Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Time to Climb the Steps

I’ve noticed myself getting a bit strident and judgmental lately, both in conversations and online and I don’t like it. Moreover, it is stupid. It doesn’t achieve anything except to alienate people.

Oops! Time to climb the steps to where I can get a better view.

Yes, I know the world around me is achingly beautiful and it makes me burst into tears every time I think about how we are poised on the edge of ecological collapse - a crisis every bit as devastating as the one that wiped out the dinosaurs and extinguished more than 90% of the life forms existing at that time. I know that there almost certainly are no ‘techno-fixes’, since every techno-fix we have ever tried has created its own problems. I know that our human numbers are expanding exponentially and using up far more resources than the planet can possibly accommodate. So unless some powerful virus comes along to cull us, we are probably going to destroy the living tissue of our planet altogether, just the way cancer eventually kills its host. And that is incredibly, heartbreakingly sad.

I know that the only hope of avoiding this is for every single human being on the Earth who is using more than his or her fair share of resources (and that is most of us in the West) to scale down, stop consuming non-essentials, reduce, re-use, repair, recycle, and simplify, simplify, simplify …

Yes I know all that – only too well. That’s why I try to reduce the size of my own eco-footprint. It is why I wrote The Lilypad List: 7 steps to the simple life, in the hope of gently encouraging others to do the same. And telling them how much more joy and delight there really truly is in a life of voluntary simplicity than there is in a life of consumerism.

But ‘gently encouraging’ is the operative phrase here. In that book I didn’t harangue people. I didn’t lecture them or preach at them. I didn’t get cross or impatient with them. Because I understood – and still do – how hard it can be to make changes to the way we are used to living.

After all, I am not blameless, by any means. I feel guilty, often, about the amount of carbon I use to travel, even if it is mostly to see loved ones. For flying is one of the most ecologically damaging things humans do. So I have no right whatsoever to walk around being all self-righteous. No right to preach.

I really do know that scaling down can be hard – or can even feel impossible sometimes.

I know that when I get all strident and judgmental it simply puts people off. In other words, it is counter-productive. That’s why I shouldn’t do it, no matter how impatient I feel, no matter how urgent the problem is, no matter how risky it is that so many people are still fiddling while Rome burns, while the Greenland icecap melts much, must faster than anyone thought it would, while the oil is fast running out.

What I need to remember is this: life in some form may well go on, even if we don’t. After all, it survived the cataclysmic changes that wiped out the dinosaurs. The life force is strong. Evolution is a long-term project and will probably go on regardless. Humans may have been just a blip, anyway. The Earth will do even better, I expect, without us to mess things up. This is the Big Picture.

When I remember to climb the steps to where I can start to see the Big Picture, I immediately feel myself calming down. Whatever happens is OK.

Once I get to that point, all the stridency just melts away.
(Note to self: must do that more often. Like every day).

Oh I can still talk about simplicity and all of that. But gently.