Natalie Fee is an award-winning environmentalist, author and founder of City to Sea, an organisation campaigning to stop plastic pollution. Her latest book, How to Save the World for Free, is a rousing and upbeat guide to making a real difference, covering areas from food and leisure to travel and sex
Interview: Cheryl Caira
How to Save the World for Free focuses on the fact that if we all make small changes to our lifestyles, we can help the environment. Do you think people still have a hard time believing they can bring about real change as an individual?
I think people often feel disheartened by ‘business as usual’ from corporates and a lack of genuine, fast-acting change from government when it comes to the environment. But that shouldn’t discourage you from making changes in your own life. We’re social creatures and we like to fit in, be accepted, be loved. And when we see that more and more of our peers are carrying reusable bottles, or growing veg, or choosing a staycation, we start to shift our behaviour too. That creates a trend, and trends drive demand, and demand drives investment, or divestment.
What was the most surprising thing you discovered while writing the book?
That homemade, flaxseed lube is really, really good.
What are your thoughts on protest movements like Extinction Rebellion?
Both Extinction Rebellion and School Strike for Climate have been monumental in terms of raising awareness about the ecological emergency. They’ve shown big business and government that people are willing to sacrifice their time, education and in some cases, their freedom, to bring about climate justice. Being visible, being in the media and being vocal is one of the ways we change the system and it seems to be working.
You said that seeing the trailer for Albatross [a film about the devastating effect of plastic pollution on the Midway Island albatrosses] absolutely floored you. What was it about that film especially that was a catalyst for you becoming an environmentalist?
It was the scale of suffering of these ridiculously cute, phenomenally majestic birds, and the power and beauty in the way it was filmed and scored. Albatross is a full-length film now, but the trailer is enough to change lives. There was something about seeing everyday items of plastic that I was using, inside the bellies of these magnificent creatures, that broke the spell that ‘Everything was OK’.
Tell us a bit about City to Sea and your current campaigns.
I set it up in 2015, with plenty of enthusiasm, no money and no plan. Now we’re a team of 32 running award-winning campaigns, stopping hundreds of tonnes of plastic from getting into our rivers and seas each year. Refill is our biggest campaign, with over 30,000 places to refill your bottle for free and over 250,000 app downloads (refill.org.uk). I’m also super proud of our #PlasticFreePeriods campaign which has resulted in a new programme being rolled out across schools in the UK, called ‘Rethink Periods’.
Natalie Fee’s saving the world starter tips
- Make sure your energy’s green! Most green tariffs won’t cost you any more money, but do your research and check the ‘fuel mix disclosure’ to see just how green they are. Good Energy, Ecotricity and Octopus are currently the best options.
- Switch to a predominantly plant-based diet. In terms of reducing greenhouse-gas emissions, deforestation, water scarcity and stopping ocean pollution, kicking the meat habit helps you tick all the boxes. Drastically reducing your meat and dairy consumption is one of the best things you can do to save the world.
- Fly a lot less. Commit to taking the train for domestic travel, and if you fly abroad for personal reasons, radically reduce the number of long-haul flights you take. Why not go flight-free for 2020? Check out flightfree.co.uk and take the pledge. And for the times you really do need to fly somewhere, offset the damage through a quality-assured carbon-offsetting scheme, such as through carbonfootprint.com or the more detailed atmosfair.de
How to Save the World for Free by Natalie Fee (RRP £12.99) is published by Laurence King