Thursday, 26 July 2007

Stairway to Devon

This week our family of six is going by foot and train to Devon. It’s a pretty low-carbon holiday, renting a group of wooden chalets on a 20-acre nature reserve with my siblings. We’ll set off on foot to Lewes train station, and walk the two miles from the tiny Eggesford station at the other end. There are old bikes on site and a farm shop along the lane. We’ll take cards and booze and books. We’ll unplug the TV, go on walks, play some outdoor games and, if it’s not wet, sit around a fire most nights. The kids will get bored, for a while - always an essential precursor to self-directed play. And the simplicity of our fortnight, I suspect, will be deeply relaxing.

George Monbiot in his Guardian column this week questioned whether it’s sufficient to simply become ‘green consumers’ or whether in fact we need to consume less overall. It’s an essential question. Twelve months ago I drove without compunction, flew with little hesitation, ate meat with abandon and sourced my clothes and other consumer goods wherever I wished. Those days are gone forever. Knowing what I do now, I can’t justify a three-planet lifestyle, or even such things as offsetting. I’m slowly adapting to live within my planet’s means. It’s not very sexy and it doesn’t boost the economy. So it’s deeply unfashionable. And it puts the journalist in a tough spot: there’s only so many column inches one can write about the frugal life.

Thursday, 19 July 2007

A day at the sea

I’m starting to really enjoy the low life (energy-wise, that is). On Sunday, the sun breaking through called for a trip to the seaside. We hastily packed some sarnies, some plums and a bottle of water and took the next train seawards. Seaford, it turned out, was our destination. But it could have been Bexhill, Bishopstone or Brighton. The trains were plentiful, even on a Sunday. Half an hour after stepping out of our door we were stripped down and settled on to the shingly Seaford beach. It was barely populated, and the sea itself empty, waves plopping on the beach and the Newhaven ferry pooping in the distance.

The boys played in the sea and invented a complex game involving throwing pebbles at each other, and my mate and I settled into an afternoon of napping and reading, reading and napping. One of the best pastimes on earth, I reckon. As evening drew in we headed home, ice creams in hand. Cost of travel: £5 for four. Cost to the earth: affordable, even, probably, for six billion of us. Pleasure factor: high. Britain, apparently, is less happy than in the 1950s. Could it be that voluntary simplicity on a fossil fuel diet could lead us towards greater happiness?

Thursday, 12 July 2007

Back to the future

Strange man, Al Gore. One minute he’s telling us to save the planet by changing our light bulbs. The next he’s asking us to take an ‘easy’ seven-part Live Earth pledge that would in fact be extremely difficult to carry out. Last weekend Al told a billion of us that Part One is to lobby all our governments to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 90% - or the grandchildren die (kind of thing). Ok, so let’s tease that out a minute. That essentially means - and leaders are still unwilling to spell this out - that we must learn to live on 10% of current fossil fuel. In our lifetimes. The rest will be current sunlight in the form of plant food to fuel humans, horses and oxen - and renewable fuels. Trying to keep the show on the road with large-scale biofuels, nuclear or new coal plants could literally cost the earth.

So what’s the answer? Living lightly, it seems. Consuming less, working and eating locally, and getting used to living on much smaller amounts of energy. It’s not very sexy but living within our means - one planet living - is how most of the world actually lives. We’d do well to learn from older, simpler cultures, or from our grandparents. Putting it another way, we need to go back, with more wisdom, into the future.

Thursday, 5 July 2007

Conscientious affirmer

I’ve come to realise that it’s more fun to be a conscientious affirmer rather than an objector. So a plastic-bag free Lewes becomes Gossypium creating a community bag; a rant against Tesco segues to a celebration of local food. OK I complain about the incinerator, but I become really passionate when I write in support of the proposed Glynde wind turbine. My utter refusal to be part of trashing our divine planet turns into a hundred daily positive choices. Waste becomes a resource; problems become solutions, the alchemy of our time.
Human society creates itself through a complex interconnecting network of individual choices. I wonder, how much are we are aware that what we buy, what we wear, what we eat, how we travel - all these things contribute in a very tangible way towards our future story. So when I feel sad that the lovely little sweet shop on Lansdowne, the one that’s been there forever, is to close, I must ask, how much did I help that place thrive? Am I husbanding what I really care about? Al Gore spoke so clearly about this on Radio 4 - we must change our habits, one by one. Together. Soon. And rather than see this change as giving things up, let’s just see ourselves as being conscientious affirmers of what we love.