The science is unquestionable, the message loud and clear, we need to change our way of life. And now.
A climate emergency is under way. The only place we know of in the universe which can support humanity is dying. The lives of its seven billion inhabitants are at risk. The response should take the form of a global crisis plan in which the governance of nation states becomes immaterial.
Bags for life and a ban on plastic straws are mere drops in the ocean.
The current British government is unprepared and distracted. Their plans are underwhelming and fail to respond to the scale of the emergency.
But the changes required to rein in our greenhouse gas emissions do not need to be legislated for. For the point is this; citizens of developed nations (and this is the end of the road for ‘development’ in the rich countries) do not need to ‘do more’, they need to do less.
This is an emergency situation, equivalent to a war. Politicians in the major UK political parties have been slow to wake up to this fact, or adequately prepare for its consequences.
It is imperative that we stop our consumer lifestyles, buy only what we need, eat not just less meat and dairy, but less food altogether, stop our addiction to plastic, stop driving our cars for nonessential trips, petrol and diesel, but also electric (these are not an answer, as they still increase particulates and contain ‘embodied energy‘).
We need to work less and spend less. We need to live simply, slowly, more consciously and take pleasure in our families, our relationships, the natural world.
Media that fuels consumption of leisure goods and luxuries should be limited and we should think carefully about the messages we give to others, especially our children. We should stop waste and excess and consider our addiction to Christmas. A plan for a nonconsumer festive period, is one that puts family time and relaxation ahead of spending and unnecessary gift exchange.
Simple living not technical fixes
I’ll admit that the latest research on our precious planet by climate scientists has shown results far bleaker than even I had anticipated, and I considered myself to be quite dystopian with regard to the environment and the climate emergency.
But the response required by every one of us, today, is much as I expected. We have to stop business as usual, and live with greater intention, mindfulness and more in harmony with natural processes.
There is no technological way out of this. It is the desire for more technology that created this situation in the first place. Technology can only assist us in reducing our reliance on it, it is the conduit by which we alter our lifestyles, it belongs in the realm of the journey, not the destination.
Let’s accept that we are heading for a place very unlike the one we live in today. It could be one in which we fight to maintain our current standards of living while the planet engulfs us in extreme weather, unbearable heat, floods, cyclones, desertification, mass migration on a scale that leaves previous movements of people appearing as a historical insignificance.
Or we take this challenge head on and turn it into a positive. We could live in a world where we work hard to reforest our landscape and grow more local food; turn away from the idea that progress is technological and growth is economic; measure happiness by time well spent rather than stuff accumulated.
Reducing my footprint
Since my last blog post I have been quietly contemplating the mounting evidence on the climate crisis and biodiversity loss, marvelling at the ineptitude of our politicians and the cognitive dissonance of individuals realising and accepting the science but continuing their lives as though nothing was happening. Myself included.
In my household, we continue to drive our diesel car on one or two short journeys a week, but find the arguments for keeping it lessen by the day. I am now so conscious of the pollution it emits, I drive around well below the speed limit and my guilt is engulfing my enjoyment of the freedom it affords. We are spending less time driving to, and walking in, countryside further away and more time enjoying our local parks and woodland.
We have not moved to a smaller rental property. Ironically, we found that this would cost us considerably more. Small apartments near to my partner’s work are en vogue and command a high price. I have consoled myself that our small three-bed terraced house is not in any way extravagant, and although we do not need some of the space, we have more room to dance.
I have not bought any brand new clothes for myself, just a couple of charity shop finds over the summer. Our only ‘new’ purchases have been underwear, pyjamas and (vegan) shoes for my son. Despite it being just two miles away we only occasionally head into our city centre, and always on foot or on the bus.
Living life in the slow lane
My current plans still include travel but long-term, slow travel on trains and buses. We are saving for Tom’s early retirement and hope to be able to make travel a priority then, health permitting. We are looking into Interrail for a holiday next year.
For now, I am enjoying my son’s and my own education as we learn through books, the internet, magazines and from some of the fascinating documentaries we have enjoyed on the BBC iPlayer. Home education is such an immersive experience if you let it become so, and I enjoy attempting to arrange my house (and my mind!) in a way that maximises this opportunity.
We also spend a lot of time with my mother and she and my son indulge their joint passion for growing plants from seed in her greenhouse. It is one of my greatest joys to see them sharing this time together. There is so much emphasis on children spending time with their peers, but intergenerational bonding is incredibly valuable.
I have taken a recent interest in genealogical research and it has given me a renewed appreciation for all that previous generations can teach us. It is a phenomenon well understood in other cultures, but poorly recognised in our own. My son and I have gained knowledge about the Second World War, the British Empire, immigration and social inequality, seen through the lens of our ancesters and their life stories.
Making a personal pledge
There is not time to wait for those in power to make the sweeping changes needed to address the climate crisis. It is incumbent on us all to take responsibility for our actions, our lifestyles and our response to the mounting evidence about our impact on our world.
In the confusion of all the competing advice about how to reduce our environmental impact, there is one message to which I constantly return: “Live simply so others may simply live” (Gandhi). If we want to do the best for our planet and its diverse inhabitants, the best choice we can make is to do less. Happiness and love, the essence of a good life, are not found in anything that can be bought. They come from time well spent with people we care for.
The excitement we may feel when buying something new is a short lived high, but the contentment we gain from caring for our loved ones, spending time outside in nature, interacting with other humans and other creatures, and learning about the world around us provides a constant strength. By living lightly on the earth we can consume less, spend less, work less and free up time for what is really important.
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