"I love them all, and all of them love me.
Cus the system works, the system called reciprocity"
- Excerpt of lyrics to "When You're Good To Mama", Chicago
"Our conception of linear causality and space-time predisposes us to believe that the minute and local could not possibly have a significant effect on a large global scale, but in a complex non-linear web of processes within processes, the emergent properties at the global scale are intricately linked with processes on the scale of individual local interactions in what, for lack of a better word, could be called a fractal-like holarchy of emergence"
- D.C.Wahl 2002, accessed on medium.com 26 Jun 2019
George Monbiot recently talked about how one effective answer to our earth's pollution problem isn't replacing single-use plastic with natural material; from where, he asks, does that natural material come, and at what cost is it processed? This absence of systems thinking is prevalent across some green debate. Take solar panels - aside from the advantages that the end product provides, again - what kind of process and impact is involved in the extraction of the materials and manufacturing process? Isn't the aggression and scale of industrial manufacture a bigger part of the problem, than what's actually produced? Do we actually consider products as the problem because the scale of industry is far greater than a mind can possibly perceive - so far removed from the practicality of reducing our own family's pollution footprint, taking the bins out? The theme in conversation at my uni's Climate Change collective is reversal of the trend towards individual responsibility by acknowledging its limits - they argue that it's the system that must make change; we're hardly about to change the world if we stop using plastic bags. So that begs the question - how can individuals affect change?
The wonderful social scientist and empath researcher Karla McLaren says of anger that it asserts 3 vital qualities - honour, protection and boundary. In that incarnation of myself, I would have argued that I was defending the honour of myself and others by sharing this knowledge; I would have said that I was honouring the environment, sticking up for it as if it were a trembling blue-green child in the corner of a capitalist playground.
But I had anguish in my heart. And the tightness with which I gripped these subjects, for the sake of my sanity, had to soften finally - blurring my convictions at the same time. I once again found myself sharing meals without anxiety or questioning the contents or origins; I enjoyed an ice cream here and there, and began buying certain foods just because I fancied them. It felt kinder. I felt freed. But there was also a soft rumbling sense of conflict. How on earth do we hold our convictions strongly while not driving ourselves, others or the environment into the ground?
|Blue Star Dancing Scissors, Shoshanah Dubiner https://shoshanah-dubiner.pixels.com/|
Recently I attended a conference where the environment was at the top of our agenda. It was a fantastic event, and on and off-stage, we all greedily exchanged and gobbled up ideas of stewarding the land around us, best practices of environmental stewardship, contemporary ecology and debated extraordinary notions like the sentience of plants. So at breakfast, when my gentle complaint about the mushrooms lead to an invitation by the chef to tour the kitchen, I gladly accepted.
And despite the college and the convention's green leanings and exquisite grounds maintenance, before me sulking in the harsh blue light of professional catering, were enormous tins of industrial tuna fish, vast amounts of cheap white-sliced Chorleywood bread, soft-luminous surface detergents in their white hospitalesque bottles waiting to blast the microbiomes out of this stainless steel jungle. As the chef described his curious method of cooking mushroom ('roasting' them under cling film in the oven, then finishing them off on the stove) to my deeply puzzled expression, I crudely calculated the 'goodness' of what we were learning at the event versus the under-bubbling of industrial 'badness' that dripped to us; the celestial algorithm assured me that what we were learning was so much greater than the sum of its comestible parts.
What's the story at home? After having eating communally for roughly 2 or 3 years, whilst in communities in Spain - I was lucky to have spent time where most meals were prepared from scratch, some grown on-site, leftovers were fed to the chickens or we helped ourselves to what couldn't be served a second time to guests - I was filled with sadness to find that house sharing in my new student life wasn't always such a idyllic story; eating cheaply for some meant relying on cheap pasta or instant soups for weeks on end, attempting, like my housemate's boyfriend, to live off £7 per week or diving into the Student Loan via greasy packaging-drenched Deliveroo and Uber Eats. In comparison, I've eaten like Henry VIII; and even when I joined friends 'urban foraging', I have had choice selections of organic smoked salmon, crumpled (but perfectly fine) bags of spelt flour or fresh fruits and vegetables. Could I proclaim the virtues of eating well, while supporting industrial monocultures somewhere at the periphery of developing nations (and my conscience)?
But, who am I kidding? Because, apart from cooking with locally-grown vegetables, planting up my garden with a few kitchen herbs and salad leaves, teaching yoga at uni, I rely as much as everyone else on these foods grown in lands I'll never see and can't pronounce. Despite healthier habits I've tried to curate, I've felt for the first time in my life that affecting change more widely is a very tough thing to do. I've felt, and regularly feel, the blood, guts and mess that it takes to drag the tiny gems of what I've learnt (through exposure to disturbing documentaries and media froth) into a busy, noisy, mad and beautiful world. Without becoming busier, madder and noisier. And who's listening, or busy planting up their gardens with enough food than a smattering of foliage? And I'm a single person with no mortgage - how on earth are you families doing it?! So I wonder if, like plant roots, the communication of change is already underground, in the mycorrhizal subconscious recesses of our psyches. If this is more about symbolic change (becoming greener by making arguably greener choices), can we still be considered hypocrites for not always aligning out outer world choices with our core values and beliefs? Do I condone the mistreatment and industrialisation of cows if I buy a buttery croissant for breakfast? Or is that too crude an equation? Our intellects' capacity seems way beyond that of our bodies, especially bodies that can choose a cleaner neater lighter life away from the sweaty dirt-under-the-nails lives of farmers and gardeners.
When we inherited this earth from our mums and dads, we also inherited these peculiar systems that all add up to that provocative c-word: culture. However, I'm keen to avoid adding to that cacophony of voices that declare emergency, to express disappointment or worse to the Governments; they are the same Governments that have helped create a world where I (and you reading this) can say, eat, think, do...exactly what I want, and even watch a film with an ice cream for a few hours to relax! For me, there is little room for criticism unless it is constructive; unless we are being astute citizen scientists, or market gardeners, or farmers, ourselves. We are no longer, as some recent wealthy ancestors lived, imaginations of some space ship tour of mortal life; we're not floating above the planet - we have learnt, perhaps a tough way lately, that we are enmeshed quite fixedly in the fabric of this world; the very fabric of our laundry and clothes, our crisp packets, the strawberry balanced precariously on the Friday night cocktail, the heated wooden floors, our insect-metal cars that ferry us safely over land, over the tarmac, over soil and muted earth. Yet the privileged (of which I am one...) engage that colossal power of culture and the magic (no hands!) that lets one float from country to country, one idea to the next; but at what cost to our bodies, our health, our communities and the land? Am I barking up the wrong tree? What does your conscience tell you?
Highly recommended resources
Your back garden - get messy. Compost your peelings. It takes so little space.
Your kitchen - get creative!
Your local conservation/wildlife group - check Facebook