Thursday, May 01, 2008

The Eco Chick hatches

I attend a pub quiz in the village. “What tree does palm oil come from?” the quiz-master asks. It’s the final question of the night and up until the last round only one point lay between my team and another for top position. The team turn to me. “Come on then Eco Worrier, what tree does palm oil come from?” “Well my initial response is the palm tree,” I reply. “But that can’t be right as it’s too obvious.” So I rack my brains about palm oil. I know palm oil is bad. Super bad. Bad, bad bad. And I know it’s encouraging the decimation of much of the rainforest of the world just so we can have longer lasting processed foods. But what I don’t know is…what tree it comes from. “It’s definitely from trees in hot areas,” I say. “Coconut?” someone weakly suggests. We decide on Mangrove as it’s the only tree we know that grows in paradise aside from the coconut or palm tree, even though I know they tend to grow in swamps and their ingredients are unlikely to enhance my Flora Light.

Of course the answer is palm, and of course we lose the point. But while the team go home thinking they could have won the wine, I am cursing myself for my lack of detailed knowledge about…well anything, but particularly the green principles I claim to live by. The thing is, I read the papers every day, shaking my head at the carbon profligacy of Western governments. I know that 4x4’s are instruments of global destruction. I know that those pretty islands you see advertised in the Sunday Times are going to be underwater by 2020 and that the coastline of Norfolk is crumbling away. But ask me about the specifics of global warming, of the icecaps melting or carbon footprinting and my mind is a blank page and my grasp of the real facts is, to be honest, a bit woolly. It’s partly that I get much of my information second hand, from Carbonlite or even the Carboncopies. I read reviews of books on global warming but never get around to reading the actual books. And it’s not even like I have to go and buy them. They’re a toppling tower of eco words next to the towel rail in the bathroom, and they’re all over the bedroom floor like a green carpet. Carbonlite says I don’t read them because I’m in denial. And I suspect he’s right, although I couldn’t furnish you with any specific details about the problem.

The next day I pick up the eldest Carboncopy from school. His teacher rushes up to me. “We were talking about trees and, playing the devil’s advocate I said to the class that it was fine to chop them all down. But your son stood up and protested. He told the class that trees take in all the bad air- the carbon dioxide- and turn it into oxygen so that we can all breath good air.” Obviously I am pleased with his brilliance. But also a bit cross that a seven year old could come up with that explanation when I’m still wondering which type of tree she’s thinking of chopping down. For a moment I wonder if I’ve got a ‘swampy’ on my hands before my son bobs into view. “Which tree produces palm oil?” I ask. “Palm.” the eldest Carboncopy and his teacher answer in unison.

At home I rifle through George Monbiot's extensive explanation of how we are doomed. I briefly consider reading Mayer Hillman’s definitive book on the state we’re in. Then I put them both down and log on. To the ‘Eco Chick’ website. Well a girl’s gotta start somewhere.