Diary of a busy practitioner, juggling work and family somewhere in England. This week: climate change

Recently I asked my boss if we could consider having an eco-friendly policy at work. My boss, who is about my dad’s age, said it was not top of his list of things to do right now. 


I’m wondering when it will be top of the list. I wonder when- or if- this generation, who have gone from wearing clothes made by their mums and only bathing once a week to getting their dinner in eight different plastic M&S containers every night, will ever 'get it'.

At home we have been making small changes. We are changing to a renewable electricity tariff, and buying an electric heater for days when there is only one of us at home, working in one room, to save putting the heating on.

A year or two ago I literally didn’t realise nothing was being done with my plastic packaging after I used it. When I was pregnant, I could only stomach icy cold water so I would take a few sips out of a plastic bottle from the fridge and then throw the rest away in favour of a new cold one out of the fridge. I thought putting the bottles in the recycling bin was enough. I just didn’t think any further than that, but if I had thought about it I guess I would have assumed it was all recycled in an environmentally friendly, cost-effective way. I didn’t recycle our food waste (of which there is far too much) because surely it breaks down anyway?

I still think there is a massive lack of proper information about recycling. But we do now know that my plastic bottles are strangling fish and/or being burned in great noxious fires in Malaysia. I now know that if I put my food waste in the general waste it will create greenhouse gases in landfill rather than being used for compost. So, we have bought beeswax wraps and stopped buying cling film. We are getting our milk delivered in glass bottles again. We have stopped buying baby wipes for sticky fingers and bought brilliant microfibre fabric alternatives. We are washing our hands and bodies with bars of soap, and trialling some shampoo bars. We are buying tins of baked beans instead of the snap-pots, and if I can’t get mushrooms loose I am simply not buying them. We are having a couple of meat-free dinners a week. My trip to a zero waste shop, unfortunately and ironically, resulted in DALC2 and I dropping the lot as we left and a month later my footwells are still full of rice. The point is that none of these changes are affecting our lives at all. I know it is not enough, but it is a start, and it is a signal to supermarkets that things need to change.

It is the same at work. Being the only firm in the area with an eco-friendly policy could lead to some great marketing opportunities, and what would we actually have to do? Funny you should ask, because I have a list:

  1. Replace plastic cups in reception with glasses

  2. Turn off our machines at night, including the stand-by lights

  3. Switch to a renewable energy tariff

  4. Encourage car shares and cycling to work

  5. Provide recycling bins for all our paper and our lunch packaging

  6. Provide all staff with a reusable coffee cup

  7. Go paper-lite, not printing emails for example

  8. When we cater an event, source the food from an eco-friendly cafe and consider making the whole thing vegetarian, or at least cutting out beef

If we don’t do these things, and much more too, with the support of government and business, the thirty or so years between now and Greta Thunberg quite rightly being in charge of the world will see the behaviour of my dad’s generation, my boss’ generation, Donald Trump’s generation having an actual impact on our children’s lives and health. It was 21.2 degrees celsius on 26 February this year. These extremes of weather have a massive effect on amphibians, migratory birds, coral reefs, flowers and my kids who should have been sledging, not getting bitten by insects that should have died over the winter. The overall increase in temperature- which the Paris Agreement aims to keep at 1.5 degrees celsius- is literally sinking Jakarta as sea levels rise. And although I jest about my ratbags, the International Organisation on Migration estimates that up to 200 million adults and children could be displaced by climate change before 2050.

Children are politically engaged like never before and it is wonderful. Let us be led by our children, these children who are principled and so very strong. Let us vote with them in mind, and live the remainder of our lives in a way that won’t be to their long term detriment.

As lawyers, we are being urged to think of what we can do to get climate change at the heart of the legal agenda. Kate Cook of Matrix Chambers convincingly argued, during London Climate Action Week, that the climate emergency is now a human rights issue. At 12.30pm on Wednesday 9th October 2019 Lawyers for Nature and Extinction Rebellion UK are inviting other lawyers, law students and non-lawyers to march with them from the Royal Courts of Justice into the legal district. Let us do our bit as lawyers- whether that involves marching, putting the human rights perspective at the forefront of our minds when litigating and making deals, or even just giving someone a lift to work.