Tuesday, 26 November 2019

A minimalist’s approach to combating climate change

If the Earth becomes uninhabitable, what alternatives do we have?

My colleague Claire Cox recently had one of her excellent articles, entitled “Going greener in your office”, published in the ITI Bulletin. In it she argues that when it comes to freelance working practices, there’s an awful lot we can do, even on an individual level, to make sure we are more environmentally aware.

I’d like to chip in as well and contribute my twopence worth, also from a minimalist’s point of view. Climate change is the biggest threat faced by our generation and will become an even bigger threat to future generations. The outlook is scary, daunting challenges lie ahead, and unprecedented and far-reaching changes will be needed.

If the Earth becomes uninhabitable, what alternatives do we have?

The following are actions which I implement to do my bit to combat climate change. To my mind, they are simple actions which we can all take to contribute towards preserving the planet and to enhance our quality of life in general.

1) No to beef and cows’ milk

The food sector, especially the meat and dairy sector, is among the biggest contributors to global warming. When cows burp while digesting food, they release methane, a greenhouse gas. It’s said that if cattle formed their own nation, they would constitute the third-largest emitter of greenhouse gases (after China and the US).

Therefore, it is clear we can help the planet simply by changing our diets and minimising our consumption of meat, especially beef. This, by the way, seems a wise thing to do for health reasons anyway. Although I’m not a fully-fledged vegetarian, these days I nevertheless often opt for plant-based foods, which are healthier than meat and can also be incredibly tasty!

For long-term health benefits, to slow down my aging process etc., I also avoid cows’ milk wherever I can. Cows’ milk is not meant for humans. There are other, much better milk alternatives available that are safe for consumption by humans: almond milk, coconut milk, goats’ milk and others.

2) Minimal driving

Greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles are hugely damaging to the planet and are accelerating global warming at a frightening and very dangerous pace. It’s a fact that there are too many vehicles on our roads. So it really is a no-brainer that – if and to the extent possible – we should use our cars less and instead cycle, walk or use public transport more.

Greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles are accelerating global warming at a frightening and very dangerous pace

I know it’s very easy for me to say that because, as several blog readers will know, I’ve been terrified of driving all my life. (Even just sitting in the passenger seat causes similar stress levels.) I haven’t driven for almost five years, but instead cycle to all places within cycling distance, or I walk, go by bus or travel by train. And I love it!

Incidentally, I’m a patent translator, and I usually gladly accept projects about inventions pertaining to autonomous driving/driverless cars, but also projects about inventions pertaining to electric vehicles. I don’t mind helping the state of the art in these fields along a bit by translating patent claims and descriptions, while hoping I can postpone getting back behind the steering wheel for another while.

So admittedly, my reason for not driving is not primarily my concern for the environment. However, I believe we should all at least make the effort to drive less to help avoid climate breakdown. Cycling is not just very enjoyable, it’s also sustainable. What’s more, in many cities (especially in Bristol!) it’ll often take you faster from A to B than a car.

Switching to a climate-friendly vehicle is a cool option!

Fuels will need to be replaced by renewable energy sources, so switching to a more climate-friendly vehicle is another cool option. Here’s hoping that electric cars will become more affordable in the not-too-distant future.

3) Reduction of carbon footprint from flying

Since I aim to minimise my carbon footprint from fossil fuels, I don’t fly often. Again, I know it is easy for me to say that. I am very fortunate in that I live in the UK, a country that I would probably head off to on holiday often if I still lived in Germany (where I’m originally from): I love spending time right where I’m based now! My idea of a perfect holiday destination is the English coast (or the Scottish coast, which I was lucky enough to explore a bit last summer).

I was born with a heightened sensitivity to bright lights, so sunshine is not even among the first things I look out for in a holiday. I am therefore perfectly (and indeed very) happy in places with less exposure to sunshine. (Having said that, the weather here in the UK is usually way better than most people on the continent think it is!) However, I do have empathy for anyone who craves sunshine and heat and therefore opts for aeroplane travel to head off to far-flung holiday destinations.

South West Coast Path near Lynton/Lynmouth on the North Devon coast in the UK

Occasionally, though, I hop on a plane, too. After all, it’s so convenient and fast (and too cheap). However, of course, planes run on fossil fuels. The Germans have a word to describe that awkward feeling that creeps up on you when you take a flight that’s unnecessary because you know it’s harmful to the environment: “Flugscham”. So could we change our flying habits, for example by looking into the possibility of virtual meetings for work?

4) Minimised shopping and consumption

Since almost everything that we buy has a carbon footprint (either in how it’s been manufactured or/and how it’s been shipped), it seems wise generally to shop, consume and throw away less. To counteract the dangers we’re confronted with from climate change, let us, at the very least, consume consciously and make informed decisions about what we buy.

This message incidentally chimes with what minimalists repeatedly proclaim: Less tends to be more, and happiness can’t be bought in a shop anyway. Acknowledge that there are benefits to reducing and minimising on all fronts, benefits to recycling as much as we can, and benefits to reusing and repairing things. Opting for quality, not quantity, is the thing!

Less is usually more, and happiness can’t be bought in a department store

Have you ever toyed with the idea of creating a capsule wardrobe that is tailored just to you? For inspiration, you may want to check out my blog article in which I describe three minimalist wardrobe principles. A minimalist wardrobe is not just good for the environment; it’ll also make you look and feel great!

5) Digital footprint minimisation

Every search query that we type into Google, every email that we send, and every work project that we complete on our computers causes CO2 emissions because energy is required to operate the computers to carry out these activities. Frankly, I cannot see how as a translator I could use my computers less. After all, I need them – and need them a lot – to secure my livelihood.

However, I guess it could be argued that what I do on a computer is generally far less energy-consuming than, for example, streaming videos. After all, I often just use a word processor to draft, rewrite and polish my texts. Or I search online materials in a textual format to retrieve relevant information for use in my work.

The Ecosia search engine could help us become greener in our online habits

Have you heard of Ecosia? I’ve recently learnt that Ecosia is an alternative, so-called “green” search engine. The company, based in Berlin, Germany, donates large parts of its profits to non-profit organisations which focus on reforestation. According to the Ecosia website, as of 24 November 2019, more than 75.2 million trees have already been planted thanks to Ecosia. Worth looking into, it seems, if you aim to become greener in your online habits!

From avoiding meat and cows’ milk to becoming greener in our online habits, there’s a lot that we as individuals can do to minimise our environmental impact on the planet. If we don’t act now, the outcome will be catastrophic. For if the Earth becomes uninhabitable and can consequently no longer be lived on, what alternative living spaces do we have?

Tuesday, 12 November 2019

The Earth from space: seeing what is (and what isn’t) important

In a recent piece in New Scientist, Helen Sharman, the first British person in space, recounts in an interview that being in space made her realise that physical possessions and material stuff are absolutely meaningless. She makes the point that we tend to use our possessions as an extension of ourselves, encouraging us that we should think about what’s really important and generally consume less.

I think that’s minimalism in a nutshell. It couldn’t be summarised better!

Physical possessions are meaningless

Helen Sharman describes herself not just as a scientist, but also as somebody who cares for the world we live in. The interview with her caught my eye not just because of her minimalism-related comments, but also because I’d been meaning to write an article about climate change for this blog. Climate change, after all, is one of the big topics of our time.

There is an acute danger that the Earth might become uninhabitable at some point
(Image source: PIRO4D, Pixabay)

Climate change has come upon us much sooner than predicted: it’s affecting us (and will be hitting our descendants even harder) in the form of global warming, extreme weather, the aggravated risk of bad floods and other climate change-induced weather phenomena.

Caring for the world we live in

The Earth is very fragile. This becomes especially noticeable when, as Helen Sharman did, you look at it from space. There is an acute danger that the Earth might become uninhabitable at some point.

Being in space made Helen Sharman realise that physical possessions are absolutely meaningless

Watch out for my next article, in which I’m going to share what I do (and could perhaps be doing better) to help combat climate change. I’m also going to muse about how my minimalist thinking plays a role in it.

Saturday, 2 November 2019

The 5 Golden Questions of Translation

I love decluttering, especially because my ongoing decluttering frequently unearths (long-forgotten) gems from the past. And some of the things I find are downright amazing!

They often put a smile on my face. From 2000 to 2002 I was a student at the Institut für Fremdsprachen und Auslandskunde in Erlangen. While going through the materials from a class in translation of certificates, diplomas and public documents a few days ago, I found this:

If I remember correctly, the question “Do I need a cup of coffee?” was supposed to serve as a reminder that taking a short break from translation can be very beneficial in that you often come up with a solution while away from the desk (for example, to fetch a cup of coffee).

I’d completely forgotten about the “5 Golden Questions of Translation”: Do I need a cup of coffee? Can I leave it out? Can I find a synonym? Can I find a paraphrase? Can I risk translating it literally?

(A German translation of this blog entry is available here.)