Posted tagged ‘climate change’

How can they call themselves Generation No Hope?

May 11, 2016

Why do I keep puzzling over the way young people behave, and what can the 40-50somethings who raised them do to support teens?… For more ideas about thrifty, creative and eco-friendly ways to raise children follow this blog or get my book Homemade Kids, out of the library. This post is by Nicola Baird, also see 

Upstairs at the party by Linda Grant is all about unsupervised university life in the 1970s at a red brick uni (and it just happens to be where I went though 10 years before). i read it with my bookgroup and was amazed to see how much it made each of us reflect on our early adulthood.

Upstairs at the party by Linda Grant is all about unsupervised university life in the 1970s at a red brick uni (which just happens to be where I went 10 years later). I read it with my book group and was amazed to see how much it made each of us reflect on our early adulthood.

My daughters are teenagers so I meet a few of their friends – and my friends’ children. I’ve also taught applies studies classes with students at two universities. Currently I’m mostly coaching students at an arts university in London: a very creative place. My favourite exhibit in the current main atrium exhibition is a huge text work saying “Show us, don’t tell us”.

But my students have a serious problem turning up at class.

And yes, it could be because I’m a rubbish teacher. But let’s pretend I’m not.

The kids at school seem ok but the current batch of first years I’m working with seem frightened to learn or make mistakes. The third years were never great turner-uppers either, but considerably better than this batch of first years. However despite not always being consistent academic strivers they will turn up at a tutorial and say “I want to get an A, or a first for this class”. It’s a perfectly acceptable dream but it’s one you can only achieve if you can put the hours, effort, reading and brain power into it. Telling your tutor you want an A isn’t the most effective way to get a top grade!

I remember my uni years as distraction-central. By the end of three years I was confident in everything except getting a first in my degree subject (and not surprisingly I didn’t). At uni I remember being cold and broke and often happy. I don’t remember my spirit being broken. But that’s what seems to be an increasingly huge problem for the students I meet now.

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Life paths are never quite what you expect.

Life paths are never quite what you expect.

The mobile (like a pram in the hallway?)
The Year 1s – who are 18-19 years old as few have taken a gap year – are dependant on their phones. It is a huge strain for them to be parted from the pleasing ping of a new message. Quite a few operate two phones. Their focus is extremely limited, even if their ability to multi-task is pretty good (allegedly).

Perhaps what’s more striking about this new generation of students is the number who have mental health issues. These are very broad and can range from difficulty sleeping, via panic attacks and stress from being asked a question in class through to very serious problems. Not eating well is pretty much obligatory unless you are a student who super eats well, and instgrams it too.

Alcohol plays its dangerous part, though perhaps less for London students (it’s the price of a pint down south!).

Naomi Klein's book highlights the problems with capitalism and climate change. It's depressing, small wonder that the upcoming generation value instagram likes - massaged reality - over the messy facts of reality.

Naomi Klein’s book highlights the problems with capitalism and climate change. It’s depressing, small wonder that the upcoming generation value instagram likes – massaged reality – over the messy facts of reality.

It’s got to be instagram perfect
Everyone knows how to pose for a perfect selfie and has a whats app and insta account meaning news and reality are filtered. This may be fine, it may protect from a hard life at home or some kind of trauma but could it be part of the problem?

At Migrants Organise they tried running a poetry workshop for young people – creating a group of half refugees and half British residents. After one session in which the refugees talked about their journeys to the UK and their experience of homelessness the other half (the secure youngsters from the UK) simply didn’t come again. It’s hearsay but I’m told they found the experience of hearing about horrors of another kind of life totally traumatised them. They couldn’t bear to hear it. So they voted with their feet and stopped turning up.

No one had blamed them.  But not knowing doesn’t mean it isn’t happening.

Are they a generation who value instagram likes – massaged reality – over the messy facts of reality?

A spoof ad from the witty and wonderful adbusters, pic owned by

Camel cigs were so cool… but here’s a spoof ad from the witty and wonderful adbusters, pic owned by

Brand loyalty
Or is the bizarre acceptance of brands as a positive thing part of the problem? No one is perfect – especially women who look at the advertising mirror of young gorgeous photoshopped women in new clothes and judge themselves harshly against this.

There seems to be an absence of a critical gene – except for the face in the mirror or when tagged maliciously on Facebook.

1980s throwback
I came of age in the ’80s. We took pride in being cynical, enjoyed irony – liked our own creativity. And managed life without phones… Life was simpler and even if I graduated into a recession the buzz of living and independent adulthood was irresistible, even if I decided to downgrade my ambition when I figured out I couldn’t be head of the UN. 30 years on I still hope things will get better and my career will continue to be something I enjoy and stay good at.

But my anxious university students fret over the lack of jobs, the lack of affordable housing, the lack of hope – often without making the effort to try and get these things. Worse I don’t know how to energise or console them. Something has gone wrong when a 19 year old can look around the empty classroom and say “we’re generation no hope”. This is not the way a non-ironic late teen or 20something should be thinking.

My generation raised these kids. We did something very wrong – it’s personal, and political. And I haven’t even mentioned the need for them – and us – to tackle climate change…

What is it we can do now to help? Do you have any ideas? Please share.


Book review: Stuffocation is a must read for families with kids

January 12, 2015

‘Stuffocation: living more with less’ by trend forecaster James Wallman (Viking Penguin, £9.99) is a book you should read. Expect to hear the phrase ‘stuffocation’ a lot more during 2015, as it exactly conjures up how stuff can overwhelm a home. For more ideas about thrifty, creative and eco-friendly ways to raise children follow this blog or get my book Homemade Kids, out of the library. This post is by Nicola Baird, also see


My 2015 resolution is to get creative (or give away) the things I am not using. This bit of cycle pimping is inspiring and I do have plenty of unloved vinyl to deal with when I start to sort my stuff out – as Stuffocation author James Wallman advises.

The review
If you like to judge a book by its cover then Stuffocation offers plenty of clues: a white-walled room empty of everything except a high backed chair. Even the book shelves are empty. It’s a miserable scene, devoid of personality! But it’s the perfect cover too for an author attacking materialism as he sells the idea that we enjoy living more when we purposefully have less.

The difficulty, and it’s a proper 21st century problem – is having less. I was sent this book during the hectic run up to Christmas. Every corridor in my home was crowded with xmas gifts waiting to be wrapped and bags of wrapping paper saved from the previous year. With so much seasonal clutter around I was tempted to pass this book along faster than it deserves.

And so I read it, and re-read it, fascinated by the idea that an increasing number of people already realise that too much makes them dissatisfied (especially middle class families it seems). This is not a prettily photographed coffee table book – there are 345 pages of dense print to work through. Once Wallman has made his point about stuff being a blood-pressure raiser his main concept is that experiencing things (being in the moment if you prefer) is a good way of enjoying what life has to offer and far better than buying yourself a new anything. Sometimes these experiences can be bought – a balloon ride at dawn, wildlife safari or front row seats at the theatre – but many more experiences are free including walking barefoot on grass, enjoying soup at an impromptu picnic or singing along with a friend or congregation.

Readers of my book Homemade Kids (or this blog) are likely to be familiar with the idea of making your own fun – even creating your own family traditions. These can be as simple as having pizza on a Friday night or hanging out the homemade bunting in anticipation of Granny’s arrival.


Stuffocation, £9.99 or have a look at the Stuffocation website.

But I find that the best experiences tend to need kit – especially if an experience is also offering you the chance to learn a new skill (ski waterproofs, jodphurs for riding horses, reflective gear and lights for cycling). As a consequence the people I know who are most on top of experientalism, as Wallman calls it, also tend to be hoarders (though maybe not so extreme that they have 16 grand pianos, just in case). And if they have growing kids they might also have far more than is needed for the family right now, much of it in the next size up. It may be bagged up and out of sight after a fortuitous sighting of something that will be useful one day -a wet suit or skating boots – at a car boot sale. Or it may be half-squeezed under the bed or in an already bulging wardrobe.

Like many families I accept that this cluttered stage until the kids grow up and I’ll either pass the final sets of outgrown walking boots, cello and waterproofs on or I’ll save them for my kids’ children. To be fair to Wallman visitors to my house with grown up children, no children or bigger homes (I was recently told it was odd to keep an axe in our downstairs bathroom) invariably comment that we need to do a bit of sorting.

Instead of tackling this problematic area of stuffocation – for instance by pointing out what a business opportunity there could be for renting rather than buying or easy ways to share not often needed kit – Wallman picks an interesting fight with Facebook. He points out that those who use it are bludgeoned by other people’s photo updates of sunset drinks, good time parties and significant life moments. It’s a way for Facebook users to show off that they are having experiences, but apparently it’s led to the rest of us who only logged on to catch up feeling that we’re missing out. FOMO – fear of missing out – is not an attractive condition. It increases people’s anxiety levels to the extent that they either spend their time glued to their mobiler to catch up with what everyone else is doing or worry themselves into such a stressy mess that they need anti-depressants, yes, even before going to a comedy gig.

Les MIserables is the world's longest running musical. If your child gets into it they may learn to sing, develop an interest in politics and even read Victor Hugo's massive classic. Or not!

Les Miserables is the world’s longest running musical. If your child gets into it they may learn to sing, develop an interest in politics and even read Victor Hugo’s massive classic. Or not!

Reading Stuffocation I felt it would be easy to fall out with the rest of the human race (the richer ones that is) yet applying the book’s fundamental message – do more, buy less – is a great plan.

Some years ago I was switched on to this idea by an American friend who suggested that sticking to a rigid gift budget didn’t always make sense, instead it might be better to buy theatre tickets for birthday and Christmas presents so that the gift giver and recipient got a shared moment of time they’d, hopefully, remember. And of course it doesn’t have to be a pricey show, a pub walk or picnic can be fun too. I don’t always go for experience gifts – as my family and godchildren know – but it helped me feel I had permission to sometimes spend cash on what might otherwise be seen as frivolities cutting into the weekly essentials. Curiously this friend has the same problem as me: a great deal of clutter around her home, although she does try and shift it on ebay from time to time.

Wallman concludes Stuffocation by claiming we need experiences more than ever. “By having less and doing more, we will be happier, healthier, richer in every sense: less clutter, less regret, less anxiety, more conversations, more connections, a healthier take on status, and a stronger sense of belonging.”

Rating the book 6/10. It’s a tough decision going to a six, as though I totally agree with the idea of rethinking what it is we value, I struggle to find clutter the problem when it can so often also be a fantastic insurance towards enabling opportunity. Then again I’m not buying an expensive new pair of high heels or queueing for xmas’s fashionable electronic toy. And I do think I’ll try and give some of Wallman’s ideas a go…

Have a look at the stuffocation website here.

Here’s the link here.

Over to you
I’m so looking forward to hearing what you think about this idea. Do leave a comment now, or go read the book and join the debate.

You can buy from amazon at this link Stuffocation: living more with less by James Wallman (paperback rrp £9.99). There’s also a kindle version.





How do you tackle difficult topics with kids?

October 7, 2014

If something’s boring, scary – or unthinkable – should we just move the conversation on for the sake of the kids? A look through two new books Naomi Klein’s authoritative This Changes Everything (Penguin, £20) and After Sustainability: denial, hope, retrieval by John Foster (Earthscan/Routledge, £29.99, cheaper on kindle) gets Nicola Baird thinking about children and climate change. More work at


Self-sufficiency practice on a day out in Kent. Here the kids get the bonfire going after three hours spent pruning fruit trees.

My friend Pascal is just about to leave for a job in the US. He’s really excited about this change – and a good thing too as his new job means his wife and their 10 and 12 year old will be also be starting afresh with new schools, friends and country.

We were talking about the climate changing, so when Pascal said he dreamt about building an energy-efficient house with a bit of land another friend joked that he’d need to add a safe room to see out the climate Apocalypse. Turned out Pascal didn’t plan to do that because he’d already imagined it while growing up in Switzerland in a house which came with it’s own nuclear shelter. “What kind of life would you have living in a box room, hiding from everything?”

I’m guessing his point is bigger – it’s not just that we can’t hide; it’s an understanding that we have to engage with what’s going on. And if government – or business – won’t then civil society must. Perhaps this is why so many people have recently been joining the Green Party that membership has increased by 45% during 2014.

downloadBig idea
A crop of new books, including Naomi Klein’s much talked about in business circles, This Changes Everything: capitalism v climate change and philosophy lecturer John Foster’s After Sustainability, make it clear that as the world’s resources dwindle the world’s going to become a more tempestuous place.

Klein anticipates the end of traditional politics as hyper localism grows. She charts the lightning-quick spread of networks of local resistance particularly to new oil drilling, fracking and shale gas extracting. (Also introducing me to the word Blockadia “not a specific location on a map but rather a roving transnational conflict zone that is cropping up with increasing fequency and intensity wherever extractive projects are attempting to dig and drill, whether for open-pit mines, or gas fracking, or tar sands oil pipelines…”). Klein points out this is happening because the oil companies are aggressively looking for new supplies and as a result the people who are resisting are no longer single-issue campaigners, they are people that “look like everyone else: the local shop owner, the university professors, the high school students, the grandmothers”.

Here's a rock off Savo, Solomon Islands that tells a story of sea level change.

Here’s a rock off Savo, Solomon Islands that tells a story of sea level change in the South Pacific. That rock underwater used to be in a thriving vegetable garden, used as a boundary marker. Sea level rise means less land can be used for crops on this volcanic island.

Taking this idea several steps further Foster in After Sustainability argues that areas which can support human life need to be ring-fenced. You’re either in or you’re out. But most people would be out as Foster argues that for a handful to survive plenty have to, well, die. He puts it more palatably as “not everyone has an equal right to life” when climate disasters force populations to migrate towards areas that simply cannot support a deluge of people.

In my worst nightmares of what might happen due to sea level rise causing so many people in the Pacific Islands, Bangladesh, Norfolk to be made homeless I’d imagined offering a kind of benign B&B for climate migrants. I thought we’d fill our home with climate refugees. I realise I’ve been kidding myself, it won’t be a happy house party on the borders of the worst affected areas. And rather worse as a thought – there just isn’t a safe place to run.

Klein and Foster have very different approaches but their books made me think about my own planning. Is our house safe from even the most basic societal breakdown? The answer is absolutely not. If the toaster fuses the house’s electrics or the wi-fi hiccups there’s meltdown at home. Homework can’t be finished; deadlines can’t be met; a hunger that cannot be sated by a packet of biscuits causes temper tantrums. I haven’t yet worked out how we could deal with no running water. But I know crossing my fingers isn’t good enough. It’s time to make far more fuss about the future.

To do that we need to skill up, talk honestly about the climate change problem, and start getting off the consumer treadmill.

Which book to buy?
Sometimes my teenage daughter howls melodramatically: “What’s the point? We’re all going to die!” But we always were facing the big D. That’s never stopped people having children. So for those of us already with children we need to think up what would make us more resilient. A good starting point would be another book, Don’t Even Think About It by George Marshall (Bloomsbury, £20) which with wit and authority finds ways to get us to do exactly that – think about the unthinkable 4 degree C rise in global temperature.

Definitely read Klein’s book too. The chapter comparing her own struggle to conceive and the decline of our planet’s fertility is amazing – with strong debts to the biologist and writer, Sandra Steingraber. But for the sake of your health avoid John Foster’s book. That way leads despair.

Over to you?
How are you dealing with this challenge? Are we still blog friends?

Why be a green parent?

May 11, 2010

Buy, give to a friend or order for your local library from 1 July 2010.

Why being green is a journey new parents can make one washable nappy at a time.

Hello – Nicola Baird here – I’ve just been asked to speak about why it’s important for us as parents to be green at the NCT Big Weekend conference (15-16 May). It’s a bit of a clumsy talk title but hopefully will make sure that I don’t cover any of the info by the next speaker, Sally J Hall, reknowned author of Eco Baby: a green guide to parenting, see her website, who is due to provide conference-goers with tips on being green.

So why be green?
When I was asked two years ago write a book about bringing up baby green by a commissioning publisher at Random House (Clare with four children all younger than mine) we reckoned there was no point telling new parents to be green. The facts are scary enough. I’ve seen them printed everywhere. I’ve written about them too in magazine features and books like Save Cash & Save the Planet (Collins, 2005) which I co-wrote for Friends of the Earth. There are icebergs melting, climate changing gases warming the world, sea levels rising, more extreme temperatures and weather events, crops failing, people dying, Norfolk and Lincolnshire underwater… It’s grim when you think about it.

But knowing all the grim statistics doesn’t seem to translate into changed behaviour. As we know from the recent general election there’s only one Green MP (admittedly Caroline Lucas is the first ever in the UK…) and climate change has not been a key focus of any of the three pre-election debates despite all the efforts by organisations like 10:10 to make being green a win-lose issue.

Driving, flying, holidaying overseas, buying stuff, throwing stuff out, eating air-freighted food etc is still totally normal behaviour. In fact not doing these things (especially if you are well off) seems a bit weird.

Meet Hailey – she’s having a nappy crisis
At the publishers Clare suggested I thought about Hailey, a net-savvy imaginary mum. So as I was writing my book I was thinking if Hailey had a nappy crisis it didn’t matter if she had bought new bamboo nappies, or been given second hand cloth nappies or was using a council grant to try a nappy laundry service what did matter was what she would do when the nappies leaked – give up or stick it out? What were the least bad options for the planet depending on her own circumstances? I did the same with food, getting around, dealing with toy mountains at birthdays, etc. And so a chapter plan was worked up to create a book to guide Hailey in her journey to be a greener parent.

Future proofing
We didn’t set out to make being green the latest baby-rearing craze (although it’s a bit of a wish in a far-off part of my mind). Instead the book Homemade Kids: thrifty, creative and eco-friendly ways to raise children, shows how being a green parent is a way of future proofing against the consequences and challenges of climate change… You could say it’s a journey new mums can make one washable nappy at a time.

And it’s a journey you may want to take, or are already taking. And if so please share this blog around, or add some ideas for me and others to enjoy/use with our children.

Feeling worried?
Having a baby focuses the mind sharply on the future.

Back in March the NCT got pollsters Ipsos MORI to find out what new parents worry about. The results show that three-quarters of parents and expectant parents (74 per cent) feel there is too much pressure to buy unnecessary baby products. Advice and shopping lists tend to come in packs created by commercial companies and quickly lock vulnerable new parents into thinking if I don’t get this product (cot, cot bumpers, big buggy, safety gate, breast pump etc – you know what I mean) then I’m not giving my baby the best.

Emma & Gabriel: has a sling made by a friend's mum and adapted a table for nappy changes.

>> Translated this makes many of us feel like a bad parent even before we’ve started being a parent…

The irony is that buying less would be far better for the planet and our cash flow (another survey I found while researching my book reckons it costs nearly £200,000 to raise a child in the UK from birth until 21 years – and that’s not including school fees). And if you aren’t being forced to work all the time to pay the bills you can then spend more time with your child (if that’s what you want). The pix left and below of new parents Emma and Cristiano with their babies show case a few of the ideas included in Homemade Kids.

Cristiano made 10 nappies for his daughter Electra for the same price as one real nappy costs.

A new kind of shopping

Living green – making less waste, learning with your baby, valuing local life – is not a theory, it’s a practical, hands-on response to climate change which provides ideas for raising happy, healthy and creative children. I hope reading Homemade Kids gives families confidence to buck commercialism. Here’s one idea for soon-to-be parents, instead of heading to the shops/baby fairs ask your friends and family what they thought was a brilliant baby product, and then see if you can borrow it, or find on eBay at an NCT sale or if you’re lucky on Freecycle or a Give & Take event. Or buy something which is well made so it will last for years or comes with a story rather than in a branded plastic bag/box.

If we’re all lucky the search for the best for your baby will lead you on an eco-friendly track towards healthy foods, strong communities, childcare swaps/babysitting circles and the creativity to tackle climate change any way possible.

PS: If you are coming to my talk on why be green at the NCT event in Telford, fantastic. And… please don’t worry as my talk will have different words, in a different order and some more nice pictures of some of the brilliant mums and dads quoted in the book. Hopefully see you then. Nicola x

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