Going Green in Scotland

by Keith Jagger For my little family, we’ve joined the many who’ve had an “out-of-country” living experience. For the last two years we have made a home in Scotland, far away from our Midwest roots. When we leave, we’ll share some fond memories of our adventures here, and we’ve already come to love some of the many aspects of British life and culture, such as the sense of history marked by ancient and medieval architecture, long-standing traditions, greater sensibility about the environment, less consumerism, and national health benefits. But we are finding particular challenges here too, especially the trials that come along with renting a home. We ended up having to choose a lifestyle that wanted for many conveniences: no dryer, no car, no dishwasher, no microwave, and no cell phones. It is not the norm here in the UK to go without these luxuries, but a general atmosphere of more simple living made some of these challenges easier. They have guided us to some real lifestyle changes. Take life without a dryer, for example. While many households here have dryers, neither of the flats that we rented housed one (or even had the capacity to hold one). So in the short summer months, we washed our clothes in the washer and hung them on the lines outside. There’s something romantic about a sunny yard (“garden”, as they call it here) with clothes drying in the coastal wind. But there are also the bugs, which the dryer would have killed right away. We’d often find a buggy stowaway in the hamper. Then there are the long and dismal winter seasons that forced us into the hardships of laundering in the old ways. In the winter, we were strained to dry all of our clothes inside. We quickly learned that drying laundry this way would take twice as long, especially in a house with poor insulation and absence of central heating. You have to forsake totally that nice soft touch that clothes have when they come out of the drying cycle. You end up giving up one of your rooms to make a drying station, and you need spend the extra energy on radiators that serve as the drying mechanism. Loads have to be done almost daily because of the minimal amount that could be hung on small racks indoors. In fact, what used to be a simple task, soon took a huge amount of time out of our already hectic schedules. This should have slowed us down and helped us to reconsider the pace of our lives. But we pressed on. In the short run, it just made life more physically exhausting and more stressful. There’s nothing convenient about hanging your clothes, even when it is changing your habits for the better, bit by bit. But housework without a dryer was a small hiccup compared to life without a car. Central point: while our very generous friends learned to offer us rides to church and the grocery store, not having a car seriously limited our social life, especially our ability to fit in with a peer community who was on the go. Our friendship life suffered without a car. We would see families who were taking a short drive to the beach or the restaurant in the next town over; we couldn’t go. When we were invited over for dinner at a friend’s house who lived across town, the hustle of getting there and back, even with a semi-helpful public transport system had a three-fold effect: it diminished our desire to get there, lowered their interest in inviting us again when they saw how difficult it was to get there, and lowered interest on both sides of sending out future invites. You realize how far it is across town when it takes you 40 minutes to get where a car would take you in 5. Of course there were the exceptions, and these friends who endured through our car-handicap will be long termers. The positive, though, is that we got to know friends better who lived in a few blocks’ radius. On Saturdays we became more familiar and intimate with the trails and parks by our house. And we simply had to say “no” to frequent leisure travel and sightseeing in the region. In general, life without a car in this technological age is tough; it especially limits your social life in a world where people and families are enjoying fellowship over greater distances at a time. And yet all the while we were getting used to life without dependence on petrol. We also lived for two years without a dishwasher, and for the last six months––because of an unfortunate run in with the wash cycle––no cell phones. I don’t know anybody else that lives with this combination of technology anaemia. No dishwasher, not a big deal… that’s more normal. But no cell phone is near unheard of. Overall impression: life really doesn’t change all that much without a cell phone. I wish more people would realize this. Other technology such as Skype, email, and the Internet suffices. True, there are times when I’m running late. I can’t call my wife and tell her where I am. Or we have forgotten something or are lost with no means to call. There are friendships that I’m sure aren’t deeper because we can’t text. I wish I could snap a funny picture here or there, and I simply can’t. But life without a cell phone still goes on. Not to mention the community time we gained in the instances we had to walk actually over to a neighbour’s house to have a conversation in person rather than trying to call or text. Technology is supposed to make life easier; all it really does is make you more in need of more technology. If anything, we were detoxing from being connected literally to the world by our belt straps. While this all makes us honorary hippies, having to go without a dryer, car, cell phone, microwave, and dishwasher has not immediately harmonized our life. It has actually made us more inaccessible to a community on the go. And there’s real pain that comes with that. We’d love to announce that our “out-of-country” experience has inspired us to live life in America without these luxuries. That wouldn’t be the total truth. I can’t wait to have the privilege of a car again. I’m going to have a cell phone activated probably within days of arrival. But here’s the payoff. We know what it is like now to do technology detox, and while change is hard (luckily our living experiences in the last two years forced to change) change can come. While we plan to use the things that we left behind in the States, we will use them much more modestly with much more thought on their negative impact on our lives, rather than simply diving in headfirst. It has changed our view of when and how to use them. I think that this is a significance of what St. Paul realized when he said that all creation is waiting for “the revelation of the sons and daughters of God”. The earth and all its creatures are waiting in hope for us to get the memo; we don’t need to dry our clothes in machines, always seek oracles on Google or constantly speed around distances that should never be sped across. The life we’ve lived here in Scotland has been less of a burden on our planet than our lives in the US would have been and will be (even though it was not less of a “burden” on us). As of yet, we are still doing the grunt work of making good habits and letting go of selfish desires for convenience and luxury. But what we do know is that change is slow but can be made, even if it takes some external factors to get you motivated first.  

Keith Jagger first met the Sleeths when they were neighbors in Wilmore, Kentucky, and were brought together by their shared passion for creation care. After completing his studies at Asbury Seminary, Keith moved to Scotland to study with N.T. Wright. As Blessed Earth’s “Anglo Correspondent.” Keith writes both from the perspective a PhD student studying creation care and a husband/father/follower of Jesus struggling to incorporate creation care principles in his daily life. You can read more of his writing at keithjagger.com or urban-abbey.com.  

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