If you want a pick-me-up, go straight to the sixth paragraph!
Perhaps now more than ever, conversations about the state of the world are occurring all around us. Turn on the radio, look at the news or Netflix documentaries or pick up a newspaper and you can almost guarantee that either the words carbon, climate change or net-zero will appear. This is good news! The opening up and normalising of discussion on this epochal topic is a form of positive progress and will play a vital role in coming up with transformational resolutions. Let’s keep the conversation going, deepen it and engage with those we know and listen carefully to what is being said, and who is saying it.
I want to take it a step further and ask that we do this with a critical eye. Not necessarily a skeptical eye (although a level of skepticism is useful with the mass of green washing we are surrounded by), but one that sees beyond the big statements and promises and asks for finer details, accountable agreements and that calls out illusory change hidden in a green packaged phrase. I ask this because I fear that much of what is being said is masking the true issues and has been designed (whether consciously or not does not matter) to uphold the narrative or our time; that of unstoppable growth fuelled by our consumption.
One reason for my fear of this narrative is that the solutions that are making headlines are those that are generally agreed upon by the very systems that lay at the root of the problem, and are set to lose most from genuine change. I agree with Marianne Williamson when she says “I challenge the ideas that those who drove us into this ditch are the best ones to get us out of it”, evoking the sentiment of Einsteins statement “we cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them”. I prefer the expression ‘when all you have is a hammer, everything starts to look like a nail.’ My point being this story line has been around for some time now and continually stems from the world view that caused these problems in the first place. My sense is that the likelihood of more devastating impacts on nature, including humans, is the probable outcome of many of the ‘solutions’ appearing on the table. Dangerous nuclear energy and no solution as to how we will deal with radioactive waste, poorly understood hydroelectricity releasing methane and destroying habitat and water systems, endless lithium mining and more genetically modified crops, mass-scale land grabs. These are not deep green solutions.
A distinct lack of dialogue on transformational change (such as degrowth economics) is the general (and disappointing) expectation from those who are concerned about the state of the world. Yet a politically led and media supported narrative on de-carbonising (net-zero) has been exploding in recent years, and if we delve into the details, we will see that this might be cause for a sounding alarm. This alarm tells us that the climate story has been hijacked by the business-as-usual directors and sold back to us as the solution, masking within it the root causes of the problem. This is being done regardless of the inevitable ongoing destruction of nature and global inequalities that we were supposed to be ending. Reducing the problem to one of carbon balance sheets is a clear death throe of industrial consumer capitalist society. It is not the solution, nor can it even be part of the solution if it does not actually deal with the issues over the long-term.
But we have to do something! This phrase, ‘we have to do something’, is designed to confuse our deep thinking and make questioning the specified ‘solutions’ near impossible, leaving those that do ask questions labelled as skeptics and anarchists. I want to know why asking for solutions that do not lead to more entrenched problems is unreasonable, because I refuse to see the natural world continue to be destroyed and I refuse to see human lives sucked into the industrial machine in the promise of something better. The solutions we are being offered are largely a delay mechanism that permit the industrial machine to suck the last financial rewards from this earth and sell them to us. The phrase we need to be touting is ‘we have to do the right something’.
So we are faced with a situation in which politics is not taking us toward the transformational solutions we need to see, which can feel exhausting and lead to burnout, so common in those involved in systems change. My advise is to look to, and to become, the new global leaders and allow change to be approached not from the top-down, but from the bottom-up. These true leaders (you might be one of them) are part of grass-roots organisations, charities and community projects building a transformational future for all. One of the most beautiful aspects of these leaders is the scale on which they work. It appears absolutely possible that global scale solutions and ‘scalable’ business ideas are (generally) flawed, because the uniqueness of the issues we face means solutions cannot be out of the box. Who knows better what the local community really needs than its residents and organisers. Who is more likely to save a local ancient woodland than the people who walk in it daily? When a project is small-scale, it can remain pure; true to its cause with a deep understanding of its impacts and relationships to other projects, people and places. Rather than relying on statistical analysis to prove results, we can feel them everyday, on the ground, in the smiles and interactions of all those impacted by these projects.
The fallacy of bigness lays, again, in the systems that run industrial society. They tell us that bigger is better, that every projects must be ‘scaled-up’. But what if this mission of growth ties well-meaning projects directly into the systems they started out to overcome? Do we not all know a local café who’s success led to expansion until they lost their charm, character and ethics in the search for growth and the mission for more impact? I can name a few…
Of course I agree that global scale change is a necessary part of the puzzle, and yes, COP26 has raised a multitude of necessary steps toward overcoming the issues we face, and many wonderful solutions. But our impact on these grand projects is limited and the direction they are taking us is fraught with corruption and ongoing environmental destruction, precisely because their scale ties them to global political agendas directly supported by an industrial growth system.
Diversity is at the very core of the idea of holistically designed systems change, and the merging of grass-roots with grass-roots opens a beautiful metaphor for the benefits of these diverse, small-scale systems. There are around 10,000 known species of grass in the world, and healthy prairies and meadows are a huge mix of species that together form a resilient and biodiverse ecosystem. Their roots reach deep into the soils, feeding the microbes in a dance of reciprocity that balances the other systems in a fine relationship of inter-being. It is the very diversity of these systems that together form a healthy, regenerative and beautiful web of living expressions of earth.
Now let us consider what the industrial growth machine has replaced these prairies and meadows with; row crops of (mostly)…corn. A single species. This system is in a constant effort toward resilience, with new species attempting to take root amid the corn in an attempt to build a healthy system. But we kill these ‘weeds’ in our own efforts toward monoculture, a controlled system that requires continuous human and chemical intervention and is susceptible to a multiplicity of diseases (which are often part of natures effort toward diversity). This system is fragile, and in a constant state of degradation; depleted and dying soils, no grazing animals, no pollinators. Take a moment to consider these two approaches to systems change we are faced with. The industrial growth machines top-down, homogenised prescription for big scale change looks, unsurprisingly, like corn. The grass-roots bottom-up, diversified and small scale approach looks like, well, grass roots. Resilient, adaptable, regenerative with leadership spread throughout the system.
So my question to you is this; what is wrong with small-scale? The accountability and innate wholeness of bioregional grass-roots projects is where we discover not only the most honest, resilient and transformational signs of change, but also where we find the true global leaders of the holistic movement toward a regenerative, equitable future. The steps onto the ‘small is beautiful’ movement are accessible too, meaning that burnout and frustration are far less likely. In our involvement and initiation of such projects, we hold the keys to the changes that mean the most to us, wherever and whoever we are. So lets take the power back, gently and honestly, so we can transform our system to an abundant expression of unique wholeness.