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Optimism in the face of the Climate Crisis – A letter to environmental scientists on World Oceans Day


Climate change is the biggest threat to security that modern humans have ever faced

Sir David Attenborough

As scientists we love a bit of research, but we don’t need it to tell us that shocking, fearful imagery can capture attention. The problem is that these images can make us feel helpless, which can distance us from important issues or, worse, trigger disengagement and denial. For those of you who think this sounds suspiciously like the stages of grief, you’d be right.

But we can’t nurture a culture of negativity by dwelling in the stages of anger and depression. Negativity among environmentalists represents denial that positive outcomes are possible.

The great thing is that as marine scientists it isn’t difficult to envision healthy marine ecosystems, it is quite literally our job to understand how they function. 

In the next few minutes I would like to demonstrate how we can rid ourselves of negativity by connecting problems to solutions so that we can focus on positive achievements for future, sustainable oceans.

Aptly named, Nature-based solutions are defined as actions to protect, sustainably manage and restore nature that address societal challenges such as climate change, food security and natural disasters, simultaneously providing human well-being and biodiversity benefits.

In the case of climate change, nature provides some of the best tools for removing carbon from the atmosphere. Forests, wetlands and grasslands draw carbon from the atmosphere and store it away in their soils, roots and branches.

Coastal ecosystems such as mangroves, seagrass and saltmarshes are particularly efficient carbon sinks locking away vast amounts of carbon within deep sediments layers beneath their vegetation. For this reason, we tend to refer to them as blue carbon ecosystems.

Scientists really started to get excited about the role that these ecosystems play as a nature-based solution to mitigating climate change just over a decade ago and the concept has sparked multi-disciplinary and global collaboration since then.

As with all other marine ecosystems, coastal blue carbon ecosystems don’t only remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere but provide a whole range of valuable ecosystem services. They help us to adapt to climate change by providing coastal protection from sea level rise and storms, they support food security by acting as nursery grounds for important fish species, they support biodiversity, provision of goods and services and much more.

Unfortunately, despite this, and in part, because of this, globally these ecosystems are being degraded and lost at devastating rates. 

But not to dwell too much on the negatives, this is where the role of blue carbon as a nature-based solution comes in.

The idea of blue carbon is that by capitalising on the global value of carbon emission reductions in the fight against climate change we can drive forward the sustainable management, restoration, and conservation of coastal ecosystems.

In its simplest form this is achieved by measuring the carbon benefit of implementing ecosystem management. When we restore these ecosystems we increase the amount of carbon removed from the atmosphere and when we sustainably manage and conserve them we can avoid the emissions that may have happened without the management measure.

In my mind, one of the most fantastic things about current blue carbon initiatives is their implementation at a local level. 

Coastal communities living in the tropics are some of the most vulnerable people on the planet, facing a myriad of challenges, including being disproportionately impacted by climate change despite often having done the least to cause it.

But it is from within this region that we are starting to see blue carbon projects being developed through community-led initiatives targeting the voluntary carbon market. When this happens not only does the global community benefit from reduced CO2 emissions, but these projects help to bolster the resilience of communities by maintaining and restoring ecosystem services and through the diversification of livelihoods.

From Kenya to Madagascar, Indonesia and Colombia verified carbon projects are coming online with the revenue generated supporting community development projects from rehabilitating local schools and buying textbooks to providing renewable electricity and piped water to the communities. 

In a previous life I was privileged to work with an NGO supporting local communities to develop mangrove carbon projects.

I can tell you with absolute certainty that no matter how much technology develops to help us scientists build the evidence base the long-term success of blue carbon projects will always depend on the engagement and empowerment of local communities.

These successful projects have built teams of community blue carbon assessors to monitor the benefits of management interventions that pair results with their deep-rooted local knowledge to fully understand the drivers of ecosystem degradation so that solutions can be aligned with the livelihoods of local people and developed without social or environmental detriment. 

To add more positivity into the mix, global commitments to tackling climate change are stepping up. The latest round of pledged national climate actions has seen an increase in countries recognising the importance of nature-based solutions not just for mitigating climate change but also for building resilience and adapting to its impacts.

With a growing interest in blue carbon there is an opportunity to scale-up our efforts, to protect larger areas of coastal ecosystems and make an important contribution to emissions reductions, reducing biodiversity loss and ensuring food security.

With the focus shifting from local initiatives to national, government-led programmes we must safeguard engagement with local and indigenous communities to respect and protect their cultural and ecological rights.

Now, I have highlighted nature-based solutions as a source of optimism but we mustn’t be complacent. they have their place in the fight against climate change but are not a complete solution, for instance they cannot be viewed as a substitute for the rapid phase-out of fossil fuels and their implementation is not without challenges.

But, we are facing a climate crisis, one that demands urgent action. As environmentalists we should not dwell in negativity but celebrate our victories and learn from defeats.

5 unique and low-cost sustainable decorating projects


I bought my first home almost 3 years ago and I quickly realised how expensive owning your own house can be. At the same time I was in love with my new place and couldn’t wait to put my own stamp on it.

Every so often I add extra touches to my space and my favourite ones to date have been small projects that have been inexpensive and original DIYs that make me smile every time I see them.

Hanging drift wood

My partner’s parents live on the beautiful Pembrokeshire coast of South Wales. One day, after a refreshing swim in the sea last summer we came across a stunning piece of driftwood at the top of the beach. It was wonderfully curved and adorned with knots that resembled the skin of a humpback whale. It didn’t take much convincing that it should come home with us and we started the long walk back to the car with the driftwood cast over one shoulder.

I just knew we had the perfect place for it in the house. Once we got it home we left it outside in the typical autumn rain for the salt to be washed away and then waited for it to dry out. While we waited for the wood to be ready we collected up the supplies we would need. In this case and for the window shelves coming up later on we bought some natural hemp rope from a local marine store and picked up some long screw eyes from a hardware store.

Next, after studying the ceiling, knocking all over to make sure that we were screwing into a beam we fixed the eyes into place. We worked out how high up we wanted the driftwood to hang and whipped up the rope to fix it in place.

I absolutely love this new addition to the bay window of my house, it is totally unique and only cost around £5 (US$7) in materials.

Geometric pallet wood shelves

Last year I went on a bit of a pallet collecting spree as I had lots of ideas for projects in the garden. It may have got slightly out of hand and after all of the garden projects we still had pallet wood left over. At the same time I was scouring Etsy for some hexagonal shelves for a particularly bare wall in my house. I just couldn’t make a decision though. None of the shelves on Etsy were doing it for me but I had a feeling that trying to replicate hexagonal shelves would be beyond my skillset!

So to the drawing board I went… and then to my dad’s garage! After some convincing I’d found a workmate who was willing to give my idea a try. In theory it would take just 3 planks of pallet wood. We cut one piece in half to make the two shorter sides of the triangles and cut slots out of the middle of each of the remaining planks. Finally, we cut the ends of the longer pieces to the right angle to join with the shorter pieces and then fixed it all together. We also used some wood oil to stain and protect the wood.

When we were done we used some large nails fixed in two of the corners to hold it in place on the wall. The pallet wood isn’t very deep so it’s really reserved for the more skinny books and small trinkets but I really enjoy it as a feature of this wall.

Pallet wood window shelves

Around the same time that I was collecting pallets for my garden projects I was also filling up seed trays to fill my garden with plants. Well that was the plan anyway. I soon found out that I didn’t have enough space around the windows of my house to start the seedlings off before they couldn’t be planted out. I remembered seeing other people on social media rigging up shelving systems in their windows and thought it would be a great use of that extra pallet wood and the left over hemp rope. We cut the pallet wood to the size of one of our windows and drilled two holes in each end of each plank. I used existing plants in my collection to determine how much spacing to give each shelf and then we started rigging it together. It took quite a few attempts to get each tier of the shelves level but we finally did it.

The bonus was that when we were putting them up we already had curtain rail hooks in the wall above the window so we just had to hang the shelves from them! I absolutely love the result, it was the perfect solution to housing seedlings as it’s one of the brightest windows in the house.

Almost a year later I was getting frustrated by the lack of space on our kitchen windowsill – I have too many plants that love this window – so we repeated the concept here too. This time I was lucky enough to score a lovely piece of wood from my neighbour who had no use for it and while we didn’t have any curtain hooks to hang it from we used the leftover hooks from the driftwood piece to hang it up. I am really happy with how much extra space this has given us without cutting out the light into the room. I love the way the sun streams through the leaves of the plants.

Wooden corner shelves

So that neighbour I mentioned earlier, he plays a big role in this next project too. One day he handed a pile of these gorgeous slices of wood over the fence to me. He had no use for them and thought I might want to put them on the fire… I immediately veto’d that idea, there were definitely better things we could do with these!

While they sat around the house for a while, some of them becoming doorstops and others becoming computer screen stands now we were forced to work from home, I started conjuring up ideas for them. Incase I hadn’t filled enough of my space with shelves up until now, another shelf idea came to mind! Being an early 1900s house, we have plenty of alcove spaces but not a lot happening in them. For this DIY we cut the rounds so they would fit into the corners of the alcoves and then oiled them for protection. While we waited for the oil to soak in and dry out we picked up some brackets from the hardware store. Then we simply screwed them into the walls.

And here is the finished product. Oh and the running theme here – another space for more plants!

Fill your home with plants

I suppose that this last one isn’t that unique but it is definitely a running theme in this house and most of these DIYs have been a great excuse to fill my space with even more of them.

Plants are a fantastic way to decorate your home, they add texture, absorb sound and can clean our air. They are also make us feel great! They can also be expensive. So how does this fit in these post of low cost ways to decorate your house?

Well there are many ways that you can add more plants to your collection without breaking the bank. Some things I suggest are plant swaps with friends and neighbours, scrolling facebook market place, and propagating your existing plants.

The great thing is that if you try out any of the DIYs I’ve suggested above you’ll have even more space to put them! I would love to hear if you replicate any of these ideas or have any ideas of your own to add to the list! Please also let me know if you’d like to read more about feeding your houseplant addiction or my garden pallet wood projects.

How I started a climate positive blog


I’ve wanted to start a blog for a while now but in true chronic procrastinator style I kept putting it off! I also questioned whether it was hypocritical of me to start a blog talking about sustainability when the internet uses such a huge amount of CO2. Not to mention the electronic devices I use to help me curate the blog.

But I want to talk a bit about why I think that when you take everything into account this blog is still climate positive.

But first…

What does ‘Climate Positive’ mean?

Being climate positive means you are removing more carbon from the atmosphere than you emit. This goes one step further than the popular ‘carbon neutral’ or ‘net zero’ approaches, which means that no more emissions are created than are removed from the atmosphere.

Organisations such as WWF have committed to helping companies define what it means for them to become climate positive and help to build a framework for them to reach it.

How is Conscious Footsteps climate positive?

Climate positive web hosting

When I was starting Conscious Steps I was very aware that the internet is fast becoming one of the most heavily emitting industries so I wanted to look for an option to host my blog in the most conscious way possible. Well I had to live up to the name!

I eventually settled on GreenGeeks. GreenGeeks replaces 3 times the energy that is used to power Conscious Steps in the form of renewable energy. By the very definition I’d say that’s a Climate Positive blog.

I’ve had a great experience with setting up this blog using GreekGeeks hosting. It’s great value for money and has been so easy for me to do. I’d highly recommend checking out their hosting options if you’re thinking of starting your own blog or launching a website.

Anything else?

Even though most of the definitions of ‘climate positive’ follow the general rule that negative emissions are inferred I still think that there are other things that we can do as individuals to be climate positive.

Building a more sustainable life

While it is not always possible for us to generate our own renewable energy we can adopt more sustainable and ethical habits that promote climate positivity. When I first set up Conscious Footsteps I wanted to make it a venue for sharing tips for living a more sustainable life. This blog will continue with this at the heart of what we do and I hope that we can start to build our own Conscious Steps community of like-minded people.

Powered with renewables

Although my house doesn’t host a suite of solar panels or a new, renewable heating system I do purchase my energy through Octopus Energy. Octopus make sure that for every electron that they supply from the grid, they invest in the generation of another ‘green’ electron to take its place. The renewable Energy Association gave them their award for ‘the company that’s done the most to advance UK renewables’.

Not only is Octopus investing in renewable energy they are also investing in innovative technology to form the building blocks of a smarter grid. They have launched smart tariffs such as Agile Octopus that encourages customers (like me) to defer their use of electricity to outside of peak times, which reduces the demand on carbon-intensive energy systems.

No new tech

Conscious Steps is created using ageing technology, just how we like it! Brand new technology is resource intensive to manufacture and so has a huge carbon footprint. I’m writing this blog post on a laptop that is approaching 11 years old and until it gives me a reason to give up on it and sell it for parts, that won’t change. When I do need to purchase anything to keep the blog going I will always try to make secondhand purchases to limit our impact on the environment.

That’s my overview of why I believe Conscious Steps is a climate positive blog. What do you think? Get in touch and let me know.

April’s Positive Climate News


April saw us celebrating Earth Day on Thursday 22nd and there are plenty of positive news pieces we can highlight this month. Follow the links in each story for a more in-depth look into each one.

Biden pledges to cut US emissions in half

US President Joe Biden kicked of a two-day virtual Earth Day Summit with a pledge to halve US emissions by the end of the decade. This is a commitment he hopes will spur China and other big polluters to speed up efforts of their own.

“Time is short, but I believe we can do this,” Biden said in his opening remarks. “We will do this.”

UK to raise climate ambitions

Following recommendations made by the Climate Change Committee last year, the UK government has announced that carbon dioxide emissions are to be cut by 78% by 2035 compared with 1990 levels. This is an increase from the previous target of a 68% reduction by 2030.

It is hoped that this move will spur on other countries to follow the UK’s lead ahead of the COP26 Climate Conference due to be held in Glasgow at the end of the year.

This announcement comes as a report by the non-profit group Green New Deal UK finds that a stimulus programme that focusses on green and digital infrastructure, research and development, energy and care work could create more than 2.7m jobs in the next 10 years.

This report indicated that such a strategy could mean that every job that was lost during the coronavirus pandemic could be replaced in the upcoming recovery years.

Solar Pavement installed in Barcelona

Spains’ first photovoltaic pavement has been installed in Barcelona this month as part of a drive for the city to become carbon neutral by 2050.

The new solar power pavement is made up of 50 sq metres of non-slip panels, which will generate 7,560kWh every year. This is enough to supply three households.

While this doesn’t sound like a lot, it’s a great step forward (pun intended) to being able to show the viability of rolling this initiative out further and scale up ambition in the future.

What do you think of April’s positive news stories? Have you seen any others that have made you feel optimistic this month? Let me know!

March’s Positive News


And just like that we are another month into 2021! Although we got off to a rocky start, particularly here in the UK, things seem to be looking up and I think March was a good month for positive environmental news too.

Saving one of the World’s most endangered toads from extinction

For the first time the Harlequin Toad has been successfully bred in captivity. This has been part of a three-year collaboration between Panama Wildlife Charity PWCC, Manchester Museum, and the Faculty of Medicine, Biology and Health at the University of Manchester in the UK. Because the toads could be bred in captivity and reintroduced into the wild it is hoped that the toads will no longer be at risk of extinction.

Another species that may be being brought back from the brink of extinction is the Iberian Lynx.

Conservation success for the Iberian Lynx

Conservation professionals have used a range of tools to run a successful campaign that has seen number of Iberian Lynx in the wild jump up to over 1,000. In 2002 they were extinct in Portugal and there were only 100 individuals left in Spain.

The programme used a mixture of captive breeding and addressing wild threats to achieve this success. You can read more about it here.

Iberian lynx in Spain. Image by Frank Vassen via Flickr (CC BY 2.0).

Food waste jet fuel lowers aviation emissions

A study published in PNAS in March found that using jet fuel made from food waste can cut greenhouse gas emissions by 165%! This is because less food waste is sent to land fill and there are less emissions from the fuels being used by jets.

The aviation sector accounts for 2.5% of global emissions so the industry is in a race to make significant reductions to meet global climate change targets. This seems like really exciting progress! Read more about it in this BBC article.

That’s it for this month’s positive news. A short and sweet one. If you want to see anymore of the positive news story head here. See you this time next month for another instalment.

12 ways to save water and money


I don’t know about you but I got a bit of a shock when I saw how much my water bills had shot up when we went into lockdown last year

All of that time spent at home instead of using water outside of the house.

Since then we’ve implemented a few methods at home to try to reduce our water use.

And we seem to have managed it! 

The good news is that if we are using less water we’ll also be spending less money! Here in the UK if you don’t have a water meter it is usually worth asking your ultilty company to install one for you. In fact, our utility company came around and installed smart water meters on our street this year, which is pretty cool!

How much water does the average household use?

A single person household uses an estimated 149 litres per day, which almost doubles to 276 litres per day in a two person household. This equates to approximately 54 cubic meters of water per person annually. The average family of four in the UK could use more than 500 litres of water each day.

Something to note is that it is estimated that unmetered households use 3% more water than metered households. This equates to approximately 72 litres per week, or about 3,700 litres a year.

Why should we save water?

Water is all around us isn’t it? Rivers, lakes, our seas and oceans. There seems to be an endless supply. So why are we encouraged to save as much as possible?

Well, the fact is that less than 1% of the earths water is usable to us! The rest of the water is stored in the oceans, frozen in ice and floating around in the atmosphere. On top of that, out of the freshwater that is available for human use, a huge 70% goes to agriculture. Limiting even further, water available for household use.

Water is a precious resource. Sometimes it may not feel like it – especially in the UK where it feels like it’s always raining. But climate change, and the more extreme weather that comes with it, means that water supply is becoming more unpredictable than in years gone by. If we can use water more wisely in our homes, gardens and workplaces, we can ease the pressure on our wetlands and rivers in these times of stress.

On top of all of that, water use accounts for 6% of the UK’s total CO2 emissions. A massive 89% of this comes from heating water in our homes. The remaining 11% comes from pumping and treating water as part of the supply and sewage network. If we use less water, it will reduce the volume of water pumped, heated at home, and treated. Energy bills and carbon emissions can be cut simply by being more aware of how we use water: use less, reduce both water and energy bills and reduce emissions.

It’s actually a win-win-win!

Onto the 12 ways to save money and save water on a budget

These are the ways that we have reduced our water use plus some added extras that we are planning to try out this year.

1. Stay on top of leaks

Check for inefficient appliances or dripping taps. A dripping tap can waste over 3 litres of water every day. That’s over 1,000 litres a year.

2. Use your dishwasher

Using a dishwasher is more water efficient and energy efficient than running the taps to wash dishes by hand!

I just LOVE this! My dishwasher is probably one of my favourite purchases I have made for my house. The best thing about it was that I found it discounted in my local John Lewis because it had been returned due to a small dent in the front panel. As my kitchen is so small you can barely see the dent but I get to save time, water and money every time I use my dishwasher. 

I swear that dishwashers also save on household arguments over the washing up!

My top tips for using your dishwasher: 

  • Don’t rinse your plates before you put them into the dishwasher! This just defeats the object!!
  • Wait until your dishwasher is full before putting it on. This usually takes my household a couple of days. It just means that it runs at the most efficient it can be.
  • If you can delay your dishwasher cycle until around 3am you’ll also be drawing energy from the grid at the least energy intensive time of the day! Not water saving but CO2 saving!

3. Take shorter showers and fewer baths

Shortening your showers by 60 seconds can save 15 litres of water. We made it a bit of a competition in our house to see who could have the shortest showers. This is our second tip that saves money, water and time!

I’m definitely not saying that you should never have a bath, if you’re a bath lover then I can see how they can be a wonderful part of your self care routine. Having said that, on average a shower will use 50 litres of water whereas a bath uses 115litres so swapping from a bath to a shower every once in a while could really add up.

When you do take a bath how about using the leftover water in your garden?

If everyone you know spent 1 min less in the shower it would save a huge amount of water. Plus it would save money on your water and energy bills. A family of 4 could save as much £120 per year!

Waterwise have created a Spotify playlist of 4 minute songs. Put one of these 4 minute songs on and try and finish your shower before the song ends!

4. Collect rain water

I collect rainwater in a number of ways, which helps me to keep my garden and houseplants watered throughout the year.

My neighbour has a gutter that drips into my garden, which I place a bucket under and it fills up surprisingly quickly! When we start to approach the drier spring and summer months I will often collect bottles from the house and start to fill them up from the bucket and keep a collection ready for when I need it.

I also have a water butt connected to one of my downpipes. It only comes off a small flat roof but it also fills up quickly when we’ve had rain. The great thing is that it’s so compact. I only have a small garden so I didn’t want to have something that takes up too much space. Even though it’s compact it still holds 100 litres of water!

When I was researching a water butt I found out that some water suppliers have discount offers on them to encourage you to save water so it might be worth checking with your water company.

5. Reduce the size of your cistern

A third of water used in the home goes down the toilet. Cistern Displacement Devices (CDD) are a super affordable way to reduce the amount of water we flush down the toilet. They are placed in the cistern and save around 1 litre of water for each flush.

A CDD is placed in the cistern to displace around 1 litre of water every time you flush. They are super easy to install.

Check out tip number 12 and see whether you can get your hands on a CDD through your water company.

6. Replace taps and shower heads with low flow

Nine litres of water flow through open taps each minute. If you’re refitting a kitchen or bathroom consider purchasing low-flow taps to reduce the amount of water that flows through them. These kinds of taps can use up to 60% less water and you won’t even notice a difference!

An alternative to this if you don’t want to replace your taps is to add an aerator to your existing taps. They’re super inexpensive and save you money by reducing the water flow through your taps.

7. Turn off the taps while brushing your teeth

This one’s a classic! If you turn off the tap while brushing your teeth, you could save around 12 litres of water. Every. Single. Time.

According to Waterwise, if each adult in England and Wales turned off the tap when brushing their teeth, we’d save enough water for nearly 500,000 homes or to fill 180 Olympic swimming pools – every day!

8. Use a watering can instead of a hose

A hosepipe can use as much as 1,000 litres of water an hour.

If you water your garden in the early morning and late afternoon this will reduce evaporation and also save water.

9. Use a mulch in the garden

Cover soil with pebbles, gravel or bark to keep the moisture in the soil. It’ll keep the weeds back too – win, win!

I’ve recently started using Shell on Earth on my houseplants and even in planters in the garden. It looks wonderful and they are a lovely family owned business focused on sustainability.

10. Fill up your washing machine and dishwaher 

If you do 1 full load of washing instead of 2 half loads you could save 10 litres of water so wait for them to fill up before you set them going.

11. Use a washing up bowl

If you don’t have a dishwasher use a washing up bowl instead of letting the tap run. Also use the same bowl of water to wash fruit and veg. Once your water is caught in the bowl you can use this to water your plants.

12. Request a water saving kit from your water supplier

My water supplier has a water saving kit for both the garden and your home. They’re usually free and will contain some really helpful parts to help you save water in the house.

In ours we had:

  • a shower timer – make showers a competition to see who can have the shortest shower!
  • water efficient tap inserts – these could cut the water flow in half 
  • save-a-flush bag – placing this in your toilet cistern saves 1 litre of water per flush
  • swell gel crystals – placed in the compost these crystals reduces how much your plants need watering

So that’s the list of 12. What do you think? Has your household water usage gone up in the last year? Will you be trying any of these tips out in your home?

Let me know what you think, I’d love to hear from you! Also, if you enjoyed this post I would love it if you’d subscribe to the Conscious Crew mailing list and you’ll be notified when I release more posts.