The game of the name

I’m very conscious about the effects of language – choose one word rather than another and you can change the whole tone of a sentence. But it’s more than that, by naming objects or ideas in particular ways, we give them a label that can have very deep connotations. It’s often said that ‘the pen is mightier than the sword’, and it is true that language is a powerful tool for changing hearts and minds. Because of this I was very taken with a word my friend Katie used several times recently – petrol.

As you know, I’m very keen to promote the use of local and renewable resources in order to make our lives more sustainable and protect our planet. One of the biggest problems is our reliance on petrochemicals: our lives are filled with all sorts of products produced from oil that we don’t really notice. We’ve all been told about the issues associated with vehicle fuel – petrol and diesel – and we know that burning oil and coal and gas contributes to all sorts of environmental problems, but petrochemicals fill our lives. As you read this, you are probably wearing them (manmade fibres) and looking at them (your computer). You may have washed your hair with them this morning, smeared them on your face, eaten off them, prepared food on them, cleaned your teeth with them… the list goes on. And whilst their presence may be obvious (to some) in plastics, they are also hidden in things like juice cartons (which appear to be made of cardboard) and books (the covers are often coated with oil-based varnish).

Balls of reclaimed petrol!

Balls of reclaimed petrol!

So what do we do? Well, being aware is the first step – no one takes action if they don’t know a problem exists. And this is where naming comes in and where Katie has hit the nail on the head. She has taken to referring to petrochemical products as ‘petrol’. So, when using acrylic yarn, she says she’s ‘knitting with petrol’ and when we saw a farmer spreading inorganic fertilizer she said he was ‘throwing petrol on his land’. And as she talked I realised how effective it was. If, every time we bought food wrapped in plastic rather than paper or sprayed chemical fertilizer on our vegetables rather than digging in compost or using homemade liquid feed, we said ‘I’m wrapping my food in petrol’ or ‘I’m putting petrol on the garden’ would that change out attitude?

I know it’s not exactly accurate terminology, but it makes you think… if we could try to swap at least some of out ‘petrol’ for something renewable, we could make our lives much, much more sustainable.

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