great idea but it won't live in my back garden, but in the shared parking space for my block. Now that should be OK because I live on the 1st floor and there are only eight flats and four floors in my small block, but how does a family in a 15th floor flat run a wormery? I saw your kitchen in the Newsnight report and, I hope you don't mind me saying, it does appear to be rather "roomy". The kitchen in my flat is so tiny that either my flatmate or I have to leave the space if the other wants to get a glass of milk! If you want a real challenge I think you should look at how you are able to be ethical, not in a semi-detached house with a garden, but in a two bedroom flat on the 15th floor of a block with two kids. Ultimately those of us who can afford to be "ethically conscious" will be but is it not a rather British, middle class approach that 99.5% of the rest of the world cannot conform to at present?
Darren Black, London
The entire environmentalist movement is one of the biggest hoaxes ever imposed upon us, the public. It is just another device to control the mindset of everyone. In my mind there are other, deeper issues being addressed indirectly. For example, those people featured on the programme are all middle to upper class, most likely leftist "arty/intellectual types" who need to justify their existence and yearn for attention. I would like to see them argue their point in developing nations like India or China etc by dictating to them on issues like less household waste, use of fuel etc. These countries need industry and all of its benefits. Nonsense, utter nonsense.
A friend of mine in Finland is trying to live for a year with his family without plastic. How about it for (so called) Ethical Man?
David Ratcliff, Canterbury
This is a little off-topic but I think it would be great if you could look into the "Free Rider" problem for one month of your Ethical Man series. Broadly speaking, the logic goes like this: why should you personally pay to reduce your environmental impact (through hassle and expense of curbing your lifestyle excesses) while others get off scot free? This is pretty extreme altruism, (although I'm sure you'll feel a sense of satisfaction from doing the right thing for the planet). To put it another way, is it right that those who already feel guilty about their environmental impact and endeavour to minimise their waste have to stand by and watch their neighbours drive to Tesco in their 4x4 and fly off to Prague on long weekends - thus undermining all the their good work? A cynic could argue quite plausibly that by reducing your own carbon footprint and municipal waste in an unregulated environment, all you're doing is providing scope for those with less of an environmental conscience to increase their own emissions with no net environmental improvement. I think you can see what I'm getting at. I don't mean to dishearten you and I applaud you for undertaking this challenge, but carbon emissions are the epitome of the problem. Maybe you could look at the ethics of "free riding" or possibility of introducing measures that make polluters pay rather than take advantage of the conscientious?
Quite, quite atypically middle class buffoonery - obviously the poor new boy is being made to perform public, ritual humiliation. I bet Paxman is guffawing from his first class seat. The composting toilet idea is a really chronic, deep green daftness of an amazing kind. On a more serious note, if Justin can find a way to show busy people how to make a difference without having to become obsessive about it I would welcome it. Maybe he could start with asking his local authority why UK authorities don't put more effort into making going green easier for the general public. Parting shot: why does going green and/or reducing carbon debt have to be all about deprivation and bloody hard work?
Jamie Taylor, London
I am amazed that "ethical living" is being presented and discussed as a novel idea. I have been living ethically for years. I may not be perfect but do the best I can. I have recycled my paper, tins, plastic and glass for about 10-15 years. I have been a vegetarian for 35 years. I have never owned a car. I do own a motorcycle which I use sensibly, often walking instead. I see no reason why others can't do the same. I live very frugally, have only flown twice in 20 years, my gas and electricity bills are about £130 per annum each - and no, I don't have solar energy. However, I have time to live like this because I don't work. My advice to Ethical Man would be to sell your car, pack in your job and go on the dole, become vegetarian (or better still, vegan), don't fly, buy organic goods where possible, recycle (obviously), do without all those consumer goodies that you don't really need, buy clothes from charity shops, don't drop litter (in fact, pick it up!), only buy European wine, buy British where possible so as to minimise impact on environment through transportation, maybe have a go at growing some veg in the garden. Living ethically isn't a problem - it's EASY!
Trevor N Wood, Bradford, West Yorkshire
Whilst this is no doubt a worthy attempt to see how "ethical" an average family can be, this will undoubtedly be swayed by the fact it is, as is usual for this kind of thing, based in London. Trying to get organic fruit and veg delivered by an LPG powered vehicle outside of the M25 is, I suspect, rather more difficult and somewhat outside the budgetary constraints of an average family outside of our capital. Also, the use of public transport to travel to work is surely a necessity rather than any altruistic display in the middle of London. The same can hardly be said for the rest of the country. Whilst I shall be intrigued to see the outcome of this experiment may I suggest it would be more representative of the ability of an "ordinary" family to live ethically if this were to be tried in a less well serviced area of the country.
Lee Harrison, Liverpool
Great project - if marginally undermined by a slight sneeriness at some of the ideas... why do grown adults still giggle at poo? Forgetting the compost toilet for now, can I recommend washable nappies? I confess I'm a bit of an eco-nutter, but thought I still had my feet on the ground enough to realise washable nappies were only an option if someone else did the washing. So for our first child, we did the laundry service thing. Much against my judgement therefore I agreed to try washing our own for the second one when a so-called "friend" gave us a set of washable ones they'd finished with. To be honest it's a doddle - and actually better than waiting a week for a collection of smelly cotton. By doing a wash each morning you don't have nappies hanging around as long, and you don't have any more contact with the yucky stuff shoving it in a machine than you do shoving disposables in the bin. So I'm converted against my better judgement because it was so easy. And, lets face it, as an "ethical man" with a pregnant wife, you don't have any choice but to try them. So to be truly ethical, don't buy new washable nappies, just pop round and collect the nappies we have finished with. I'm sure you know that reuse comes before recycle in the waste mantra of "reduce, reuse, recycle"...
The ethical man
London W12 7RJ
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