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How I didn’t stop global warming. The Climate Diary of a concerned consumer

  • By Jaś Kapela
  • 16th June 2015
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As part of our Weather Stations project, creating literary responses to climate change, Writer in Residence Jaś Kapela spent December 2014 documenting the daily challenges he faced as he tried to become a more conscious consumer.

I started writing The Climate Diary encouraged by Claus Leggewie and Harald Welzer. In The End of the World as We Once Knew It they wrote: “every day we do things that go against our deepest beliefs. This book is about energy consumption, which we increase despite the fact that we know better and often don’t have to do it. We do it by using taxis, cars and planes. There are plenty of examples showing how easy it is for us to gloss over the contradictions between our beliefs and our behaviour. Proof? If you are aware of the climate protection issues, start writing your own climate diary, noting how often, in what way and in which situations you break your own principles stemming from that awareness.” As a person aware of the climate protection issues, I have decided to start my diary.

2 December, 10:30 a.m.

I have turned the radiator up. Because I was feeling unwell. And today I really don’t want to get ill. I don’t have time to be ill. Isn’t my health more important than turning the radiator up to generate a bit more heat?

2:30 p.m.

I met a friend for lunch and got some soup to go. I didn’t bring a container, so I was given a disposable one made of Styrofoam. And I didn’t bring a container, because I wasn’t planning to get any takeaways. But the soup was part of the 5 złoty set and I felt like it, but I was afraid that if I ate it straightaway, I wouldn’t be able to eat the main. So I got it to take away.

3 December, 3 p.m.

I went to the shop to get tobacco and some linden tea, because I was coming down with a cold. There is nothing like cigarettes for colds. Joke. When you have a cold it’s best to stay under a blanket and drink tea. I wasn’t planning to get anything else, so I didn’t take my shopping bag with me. But when I was out and I got my tobacco, I decided that it might be a good idea to buy some fruit as well. After all fruit is a natural source of easily absorbed micro-elements and vitamins. But because I didn’t bring my shopping bag, I had to take a plastic one from the greengrocer.

4 December

I bought a new computer. Well, not exactly new, as it is second hand, but new for me, because I still have the old one. I got the old one a good few years ago and it really was on its last legs. Kept freezing all the time and stuttering, so I thought it was time to get a new one. Now I’m in a quandary, because the old one still works, even though it likes to freeze and stutter. Well, I’m not going to throw the old one away, I will give it to my brother who will find it some use, I’m sure. To make it worse, the new computer came packed in bubble wrap. And I don’t know what to do with it now. It’s a shame to chuck it, so it is sitting on the armchair, sending me reproachful looks.

5 December, 12 p.m.

I went shopping. In the greengrocer I told the shopkeeper that I didn’t need the plastic bag just for two onions. “Always a decagram more,” he cracked a joke. He meant that he would make more money thanks to that plastic bag. It took me a while to get his joke. So we were there, laughing and in the end I took the plastic bag, which I didn’t want. I hope he really did make some money on it.

1:18 p.m.

A courier brought a parcel, which reminded me about my dilemma on how to use courier services in an ethical way. As if it wasn’t enough that they increase traffic on the roads, couriers’ working conditions (as well as sorting departments employees’) are truly dismal. But since stating it doesn’t help them at all, perhaps I should instead cycle to get all those things, which are so easy to buy online with one click of a button? They might be more expensive, but all in all it would be cheaper, because I wouldn’t buy half of those things.

Mobile phone
This is my old mobile phone which I lent to a friend to avoid feeling guilty that it’s just collecting dust

9 December

I have changed the phone and now I’m guilt tripping again. I’m thinking about all those children forced to work in gold and platinum mines, thanks to whom I can enjoy a new mobile phone every other year. I would like to be able to shake their hands one day. To thank them for all those years which kept my life on a steady, technologically advanced level. But I will probably never have the chance; I can only lament their fate fleetingly. Perhaps I should light a candle for them? Or perhaps I shouldn’t have changed the phone? After all the old one still works and if I put some work into it, if I got rid of all the junk, it would probably keep working well for quite a while longer. Admittedly I was annoyed with the crappy camera, but if I want a good camera perhaps I should get a camera and not keep changing my mobile every two years in the hope of finally getting a snapper that is good enough. Perhaps I should do just that, but for now what is done, is done. I bought a new mobile and extended my contract with the operator for two more years. Poor us.

10 December

On my way to Lubomierz (a village in the mountains where my grandparents left me a cottage) I bought a yeast pastry and a bagel. Both were put in plastic bags and I was too much in a hurry to object. There was this experiment once when young pastors were asked to prepare a sermon on the Good Samaritan and then told to go to a different building to deliver it. Most of them were in such a hurry that they didn’t even notice a man lying on the pavement, pretending to have an epilepsy attack. Only a few of them stopped and checked if he was alright.

12 December

I’ve travelled into the mountains and I’m sitting here writing a book. I came by train and coach, which wasn’t too bad for the climate. Today I took a coach to Mszana Dolna, a slightly bigger town than Lubomierz where my grandparents’ house is located. I’m wondering now if it was a stupid idea. I bought a lot of things, which I will most likely need, but some of them I could have bought in the village shop (though not most of them). And anyway even if I couldn’t buy some of those things in the local shop, perhaps it is time to learn how to cook good meals using products that I can find in the nearest shop. And not just soya milk and sun dried tomatoes from Biedronka supermarket all the time. After all tinned beans are also an excellent product, one that I have not appreciated enough in my cooking up until now. Perhaps it is time to get more friendly? Non-tinned beans would be better, of course, but who has time to soak them? On the other hand if climate matters to me, perhaps I should find the time needed?

Basically I went to town, because I made an attempt at climbing yesterday, but gave up quickly. The crampons I fastened to my boots were broken and I had to adjust them all the time. So I thought I would buy myself new crampons. You would expect to be able to buy them in every other shop in a little town located in the mountains, wouldn’t you? After all a lot of people go climbing here and surely they need that kind of a product? But I found out it was not the case. Clearly people have better boots and are more skilled in walking on ice than I am. Nobody here needs crampons. In the end I bought myself a new pair of boots. One good thing is that they are not made of leather, but still quite pretty. I did indeed need a new pair of boots, as I only have a pair of riding boots for winter. And I can’t wear riding boots everywhere I go. Or perhaps I can? Perhaps I don’t need new boots at all? And some other things I bought? For example, if I had more forethought I would have brought my sunglasses from home and I would not need to buy a new pair. But I didn’t have enough forethought. I was too busy doing other things. I didn’t think about what I might need in the mountains. As a result I bought even more things, things, which I don’t need in a longer run. And the GDP keeps growing and growing, and growing. One day it will bury the old world.

There is one more thing that worries me. Usually I don’t think about it. It’s electricity. I can’t live without electricity; I understood it today. It was very windy and suddenly the lights went off. It was 9 p.m. The idea of spending the rest of the evening without power, by the candlelight, was unbearable. Even more so when I finally found and lit candles, which were just some pathetic stumps. You couldn’t even read. I wrote on Facebook that I had a power cut and asked what to do. A friend inquired how much battery I had left. (That’s quite telling too – that I can be without power, but still have enough power to write on FB.) I thought about her question and wrote: “Do you mean my laptop, tablet, mobile phone or the other mobile phone?” Of course while writing those words I was fully aware of their dubiousness. As a person concerned with the climate issues I shouldn’t be showing off with my technological overindulgence, should I? But I feel like doing it, exactly because I shouldn’t. I constantly think about reducing my energy consumption. I tend to switch off my computer, tablet and mobile when not using them. Ok, one of the mobiles. But still.

15 December

I’m still in the mountains, which supports my ecological lifestyle. I haven’t left the house for the second day in a row. Of course I’m still emitting CO2 by using the fireplace, my computer, and so on, and so forth. After reading another text on balanced development – on the economics of waste, to be precise – I stumbled upon the idea that it doesn’t make sense to flush the toilet after a wee; we should only do it after a poo. I agree with this thought. Getting the water to the top of the mountain just to let it out mixed with urine seems quite absurd. But it can be difficult to change one’s instinctive reactions. I still catch myself flushing after a wee. There is a long way from the resolution to the actual change.

panoramic view of mountains
I found out that my mobile can take panoramic pictures. That’s what it looks like.

16 December

I have to go to Kielce to stand as a witness in a case about a photo I once took of myself with the inscription that read: “Pope is a dick and Poland is a whore”. I don’t know if they can find the perpetrators; I don’t know who wrote it. And I presume I’m the only witness, as this photo was taken in Berlin. If I wasn’t in the picture, there would no case at all. At least I am not the suspect. But I still have to go to Kielce, which is stupid, because that will increase my carbon footprint. Not to mention the footprint of the prosecutor’s office, wasting fuel on such stupid cases.

I made hummus sandwiches for the road and packed a salad, which I have been eating for the third day in a row. It’s a leftover from the visit of my Auntie and Uncle and their kids. I had to change in Krakow. The railway station in Krakow has been practically turned into a shopping centre, so there is nowhere to sit down if you don’t want to sit in the chain coffee shop, a bakery or a restaurant, but in the end I managed to find a bench where I could perch and eat my meal. I was very proud of doing something so naff like eating home-made food in the middle of this retail temple. Nobody paid any attention to my act of resistance, but that wasn’t important. Perhaps today nobody notices it, but tomorrow they might themselves think that it doesn’t make sense to buy a hamburger if they can bring a home-made sandwich, which is cheaper, tastier and healthier.

The hearing went on for so long that I didn’t even have time to buy anything else to eat. At least I didn’t get another plastic bag.

18 December

I went to see a friend in Cieszyn, where more resources are wasted than at home in Lubomierz. For example I bought three pairs of socks just because they were decorated with an inscription saying: “fuck you”. There was one thing there that made me happy (apart from the fact that trips are generally cool, my friend is cool and it was generally nice there). The friend’s toilet was broken and it was not enough to press the button to flush, you had to open the tap too. So flushing the toilet required a moment of reflection, which gave me time to remember that flushing after a simple wee is a waste. It stopped me from doing just that. I only flushed after a longer session.

19 December

I went shopping and forgot to take my cotton shopping bag, because I was only supposed to buy a bread roll and a paper but, of course, there were other things: apples, pickled peppers, another bread roll. I couldn’t stuff it all into my pockets but I still refused to take the offered plastic bag.

20 December

I’ve come back to the house in the mountains and now I’m wondering if sitting here on my own is indeed ecological. I buy fewer things, that’s true, but heating adds more to the global warming than making plastic bags which I sometimes accidentally take. Admittedly winter this year is particularly warm, but not so warm as to sit there just in a jumper. Luckily the family will come down soon, which will make it more energy efficient.

27 December

Christmas, Christmas, Christmas. We ate from morning till night, we managed not to resort to a fistfight, and I was called a fascist only three times. Luckily my mother has done most of the shopping, so I didn’t have to concern myself with calculating the amount of carbon dioxide released into the air. But I did tell her off for trying to burn plastic in the fireplace. We have recycling systems; we don’t need to burn rubbish. But I don’t think I convinced her and she still burns rubbish when I’m not looking. I’m a bit worried about putting weight on, but fortunately I have a metabolism of a 15-year-old, so pretty much everything is out of my system soon after I’ve eaten it. Let’s see what the scales in the gym show though. When I finally get there. Not flushing after a wee is proving more difficult than I expected, but I am slowly getting used to it. And stopping myself.

30 December

I came back to the city and the plastic bag problem returned. Everybody wants to give them to me. I try to decline, with varied results. It’s not always easy to say no, sometimes it is easier to take it and just live with it. I mean, it is always easier, but I don’t give up. Luckily there is a shop on my street where they sell different types of grains, dried fruit and nuts or spices packed in paper bags. So I try to shop there. Not that this shop wasn’t there before, but I didn’t like going there because there used to be a guy who liked to wear a nationalists’ t-shirt working there. What’s the point of fighting against global warming if you support nationalism? Luckily the staff has changed. I’m not sure if I mentioned it before, but I might become a vegan. That will surely decrease my carbon footprint. Meat industry is responsible for over 20 per cent of CO2 emissions. Well, when you buy vegetables, it is difficult to stop the shopkeepers from putting them in plastic bags, but I’m sure there must be a way around it. I will tackle it in the New Year. That’s my resolution.

Translated by Anna Hyde

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