It’s time for another guest post! I believe we should hear from a range of different voices in the sustainability conversation: we have different perspectives, expertise and experiences and should learn from each other, working together to build a shared vision of the future. Fracturing into camps (locavores, vegans, off-the-gridders and the rest of us just trying to step a little more lightly and make sense of it all…) does us no favours at all. I want to build a community where all our voices are heard, and I could use a step down from my soap-box here and there. So if you’re interested in having your say, please drop me a line and come join the conversation.
Today’s post is from my friend Van, a keen naturalist with a background in environmental sciences. These days Van is a freelance journalist, poet and weaver based in Guelph, Ontario, Canada. Van writes beautifully about nature and the pursuit of sustainable living, drawing inspiration from his local environment and his personal sense of connection to place. He regards a river as metaphor for life and shares his words through his blog: Speed River Journal. I recommend heading over for a read.
I hope Van’s vision of the shape of things to come gives you food for thought and that the conversation keeps on growing.
We live in such a dynamic time I want to live long enough to see what happens to our civilization, but things probably will not play out that quickly.
We can address the shape of things to come from three different perspectives:
- We can deny global environments are being degraded and civilization is at risk of collapse.
- We can acknowledge the problem and try to fix what is broken,
- or try predicting what is likely to happen and prepare for it.
Most environmentalists fall into the second category. Environmental thinkers have likened people’s attitudes about climate change to the Kübler-Ross model of the five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, despair and acceptance. They assume when enough people reach acceptance, we can all buckle down and fix this dilemma. Unfortunately, in terms of grief, acceptance seldom involves saving what was lost. It means letting go, which scares most people. They do not want to talk about giving up the fight.
My mother died of breast cancer in February 2008 at the age of 74. She was able to enjoy most of the last six years after her diagnosis because she accepted her mortality. She undertook some treatment and was in remission for a brief period, but in the end she was less concerned with fighting the disease than with treating each day as a gift. Acceptance means being realistic about limited opportunities and making the most of them.
Faith in a cure for climate change is another form of denial, especially when it supports continued consumption of non-renewable resources. The system is limited and if we cannot control our urge to take more than we put back, it will enforce its own limits. Our biosphere has already changed irrevocably. We must face the mortality of our convenient, petroleum-based way of life. Technology cannot facilitate endless consumption, it can only give us useful tools for sustainable living.
We must believe the testimony of history. Civilizations collapsed, over and over again, whenever:
- too much power was held by the elite,
- food production could not support expanding population,
- environmental degradation threatened food security, and
- wars erupted over scarce resources.
History also offers a prognosis: civilization will fail but people will survive. We probably will not see and apocalyptic disaster, but a gradual dwindling of population and prosperity. We should focus our ingenuity on this likelihood of survival.
I can hardly begin to understand or address what our strategy should be. Here are some principles I believe we must follow:
- Communities are the best social units for solving people’s problems, so we must strengthen them.
- Establish and protect local food security and include everyone in its production.
- Restrict the power of corporations.
- Rely on sustainable energy sources.
- Make nature—both nurturing and brutal—more accessible to people.
- Build rich, biodiverse ecosystems everywhere.
- Look for ways to ease the transition to a simpler way of life.
- Seek satisfaction more in experiences than things.
- Let us all find work that contributes to the community and makes us happy.
- Enjoy every day.
Let us begin the conversation.
Slowly but surely the house move is happening. I have the keys to the Cottage, half of my possessions are boxed up, I’ve eaten my way through everything perishable in the kitchen and I’ve sold, donated or made gifts of a raft of unnecessary possessions (though in the process of packing I keep finding yet more things I’m happy to live without and will be re-homing once moved). I’m excited about the Cottage and looking forward to turning it into my cozy, sustainable home and finally getting started on that garden. Yet I find myself procrastinating, time and again, drifting off in day-dreams of where I’d rather be…
You see, it’s Fagus season here in Tassie: that special time of year when the only deciduous plant on our ancient island – the Tanglefoot Beech (Nothofagus gunnii) – turns the slopes of Mt. Field and Cradle Mountain golden with its firey foliage.
The Nothofagus genus is a relic of Australia’s Gondwanan past: an ancient plant family once common across Australia, Antarctica and South America. Of the three species left in Australia, two are found in Tasmania: the majestic evergreen myrtle beech (N. cunninghamii) and the incredible endemic tanglefoot. While myrtle beech forests are still quite widespread, both in Tasmania and on the south-eastern Australian mainland, the tanglefoot is not only found on two rugged Tasmanian mountaintops: Mt. Field, near Hobart, and Cradle Mountain in the island’s north-eastern highlands.
It’s an incredibly slow-growing plant, highly sensitive to fire and other disturbances and notoriously difficult to propagate: not exactly a prime candidate for survival in our rapidly changing modern world! There’s no arguing, however, that our Tassie Fagus is really rather special.
Both the Cradle Mountain and Mt. Field Fagus forests are protected national parks, and around this time each year hundreds of keen bushwalkers and nature photographers like me trek around these mountains, lugging heavy lenses and tripods, to witness and document the beauty of this fascinating plant. Except this year I’m not joining them: I’m moving house instead.
Thus I dawdle in my labours, lost in wistful longings for misty mountainsides, painfully early mornings and the unforgettable sight of Cradle Mountain – one of my favourite places in the world – draped in that golden autumn coat of fagus.
Next year, I promise!