(Photo by Jesse Wolf Hardin)
In Part 1 of this series, I posed the rhetorical question 'Why hasn't everybody turned green yet?' My conclusion was that although most people by now know that our planet is in serious danger of ecological collapse, they haven't yet understood where they, as individuals, fit into the picture. They have not joined the dots. In other words, they don't yet fully realize that dozens of the small decisions they make, every day, make a difference. Each decision, even if it is as tiny a decision as turning off a light switch, either adds to the problem or helps to ameliorate it.
In Part 2, I said that it's hard to join the dots because of all those so-called 'market forces' that have a strong vested interest in preventing us from doing so.
As we know, our national and global economic systems are all based on a growth model rather than a sustainability model. And since every one of us is part of both a national and a global economic system, the systems need us to keep consuming so that the growth can continue. Even though, like cancer, it is growth that's slowly killing us.
The trouble is, if too many of us were to jump off our consumer treadmills, profits would go down. The companies would start laying off their workers. The workers would complain – and of course the workers are US. Ourselves, our partners, our children, our relatives, our friends … As Pogo said, 'I have met the enemy, and it is us.'
Most loggers don't personally want to chop down the rainforest; they just want to keep their jobs in order to feed their families. Fishermen have absolutely no desire or intention to reduce the world's fish populations to zero, they just need to keep catching fish in order to survive. People who work in offices and stores and on factory floors all want to keep their jobs too. So round and around it goes and life on Earth keeps heading towards catastrophe. Even if it is not your job that would be at risk if everybody stopped buying what they didn't really need, it might be your father's or your daughter-in-law's or your cousin's. And even if nobody you know would be affected, (which is highly unlikely) somebody would, somewhere. Lots of somebodies. The farmer in Kenya who stopped producing vegetables to feed his family (plus a bit more to sell in the market) and switched to producing cash crops for export so he could afford to send his kids to school needs me to keep on buying his carnations or his green beans or his cocoa and if I don't, his kids will starve because they can't eat carnations. We are all tangled in this together. So however can we possibly unpick it?
Well, I guess we unpick it slowly, carefully, one little piece at a time. The first step is to start setting up parallel, alternative systems and supporting the ones that already exist. Dig up the lawn and grow veggies, just like we did in World War Two. Stay out of supermarkets and support local stores whenever and wherever you can find them. Patronise farmers' markets and CSAs (community supported agriculture schemes) and local box schemes. Join a co-op. Switch to green energy suppliers, install a solar water heater, insulate your loft, lower the thermostat, compost your waste. If you live in the country, consider building a composting toilet. Leave your car at home whenever you can and use public transport or walk or ride a bike. Or at least carpool or consider sharing car ownership with other families like they do in Germany. Dry your washing in the sun and wind. Borrow books and videos from the library instead of buying them. Sign up to the 'compact' (challenge yourself to buy nothing for a year except food and other necessities). Stay out of the air as much as you possibly can. Reduce, repair, re-use, recycle, de-clutter, downsize ….
When we learn to differentiate between our needs and our wants, we can get sober (i.e. heal from our addiction to unnecessary stuff). We can stop being 'users' of consumerism's drugs. How could you reduce your needs so that you could spend more time with your family or in doing the things you love? How could you be fitter, healthier, more active, more creative?
Maybe we can also stop being dealers in consumerism's drugs, too. Think about your work: is it what the Buddha called 'Right Livelihood'. If not, would it be possible to use your skills in something more benign and better for the planet and still earn enough money to survive on?
Like relay runners, the two systems need to run side by side for a while until the new one can take over completely. Slowly, gradually, we are setting up alternative systems and at present these are running parallel with the mainstream ones. Little by little, the alternative systems are getting bigger and stronger. Compared to the vast system they are intended eventually to replace, they seem almost laughably tiny. Like a mosquito trying to replace an elephant. Yet on almost every graph you look at, they are growing. There are heaps more farmers' markets than there were ten years ago, lots more veg box schemes, more LETS schemes, more towns climbing on the 'transition town' bandwagon, more wind farms, more solar panels, more hybrid cars, more recycling schemes, more intelligent minds turning to research in alternative technology, more businesses trying to 'out-green' each other, and more and more people turning green.
When I was born, plastic had not yet been invented. When I was in high school there was no TV, no PCs, no Internet, no mobile phones, no iPods, no fax machines, no jumbo jets, no microwave ovens. A lot can change in a short time. We need big changes now. And as fast as possible. So how can we bring them about? Well firstly, by doing as Gandhi exhorted us to do and being the change we want to see. And secondly by visualizing a green, sustainable world. The more people who visualize it, the sooner it can come to pass, for thoughts have energy.
See the change and be the change. Those are our twin tasks.
This may be a mosquito-sized movement now, but as Gandhi also pointed out, if you think a mosquito is too small to matter, you have never had one in your tent.