And welcome to edition 264—coincidentally also the numeric designation of the ‘Adriatic’ locomotive arrangement of two leading wheels, six coupled driving wheels and four trailing wheels.
The Adriatic is also the name we give to the finger of ocean that has historically divided Etruscan from Illyrian; Roman from Hellene; Ostrogoth from Byzantine; Venetian from Ottoman; Capitalist from Communist; Italian from Balkan; West from East.
Six modern states share shores with the Adriatic and I’m lucky enough to have crossed their divides and travelled through each of them at least twice: hitch-hiking, cycling, walking, touring. But the ocean doesn’t have seams, so why should the land?
Abnormalisation and adulting
The last three months have been.
The last lockdown in England neatly followed the passing of the financial year, so I thought I would look back and share a little of what happened with Dave in the final quarter of 20/21.
WARNING: STATS AHEAD!
In the last three months, I spent about 50 hours less on my mobile phone than I did the preceding quarter. I also managed to read more, meditate more, do more yoga and a lot more press ups—3,049 more, to be precise.
I spoke to almost exactly the same number of friends at a rate of 2.7 per day. But I also visited 4,000 more unique web pages and spent 90 more hours staring at my computer screen: a whole hour per day more. Urgh.
Looking back over my diary, since the turn of the year, I have played (and lost) ten games of online poker and learned how to skateboard (badly). I also started a new job with Thighs of Steel and said goodbye to Foiled on BBC Radio Wales.
I made three new friends, one I met hula-hooping in the woods, another is the youngest woman to have cycled around the world. I have reached out to twenty-one people and have received some amazing responses.
I volunteered for half a dozen marshalling sessions at my local vaccination centre and am now waiting for my second jab. I learned how to drive a golf buggy.
I’ve been really tired. I got a load of blood tests. A lot of people I speak to have been really tired too. Something’s going around; something I hope will lift with the lifting of restrictions. I feel more alert when I can see over the horizon.
I put up some bunk beds and bought a secondhand car. It’s a Toyota Corolla: see if you can guess its name...
I feel bad about the car, actually.
(Side note: I’m not saying that you should feel bad about the car just because I do. We all make deals to get through life. Your deal is your business.)
Until this year, the balance for me was always against owning a car.
They are expensive to buy and expensive to maintain. They pollute the air we breathe and cause direct harm to landscapes around the world. They are bulky possessions and are an eyesore on the driveway. They can, and frequently do, kill and maim.
It’s ironic, then, that the balance was tipped this year in favour of car ownership by—of all things—my new job as an outdoor instructor.
This job involves getting around fairly remote places and depends on ninety percent of instructors having vehicles to shuttle between campsite and trailhead, or pursue errant schoolkids across the countryside.
(Side note: Even somewhere as suburban as Bracknell Forest counts as ‘fairly remote’—the quickest route by public transport from where I live takes 3 hours 47 minutes and involves two buses and three trains—plus an overnight stay if I want to get there for an 8am start. For comparison, from flat to forest, the drive takes less than 90 minutes by car.)
Depressingly, in this particular job, promoting the unpolluted wonders of nature is only possible with possession of a polluting car.
‘Possession’, really, Dave? Yeah. I borrowed my parents’ car for the expeditions I led last year—saving me from the burden of ownership, but fruitlessly adding a couple of train journeys to the carbon footprint of my work.
As a secondhand petrol car owner, I want to be the best secondhand petrol car owner imaginable.
I don’t want to normalise my car ownership. I don’t want to forget that every time I use a car I am striking a deal: my personal convenience (including valuable things like time, opportunity and money) on one side and the environment we share on the other.
(Side note: You might think I’m being unnecessarily severe on myself. As someone who doesn’t fly and who eats little to no dairy or meat, my carbon footprint is lower than the average EU citizen’s. But I can’t dodge the fact that my carbon footprint is rising at a time when everyone else’s is falling. Not a good look.)
To that end, I’m recording each of my car journeys, noting details like mileage and carbon emissions, and reviewing them every week, in the same way that I monitor my finances, my conversations with friends and the number of press ups I complete. These numbers tell me, unequivocally, whether I am the person I like to think I am.
So far, over the course of seven car journeys and 763 miles, I have racked up a 165kg carbon debt compared to taking the same journeys by public transport. (Yes, I exclude from the public transport carbon estimate those journeys I would never have made had I not owned a car.)
But what the heck is 165kg of carbon? Let’s make this real: it’s the average annual carbon sequestration of six or seven mature trees. Six or seven trees. I can picture them. In fact, I have pictured them:
(Side note: I’ve been surprised that public transport isn’t as expensive as I’d always assumed. The petrol cost of driving has so far hovered around 75-85 percent of the train fares I could have bought. Of course: that is still scandalous, but it’s not as extreme as I thought.)
Perhaps one definition of adulthood is taking responsibility for tough decisions and living with the consequential reality.
As a lapsed historian, I’m well aware that, in my part of the world, my generation has had it easy with tough decisions up to now. Go back a generation or twelve and adults like us were expected to make properly tough decisions:
Hey honey, wanna try for another kiddo and risk killing you in childbirth?
I’m rather parched from a long day slopping out chamberpots for my lord and master, but I’m also not totally convinced that this Medieval water supply is safe.
In Napoleonic warfare, it’s very much blunderbuss or be blunderbussed and—I do declare!—this handsome young French soldier is raising his weapon…
(Side note: I feel like the pandemic has been an exercise in tough decisions: at what point is the risk of transmitting the disease to others outweighed by our personal desire for toilet roll? Many of us haven’t had much practice with such properly tough decisions and the heaviness of day-to-day life has taken its toll.)
But what excites me about adulthood is what comes immediately before we take our tough decision: our imagination. Every tough decision is an act of imagination. Right before we decide, we visualise based our past experience (and usually a huge dollop of misguided optimism). What might our future be like under Scenarios A, B and C?
Owning a car enables a future where I can work as an outdoor leader and help introduce others to the natural world I cherish. But it’s not the only future I can imagine. It’s just Scenario A. Imagining Scenarios B and C are the exciting part.
The onus is on me to imagine a carbon-free scenario for my outdoor work, to take responsibility for making that future a reality—and to acknowledge with grace the incongruous unease I feel during this intermediate transition.
This has been quite a serious article so I’d like to end with some optimistic news.
Between 2005 and 2019, the United Kingdom reduced its territorial emissions by 37 percent, while increasing its GDP by 21 percent.
You can argue about whether this counts as ‘decoupling’—where are China and India on that chart?—but you can’t argue that it looks optimistic.
p.s.: If you enjoyed seeing the UK performing well on a chart for once, then you’ll also enjoy the latest Greenness of Stimulus Index.
Any more for any more?
The Lollipop Moment
Carly Valancy shared Drew Dudley’s TED talk in the Reach Out Party. It’s only six minutes long and that short investment will add a new concept to understand beautiful moments of leadership in your life: the lollipop moment.
A Toast Story
As part of a really interesting slow email conversation, one of this newsletter’s highly intelligent, discerning subscribers sent me this article about toast. As the author, John Gravois says: ‘How did toast become the latest artisanal food craze? Ask a trivial question, get a profound, heartbreaking answer.’
Most of us dedicate the bulk of our attention to a handful of relationships: with a significant other, children, parents, a few close friends. Social scientists call these “strong ties.” But Carrelli can’t rely on such a small set of intimates. Strong ties have a history of failing her, of buckling under the weight of her illness. So she has adapted by forming as many relationships—as many weak ties—as she possibly can. And webs of weak ties are what allow ideas to spread.
Thanks to D.S. for this article!
Rewild the Royals
Wild Card sound like my kind of people. Their value statement begins with the declaration that ‘Creativity, silliness and humour are our weapons.’ They’re also trying to convince the Royal Family, the Church and the Oxbridge Universities to set aside some of their land for rewilding.
With their vast land holdings, the Royal Family has a unique opportunity to help reverse the rapid and ongoing decline of Britain’s natural heritage. Furthermore, with their considerable wealth, they have more than enough resources at their disposal to help restore our lost wild places. […] They have talked the talk, now it is time to walk the walk.
Go to the Wild Card Help page and write a letter to the Queen!
A few more lockdown restrictions are being lifted in England on Monday, so I’m planning a week in Dartmoor to continue consolidation of my Hill and Moorland Leader training.
(Side note: Yes, I’ll be driving The Corollavirus. Compare the stats:
Driving: 230 miles return, ~66kg carbon, ~£34.50 in petrol, ~5 hours’ travel time
Public transport: 420 miles via Southampton return, ~30kg carbon, ~£143.90 in train and bus fares, ~13 hours’ travel time)
It all feels a bit weird, so, to be on the safe side, I’ve picked up a bunch of free lateral flow tests to make sure that I’m not transporting any nasties around the country.
In preparation for my upcoming stomp, I’ve started reading Matthew Kelly’s Quartz and Feldspar, a sort of biography of the blasted moor. It’s more academic than I expected, but already has me hooked. I didn’t know, for example, that the Dartmoor upland was both high enough to survive the Pleistocene floods and far south enough to avoid the Ice Age glaciation.
This makes the granite outcrops known as tors that spot Dartmoor’s surface extraordinary survivals. They predate the last deluge and the last ice age.
Something to ponder as I sup a flask atop Hound Tor.
Quartz and Feldspar was recommended on ‘activist, writer, troublemaker’ Guy Shrubsole’s blog. In turn, I heartily recommend Guy’s work: he’s Policy and Campaigns Coordinator at Rewilding Britain and is currently running a side project to find and map England’s lost rainforests, some of which I look forward to visiting while on the moor.
(Side note: yesterday I sent Guy a quick email containing nothing more than a big thank you for writing such awesome campaigns. He just replied! Very exciting—and more evidence that Reach Outs really do work. Who could you be messaging right now?)
Have a great weekend!
Hello, I’m David Charles and I’m a UK-based writer and outdoor instructor. Say hello by replying to this email, or delve into 500+ other articles on davidcharles.info.
12 percent funded ▲▲△△△△△△△△△△△△△△△△△△
These free weekly emails are supported by readers who scroll all the way to the bottom—readers like you 😁 Help unlock the commons by becoming a paying subscriber for £30 per year—about 58p per newsletter. To say thanks, I’ll send you a book!