By Sahra Kress, community midwife, 8 October 2022
“When we lose the Earth, if we lose the Earth,Peter Kalmus, NASA scientist
oh how desperately we will long to go back to how it was.
How we will wish that we had not taken all of this for granted”
And how we will wish that we had taken things more seriously, that we had absorbed the meaning of all the endless data and careful analyses, and that we had actually, collectively, taken responsibility.
These notes are my brief reflection on the bizarre climate predicament we are in: a slow-moving force that is pushing against the wall of our normality, which will push and push and at some point- our normality is going to crumble. What is the point of striving in the face of this? Solutions are very limited, so let’s talk about responses, and the meaning of sufficiency, and what living with simplicity might actually offer.
The climate crisis is here. The ecological emergency is here. It is not something remote or possible in the future: ‘global weirding’ has become an everyday news reality and we are seeing unprecedented events becoming normal.
Risk tolerance, analysis and calculating impact is fundamental to precautionary measures. Climate breakdown is not a ‘Black Swan’ event: we are staring directly at a ‘High Impact-High Probability’ reality – the highest level of risk.
It is clear that we must turn more to agendas of deep and transformative adaptation. Like with a pandemic threat, we must take precautionary action.
People are rightly concerned by all manner of inequity in our society. It is clear things are not remotely shared evenly. But where do we draw the lines of inequality: between people within or between countries? Or between humans alive now and future generations? Or is it inequality between species? If we don’t collectively learn to live within biophysical limits, nothing else matters.
Failure to act on climate breakdown reveals a disturbingly shallow concern for the future of our children. Because we are all to some extent enmeshed within the systemic destruction that is driving climate breakdown, we are doing worse than failing to protect our own children. As Rupert Read says, we risk being complicit in their ruin.
The themes emerging consistently around us are that it’s past time to wake up, individually and collectively. We can no longer pretend that we can get away with just focussing on, say, changing our energy infrastructure to renewable energy. We all need to wake up more fully, to live, and to amplify the alarm.
We can strive, wherever possible, to simplify. So many systems thinkers are talking about the future as a time for re-localisation and de-complexification. We can strive to be less concerned with arguments about standard of living, and more concerned with ensuring life has a chance of going on; realising that life itself is at risk of evaporating, however ‘high’ our short-term standard of living.
In this time of damage control, we must stop looking for excuses to speculate -we are already into dire circumstances. We must rebel against apathy, we must all become ‘parents for the future’. Slowing down, there is an opportunity to join with others, to continually rediscover agent-iality, find shared vulnerability, and shake off the threat of anhedonia. We can strive to reconnect with inspiration, playfulness, and an alignment with all life.
Is it possible to enjoy both economic growth and environmental sustainability? This question is a matter of fierce political debate between green growth and post-growth advocates. The literature reviewed clearly shows that there is no empirical evidence for such a decoupling currently happening, no matter the colour of growth. The focus of economic growth is based on the flawed assumption that successful decoupling can be achieved through increased efficiency without limiting economic production and consumption. This is the case for materials, energy, water, greenhouse gases, land, water pollutants, and biodiversity loss.
Only with the direct downscaling of economic production in many sectors together with the parallel reduction of consumption will a good life within the planet’s ecological limits be enabled.
Given that all good things are said to come from economic growth, a movement labelled “Degrowth” would seem to be a non-starter. But just the opposite seems to be happening. This is a movement that is mobilising people’s passion for finding sufficiency; enough-ism; the condition or quality of accepting adequate satisfaction, fairly shared. And I would add, an internal process as well as an external one- how do we feel adequate and sufficient, within ourselves?
Climate breakdown is a symptom of our dysfunctional ways of living. Essential natural systems, like the ones that provide us with a stable climate, are being disrupted, possibly beyond repair. It is this overuse of natural materials and energy that are causing the problem, but it is impossible for our economy to grow without using ever more natural materials and energy. The Degrowth movement emphasises that relying primarily on technical solutions to deal with these issues is actually counterproductive and making the problem worse. Hence the dilemma Degrowth is addressing.
The philosophy of Enough-ism is supported by people who are alarmed about the health of the planet and have decided to take personal responsibility and action. If minimalism seems too austere, you can re-label your flavour of simplification- and can choose your own from any of the following –isms:
Any others? Create your own!
As someone wise said recently, so much of what we desire our lives to look like can be found on the other side of owning less:
- Less debt, more flexibility
- Less cleaning, more time
- Less clutter, more purpose
- Less busy, more calm
- Less house, more home
- Less mess, more peace
- Less stuff, more freedom
When we allow ourselves to be deeply touched by simplicity we can open to the profound beauty of the complexity of the web of life. We can find meaning in being part of this cycle of life-force. The life that breathes in us, moves through us, and connects us with the being-ness of all life.
When we truly profess a deep love for our children, when we are utterly moved by the power of that love, we come to understand that love will inextricably, determinedly compel us to genuinely do what we must to protect the future. Let love be the driving force that provides the greatest hope that together we can still hold onto. This sense of connection with life and love is what remains as the simple core of authentic hope.