Nuala McCann: Who could not be in awe of climate activist Greta Thunberg?

Greta is for real. She has a composure about her that is deadly serious and strangely at odds with her Pippi Longstocking plait. She shrugs off the petty inconveniences of the trip

Greta Thunberg on the boat Malizia, on which she is sailing to the US this week from England to attend a UN climate conference

WHO could not be in awe of teenage climate change activist Greta Thunberg? She is spending two weeks crossing the North Atlantic to America in a zero-carbon-emissions boat.

No toilets, no kitchen, no privacy... It makes the Ryanair queue look like a walk in the park.

All the electricity on board will come from wind turbines and solar panels, so that hers will be a journey with zero carbon footprint. There is a bucket on board with a sign on the side that says: Poos only please. Please don’t be getting ideas, Mr O’Leary.

The bucket, for me, would be a public squat too far.

Greta is for real. She has a composure about her that is deadly serious and strangely at odds with her Pippi Longstocking plait. She shrugs off the petty inconveniences of the trip.

“I might feel a bit seasick,” she shrugs... but hey, bring on that poo bucket.

She is headed for an important climate change conference in New York and she wants the world to listen. Meanwhile, back in Maison McCann, the recycling bin is chock-a-bloc. As I live with a recycling zealot, I wash the bean cans individually and scrub out the plastic cartons from the meat.

While we once felt smug at how empty our black bin was and how full our blue bin was, now we’re feeling that all that plastic which takes yonks to decompose cannot be a good thing.

We are haunted by images of baby seals and ducklings strangulated in the plastic used to keep a four pack of beer in one set of knuckles on the way to a house party. But change will come.

In 1980, when I was a student gherkin pickler at the big vibrator in Hamburg, I stood mystified beside a large green lump of a tardis on the corner of the street. Whatever was it. That was my first encounter with a bottle bank.

In France, a year earlier, we laughed at the idea of buying bottled water when there was a perfectly good tap supply. Those nutty French, eh? Who’d have thought it would catch on? Who’d have thought that we’d ever get around to carting our own reusable bags to the supermarket? Who’d have thought they’d ban smoking from the bars and restaurants? Who’d have thought eh?

The world has swivelled on its axis from the days as a student when you went into a phone box, wound the handle that alerted the operator to your presence in the back end of Donegal and got put through to whoever you wanted to talk to.

I miss the homeliness of that. I miss the old red phone box on Botanic, the queue outside to phone home. I don’t miss the whiff of urine.

I’m all for working to reduce waste. Tiny steps matter. As someone who has gone through an Everest of disposable cotton wool to swipe off the make-up, I’m converted to the idea of reusable cotton pads.

According to a report in the Guardian, the world creates two billion tonnes of solid waste every year, enough to fill 250 million builder’s skips. So every small choice makes a difference.

You can see the message filtering through – in the reusable cups that we bring into work for our coffee to the solid shampoos you can buy without packaging.

Even Kim Kardashian is wearing second hand clothes – it may be Jean Paul Gautier second hand but never the less. People call such clothes vintage nowadays – the trend is away from fast fashion to sustainable. And this is where life seems to have come full circle.

Back in the late 1970s, we were all about second hand. It wasn’t so much a fashion statement as pure necessity on a student grant. My aunt’s old brown suede coat seemed like the height of sophistication when I waltzed the catwalk that was the mezzanine floor in Trinity arts block.

It was his second-hand herringbone tweed coat with the red silk lining that first alerted me to my other half, as he glided past in the bar, collar up.

Oxfam was in – we were second hand and proud. Yes, when it rained, the old green parka whiffed like rotten socks. It was a small price to pay. We were green in every sense and ahead of our times.

A little Oxfam top, a swishy skirt from Fresh Garbage and a whiff of patchouli and you were the darling of the bottom bar. Mine’s a watery orange!

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