I was born in 1972. This means, that by any stretch of the imagination, I am halfway through my life now. Depending on which grandparents you look at, it could be just there, or significantly over! Having just had my 46th birthday, I am in reflective mood. Which is not just because of my age — although I am not quite sure how I got here this quickly!
I was born in a significant year, although most people wouldn’t recognise it as such. 1972 saw the first Earth Rise picture and the publication of the Limits to Growth for the Club of Rome. These events changed forever what we know about ourselves, our place in the world and the universe and the ability of Gaia, our Earth Mother, to cope with our voracious appetites. As a result, I feel I have grown up with an embryonic cultural realisation that we are not at the centre of all things. That we don’t have carte blanche to do what we want without consequences. That we are, after all, not worth it.
This is a hard pill to swallow. After millenia of thinking we are special. That God created us in his image, to have dominion over the world. That our privilege is divine. Even when we grudgingly accepted evolution, it was on the assumption that we are at the top of the tree. That other, ‘lesser’ beings have no intrinsic value. No feelings. Only exist to serve our purpose.
So, in a way it is understandable that we are kicking and screaming against this realisation. It is the response of a child when they realise that they can’t have everything their own way. The teenager who pushes boundaries as hard as they can, burning bridges and storing up problems ahead. The addict, who can’t see beyond their need for a fix. A collective bender, where we seem on a mission to destroy everything that supports us.
In many respects I have grown up. I still feel like kicking and screaming now sometimes, but I have accepted that the world is bigger than me and my desires. I sometimes resent this. But I am aware of my tremendous privilege in being a white, middle class, UK National. My ability to make choices is immense. I have access to resources that are beyond most people’s imaginings.
Which makes me uncomfortable. I know that my privilege is rooted in exploitation that I can’t even begin to contemplate. That spreads out through time and space. That is ruthless. That leaves a trail of misery and destruction in its wake. That I live in a very thin veneer of civilisation and wouldn’t have to travel far to find the dirty underside of our modern way of life. That the continuation of our consumptive lifestyles is making that veneer ever more transparent. Ever thinner and more likely to crack. Left unchecked, it will break and we will fall through. To find that we have destroyed everything that supports us and we are left with piles of toxic waste, no food, no water and a raging climate.
This is, understandably, not something people want to contemplate. But it does not need to be a frightening prospect. Many people have realised that if they don’t turn their lives around their destructive patterns will kill them and gone on to build happy, healthy, fulfilling lives. What sparks that change is realising that what they are doing doesn’t make them happy in their current reality. That change holds possibilities for better.
Never in the history of humanity have we worked so hard for so little. Never have we valued ourselves so much by what we consume, becoming filled with jealousy, resentment and fantastical daydreams. Living vicariously through celebrities, while we struggle in debt and bad jobs. We have never been less healthy. We have never been less skilled. We have never been this far up our own arses.
The hardest part in any transformation is acknowledging that you have a problem. That what you are doing is bad for you and will increasingly cause you harm. Stuck on a treadmill of addiction to busyness, media and stuff we are in a state of inertia. As indigenous people of the South say, people in the North are asleep. Not aware of our actual reality. The destruction we are causing. That we can stop. Say no. Draw our attention and energy away and from the trinkets and distractions designed to keep us occupied and decide to build a better life for ourselves. To reconnect with our communities. With nature. With our intrinsic abilities to create. To love. To be resilient and look after ourselves. To grow up. As Susan Neiman says in her excellent book, to accept the world the way it really is, but to hold in mind a vision of what it could be and work to bring it about. To cultivate ‘active hope’, whereby the hope is in imaging better and then doing, rather than only hoping if you truly think your vision can come to pass.
Today 1st August, is Earth Overshoot Day. A day that gets earlier in the calendar each year. It’s clear that we need to act urgently and decisively. We are the generation who has the power to make or break. Our legacy can be to be the ones who turned things around. Who built a regenerative society that restored balance, health and abundance. Who can be proud of stepping up to the plate. Or we can be the ones who let things slide. Who stayed in our bubble of modern capitalism until we broke the life support systems. Leaving those who come behind us to pick up the mess.
I know which choice I want to make, but I can’t do it alone. In the words of an unknown Hopi Elder:
“The time for the lone wolf is over. Gather yourselves! Banish the word struggle from you attitude and your vocabulary. All that we do now must be done in a sacred manner and in celebration.
“We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.”
I would love to connect with you to build this future together. Please get in touch.