Dec 21, 2019

There IS a Way Through This Crisis

How we build a better world in the face of climate catastrophe and social collapse.
By Chris Taylor / filmsforaction.org
There IS a Way Through This Crisis

Just over a year ago my partner and I, the woman I have been with since we were both 16, sold our life in the mainstream and moved into an organic communal farm. It’s taken me this long to want to write about it. I was conscious of not rushing to quick conclusions, not wanting to sound like an expert when actually I’m a novice, taking enough time to listen and learn. But now something is keeping me up at night. Something wants to be written.

The reason is, the longer I live here the more I am convinced that there is something here that can show us the way through the current global ecological crisis. I want to be very careful how I frame this. I could say it’s the only way to avoid extinction, to stave off climate catastrophe. But that would be to play on fear and dread. I don’t want to do that. Partly because I don’t think that ever motivated anyone, except when faced with a saber-toothed tiger (and even then you have a one-in-three chance of success – fight, flight or freeze). But also because I want the motivation to be inspiration, love, longing, a visceral remembering. Not fear, dread or panic. Our motivation will shape the society we create, so let’s start from love and inspiration.

So, what have I learnt in my first year in this community? Well, certainly some unexpected things. My first moment of realization was one day this summer when I was walking out to the vegetable garden, basket in hand to collect dinner. I suddenly realised that I was now dependent on this land. If I wanted food, I needed to care for it, tend it, listen to what it needed. This awoke a strange feeling in my body. I was in love with the land and it was the most natural human emotion possible. It awoke a part of my being that had remained dormant for many years. There is a love of land. A real thing. A deep connection, almost primordial.

My second realization was that actually, living in community is incredibly easy. I had read plenty of books that warned me about the trials and tribulations I was bound to face. The misunderstandings and anger, the egos and huge issues of substance that would have to be thrashed out. This was not what I encountered. True, this community has been here for forty years. Much of the hard work was done long ago and now systems are in place that work like clockwork (most of the time!). Once that initial turbulent period is over, living in close community, sharing with, working alongside, creating and socializing with a diverse group of other people is by far the most natural and satisfying way to life. Without community, life is a little empty.

A few weeks after we moved in a PhD student came to do a study of our carbon footprint. She’s just been back to share her initial findings. It’s amazingly thought-provoking stuff. Our footprint is a third less that the national average. This is great. But it’s not good enough. The environmental footprint of the UK is just under three planets worth[1]. That means that even with all our efforts, this community has twice the impact we need for a sustainable planet – and that’s with growing half our food, producing at least a third of our own electricity and all our water.

What’s inspirational though, is that we could easily cut our footprint further without really adversely impacting on our lifestyle. Step one would be upping our game on car-pooling (we have three shared cars already) and/or ride-sharing (we could use the WhatsApp group a little more for this). We live in an isolated area with no local bus service so our mileage is much higher than average but it would be realistic to cut it, maybe by a third.

And we could buy less stuff. That’s the big one. Cutting our purchases of consumer goods by a half would take about another quarter off our footprint. At which point we’re in touching distance of a sustainable set-up. Add to this some small changes in the way we tend our land and we could conceivably have an overall neutral or even positive impact on the local (and by implication global) environment.

And let me say this again. This is not a difficult lifestyle. It’s actually great fun. There’s plenty of time outdoors, in the fresh air. Plenty of physical labour to keep us fit and I’ve never had such a full social life – communal meals, shared lunches, public open-mic nights, refugee dinners, dances and festive parties. If we run out of bread, or soap, or need to borrow a wrench, there’s always someone on hand.

To be honest we're a pretty rag-tag bunch - IT folk, nurses, charity workers, retired folk, an ex-Navy Logistic guy. We're learning as we go, and relying heavily on whoever has the most experience - be it in gardening, plumbing or animal care. Some keep themselves to themselves, others throw themselves into the social live. And that's all good. Who wants everyone to be the same, or to want the same things?

So that’s the pitch. We can definitely get through this. All it takes are some changes in our relationships – to land, to other people, to the food we eat and the stuff we buy. It’s possible to find deep fulfilment in growing food and being together. We don’t need to buy stuff to feel good.

This can work in the countryside and it can work in the town – with urban allotments and grassroots community building. In Britain all we’d need to do is turn over a little under half of our domestic gardens to vegetable plots and we could grow the equivalent of all the food we currently import[2]. Zero food miles. And as a by-product, bio-diversity would flourish. Imagine if schools taught kids how to do this. No, we could do better. Imagine if part of the school day, every day, was actually time on your local allotment growing food for yourself, your housebound neighbours, your school dinners.

Building community and repairing nature going hand-in-hand. We could be happier and healthier – less stressed, more settled, more connected. And at the same time, we’d be repairing hundreds of years of damage to the eco-systems around us. It’s all possible. Maybe your heart feels it’s possible. And maybe it’s not so far off.

 

[1] See https://www.footprintnetwork.org/ for a detailed analysis of every country over several decades.

[2] https://www.resurgence.org/magazine/article5461-a-lot-to-learn.html

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Chris Taylor is author of The Tao of Revolution.

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