I like it immensely when my ingrained thoughts and ideas are challenged. I don’t shy away, and hope that it makes me a better, more open, person, able and willing to accept differences in others. I’ve read (devoured) the excellent book by Dougald Hine, At Work in the Ruins: Finding our place in the time of science, climate change, pandemics and all other emergencies. I’m now participating in an online gathering centred around the book for the next five weeks.
It’s a challenging read, putting the case for the limitations of science, which I have held in high esteem for so long. Yet, even with the defined space that science holds in my person, the books resonates with the feelings that have lingered since my dissertation on ecosystem services. These feelings have been growing over the years, and when voiced, often quickly shut down by whatever expert is presenting at whatever conference. Finally, these feelings are being voiced by others.
When I have my views challenged I find that, like domino’s falling, other aspects of my opinions also need to flex and bend. So within the context of this book, the panacea of science as the ruler of reason, and therefore, the sole provider of answers to our global crises, has also illuminated other areas that I can admit to having held in cognitive dissonance. It’s by reflecting on our conversations and thought processes that we can grow and learn, be more open, and see alternative pathways more clearly.
For the longest time, since writing my dissertation twelve years ago, the thought of valuing nature purely in economic terms has hurt my heart. I understood the arguments, that by not valuing nature (read resources) we cannot aim to put the environment on the same terms as the economic system. The triple-bottom-line, economy, society and the environment, each vying for limited investment resources, each worthy and important. This view is one that I have never held, prefering the concentric circle diagram, with the environment the largest circle, society centred within this, and the economy firmly placed, through its creation by our society, as the smallest circle within the middle. Optimistic I know, and clearly not reflected across our global systems.
I look at the images of forests and jungles, burnt from wildfires, or clearcut to create more space for cattle. I look at images of beaches and oceans teeming with plastic pollution, starving and emaciated polar bears, refugees moving away from their homelands, glaciers receeding, humans working like robots to fulfill the desires of the global north. These images are the tip of the iceberg, so much of the day-to-day loss and destruction is hidden far away from our eyes, out of sight, out of mind. Today I learnt that we have enough items of clothing on the planet to dress the next six generations of the human race. Facts like this horrify me. They remind me of a teacher at Cambridge who, when talking about the climate crisis, explained how far the data was away from the policy. Over a decade has passed and not much has changed since then.
The book interested me because I can see the depth of our troubles, I understand the models and various scientific studies, from sea ice to species disappearing, that show the seriousness of our situation. I feel the pain and loss, and often this cannot be translated easily into my everyday work. Writing sustainability strategies, understanding techonological innovations, or carbon accounting, will move organisations towards a lower carbon future. These pieces of work though, don’t take into account the planet’s movements, the impacts of changing weather systems, and the effects of these on our global infrastructure and, although we incorporate risk management, we don’t talk about societal breakdown in the event of a rapidly transforming climate. And thus, the book asked the question, what will be important in the face of changes that society and the environment can no longer absorb?
We have met once so far, our book group, from all parts of this planet and from all walks of life. We spoke in small groups, pairs and listened to questions and the discussions that ensued. In one space, I talked about how mental health issues feel like luxuries of the global north population, my view shaped by my cultural context, and my perceived lack of support provided in the global south. I have a safety net for my poverty in the form of my credit card, but what exists there, in the sweatshops and child labour factories where our trinkets are created, or the landfill sites picked over by people whose lives are shortened by their exposure to chemicals and pollutants not accepted in richer countries?
I’ve been reflecting on this conversation for the last few days. I didn’t wish to diminish the mental health challenges that so many feel. I grew up in Brighton, a seaside city with the vulnerable easily seen on the streets. I have friends lost to suicide, lives lost to despair. I watch the struggles of young adults now confronted by artificial glamour, at loss with a fogged future, unable to build the security of a place to call home, or a job that satisfies their talents, joys and energy. I interpret the anger and fear of the cost of living crisis, the pushback against people arriving in dinghy’s, as symptoms from a society divided and scared.
So here, from this place of cognitive dissonance, I can review my opinions and change my perspective. The mental health troubles that so many feel are related in so many ways, to a society that has divided and threatened individuals with fears over their bodies, their knowledge, and their hearts. I can still believe that the medical industry is too quick to presribe drugs that promise to stifle our emotions, but without tackling the root causes of the person’s needs, what help are these?
Now, with this time to reflect and consider more broadly, I can give up a poor point of view, one which didn’t help anyone. I can open my heart more broadly to understanding those with mental health problems, be they big or small, recognising that these are just reflective of the wider losses we face. Perhaps, I’m lucky in having faced my own traumas and found a resilience that others can’t. Certainly my line of work doesn’t leave me hopeful or optimistic for some of the time, although I do hold hope and love.
My next book is Satish Kumar: Abundant Love, edited by Jagdish Rattanani. I’m looking forward to this one, and when combined with the new network of folks I’m meeting through this book group, I’m pretty sure my brain is going to feel the input, and hopefully I can keep growing as we go forward uncertainly.
If you like this article, please give it a clap — you can clap up to 50 times! I write irregularly but around every couple of weeks or so, follow me to be notified when I do. I’m a artist, activist and sustainability guide, building a new life in Portugal and growing trees. See more of my sustainability work at https://futurecologic.co.uk/. To support my work as an artist, visit — https://www.patreon.com/Postcards_from_Portugal or buy me a coffee https://www.buymeacoffee.com/GClaws. Thanks for reading, hope you enjoy it, and get the conversation started below if you fancy.