Tag Archives: sustainability

How community sustains us

I was in Wakefield over the weekend for a Pagan Federation conference. It turned out to be – as these things so often are – a significant learning opportunity for me. I had a number of conversations about how we square up to climate crisis, how we cope and keep going and avoid being overwhelmed by panic and despair.

The answer for me is community. Those conversations made me realise just how blessed I am in where I live and who I work with. Stroud’s District Council has not only declared that there is a climate emergency, but it is also working to make the whole district carbon neutral by 2030. That’s a massive and ambitious plan, and exactly what’s needed right now. It’s easier to feel hopeful when you can see people with the power to make larger scale changes getting involved.

I also have Transition Stroud – which involves hundreds of local people working for sustainability. It’s a hands-on community that pushes for grass roots change. It is hard slogging away at personal change when you feel like no one else cares and your change makes so little difference. When you have a community working towards sustainability, you can start to see how those individual changes stack up into bigger changes. There’s scope to inspire more people and draw them in.

On top of this, I’m a long standing supporter of The Woodland Trust and I also do some volunteering for them. Trees can do so much to help us deal with climate crisis. They lock up carbon, they can reduce flooding if planted in the right places, they’re good for human mental health and they support biodiversity and help protect the soil. Supporting The Woodland Trust means I’m contributing on a national scale as well. There are many charities and organisations working for the good of the land and for wildlife – supporting any of them will give you similar experiences.

When we are connected with other, Likeminded people, we have the power to do more. We can inspire and uplift each other, hold each other accountable and keep each other going. Look around and see what already exists in your area – better to join something heading the right way than start from scratch. If there is truly nothing, then it may fall to you to start the process – but you will not be the only one. People who want radical change are everywhere, often trying to figure out what to do and where to start if nothing is yet moving.


Living within our means

In economic terms, the idea of living within your means is straightforward – if what you spend is no more than that amount of money available to you, then you’ll be ok. Spend more than you have, and a downwards debt spiral is your destiny.

When it comes to the human species as household and the environment as ‘means’ no one seems to think in these terms. Governments treat the planet as an infinite resource that can be used in any way they see fit for short term profit. We have finite resources.  As a species, we’re running up quite a debt. When the bailiffs come round to deal with the debts, they will come as floods and droughts, famines and sickness from pollution. In many places, the bailiffs are already here. Our species keeps running up the debts even as people are dying from polluted air and water, and species go extinct.

Look at the cold hard facts of household economies, and it’s obvious that no sensible person would borrow more than they can pay back and get into the debt spiral. And yet, in our thousands, in our hundreds of thousands, we do just this. We do it because a short term crisis can land anyone in trouble. We do it because we’re bombarded constantly with messages about what we must have, and not everyone can defend themselves adequately from the constant brainwashing. We do it because poverty is a rigged game designed to drive you into debt and powerlessness. The ‘choice’ to live within our means often isn’t a choice at all.

These very same pressures and motives are at the heart of our species not living within its means. The constant pressure to own, consume, throw away and replace. The effects of poverty on the choices people can make around sustainability. Get into poverty and you’ll have a hard time of it affording the organic, fair traded, responsibly sourced, ethically made things. You’ll by cheap (to you, but expensive to the planet) to survive.

Until governments start thinking about how we, as a species, might live within in our means, this is going to be hard to tackle. For those of us who do have the luxury of choice, we can choose to have less. We can choose not to fuel the habit of competitive ownership. No more ‘keeping up with the Joneses.’ If we were all a bit more willing to share our tools and toys, for example, we could reduce need, poverty and over-production. The more of us there are who don’t buy into the ideas of overconsumption, the more hope there is that this way of thinking will catch on.


Misleading tales of progress

It’s common, especially in political narratives, to tell tales of progress. At the moment, increased material wealth and increased GDP are the focal points for such stories. More stuff and more cash means we are better off, and better off is by definition, a good thing. However, if we told the story of bodily fitness, mental health or happiness, the picture might look a bit more complicated. If we tell the story of our environment it becomes a tale of abuse and degradation, not gain.

The stories we tell as communities shape who we think we are, where we think we’re going and how we feel about that. This is one of the reasons politicians favour progress narratives, because these affirm them as successful leaders. It’s also a big problem for Greens because we’re looking at the environmental picture and wanting to frame ‘progress’ as sustainability and long term viability. To do that we need everyone to consume less, which according to the dominant narrative, means we want the exact opposite of progress which would be A Bad Thing because we’ve all agreed that progress is A Good Thing.

Poverty causes suffering. Our current era is not short of financial poverty, there’s a shocking amount of it internationally. People who cannot afford to eat and live, rather than the ‘ciabatta line’. In the narrative of economic progress, somehow this is acceptable collateral damage. I think there’s a kind of economic Darwinism at play that says ‘survival of the richest’ and assumes those who cannot accumulate wealth do not deserve to survive. Never mind that the accumulation of wealth is so inextricably linked to the existence of poverty. Our narrative of progress seems to be telling people that it is ok to exploit others for personal gain and then deny all responsibility for their suffering.

In practice there is no grand thrust forward, no heroic stride into the better and brighter future. Some things get better for some, and worse for others. We might think of cars as progress, but we also need to consider the numbers of people and creatures killed and injured by them every year, and the damage of air pollution. The internet may be technological progress, but socially it may be a disaster as we raise the ‘look down’ generation who do not go out much.

Progress narratives are alluring. We want to feel like we’re winning and getting better and that the future will be even better and this makes us exceedingly vulnerable to anyone who has a progress narrative to sell us. We don’t want to be anxious or uneasy or feel like we’re in trouble, and this inclines us to be collectively deaf to those who point out the problems. They’re scaremongering, we feel. It won’t be that bad. The politician who can make us believe it’s all going to be fine tends to get our votes. We want business as usual and the glorious march of progress and even when the things we can see with our own eyes don’t square with the story, we cling to the story all too often.

If we took more interest in the outcomes, we might be more willing to suffer some short term discomforts for the sake of getting things right. Ultimately, our current progress narrative is going to deliver us the exact opposite of progress – climate change and international crisis. We need some new stories.


The Pagan and the Pope

So, we have a new Pope. Now, as a Pagan it might seem that I shouldn’t have much to say on the subject, but the size and wealth of the Catholic Church inclines me to feel that this has at least the potential for major impact. I live in hope. From the news this morning I understand that, in his former life, Pope Francis used the bus, did his own shopping, cooked his own meals and went into slums. He spoke in favour of baptising the children of unmarried mothers. I gather he’s not pro gay marriage or women Bishops, but I can’t see they’d have let anyone that radical into the top job. By all accounts, our new Pope cares about poverty and the environment. The question is, will he act on that, or will he let the corporate Vatican tame him? Keep him in your prayers, because if he’s half of what he seems to be, he’s going to need all the well wishing he can get.

There is an issue that lies under poverty, and under environmental problems, and that issue is population. Without talking about birth rates, and the implications of those for child poverty and death in the developing world, no real change can happen. There’s the aids crisis to consider, too. Education of women, rights for women – if all you do is squeeze out babies, this is a moot point. Currently the Catholic Church does not approve of contraception.

What the world desperately needs is a Pope with the courage, compassion and humanity to get up and use that infallible Popeness to good effect. He could decide that Jesus wants us all to be a bit less fruitful so that we can properly take care of the children we’ve got. He could change much of the world, and the lives of a great many people living in it. He could give countless families opportunity to escape poverty, and to build better lives for themselves, and a more manageable, planned number of offspring. He could help reduce the spread of aids, and he could radically impact on the viability of us as a species. Not many people get that much power.

Furthermore, we all know the Catholic Church is obscenely wealthy. Here is a man who has professed that as a Christian, he chooses poverty, and who through his work has shown a willingness to try and alleviate the abject and intolerable levels of poverty others suffer. How much power does he now have? How much wealth? How far is he willing to go?

Let’s hope he’s as good as he sounds, and as able to resist the allure of power and wealth as possible. Active compassion in the Vatican could make a world of difference.