"Il faut imaginer Sisyphe heureux"

December 16, 2007 at 2:26 pm 1 comment

I’m not sure I’m convinced by my new colour scheme. That’ll teach me to fiddle around with the settings!

I had a bit of a slump on Friday. The bf was out revelling and I was alone in the house and it was absolutely freezing, and I was reading the news about Bali and writing Christmas cards, and suddenly felt very despondent about the planet and my efforts to save it.

It seemed as if Bali was just another talking shop – as The Now Show put it, world leaders have agreed that the time for action is now and so they’ve decided to have another meeting in three years. (I paraphrase.) I do feel somewhat encouraged that the US has signed up, but I still don’t really see it as a victory. Firstly, with our government’s plans to expand Heathrow and give planning permission to any supermarket that wants it, I hardly feel that Britain is really in a position to claim any moral superiority, and I can see no evidence that the government is willing to act, even by passing simple regulations such as making offices turn their lights off at night. If our leaders really believe that they are making a difference, I despair, I really do.

I also don’t see how all these politicians can’t be worried about it as human beings. Yes, I know the aviation industry wields a lot of power over the government and it’s difficult to regulate them politically, but do these people not have children? Can they really, genuinely not see that if they don’t act now, the planet will not be capable of supporting their descendants? Does this not worry them?

I just don’t understand how you can read about peak oil, read about climate change, read about overfishing, deforestation, overpopulation and not feel as angry, as passionate and as motivated as I do.

In addition to the political apathy, I also feel that the general population is stark, staring bonkers. People running around, spending, spending, spending, consuming, consuming, consuming, not thinking about how things were produced or how to get rid of them responsibly when the adverts tell them it’s time to move onto the next thing. I want to stand in shopping centres and scream, ‘We’re all going to hell in a handcart – what are you people DOING?’ These things are made from trees, made from oil, made by real people, but most people seem to believe that stuff comes from ‘shops’ and then they can throw it ‘away’.

I felt like there was no way we could prevent or really slow down the catastrophe. I no longer believed that writing to my MP or taking direct action will help, and I no longer believe that the majority of people are going to accept there is a problem and start being more responsible until they are forced to by circumstances or heavy-handed legislation (and I don’t believe the legislation will be forthcoming, so basically we will need to lose Norfolk before anyone believes there is a problem).

I try so, so hard not to become dry and humourless about my greenness – I do have the odd rant, and the odd moment where I just have to bite my tongue, but on the whole, I’d like to think that instead of preaching at people about driving to work and carbon emissions, I’d be more likely to say something like, ‘Oh, I prefer to cycle home, as the fresh air really blows away the cobwebs after a day in the office, and I get a good work-out so I can put my feet up in the evening instead of going to the gym!’ I don’t view anything that I do in order to be more green as a hardship (except possibly when it’s cold as it was yesterday!) and generally find it to have been a very positive influence in my life – I’m eating better, fitter, more relaxed and have learnt so many new skills, and have so many exciting projects for the future.

I don’t resent doing all this stuff – I love that my woolly jumper is warmer than an acrylic one, I love all my second-hand furniture, I love knitting and cooking and growing things and eating local seasonal food and walking places instead of driving, and I’d do all these things anyway because they’re good for the soul.

But it was absolutely FREEZING in my house and I refused to turn the heating up and almost everybody in the world would think I was crazy for sitting there in the cold, and I suddenly realised that rather than thinking, ‘I mustn’t turn the heating up, because if we all save resources, it can make a huge impact and we can avoid the worst impacts of climate change’, I was thinking ‘I mustn’t turn the heating up, because if I can save this tiny bit of gas, and if a handful of other people save tiny bits of gas, there’s the tiny chance that it’ll last just that tiny bit longer, so that by the time it hits, we might have a house with a proper garden and I might have learnt how to use my sewing machine.’

I never questioned whether what I’m doing is the right thing to do, but it upset me that my motivation seemed to have momentarily changed: instead of believing that by all doing the right thing we will eventually influence governments and communities to do the right thing too, I seemed to have been gripped by a manic, baked-bean-hoarding drive for self-preservation and lost my faith in the goodness of humanity!

I suppose we all have moments when it’s nigh on freezing outside and there’s nothing to eat but cabbage and swede for four more months and we feel completely out of kilter with the rest of the world, and the scale and enormity of what we’re facing suddenly hits home: how things are going to change, and how we are going to have to change, and all the things that won’t be there any more.

It makes me sad. It makes me not want to have children. This isn’t something I’d been planning on doing within the next few years anyway, but I suddenly felt so despairing for the future of the human race that I felt it wouldn’t be fair on my children, and it would only add to the problem anyway. And yet, facing the possible threat to our survival honestly, the urge to replace myself suddenly made itself felt very strongly.

I’ve thought about this a bit more, and realise that we don’t need no people (though the planet might thank us), we need fewer people, and we need those people to live sustainably. The planet would probably be able to cope with us all living a Western lifestyle if there was only a billion or so of us, and if we all lived like African subsistence farmers, the extra few billion would matter much less. Human instinct plays a large part here, and this probably sounds like a shameless attempt at self-justification, but I don’t think that my holding back from having one or two children and raising it/them to be responsible is the answer to the mess we’re in.

I went to bed on Friday evening, with a hot water bottle and a piece of carrot cake and listened to last week’s ‘Gardener’s Question Time’. This restored my faith in humanity somewhat, and I was briefly tempted to hibernate with Radio 4 and baked goods until spring.

I posted about this on INEBG,* and received some very good advice and welcome reassurance from the lovely people on there. They reminded me, and I knew deep down inside, that the only thing we can do is to keep plugging away, doing what we can to prevent, postpone and/or prepare for the coming crisis, whatever it may be, chipping away at the wall of ignorance, denial and prevarication around us.

I thought of Voltaire’s ‘il faut cultiver notre jardin’, with all the myriad of different implications that that has. Yes, we must go out and weed even though the weeds will grow back, but we must also cultivate our souls and our communities.

I thought of Camus’s Sisyphus myth, how, even though we know our actions may be pointless, honest hard work is a better response to existential despair than denial, dogma and death.

I thought of the Inquisition, the Second World War, and all those who have lived through dark times, and how doing our bit and keeping a positive frame of mind is in many ways the best, and sometimes our only, course of action.

A revolution through gardening. A new ‘dig for victory’ campaign.

I am currently thinking of five positive actions I can take to make myself more able to cope with the crisis and to do more, however futile it may seem, to spread the word. It’s important not to be complacent. Yes I am doing lots, and doing lots more than many other people, but I can’t sit back and feel smug about it.

So far I have:

  1. get some thick curtains to stop so much heat escaping through the windows, make a draught excluder for the back door
  2. go along to the local FOE group and the Green Drinks event in Reading – meet people, make connections, stop feeling so much like no-one cares except people on the internet

Have several other thoughts, but need to tease them into a list. I like lists. Any suggestions?

*from which much of this entry is copied and pasted, sorry for being so unoriginal

Entry filed under: climate change, peak oil, pensiveness.

December sniffles, obscure cuts of lamb and bio-"diversity" in my back garden Next step

1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. “Waves of anger and fear” « Eating the Seasons  |  December 5, 2008 at 9:03 pm

    […] think it must be the time of year. I vaguely remember having a similar period of gloom last year, on a Friday evening, when Scientist Boyfriend was off revelling with other pensions […]


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Most recent ramblings

December 2007
The Heritage Crafts Network

Rob Hopkins, Transition Handbook

“Environmentalists have often been guilty of presenting people with a mental image of the world’s least desirable holiday destination – some seedy bed and breakfast near Torquay, with nylon sheets, cold tea and soggy toast – and expecting them to get excited about the prospect of NOT going there. The logic and the psychology are all wrong.”

Barbara Kingsolver, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle

"Food is that rare moral arena in which the ethical choice is generally the one more likely to make you groan with pleasure."

Carlo Petrini

"A gastronome who is not also an environmentalist is an idiot. An environmentalist who is not also a gastronome is, well, sad."

Sharon Astyk

"I am, of course, firmly opposed to consumerism and corporatism in all its forms, and I believe that we are deeply confused about material needs and wants. Now let me explain how books and yarn are totally different than the material things that other people want ;-)…."

Raj Patel, at Slow Food Nation

"Biofuels, which is the preposterous policy that we should grow food not to eat it but to set it on fire."

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