What might climate activism look like in small rural communities?

Following on from the last post, in which I attempted to describe my feelings around a new attempt to form a climate action group for my local area, I have been continuing to consider the problem of how to respond creatively and with integrity to crisis of our time.

There is a need for all of us from time to time to take an inventory not just of our own personal place in the world, but how this relates to the great goodness the world contains. If we are to treasure the gace hidden in all things then we must also seek to be part of it and not just consume it, or be an unwitting part of its destruction. The great disatisfaction this sets up in many of us at present is the feeling that we are powerless to change the very destruction we are seeking to avoid. This itself is a place of personal and collective sickness of spirit.

As for myself, I have tried to make as many changes that I could towards sustainability – the growing of food, the recycling, the fixing and reusing, the buying second hand. However, I also feel guilty because of the destructive things that I do – the vehicles I drive, the leaky home heated with fossil fuel, the over consuming western culture within which I still participate. Like many of us, this sets up chains of cognitive dissonance that twist me up in ways that are profoundly self defeating.

I am privileged to live a comfortable life in a beautiful place between mountains and sea. This privilege places me on the outside, removed from cutting edge consequences more visible around greater concentrations of humanity, particularly in the poorer southern parts of the world. Discussions about climate change here are made from a position of climate privilege and collective blindness about the mess we have made (and continue to make) of our ecosystems. We look at mountains covered in spruce plantations and think they always looked like that. We dodge deer on the roads forgetting entirely that they are there because of a lack of natural predators. We celebrate iconic single species such as otters and sea eagles with no clear idea of their loneliness and the total unbalanced ecosystem that our patterns of farming and resource extraction have created.

My attempt to respond to these issues has already proved problematic, for these sorts of reasons;

  1. There are some vested interests that might well get in the way- for example, how can a council funded organisation protest against the council and hold it to account?
  2. It seems that death by detail is likely. There are so many strands of potential action (allotments, recycling, plastics, beach cleaning, forestry, diversity, single species protection, ocean protection zones, conservation farming, rewilding, etc.) How do we prioritise?
  3. The detail is often reflected in individuals with passions and hobby horses. These are not necessarily ‘local’ or directly relevant to OUR location here and now. Again, how do collectivise around one particular issue or small set of issues?
  4. We all have egos in the game- we like to think that our passion projects are the most important. We can then be dismissive of others and fail to add collective value.
  5. What is the appropriate response to a climate emergency HERE in Argyll? My feeling is that small scale consumer/citizen focussed activities of the kind that are being promoted through the Dunoon Area Alliance (a funded community support organisation) (for example green mapping, recycling, plastics campaigns etc) are important in that they give people a feeling of getting involved, but they are not proportionate to the scale of the emergency. None of these actions are transformative or would make significant impact, apart from perhaps at the informational level.
  6. There seems to me to be a difference between an activist group and small-scale community activities. Both have important roles to play but require different approaches/structures/memberships.
  7. Activism most likely involves a degree of confrontation, which is not for everyone.
  8. There is a lot of complacency about climate change and loss of habitat diversity here in Argyll. We consider the landscape to be ‘wild’ and ‘natural’, because it is largely open country. It is in fact neither of these things.

What then might local climate activism look like in Argyll? What are the major issues impacting on our ways of living here? What industrial processes that have shaped our interactions with the natural world, for good or ill? Which problems should be our priority and where do we put our energy? In a previous post I asked these questions;

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, S 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?

I think these are important questions here, and in my mind at least, they already start to suggest areas of engagement. I have been inspired in part by this;

(You can read more about this here.)

The thing about this piece is that despite its visual and political impact, it has created significant reaction. It was also largely the work (I think) of one or two people, who did not ask for permission, beyond talking to the owner of the land on which the structure was built.

It is also proportionate to the landscape and location. It is made of local timber and can be seen from distance, whilst doing no damage. Some people objected, but it has largely recieved local acceptance, even to the point or retrospective planning permission.

More than this, the power of the object comes from artistic, creative playful question making. It might be regarded as theopoetic. The shape and idea is deceptively simple, but the more you think about it, the more it starts to shift the way that people see things.

This structure offers a meeting point, a space to share ideas and make small revolutions. Power to those who made it, I say.

We can’t all build an ark – although then again perhaps we need one in every area – but we can learn a lot from this approach. Local, thinking big and small. Proportionate to the scale of lanscape. Using local skills. Slightly subversive, making a statement for others to respond to without preaching. Using art rather than persuasion.

There are also some clues there about the nature of the group that might support such activity. Clandestine, confronting work of this kind probably needs a supportive, safe community behind it, who are prepared to share the work and the potential adverse reactions.

I have some ideas already, but obviously can’t talk about them here yet… However, if you are local and interested to know more, get in in touch.

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