January and it’s resolution time again. This month you will be voting on the four NFWI resolutions selected this year, and what a thought provoking and diverse collection they are. Which will you vote for?
As I write this the 2022 United Nations Climate Change conference is in full swing. I am minded today that there is an equally pressing resolution we should all take, that of actively addressing climate change and encouraging our governments, councils, our friends and families to take action.
Science has established beyond all doubt that the window for climate action is closing rapidly. This was emphasised in the speech by UN Secretary-General António Guterres that the ‘planet is now dangerously close to the point of no return’ and that ‘We are on a highway to climate hell with our foot still on the accelerator.’ Food for a great deal of thought I believe!
As our enormously hiked bills for domestic fuel arrive on our doorsteps, we once again review our usage and seek ever more innovative ways to reduce our consumption, but there is a limit to what we can do. If we can ride this, could there be a silver lining to this cloud? Will this encourage local planning officers, energy producers and the government to accelerate projects funding the insulation of houses and the production of renewable energy? It can only help but unfortunately such projects cannot be completed overnight.
One of the most visible indications of climate change in the UK, apart from the record-breaking hot summer of 2022 and the year-on-year earlier arrival of Spring, is the rising sea level around our coasts and the erosion of our coastline, speeded along by last year’s Storm Arwen. Images of houses falling into the sea and coast roads where entire sections have been washed away are truly shocking. No positives here.
An article in the Spring 2002 issue of Action Aid’s Action headed: “The climate crisis is a feminist issue” caught my attention. It reinforced the notion that women have a powerful voice and the “skills and expertise needed to design effective, and just, climate solutions.” And as a corollary, that we as WI members are part of this body of inspiring women. We are, after all, members of an institution that has a voice with a national audience that has always been — and still is — a powerful one!
It is tempting to see climate change action as a domestic issue, maybe because in this way, we can see that the things we do individually can have a visible impact locally.
But climate change is an issue that spans cultures, nations and beliefs. It is about families, streets, people and communities the world over.
Despite the current reminders of climate change that we encounter every day, the impact on some other communities and countries across the world is far more significant, particularly in relation to the lives of women and children. Following the five Rs — refuse, reduce, reuse, recycle, rot —we can make a marked difference to our level of consumption and levels of disposal. But what happens to our carefully sorted waste when it leaves our doorsteps?
One of the key outcomes of the Big Plastic Count was not only to investigate the level of plastic waste across the UK but also to ascertain what is then done with it.
The results of the investigation, based on the feedback of quarter of a million UK citizens, gives a unique insight into what we recycled and how it has been processed.
UK households throw away 1.85 billion pieces of plastic waste a year, that’s 3,432 pieces per year by each household. Of that, 12% is reprocessed in the UK, 17% is shipped overseas, 46% is incinerated and 25% goes to landfill. Not bad I think until I realise that those items incinerated produce electricity with a greater carbon footprint than electricity made from coal and 70 times greater than that produced by offshore wind!
This is a dire picture of waste management in the UK and positions us second in the world behind the USA for plastic usage. This evidence may leave us trembling and asking: What can I do to make a difference?
I was similarly deeply shocked by an article in the national press that described the once desolately beautiful Atacama Desert in Chile as having significant areas decimated by some 60,000 tons of unwanted clothing which are dumped there every year. What cannot be recycled is disposed of by a once-a-year fire, adding significant amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere, or decomposition, a process that can take 200 years as many of the materials are not biodegradable. They also shed chemicals.
The environmental consequences are stark. Textile waste in now responsible for 10% of global greenhouse emissions, as well as releasing a million tons of microfibres into the ocean every year.
We, as WI members, can play a significant part here by buying only the clothes we need and avoiding manmade fabrics where possible.
The Earthshot Prize, launched by the then Prince William in 2021, designed to ‘find and grow the solutions that will repair our planet’ identifies five targets that might help us focus our efforts. They are:
 Protect and Restore Nature,  Clean our Air,  Revive our Oceans,  Build a Waste Free World and  Fix our Climate.
This bold and ambitious plan, at first seemingly unattainable for us as WI members, provides us with a blueprint. Breaking each down, what single action can you and your WI take on each of these aims? Begin to discuss this with your members and actions will emerge. Your initiatives might include:
 A speaker on at least one of these topics in your programme annually;
 Prioritise an action that all members of your WI can get involved in e.g. a simple swap, glass for plastics milk bottles;
 Shop locally, reducing food miles and unnecessary packaging;
 Turn your heating down by 1° at home and in your meeting hall;
 Grow your own salad leaves.
It seems to me that the key word to protecting our planet is reduction, or as Grandma would say ‘Moderation in all things’, and that the actions of women are key and central in controlling climate change. And so we as women and WI members have a significant and fundamental role to play.
Climate change truly is a feminist issue.

Carol A. Gartrell
Federation Chairman

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