Pete Hogg was a Prospect environmental rep at Devonport dockyard and an active member of its environmental working group. Pete was diagnosed with terminal cancer and lost his long battle on 21 October 2017. He wrote this before he died
When I was having a low moment dealing with my diagnosis, my wife said: “What was important to you yesterday, should still be important to you today.”
Among many things, being diagnosed with a life-threatening disease like multiple myeloma (a type of bone marrow cancer), really makes you question what is truly important in your life. And whether there’s any point doing many of the menial tasks, eg sorting/recycling rubbish, you undertake throughout a brief time on earth.
It would be easy to say “I can’t be bothered with this anymore, I have bigger things to worry about” or “What real difference can my actions make?”
Our comfortable, cosy, consuming modern lives crave for bigger, better houses, cars, exotic holidays, spa weekends, designer clothes and luxury foods.
Sacrificing many of these things becomes inevitable when faced with an uncertain future and difficulty in working and earning money due to illness.
But in my view, many of these sacrifices came easily, and disease or not, I have always tried to look at what is truly important to me and not to seek happiness in attempting to keep up with the Joneses.
My children are without doubt high on my list of priorities alongside my wife, so providing for them, contributing to a harmonious household, pulling my weight, doing chores etc is inescapable.
My love of the outdoors
In the same way that you can’t turn off valuing your relationships with your family and friends more than ever, you can’t turn off caring about all the other passions in your life. Personally, I love the outdoors, the countryside, the environment and natural history and therefore I value their conservation.
Growing up in Plymouth, Devon, we are lucky to be surrounded by areas of outstanding beauty: the stunning coastline; spectacular river valleys, estuaries and mouths; and the wild national park of Dartmoor – all within a short drive of the city.
I have such fond memories of so many camping and caravanning trips. For me there is no better feeling than the excitement of being closer to nature and connecting with the landscape that these holidays provide. They come with the added bonus of not having to spend a great deal of time travelling there.
Getting away from it all to beautiful beaches; whiling away the hours rock-pooling, body-boarding, burying a sibling in the sand, building castles, collecting shells etc.
Or rambling on Dartmoor, swimming in a dammed-up stream, collecting letterbox stamps on a heart-pumping hill climb are great for the soul.
They give you a rich appreciation for the world in which we live while picking up great life skills – such as learning to read a map and gaining an in-depth knowledge of the ecosystems on our doorsteps.
Passing love of the outdoors onto my children – and young people around me
I am keen for my own children to gain these and many other experiences and skills relating to the environment. In my view, the most important way we can protect the environment for generations to come is to inspire the children and young adults around us.
We can do this by increasing their awareness, engaging and educating them in a fun way and getting them away from too much screen time distractions. We can then hope that they too will care enough for the natural world to protect it.
There are many small local nature reserves, patches of woodland and National Trust properties with great ideas on how to entertain young people and learn about the natural world.
Increasing your own knowledge of the flora and fauna that make up our native woodland is something you can readily share with your family and promote a thirst within them for knowledge that schools can only touch on.
If having children yourself has reminded you of interests you had when you were young, go with it, revise, share, update and build on your own knowledge. Use kids as the catalyst for great family adventures and unforgettable memories for all.
Even without your own children, your influence is not limited. The young adults in the workplace around you, apprentices and other members of your clubs or social groups will look up to you and learn from you.
There is no harm in showing you care and sharing your passions about issues as important as this.
Going green at home
There are many ways we can look at how we impact the environment, through our consumption of energy, resources and food clothing etc.
There are no minimum or maximum limits to what reductions we can achieve – it is entirely up to us and will depend on what is necessary or practical in our lives at that given moment in time.
We should however, always look to increase our awareness of how the things we do and choices we make have an impact on the environment and therefore, gauge whether we can justify our actions.
For example, I had been ignorant about the detrimental effect of plastic tube cotton buds and that there were plastic beads in exfoliating shower gel products. But now that I know, I will not buy these products. But I cannot remove them from anyone else’s shopping list.
Mistakes will be made and shifts towards environmentally-friendly alternatives usually come as an afterthought. Big examples are CFCs, lead in petrol, diesel car engines and rapid global warming/climate change on the whole.
Changes on this scale undoubtedly need government-sized intervention. So when acting individually, I tend to concentrate on the small but significant changes I can make to improve our local environment without too much hassle, cost and disruption to our own lives.
There are many ideas in various different publications on ways to become greener:
- reduce energy consumption around the home, eg use energy efficient bulbs, turn off when not in use
- avoid wasting food and use/replenish only what is necessary
- consider walking the kids to school
- cycle to work occasionally
- make your garden a space for nature, fit bird/bat boxes, leave an area for the natural habitat to take over, build a bug hotel, install a pond or create a compost heap.
Break old habits in our workplaces
Another great way to change is to break old habits in our workplaces. Reducing energy consumption and waste here, where we spend a great deal of time, is worthwhile.
Many people in the workforce still think that because they are not paying for it, it is not their problem to turn those lights off, report a leaking tap, sort rubbish into appropriate bin for recycling.
But the important point is that we don’t do these things primarily to save money, although this is a welcome secondary benefit.
We want to live more sustainably because it is our world and our environment and therefore our responsibility to help companies reduce their impact on the environment.
Please consider this next time you print, are last out of the office, log off your computer, draw resources from a store.
Where it all began for me – a hard hat on the beach
When I saw a hard hat from my workplace on my local beach and the vast array of visible plastic debris on the edge of the docks just waiting to enter the sea, I felt ashamed that we could let this happen.
A decade or so ago, I took photographs of a tidal area within our workplace frequented by herons and other birds. It was littered with debris – from empty drinks bottles to traffic cones and from metal clamps to redundant wooden posts.
I sent an email with the evidence to the relevant people at the time and was assured it would be cleaned up. The response sounded great, but why was it left to get so bad in the first place?
After a period of time, I checked the area again to find not a lot had been done or that the problem had resurfaced.
It saddened me to think that I was alone in seeing this as a concern. I felt I should perhaps just concentrate on my job and that it was not really my place to do any more.
But slowly but surely, I feel times are changing. Last year I was invited, as a Prospect member, to become an environmental representative.
I jumped at the chance. By bringing like-minded people together and working in a team under the Prospect union umbrella, we will now be able to start to tackle some of the bigger problems we face.
Most importantly, we will be able to raise environmental awareness in much the same way that health and safety concerns have come to the forefront in recent decades.
If you feel you could do more, or want to learn more, enquire about trade union environmental representatives in your area or become one!