Please meet Elizabeth May


Please meet Elizabeth May.

Elizabeth is a former environmental professor, helped get Fair Trade recognition in Wales, and is married to a former climate change skeptic.  Read on as Elizabeth opens up about getting her husband to adopt a more "green" lifestyle, how you can encourage a partner if you're in a similar situation, how she reduces her personal environmental impact, measuring your carbon footprint, and her favorite books!

Eco is Sexy: Please introduce yourself in a few sentences.

Elizabeth: I am a convinced environmentalist and am trying to live my life in a more environmentally-friendly way.  I taught environmental management and ecology to postgrads and undergrads at Swansea Metropolitan University (now amalgamated with a number of other universities in Wales) and at the same time was my university's environment manager. I convened the Welsh branch of the universities and colleges’ environmental network which helped to get Fair Trade recognition at a national (Welsh) level.

Now in England and retired, I chair an environment group, teach a couple of environmental classes, and am a Women's Institute (international/national groups of women) Climate Change Ambassador for Cambridgeshire.

Eco is Sexy: Please tell us about getting Fair Trade recognized. What made you decide to pursue this, and what was the process? How long did it take, and did you encounter resistance?

Elizabeth: Fair Trade is about a fair deal for producers/workers. They have a to be a co-operative and comply with other rules. It makes a real difference to people’s lives. I have met a few Fair Trade people and it’s a good system.

Cities and towns have Fair Trade accreditation. To become a Fair Trade nation a certain percentage of the Welsh university had to be Fair Trade universities – to sell the products, e.g. coffee, sugar, chocolate, etc. and to promote the brand in Fairtrade Fortnight.

It’s a good thing to be – people being paid a decent wage, etc. The other universities were pleased to take this on; it fitted with their policy. The Welsh government has sustainability as a major part of its agenda too.

I don’t remember any resistance. I wasn’t leading the bid to be a Fair Trade nation; the university sector made its contribution.

Eco is Sexy: What originally sparked your interest in environmental issues and made you feel that you personally had to act? Was it something you experienced, read, or another influence?

Elizabeth: I’ve been interested in living things – biodiversity – all my life; they give me so much joy.

As I was a teacher/lecturer I read various books such as Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, and Sir Francis Chichester when he first circumnavigated the world one-handedly and talked about the plastics in the oceans – that was in the 1960s/70s. I gradually became aware of pollution – the DDT accumulating in the environment, causing bird eggs to be so fragile that they broke. And of course in the 1970s there were publications saying that we were running out of resources. And since then although there has been some successes, e.g. the removal of DDT, the removal of CFCs means that the ozone layer is recovering, but the picture is getting much darker on climate change.

Eco is Sexy: I understand your husband was a climate change skeptic and is now a believer after attending a climate lecture series. What, specifically, made him change his mind?

Elizabeth: Well he’s tolerated my environmental eccentricity and as he’s naturally frugal he doesn’t waste energy, recycles, doesn’t buy a lot of stuff. The evidence was made very clear by world expert scientists. I got him to come along to the lectures as there was a buffet and beer afterwards. I think it was the scientific standing of the lecturers that tipped the balance.

Eco is Sexy: Based on your own experience, can you offer any advice to people who are trying to live a green lifestyle, but live with others who are not as committed?

Elizabeth: This is not easy but people often have partners who don’t have the same beliefs. The environmental lifestyle is much cheaper. So it appeals to his frugal side; he doesn’t like waste. Live your life following your beliefs; discuss and compromise. Be patient!

Eco is Sexy: What concrete steps do you take in your life today to minimize your personal environmental impact?

Elizabeth: We're trying to cut down more on meat; we went to a good lecture by Nicholas Poore talking about sustainability, farming and food.  Quite a positive message: if more people ate less or no meat, we may have a chance with climate change.

We live quite a green life: no car, not much new stuff, the circular economy etc.

Circular economy is about reducing dramatically the amount of new stuff you buy, buying secondhand (pre-loved) in the great charity shops we have in the UK, and mending and fixing. We have Repair Cafes here; I got an old hand sewing machine fixed. I think it’s about not valuing yourself in terms of things you have.

I often teach a course called Carbon Conversations which helps you work out your carbon footprint.

Eco is Sexy: What tools do you recommend people use to understand their carbon footprint?

Elizabeth: There’s several carbon footprint tools on the web and the Carbon Conversations materials are also on the web.

Basically, you analyze your life and get a rough idea of what aspects are the worst in terms of CO2. So home, heating, energy use, transport, food and so forth. My worst impacts were holidays – flying is much, much worse than anything else I do. I’ve now refused to fly. But it’s relatively easy for me; there are some excellent train holidays and I haven’t any relatives abroad. Our family lives nearby. But, flying is cheap (airlines don’t pay any fuel tax or VAT) and quick.

Eco is Sexy: What is your most recommended or gifted book?

Elizabeth: Hard to say. Jonathon Porritt’s book, “ The World We Made,” is interesting as it speculates about a future where we’ve come through climate change but it was written at a more positive time – Obama was in the White House and Brexit hadn’t happened. I’m now reading Mike Berners-Lee, “There is no Planet B,” which has just been published and is bang up to date. Barbara Kingsolver’s book, “Flight behavior,” is good too as it’s a story but it gets to the heart of the matter about what individuals do.

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