In the last year or so I’ve met many people on my travels, almost all of whom have been either working out how to change their lives to reduce their burden on the planet’s resources, or who have taken steps to do so. I am in awe of the challenges that many have overcome in the course of their journeys towards living more lightly, and at the same time I’m acutely aware that although some of the lifestyle changes that I’ve seen would be viewed by many as radical, they are going to be required by many, many more people in order to have a wider impact.
Perhaps it is because I’ve seen just how far we need to go, in order to have that impact, that I heard some of the pledges made today by people that we have elected to make decisions and changes on our behalf, and thought ‘Really? is that the best that you could do? Is that it?’.
Of course any change is better than none, every journey begins with a single step, and so on, but I really hoped that some of our elected representatives would set an example. Giving up plastic bags and promising to turn all the lights off when they leave a room are laudable efforts, but hardly radical. The leader of the SDLP even confessed that she hadn’t actually been able to keep her modest pledge.
None of these politicians can argue that change isn’t possible. The Welsh Assembly has placed sustainability at the heart of its entire programme, working towards a Wales that uses a fair share of the earth’s resources. This means cutting the country’s Ecological Footprint from nearly 3, down to 1. That is a commitment to reducing Wales’ overall impact by two thirds. I’ve seen the changes in lifestyle required to achieve this, and believe me, its going to require a bit more than making sure the living room light is turned off.
Don’t get me wrong, getting people to make small changes is a positive step in the right direction. I just can’t help feeling that perhaps we are going to have to aim a little higher if our country as a whole is to live within its environmental means.
I can’t even claim to have any answers – all I can do is take Gandhi’s advice and ‘be the change you want to see in the world’. I’ve certainly made some changes – I think that the phrase ‘Giving things up’ isn’t necessarily very helpful – there are things that you can change, or do differently, but if they are ultimately making life more pleasant, you’re not having to give anything up.
I’ll round off my rant by saying that part of the difficulty encountered when trying to communicate the issues of over consumption, peak oil, climate change and how to make a transition to a world in which these problems are solved, is that rather than say to people ‘Here’s a benefit, here is how life could be different and better’ we say ‘What are you going to give up’. While they ponder that, they discover that they’re surrounded by laughter therapists and lactation consultants, and then proceed to run as fast as they can in the opposite direction.
Ironically, as much as the environmental movement tries to wean the world off packaging, it is vital that the message it communicates is well packaged, or else it will struggle to get people to do more than turn the lights off when they leave.