I attended a meeting last night of people considering starting a climate change action group. First meetings of this kind are always difficult. People come at the meeting from all sorts of positions and we all feel the need to state our credentials. The outcome was fairly predictable in that (like much of the debate on climate change!) we got lost in detail. I ended up feeling frustrated and struggling to remain hopeful.
It is no easy thing to commit to another group-based activity. Not for a battle-scarred introvert such as myself.
It was all buzzing in my head, so that this morning I was up at the crack of dawn, wanting to write some thoughts down- pretty much my standard way to process things. (If I REALLY need to work things through I turn to poetry!) I wrote this as a starter;
We are killing ecosystems. Our industrial processes are eating the planet from under us. Our over-consumption is creating huge unfairness and inequality.
Here in Cowal we live amongst such natural beauty, but this obscures a terrible truth: our hillside is dying or already dead. The ancient forests are gone, replaced by ecological wastelands. Deer numbers are exploding. Everything is out of balance.
In the face of all this we feel powerless. Partly this is because ‘The problem’ is not on a human scale. It is too big. There are too many components, too many power dynamics, too many distractions, too many voices who seem to offer conflicting information.
Many of us have tried to change as individuals. There is a whole industry set up to make us all individual green consumers- to sell us green products and services. Mostly this is just ‘green-washing’. Individual consumer action cannot and will not reverse climate change.
Many of us have also been part of collective action at some level- attending protests, lobbying MPs, starting food-growing initiatives, demanding better from our supermarkets. This kind of action can unite us and bring hope that things CAN change but they are not sufficient. The climate is still warming. Diversity is still being stripped away from our already denuded landscapes.
Our problem is two-fold;
- Unsustainable industrial (including farming/forestry/fishing) processes at both global and local levels
- A lack of political/social/economic alternatives to the unsustainable consumer culture we have created at global, national and local levels
The question, once again, is what do we do about this. I am not interested in consumer choices. Whether I use plastic bags or drive a Tesla will not help one jot. Neither have I any patience for passive ego-preening discussions, even though I have been guilty of indulging in them too often myself. Here is my current thinking;
There is a lot of activity taking place in Dunoon already. It is good to know about it and to support it but there is no point in replicating it. Movements towards change often break down into factional competitive fiefdoms and we want no part of that.
What we do not have is a local place/mechanism to express our outrage and to collectively convert this outrage to action.
Whilst there are many ways that we might do this I believe we have to stay focussed first and foremost on how ‘The problem’ (as defined above) is encountered in Cowal. In other words;
- What are the industrial processes that are destroying the Cowal environment? This takes us straight towards the three F’s- Farming, Forestry and Fishing. They are all sacred cows with huge local power and social capital. Challenging established practices will upset people we know and love.
- Where can we see examples of local counter-cultural political/social/economic alternatives that we can learn from? We have to think both big and small, in that we need to hold an idea of transformation that is also LOCAL. For example, Siobhan mentioned a small Irish town that has become fully ‘sustainable’. Coll has its own independent power grid. Other towns have gone fully plastic free. Some places have used local politics to revive collective action. Other places have converted almost all shared spaces into collective food growing areas. What can we learn from these examples and how can we hold our own political systems to account for their lack of ambition?
And how might we express this outrage? My hope is that we can do something like this;
The outcome of this work will hopefully be playful, creative activism
- Art that reveals, challenges, informs (think of the Ark)
- Subversive action (non-violent and not illegal!) to raise awareness over specific local issues
- Informational activities such as conferences (as per the Mid Argyll group)
- Community play- building things in the landscape, feasting together, singing and sitting round fires, telling hopeful stories.
I don’t know if the others in my embrionic group will share this vision with me, and if not, I will need to challenge myself along these lines;
Like all of us, I have my history, my past failures and even worse, my past successes. I have my own hobby horses and passions. I am a grumpy poet who does not do small talk and has a low tolerance for bullshit.
Having said that, I believe in the power of community. I see no greater hope. If we can find some collective momentum through this group, I will hang in there, despite my own inevitable limitations and frustrations.
As I further reflect on all of this, I realise that more than ever, I connect with things through my spirit rather than my intellect. Whether I stay involved with this group or not will be much to do with whether it sings in my soul. At present, the song is distant, but there are interesting echoes…
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