I start a new blog

Hi everyone! If you like what I write and don’t mind a complete change of theme, please check out http://hahatheworldisending.wordpress.com, where I think about how to make my footprint smaller and the general human and cultural traits which led us to the the sixth great extinction! I can’t offer you the kind of insight that comes from expertise or more than the bare minimum of research but I can offer to tell you the thoughts I had on the bus to work. See you there!

I contemplate my consumer habits

I love consuming stuff. Of all the consumery consumers, I am the most consumerist. I sometimes open my wardrobe and whisper “I love you” to my favorite dress made from organic long-staple cotton. Do you know what long-staple cotton is? Of course you don’t, because you don’t love stuff as much as I do, because no one loves stuff as much as I do. Do you get excited when you run out of soap because now you get to go choose more soap? When someone asks you your favorite time of year, do you think to yourself “oh I always have such a hard time picking between asparagus season and cherry season?”. No, probably none of these things happen to you, because you are normal.

I am the ultimate hedonist. My ideal life would be like 80% tequila and roller coasters and 20% other stuff. I’ll close my eyes and exclaim “good god, this lasagna is delicious” to my empty apartment. I’ll happily consumify even those activities suggested to get you off the hamster wheel of consumerism, getting to the top of the hike and shouting “OH HOW BEAUTIFUL, BETTER GET GOING”, eager to start my descent before the dopamine hit wears off.

The only reason that my footprint to date has not been even more astronomical is because I have not been able to afford it. I have lived a privileged life of leisure and pleasure, of course, but with no car, in shared apartments and with a wardrobe which was largely hand-me-downs or thrifted. After years of my discretionary income not stretching past the Estrella Damm brewery in Barcelona, I finally get to ask “where do I send these euros?”. I eye them suspiciously, knowing how quickly they can go up in a cloud of greenhouse gases. At least one thing is clear: I don’t want them to go to a bollocks. You can just keep your hands off my shiny new euros, Jeff.

The question of how to spend money without doing damage is something I have started to think about pretty deeply lately, mostly due to this briefing by the European Environment Agency pointing out a fairly damning flaw in the European Green Deal1. The briefing itself is very readable if you are unconvinced by my amateur distillation, which is the following:

Q: How do I make sure my euros don’t end up being spent on killing the whales?

A: All euros are eventually spent on killing the whales.

Sorry, I’m being facetious, that’s a terrible summary. But basically what it says is that sufficiently greening the European economy will probably be impossible without shrinking it a bit. It seems the only environmentally friendly thing you can buy is: less. Fuck. Sake.  

What do you even do then? I mean, you can save your money. That’s a pretty good idea for a while. But ultimately of course, that’s just putting off killing the whales, because you presumably spend it later. You can start spending it on carbon offsetting2? Morally dubious from the Kantian point of view but probably ok on a practical level. You can put all your money in a pile and set it on fire? Still releases some greenhouse gasses, though not as much as if you had spent it, probably. If you get enough of it, you can bribe some European officials to crash the economy? In theory that’s a pretty good one, but it would probably cost quite a lot and apparently as people become poorer they often tend to buy cheaper items but not fewer (up to a point of course), so ultimately it doesn’t work.

One thing you can do is delibrately buy fewer, more expensive items. However even here there is a catch: imagine Jeff Bezos charges an extra five euro for every item on Amazon and then uses all those five euros to go to the moon in a giant penis shaped rocket. On the plus side, things are more expensive and so people buy fewer things, decreasing their individual footprints. Also, Jeff Bezos is now on the moon and we don’t have to see his stupid face any more. However, on the negative side, all those five euros have just been turned into rocket fuel. The reduction in your consumption has funded an increase in someone else’s overconsumption. One way out of this bind is to make sure that if you buy more expensive things, the difference in what you pay goes to someone who is underconsuming rather than overconsuming. i.e. you buy fewer dresses and someone else buys more rice, as opposed to you buy fewer dresses and someone else buys more rockets. Of course, that doesn’t actually decrease the global footprint, but obviously it’s still better than the rocket thing… but then again the places where people have not enough rice are generally pretty far away so you have the transport emissions and problems with ocean traffic to consider… but then again, providing real economic opportunities in the places currently reliant on the most toxic of industries might eventually lead to cleaner production methods overall… but then again…

And that is the story of why it took me three weeks to buy a jumper.

1I don’t mean to shit on the EU here, the fact that Europe has managed to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions while growing the economy does make me feel better, which is why they did it I’m sure. However, we are still failing in many areas, for example: the absolute amount of unrecycled packaging waste per capita seems to be increasing, despite small improvements the percentage of recycled waste. Also, we seem to enjoy smugly chastising the Chinese, but, like, are they not the ones making all our stuff? Idk, I feel like if we took carbon leakage into account we wouldn’t be doing so hot. Anyone who isn’t someone no relevant qualifications drawing conclusions from eyeballing random graphs care to weigh in on this?

2it’s a good idea to make sure it is gold standard certified or similar!

I start to dread our impending doom

Look, everyone needs hobbies, OK? I mean, especially after the last year and a half. In my household, we got so bored that we decided to have a collective meltdown about climate change and biodiversity loss, just so we had something to talk about at our vegan, locally sourced and unpackaged dinners. You know when you feel like you have too much time on your hands? Try and buy literally anything that doesn’t destroy the planet, the lives of several people on another continent and some animals maybe. You are now a conscientious consumer and the life where you did anything else or were a vaguely interesting person to speak to is over!

I had to buy new running gear the other day. It was the first time in a while I attempted to purchase clothing first hand1 and, Jesus Christ, never again. It took a morning of total trauma and I have been compulsively reciting statistics on the average pay in unsupervised factories and the CO2 emissions caused by virgin vs recycled polyester ever since. And I mean compulsively, like: someone says “how was your day?” and I’m all like “WELL ACTUALLY IN TERMS OF CO2 EMISSIONS THE DIFFERENCE IS NOT SO BIG BUT I THINK IT’S FOOLISH TO JUDGE SO COMPLEX AN ISSUE ON A SINGLE AXIS DON’T YOU AGREE?”. And they’re all “ok that’s cool, I don’t really know what we’re talking about though”.

The problem with joining the subculture of conscientious consumerism is that for someone like me (read: enormously compulsive, very little self-control) it doesn’t actually prevent you from doing the bad things. It just partners them with enormous guilt. After oscillating between super-vegan and put-all-the-cows-in-my-face for almost half a decade, I have settled on being a “sobr-egan”, which is a term I made up right now for people that are vegan while sober but then get drunk and remember they like cheese. Well, I’m not even vegan while I’m sober because I still wear leather because I won’t wear vegan leather which is secretly just plastic that then makes its way to the oceans to choke dolphins or whatever. Fuck, everything is such a nightmare.

The other problem with being a conscientious consumer is good luck being not a hypocrite. Try to come up with a lifestyle which is morally consistent but also liveable. Just fucking try. I’ve settled on using some old faithful moral guiding principles. 1) Sometimes do the right thing but if it momentarily hard to do the right thing, then do the wrong thing instead. 2) The closer things happen to you geographically, the worse they are. Dually, if something bad happens far enough away, then the bad thing didn’t happen REALLY. It’s why I can spend hours fretting about the aquatic toxicity of my laundry detergent and then walk Uniqlo and purchase underwear whose manufacture is directly poisoning water sources because… those water sources are in Bangladesh!! It’s why I can find myself enormously stressed by the increasing size of dairy herds and the associated uptick in intensive farming practices (literally) outside my window, but will happily munch on avocados that are also destroying land BUT… thankfully only in Mexico!! I’m a piece a garbage!!!  

The troubles of the world are of course, not entirely my fault and are partially systemic. Try and not create landfill waste, even for a week, and you realise that daily life is just swimming upstream through a river of unrecyclable plastic films and spoiled paper until you eventually give up, drowning in those shitty biodegradable straws that we all know are going to end up buried in a landfill somewhere (I know your game, lie-straws). In Europe, in parallel with the train network disintegrating, it has become more and more normal to live and work in a different country to your partner and friends and family. So your choices are: spew carbon dioxide, quit your job, or tell your mom you’ll see her once every five years. So the system sucks. However, I also think that lefties, as a species, have gradually come to the realisation that a system sucking doesn’t give you a moral free pass to participate in it. So while I eat the delicious, delicious mozzarella and run in my springy, new shoes that feel like clouds on my feet, I will at least admonish myself severely. That’s what we need for everything to be ok, right? Right. Don’t worry guys, I have this one covered.

I feel so cynical lately. Not because I think that we couldn’t fix it – people are amazing at fixing things. We can bring entire species back from the brink of extinction with enormous coordinated efforts. Neither is it because I think we don’t care – I’d be very surprised to come across someone who said “well, fuck people from Bangladesh, why do they need non-toxic rivers?”. We are just creatures of inertia. People hand you a napkin and you take it. You shop where you have always shopped. You buy as much as you’ve always bought2. You fly as much as you’ve always flown and drive as much as you’ve always driven. And the powers-that-be, the ones who might actually be able to fix the system, call for increased recycling rates and more wind-farms, because they don’t know how to redirect the enormous momentum of consumer culture currently headed directly for the last few fences between this world and one of total ecological collapse any more than we do. Some can’t even plan wind-farms because they are preoccupied with their population starving and stuff, which I guess is fair enough. Some don’t plan wind farms just because they are jerks though, fuck those guys.

So yes, I feel cynical not because I think we can’t fix it, but because I think that we won’t. In fifty years, it will be like that horrible part at the end of a long relationship where you will look back and see that the fiery end was at the same time inevitable and entirely preventable. You’ll say all the things that you can do now, now that you fully appreciate how serious it is, but it will be too late. It will be that period that even if you act perfectly from now on, it is unfixable. And that is what we cannot understand: we can put in enormous effort to fix things that we suddenly become aware are very broken, but we are unable to grasp the concept of breaking something so badly it is unfixable, no matter what the effort. Having said that, when the end inevitably arrives, I’ll be happier to meet it as a failing hypocrite rather than as someone who didn’t try at all. I hope.

1 I largely shop on vinted and depop for those delicious guilt free second hand clothes.

2 Rather, you increase your rate of buying things as much as you’ve always increased it, an example figure for clothing is a 60% increase from 2000 to 2014 per consumer (https://www.wri.org/insights/numbers-economic-social-and-environmental-impacts-fast-fashion)

I almost lose my apartment

So I am, by now, accustomed to being embroiled in Kafkaesque imbroglios from which there is no discernible way out. Sometimes, one person or another, will suggest that as it happens with such an alarming frequency that perhaps I am somehow responsible for them.ImpossibleI say, “these are caused by spirits of the universe over which I have no control“. The worst thing is, you know its your fault, you know you have control over the situation, but to admit its your fault seems tantamount to admitting you deserve it. “Do I deserve this?” you say to yourself, lying face down on the floor after a dinner of potatoes and pasta sauce and a strange cream liquor you found in your fridge, “do I?. I’m an ok person, I work hard, I once volunteered for a charity that called old people and listened to how depressed they were now that they had nothing to do but look back on their life of unfulfilled dreams, I wouldnt have voted for Trump even if I could have. Why am I currently facing losing my apartment and having to deal with finding a place for me, my stuff, and my flatmates stuff with a grand total of four euros in my bank account?”.

There should be a word for this in GermanI think, I remember reading somewhere that the German language is like a dictionary of obscure sorrows. So I imagine that they have a word for the feeling that if only one thing had gone right this week, you would be in a much better situation and wouldnt be face down on your bedroom floor facing homelessness. Likeeinzugegutesacheneinobdachlos“, Im sure thats an actual German word for what is happening to me right now, I think. I was going to write the grand List of Things that went wrong this month that ended with me in this situation but it was so long that half-way through I got bored and stopped. Lets just say the fuckups were the combined responsibility of, in wildly different concentrations: a Turkish architect, a French university, an unusual Spanish rental situation, a multinational telecommunications company, an Irish me et al. And my saviors, as always: partner, family, friends and a literal fairy godmother.

On the floor, I start to reflect on the increasingly bizarre difficulties I manage to wrangle myself into. “Remember that time your wallet was stolen in Paris and then you couldnt convince your Spanish bank to give you access to your salary for like two months? Remember that time you locked your keys inside your apartment and had to go get the spare set from your very ill colleague using the navico decouverte of your sympathetic yet understandingly incredulous neighbor, who was a large Iranian man looking absolutely nothing like you, and you had to evade the travel police? Remember that time you had all your clothes stolen on the beach and then you had to walk through Barcelona in a bikini to get to a police station where you were just given an oversized tshirt and told you to be on your way? Remember the time you got drunk in Munich and missed the last train and then everything was so complicated you just gave up and sat on the street for three hours until the trains started running again? Remember the time you accidentally went to work in half your pajamas because you were so stressed about your imminent homelessness and then you talked to your colleague, and they were, like, pretending not to notice but your pretty sure they totally noticed?”. Surely, I cannot be the cause of all of these obviouslycausedbyme situations.

It is tiresome to be lost in your (technically) thirties. Somehow, in your twenties, you imagine that perhaps its a potential point of endearment. “Oh look at her, so young and wacky. I bet she will have it all figured out by her (technically) thirties!” maybe people say. And the voice inside you soothesjust wait, you wont find yourself wandering the streets semi clothed in your (technically!) fourties“. But it is smaller now, and quieter, because its not as convinced as it was before. I cant even say Im unhappy. I cant even say I would have done anything differently. Its just that who I refer to aswho I could be“, in the words of my inner voice, is increasingly referred to aswho I might have beenand it scares me (this is a person who, for example, is always entirely and appropriately dressed in public i.e. not current Roisin). I guess the whole almost being homeless thing set off a thirdofalife crisis in me, who knows.

P.S. I am no longer potentially homeless or penniless.

I try to assist my brother in getting a NIE

So for anybody that needs an update: Hi, I live in Barcelona for a fairly long time now, my brother also lives here and needs to get a tax number so he can work legally. However not a problem, according to EU regulation … right? Right? Wrong. You are in Catalonia. Noone gives a fifth of shit about your EU rights.

So my brother comes here and we enter the labyrinth of Catalan bureaucracy. The first thing you need is a tax number or NIE. It is pronouced “Neeyeah”, like what you would say if someone asked how your dental appointment or your meeting at the NIE office was. You would say “Oh, it was nee-yeah”. Meaning something between “it was fine” and “absolute bollocks”. So the first thing you need is to get an appointment at absolute bollocks office. Sorry! I mean the neeyeah office. Luckily you can do this easily! You can even do this online! So easy! PSYCHE. THESE APPOINTMENTS DO NOT EXIST. If you want you want to see how trying to get a appointment for a NIE works, you can check out the flow chart below.


No chance in Barcelona, so I bring my brother to Sabadell, a neighbouring town. “No NIE without an appointment” says the dragon guarding the NIE office. “Can we make an appointment in person? Can we make it over the phone?”. No, says the dragon, you must go to the website. Here is the updated flowchart detailing how to get a NIE:
A nice girl at the office who has an appointment gives us some advice “Hey, I couldn’t get an appointment for two months. You have to try on Friday evenings”. This is one of the recommendations we get, accompanied by: Try at exactly eleven fifteen on monday;  Try hiring a competent yet expensive immigration lawyer;  Try buying an appointment on the black market; Try applying for an appointment with lots of different browsers all at the same time; The advice becomes increasingly bizarre and you’re just waiting for someone to say “you need to apply for a NIE appointment on the summer solstice in the light of a full moon with your keyboard painted in goats blood”. Here is the updated flow chart:
However, being the resourceful and tenacious young woman I am, I look up all the legalities and realise we can get one in a neighbouring municipality, where you may or may not need an appointment. You can’t tell because when you get your flatmate to call and ask the answer to the question “can I get a NIE without an appointment”, it is “maybe”. Your flatmate presses a bit says “hey, you’re the NIE office and should be able to give a definitive answer to this question as you are literally the people giving out the NIE“. And they say “maybe we can, maybe we can’t” in a coquettish sort of way, maybe because it’s sexier if there’s an element of suspense, or maybe because they’re just total assholes. Who knows?! Keep reading to find out.

Where are we? Oh yeah: we are booking a hotel, getting up at five in the fucking morning and taking a train to a bullshit place to get an 8cm piece of green paper with a random number on it. I cannot wait. So anyway, we go at five o clock in the morning, wait at this bullshit office and then you get into the office and they give you a tax number, as required by law. PSYCHE, THE NIE OFFICER DOESN’T LIKE YOU AND NOW YOU ARE REQUIRED TO COMPLETE NUMEROUS SIDE QUESTS IN ORDER TO GET THE COVETED NIE.

So they say “you need a work contract to get a NIE” (catch! where you work says you need a NIE to get a work contract!). So you say “oh hey, actually on the official spanish ministery website it says we don’t because we have this other stuff”. FATAL ERROR. YOU HAVE POINTED OUT THE INCOMPETENCY OF THE NIE OFFICER YOU HAVE FACED AND NOW YOU WILL BE SENT TO THE FIRST LEVEL OF NIE HELL WHICH IS RUNNING AROUND A RANDOM TOWN IN JULY SPANISH HEAT COLLECTING ARBITRARY DOCUMENTS. Even when you go back with the work contract that you get your workplace to email to you, you realize that your mistake meant it was game over. They literally just ask you for random shit expecting you to give up at some stage. It’s important to recognize at this stage that you can never get the NIE, every time you come back with the bullshit they ask for they will decide they don’t want that anymore and instead want other bullshit. I cannot even fully remember the details of what happened next but it includes (in no particular order): going to a phone shop to get a phone contract to get a NIE, going back to the same phone shop to get a letter saying we cannot get a phone contract without a NIE, going to a rental agency and getting a letter that says we pinky promise we are trying to rent an apartment but cannot do so without a NIE, going to an office for non-EU foreign citizens and getting them to yell at the NIE officers on our behalf, considering making a false application at a university and wondering if we have enough money to bribe them. It is worth noting that literally none of the documents we are asked to get are required to get a NIE. Some police officer just pulls requests out of their ass every time you go back with whatever they requested the previous round. I am sure everytime we leave they double over with laughter betting on what we will be able to produce next. “Let’s ask for the skin of an unripe blood orange all in one piece! Let’s ask them for a tiny elephant competent in backgammon!”.

 At some stage in this process I stop being able to emotionally handle whats happening and I go to a bar and start drinking heavily, leaving my brother to fend for himself. On the fifth (sixth?) round of returning to the absolute bollocks sorry I mean neeeyeh office I start to get frustrated. My brother is now stuck in the worst possible position: between a smiling sociopathic NIE officer and a tipsy-to-drunk older sister screaming down the phone “I WANT THAT BITCH’S NAME, OFFICER NUMBER AND HEAD ON A GODDAMN PIKE”. Oh btw the office also closes at two because why? Who knows. The NIE officers have to go step on some kittens or some shit, But we have failed and have to go home now.

My brother tries to return alone. He returns to the office another quadrillion times without success. I ask every spanish speaking friend I have to call every possible office to try and work out a solution. Nothing. Eventually my mother, who is on holiday here and who is some Irish non jedi version of Obi Wan Kenobi was like “the time has come” and brought my brother to yet another office in yet another town. She convinces them somehow (the force?) to let them inside. They wait for ten minutes and get called. My brother walks out with a NIE number three minutes later. Like, I mean. they get to the office 9 am and have a number at 9:13. Lol.

So, not to be vitriolic or anything, but I think the whole experience really affected my concept of Catalonia as a whole. Our experience was not isolated. Some people arrive in Barcelona and can start working immediately, but NIE offices everywhere are filled as many people with a dead look in their eyes and PTSD symptoms from the two and half months they spent trying to get one. Living in the EU you get used to being in the priviledged position of counting an entire continent as your home. I feel no less at home in Italy, France and Germany than in Ireland. I feel somehow personally offended when someone asks me to run around doing stupid shit in order to be able to be able to wave so many pieces of paper at the secretary they finally get tired and just let me do my fucking job, but if the stupid shit is easy enough to do I’ll forgive it. This month was the first time I felt like an immigrant in what I counted as a home. And lord did it make me a little more able empathize with all those tortured souls who come to Europe without EU directives to back them up.