These days I cannot cycle across London without giant advertizing boards getting up in my grill, hawking Lurpak butter. The posters shamelessly try to link a mass butter product with the complex and rich well-being benefits of cooking. Be happy, buy Lurpak and cook.
The one problem with this cheery narrative is that Lurpak butter is shipped across a sea to get here releasing unnecessary and dangerous green house gasses into our unbalanced atmosphere. Why are we creating this risk when we have great local butter, produced skillfully within these lands? The only butter I will buy is local butter. So Lurpak get your big, dangerous, stupid adverts out of my face and stick to selling your Danish butter to the Danes.
EcoHustler is inspired by Adbusters. Not least for their refusal to allow our shared space and reality to be owned and controlled by corporations who exist solely to sell shit and make money. Much is made of the corporate take over of nature, our lives and our economies but what about the corporate take over of our minds!?
Our sensitive brains are bombarded with negative and unsustainable messaging as soon as we walk out the door. People in cities can be hit with up to 2000 messages a day urging them to buy shit they don’t need. No wonder well-being is declining and the natural world is collapsing. Reality is a mass, shared hallucination and with this relentless onslaught of carefully crafted messaging human behaviour is normalized in a pathological state of endless wanting.
It is not just nature we are paving over but our minds. the practical and proactive response is to ‘culture jam’. That is to compete with an alternative narrative that can help people see that another world is not only possible… it is preferable, imminent and will be co-created by us. To spark a wave of epiphanies that shatter the consumerist worldview. We must all fight against pro-consumerist advertising wherever it rears its ugly head.
Responding online is all well and good…. but there is a danger we just preach to the converted. How do we reach the people out on the street, walking between the invasive advertising hoardings? How can we offer an alternative message?
Not: drink cola to be happy or drive a car to have status or spray this chemical to get laid. But: breathe, exist, create, grow, resist, love and be a part of something bigger than ourselves; something with meaning.
To reach people we have to be brave and head out at night with our faces covered. We have to find the shadows and upload our home-grown messaging to the urban fabric. We need to give the human beehive a repaint.
This is your invitation to get involved. Download an eco-propaganda poster and stick it up in your neighbourhood using the wheat pasting instructions below. Even better, design your own poster and send it in. The best posters submitted will be featured on this site available for others to use.
Many thanks to Francesca and her team at The Green Belt Movement for sending in this update from Kenya in time for Valentine’s Day. Original article here. Please remember whatever you buy for V day has an impact on our world. If love is your main gift check yourself before you buy.
Red roses have become the quintessential symbol of love. This Valentine’s Day, boyfriends, husbands and lovers alike will flock to their local flower store to buy a dozen red roses – supposedly an embodiment of their love, passion and commitment.
Thousands of miles away, people in Kenya face a different reality on the 14th of February. It’s not one of e-cards and chocolates but an effect of globalization – a side effect of so called ‘free-market’ capitalism that many are not aware of.
One in three roses sold this Valentine’s Day in the UK will be from Kenya. Despite the 4,600 miles travel, Kenyan flowers are often the cheapest; a dozen Kenyan red roses are as little as £2.99 or £4.99. Yet these prices do not reflect the social and environmental costs.
Nearly 75% of Kenya’s horticultural exports are a product of the cut flower industry around Lake Naivasha. It is economically important for Kenya being the second largest export after tourism. Lake Navaisha was once a quiet community best known in the UK for being the home of naturalist and wildlife preservationist Joy Adamson who wrote Born Free about Elsa the lioness; for being one of the 10 best sites for bird watching in the world; and for its abundant plant and animal life – hippos, giraffes and zebras to name a few.
Today giant green houses occupy the banks of the lake, which has wrecked its aesthetic value as well as changed the local culture. While Maasai cattle may still be found roaming the area, private property rights and division of their traditional range lands have dramatically decreased the spaces that they can graze and access to the lake for water has become a source of conflict.
A new culture has been brought to the region that revolves around global capitalism and international trade. Lake Navaisha’s flower industry began in the 1980s and grew rapidly in the 1990s as European companies flew in to exploit the desirable growing conditions and year round temperate temperatures and seemingly abundant water supplies. The hundreds of thousands of pounds of flowers grown annually are picked in the morning and arrive in British shops by the evening.
The economic boom of the horticultural market has led to a dramatic increase in the local population. In 1969, 27,000 people lived in the surrounding areas and today that number has jumped to nearly 300,000. A direct result of Lake Naivasha’s industry is overcrowding of both people and businesses creating social and environmental instability.
Water levels in Lake Naivasha have fallen as a result of the flower industries that directly pump water from the lake to the green houses. The lake is currently being drained faster than it can be replenished. Erastus Mureithi, the chairman of the Kenya Flowers Council, says that small-scale flower farmers are likely to be banned from withdrawing water from the lake. Without the involvement of the major (non kenyan) flower companies, this move appears to be more of a public relations stunt than a solution to the environmental problems of Lake Navaisha.
Furthermore, the once clear waters of Lake Navaisha are now mucky and brown as a result of the rapid clearing of trees for agricultural production. This problem is not unique to Naivasha. Rapid removal of indigenous tree species around the country and particularly in water catchment areas has led to major siltation problems and has dried up rivers and threatened lakes.
Operating with these unsustainable methods will certainly result in the disappearance of Lake Naivasha and the further decline in the traditional livelihoods of the surrounding communities – a travesty that can be stopped.
In order to curb environmental degradation, organizations, such as the Green Belt Movement, are working at local, national and international levels. The Green Belt Movement has planted over 40 million trees in Kenya and works with communities who live in the uplands above Lake Naivasha to protect the watershed to empowers communities with the skills to think and act sustainably. However the issues surrounding the lake its self and access remain complex and sensitive.
Its founder, Nobel Peace Laureate Professor Wangari Maathai, said in her keynote speech at the launch of the United Nations’ International Year of Forest on February 2nd that “It is not that we do not know. None of us can claim ignorance. We know what to do. Much information is out there.”
Let’s not claim ignorance this Valentine’s Day. Instead of playing a part in promoting the side effects of capitalism, think sustainably. Lets do as Wangari would do and plant a tree–a symbol of your love that will last for a very long time. As Wangari always likes to say:
“I cannot live without the green trees and nor can you”
Hi Shark Lovers,
Many people have been in touch saying that they would love to join us on the 3rd but can’t and want to know if there is anything else they can do. Well there is!
Costa Rica is a major centres for the shark finning trade and a major tourist destination. Copy and send the text below to their Ambassador to the United Kingdom, Mrs Pilar Saborio at firstname.lastname@example.org
This approach may work for other shark finning nations. In order, the top 10 Shark fining nations are: Indonesia, India, Spain, Taiwan, Argentina, Mexico, Pakistan, United States, Japan, and Malaysia.
Dear Pilar Saborio,
I am writing to express my concern at the practice of shark-finning in Costa Rica.
Costa Rica has an enviable record of conservation, and has a deserved reputation for leadership shown in areas such as action on climate change and the protection of biodiversity. It is therefore a huge surprise that your nation allows itself to be a world centre of an industry which is decimating shark populations worldwide; causing intolerable cruelty to one of the planet’s most ancient and beautiful species and threatening the ecosystems of the oceans on which so many people depend
Every year, over 70 million of sharks are killed for their fins, often thrown back into the sea alive, yet bleeding to death. This unsustainable assault on our oceans and must be stopped. I am aware that Costa Rica has taken legal steps to try and tackle this problem, but there is evidence that laws are not being enforced and that the industry continues unabated.
I therefore ask you and your Government to take urgent and meaningful action to put an end to shark-finning, including the proper enforcement of your laws and the prosecution of those that flaunt them. Until such action is taken, I will not consider travelling to Costa Rica as a tourist, and will do all I can to encourage others to do the same.
Christmas is a time for family, tradition, good food and coming together to remember what is important in life. Right? Wrong! Christmas has been hijacked by the Dark Side and now is ‘the retail event of the year’ or, put another way, the peak of the annual consumption calendar, or, put another way, exactly what is killing the biosphere.
We used to bring plants and greenery into the house as part of a pagan nature worship ceremony. Now we chop the tree down, stack imported plastic tat under it and when we are done throw the lot into the bin. Well it seems sometimes you get what you pay for because our perversion of christmas, like our perversion of life in general is a one way ticket to oblivion. We are hungry ghosts and our desperate attempts to be fulfilled by consumption is a drawn out mass suicide.
“Gather round children, Daddy has re-morgaged the house and bought a bundle of goodies… stuff your ears with tissues so you don’t hear the wails as we gouge out nature’s eyes. Watch these cartoons so you don’t see us dig up nature’s sacred heart and impale it on the shopping mall’s spire. Stop crying children! This is what we wanted! Wasn’t it!?”
This festive season the suicide economy works like this: disposable products are manufactured in the East; shipped to the West, sold, and then disposed of. Then the vast ships return empty to do it all again, all the while burning millions of tonnes of precious oil .
The relationship between China and the United States says it all. Last year the USA spent $455 billion over christmas. The biggest retailer in the USA is Wal-Mart. Wal-Mart buys 91% of their consumer goods in China (no surprise the US trade deficit is currently $440 trillion). In order to get these across the Pacific Wal-Mart have had built some of the largest vessels this planet has ever seen.
These vast, incredibly fast ships (31 knots ) were commissioned by Wal-Mart for the sole purpose of getting all their goods from China . They hold 15,000 containers. Longer than a US Aircraft Carrier (which has a crew of 5,000) the full crew of these emblems of our era is just 13 people on a ship. These behemoths are emblematic of the consumer culture we have created which is feeding off the living fabric of our planet. They are totally juxtaposed to a sustainable economy.
Globalization has shrunk the mighty Pacific down to an earthly river Styx. Charon, the ferryman of Hades, now uses Maersk to transport death and the money isn’t a coin in the eye but digital transactions wired at the speed of light between banks that would collapse were it not for the billions we pay in tax; handed them by governments because they are ‘too big to fail’ (Check the video below: Taming the Vampire Squid). The whole system is a self-perpetuating rip-off and it is all driven by good-old, trustworthy, consumer demand… so keep watching those adverts… and buy, BUY, BUY!!
This is one of three ships presently in service, with another two ships commissioned to be completed in 2012. Aside from destroying local, sustainable economies the major catch here is that the annual carbon emissions of Maersk is 40-50 million tonnes of CO2, which, by coincidence, is the same as its country of origin, Denmark!
Greenhouse gas emissions from international shipping currently account for around 3% of total global emissions and are predicted to grow fast in the future. Indeed, all the world’s governments are working hard to boost this trade because this is how they measure their success… economic growth. You have to feel sorry for the hapless ‘negotiators’ trying to square that circle in Cancun… or perhaps they know the whole thing is a joke. Governments have just found another arena in which to compete for resources.
So, this christmas, think of Jesus and keep shopping like crazed little robots and when the Apocalypse comes early don’t be surprised… we sponsored it.
Shocking news just in: nations of the world are sending their wankiest people to Cancun after word got out that it is just going to be a giant international circle-jerk. Last year leaders of the free world gathered in Copenhagen for COP 15 but decided, at the last-minute, not to bother with a global treaty to protect: the natural world we depend on, our children or their future descendents. So this year… the gloves are off!
In a desperate last-minute bid for alien intervention to save us from the evil alliance of perverted-banker-greed and slimey-politician-scum good citizens of the world (http://earth.350.org/) are coming together to create giant symbols to grab the attention of passing alien vessels. Maybe a more advanced civilization can point out that nature needs the bailout out not a pathological economy founded on consuming our planet.
Nations of the world are coming together at COP 10 of the Convention on Biological Diversity, to face up to the fact that our efforts to rein in the current mass extinction crisis have failed. In an attempt to put the issue on the political map, biodiversity is being allocated a monetary value much as the Stern Report’s did with climate change. However, this approach fails to acknowledge a bigger truth. Reducing the diversity of life on earth effectively puts evolution in rewind taking us back to an ecological period when humans didn’t exist. This unraveling of life’s rich tapestry destroys real value that took millions of years to create and shifts ecosystems away from those human’s are adapted to.
Human’s who continue to generate ‘wealth’ by consuming nature are perverted and sinful. This may not be the conventional attitude today but it will be the attitude of our wiser descendants if they survive the coming austerity of a decimated planet. They will look back at our time as an idyllic Eden, so rich in life it was home to panda’s, cheetahs, blue whales and other extraordinary creatures. They will consider the leaders and powerful elite who presided over this ecocide as criminals. To prevent the worst from happening this must become the attitude of us all now. We must wake up to the true value of nature.
Everyone has been talking about climate change and for nefarious reasons the media insists on including climate scepticism in the debate as if it were a sane position. But leaving all that noise to one side, it is still hard to discern how fragile life on earth is and therefore how precarious a situation human civilization is in. On one extreme we have scientists and environmentalists telling us that the human eco-footprint is unsustainable and that many critical ecosystems we depend on are nearing collapse and on the other we have pioneers and prospectors who, appealing to our rugged, masculine urges, tell us that nature is strong and we should concern ourselves with the folks back home not something ‘out there’ called ‘nature’.
How can we examine the world around us to objectively determine where on this scale we actually are and therefore what our course of action should be? Measuring carbon in the atmosphere or the abundance of natural resources is reasonable, but both are debatable and therefore political. For example, the warming effect of CO2 can in theory be reversed by geo-engineering or perhaps captured by a new technology and turned into a fuel. Declining resources can, in theory, be restocked and a complete knowledge of, say, a cod stock, can be disputed.
Human’s turn ‘natural capital’ (forests, fisheries and mountains) into ‘human capital’ (cloths, cars and iphones) and in doing so are pruning the tree of life. The current loss of species is so extreme it is being called the 6th mass extinction event. The last one is the most famous because it caused the extinction of the dinosaurs but several others were far more severe. For example the Permian extinction event led to a 90% die off. It takes at least 10 million years for diversity to begin to recover from such an event.
Mass extinctions are thought to result when a long-term stress is compounded by a short term shock. Remarkably humans appear to be doing both simultaneously with cataclysmic results: “The speed at which species are being lost is much faster than any we’ve seen in the past — including those [extinctions] related to meteor collisions,” said Daniel Simberloff, a University of Tennessee ecologist and prominent expert in biological diversity. If present trends continue one half of all species of life on earth will be extinct in less than 100 years, as a result of habitat destruction, pollution, invasive species, and climate change.
Humans are killing the world that we evolved from. This is far worse than biting the hand that feeds us; it is kicking the vagina that delivered us. This petulant destruction will cost us money; it will limit new opportunities in medicine and cuisine and travel and adventure; but it will also shift the planet’s ecology away from one that can sustain us massively increasing the risk of our extinction. Surely this is the main reality to engage with?
Today, whilst human minds fixate on the financial ‘crisis’ and channel unprecedented resources into keeping pathological markets afloat, the real crisis goes unchecked. It is nature that really needs the bailout.
65 million years ago it wasn’t the impact of the asteroid that killed off the dinosaurs. It was the ecological changes that occurred as a result of the long, nuclear winter that followed. Massive plant eating dinosaurs starved after plants withered and soon so too did their predators. The tiny shrew-like early mammals we are descended from probably survived the long darkness by gnawing on the fetid flesh of the multifarious dead behemoths.
If humans do not wake up out of this mass, suicidal hallucination and start apportioning a proportional value to their life support system it may be the cockroaches who survive the dark of our nuclear winter by gnawing on the dead bodies of people laid strewn through the wreckage of civilization. Maybe the roach descendents will learn from our ruins and exist for long enough to seize life’s opportunities and increase exploration of (both internal and external) space?
Although the trends today are apocalyptic, the solutions to the biodiversity crisis are well understood. The way to stop species going extinct is to preserve their habitats. The only effective way of preserving habitats is by creating large nature reserves that are off-limits to human exploitation. We could imagine a future sustainable world in which human cities, towns and farms are nestled within an international network of mega-wildlife corridors which are large enough to allow for terrestrial species migrations. Huge human-free marine zones are also required.
To secure these vital eco-systems the human economy must acknowledge and respect limits to its prospecting of nature’s bounty. Limiting human expansion isn’t even on the table as an option as government’s fall over each other to try and endlessly stimulate new economic growth. When will they see that as Edward Abbey says: “Growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of the cancer cell.” And that growth that destroys life is actually death.
We must put part of nature beyond the reach of markets. This is entirely logical because, as our cosmic mother, home, nourishment and inspiration nature is, of course, literally priceless. Whilst this may be anathema to free-market apostles who understand their universe only through attaching dollar signs to everything, human species-control is the only practical way to maintain the ecological integrity of the biosphere; which is the way for us to survive.
To make limiting further growth of the human economy politically viable we need people’s values, attitudes and behaviours to change. First up, understanding that it is not just that losing species depletes our planet and undoes value that has taken millions of years to accumulate, value well beyond the puny, vulgar dollars and pounds that rule this brief epoch. It is that we are undoing the ecology that we evolved into. We cannot be certain that whatever follows may not be so hospitable. Whether pioneers, prospectors, religious fundamentalists and other anthropocentrists can stomach it or not, our destiny is utterly and completely bound to the destiny of all the other species of life on earth.
We also need to share widely the understanding that improving the human condition is no longer dependent on extracting more from nature. Collectively, we have all we need. All future progress must be dematerialized; from government policy to business development through to what we do on the weekend, enough with stuff.
We are the smartest species that ever existed but somehow we are not collectively using our brains. We are blessed with a planet brimming with, literally, the most extraordinary richness in the known universe. This phenomenal, unique, living layer which pulses and shimmers against the dead blackness of infinity and drawing on the energy of the nearest star steadily increases in mass and diversity is not just our home. It is our destiny. So it is time to show compassion to the millions of other species who share our world. Let’s follow the golden rule and do unto them as we would have done unto us. Let’s love our fellow creatures as we love ourselves because ultimately any sense of separation is an illusion.
Will we stop mass extinction?
I’ve just signed an urgent global petition supporting a new treaty to prevent mass extinction. The petition will be delivered Friday at UN talks in Japan — check out the email below and sign on here:
Are you tired of the 9-5 grind and stressful commuting? Are you fed up of not having enough time for friends, family and interesting pursuits? How would you like a 3 day weekend? Well the good news is that a less stressful, more pleasurable and more fulfilling lifestyle could be just around the corner. This post outlines a proposal for a new campaign to reduce the working week to 4 days.
The Triple Crunch of an economy in meltdown, declining well being and a collapsing biosphere requires us to work less to slow down and rationalize the economy and to provide space for ourselves and the planet to breathe. As we work less we can make time to nurture our environment, communities and selves back to rude health and orient society away from its current pathological trajectory.
The ‘green movement’ is evolving into a popular mass-movement that is seizing the opportunity presented by the multiple crises of a changing world to co-create the future that we want. This rapidly expanding new agenda presents the opportunity to reinvent how we spend our most precious commodity… our time.
I must create a system or be enslaved by another man’s
To succeed a campaign must have at its core a sound argument making the case for change. Fortunately, the brains at the New Economics Foundation have done all the hard work and produced a bulletproof case for why people, planet and the economy all benefit when we collectively agree to work less. The vision section of their report ‘21 Hours’ states:
A ‘normal’ working week of 21 hours could help to address a range of urgent, interlinked problems: overwork, unemployment, over-consumption, high carbon emissions, low well-being, entrenched inequalities, and the lack of time to live sustainably, to care for each other, and simply to enjoy life.
The report also looks at the necessary conditions for shifting to the 21 hour week and how to overcome transitional problems. In a little more detail here are the 3 main:
Planet: moving towards a much shorter working week would help break the habit of living to work, working to earn, and earning to consume. People may become less attached to carbon-intensive consumption and more attached to relationships, pastimes, and places that absorb less money and more time. It would help society to manage without carbon-intensive growth, release time for people to live more sustainably, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
People: a 21-hour ‘normal’ working week could help distribute paid work more evenly across the population, reducing ill-being associated with unemployment, long working hours and too little control over time. It would make it possible for paid and unpaid work to be distributed more equally between women and men; for parents to spend more time with their children – and to spend that time differently; for people to delay retirement if they wanted to, and to have more time to care for others, to participate in local activities and get their groove on.
Economy: shorter working hours could help to adapt the economy to the needs of society and the environment, rather than subjugating society and environment to the needs of the economy. Business would benefit from more women entering the workforce; from men leading more rounded, balanced lives; and from reductions in work-place stress associated with juggling paid employment and home-based responsibilities. It could also help to end credit-fuelled growth, to develop a more resilient and adaptable economy, and to safeguard public resources for investment in a low-carbon future.
A quick word to the ‘traditionalists’ out there, the ‘tradition’ of working a 5 day week is a product of industrial capitalism which is about 200 years old. For millennia preceding this people would not have worked 9-5 (unless they were slaves). People would have spent the majority of their time living in local communities raising families and together ensuring they have enough to live. Also, it has already has several times already:
Europe is the natural place for this campaign to start. This is where the industrial revolution began. At the time it was understood that machines doing man’s labour would provide for more leisure time. John Maynard Keynes, called it ‘technological unemployment’ and Nobel Laureate Economist Wassily Leontief wrote:
“The role of humans as the most important factor of production is bound to diminish in the same way that the role of horses in agricultural production was… diminished…by the introduction of tractors.”
Whilst nationalists, racists and other fools blame unemployment on the natural human phenomenon of immigration the real cause is going unaddressed in the public debate: Technological Unemployment.
But wait a second… isn’t Technological Unemployment a good thing? Unless you think you were born to work; machines doing work frees up our time for other important activities. We don’t have to rigidly fill our lives with work and there is no point sweeping the decks of the Titanic as it heads straight for an iceberg. Better to storm the cockpit and head for open water!
Why are we working 5 days a week? To what end? The puritan work ethic is fundamentally inverted when the work you are doing, by driving economic growth, is actually driving environmental meltdown and pushing our species to extinction. Once we accept that endless growth and wealth accumulation are both impossible and undesirable we can shift our work habits to better suit our needs and values.
The material economy must shrink. To think this need be restrictive for the human experience is the essence of the problem of the modern age. There is far more to life than stuff. Limitless growth is achievable in science, ideas, knowledge, art, music and sport. We already control too great a proportion of the material flows of the planet and so all future growth must be dematerialized. One popular and practical step in the right direction is building into the week a day which is not for work-for-money and not just a ‘day off’. In doing so we create space for other activities of critical importance to society such caring for relatives, growing our food, helping in our communities, keeping fit, having hobbies, being creative, playing sport developing skills and shifting to sustainability and all the other things we like to spend our time on.
Anyone who thinks this change is unrealistic needs to broaden their perspective. The 5 day week was totally arbitrary. It could have been 3 days! Furthermore it is a human invention. This is in stark contrast to the planet, biosphere or atmosphere. All of which we depend on, we cannot create and which our human experiment in endless work, economic growth and waste production is currently destroying. Reinventing the work week is far more practical then reinventing a stable biosphere.
There are many things in our lives we cannot change. Things like the laws of physics, the size of earth and the amount of oil underground. Then there are the things we can change. Culture is the sum total of humanity’s attitudes, opinions and knowledge. This is easily changeable. It can be transformed through stories, art, conversations and by forwarding the link to this blog. Start telling your friends, colleagues and neighbours… we don’t need to work 5 days a week. It is stressing us out and it is destroying our world. So let’s stop.
Community Monday: people contribute some of their day to local community initiatives. This could include caring for the elderly, running projects for local kids or overcoming a local challenge with neighbours.
Eco Monday: it’s time to get together and give nature a helping hand! Teams of switched-on humans can trek out and get: tree planting, litter picking, ecosystem surveying and building: nature reserves, bug houses, bat boxes or green roofs.
Farming Monday: city folk and others travel to local farms to help with food production. Helps people to understand where the food comes from and has the added benefit of reducing the carbon intensity of agriculture.
Lifelong Learning Monday: adults descend on universities, schools and colleges to further their education. Not for professional development… just for the sake of learning. Courses in cooking, pottery, Tantra and Zen can run alongside astro-physics and ecology.
Loving Mondays: love, nurture, care, heal, get jiggy.
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
As far back as 2004 with the publication of The Death of Environmentalism the traditional approaches of the green movement have been criticized for its failure to create significant widespread change to the way we live. We have known about species extinctions, toxicity, resource depletion and even climate change for over 50 years… so why aren’t we all living locally in human-scale communities enjoying life and living in harmony with the natural world?
Well it seems some historical trends are hard to argue with. There are 6 billion humans sharing this planet; population is totally unregulated and rapidly expanding and the industrial capitalist juggernaut is relentlessly commodifying every aspect of our world (including time) and with ruthless efficiency, systematically training our children to become ‘normal’ i.e. rabid workers / consumers.
Environmentalists are badly outgunned. The ‘conventional economy’ we are seeking to change is the ceaseless competition of 6 billion individuals seeking resources. This competition, driven by self-interest maintains the cut-throat economy. However, the triple crunch turns everything on its head; as explored in Racing the Red Queen to Oblivion, if humans cannot consciously overcome the genetic urge to compete for resources then civilization will collapse. To rapidly get the message out and create the necessary change to move to a scientifically grounded, resource based, sustainable economy we have to get smart, pick our fights carefully… and learn from past mistakes.
The classic mistake, discussed in Death of Environmentalism, is to be too literal and too narrow in focus allowing the agenda to be pigeon holed as special interest; a bitter irony seeing as nothing in the human domain can exist without the ‘environment’. We need to reframe the argument. Or to put it another way, we should stop talking about the environment altogether.
To succeed we must reframe sustainability as a journey to increased freedom, happiness, more and better quality time and stronger communities. We need to build our campaigns upon values that run deeper then the distorted values (use a different word for values?) that have emerged from the temporary aberration of industrial capitalism and its associated distorted culture. For example, rather than being anti-car lets be pro healthy, local communities where people can live and work without the need to regularly commute long distances.
Aside from the overarching problem of talking as though the environment was special interest or peripheral to the ‘serious reality’ of human affairs. 2 (two) critical mistakes that we keep repeating in campaigns are 1) being negative (or unpopular) and 2) not being ambitious enough.
First up, Nic Marks explains clearly in this very important Ted Talk how describing nightmare scenarios does not motivate people to change. It leads to a fight or flight response. Either: fight the environmentalist, run a mile, or ease yourself gently into the cool, slow waters of denial.
Environmentalists have made the mistake of telling people the world is going to end and then telling them to stop doing something they like. A classic case is the sustained, high profile attack on aviation. Campaigning against flying in general (as opposed to new airports or short haul) alienates people in the middle ground who may be sympathetic to environmental issues but not so much that they are not prepared to stop flying altogether. It allows the media to portray the green agenda as detrimental to the happiness of the masses when societies happiness is actually fundamental. The infamous Plane Stupid video of polar bears falling from planes is a case in point. This isn’t going to stop people flying it will just confuse and upset them and possibly make them angry.
Furthermore, aviation clearly serves an important role for humans above and beyond holiday travel. Ask anyone with a lover or family member on another continent how they feel about aviation being banned and you will see why this is always going to be an unpopular ‘victory’ at best.
Technically the argument is weak too. We can make space for well regulated aviation in a future sustainable world. It just requires we take a global perspective on resource use and ensure that the eco footprint of aviation is an agreed proportion of the total human eco footprint that we have scientifically ascertained the atmosphere / biosphere can tolerate.
In contrast, there are many parts of our bloated, inefficient, unscientific economy that do nothing for human well being but have vast ecological footprints. The most obvious waste of resources resulting in declining well being is war as explored in ‘peace… or die’. Much of our infrastructure is inefficient by design as explored in ‘this is not a chimney’. What about the fact that we import and export the same amount of lamb and apples to New Zealand? This vacuous element of globalization is monstrously dim-witted. Even the free market apostles who relentlessly sell us myths standing on a smoking planetary pyre must have trouble explaining how it in any way makes sense to endlessly ship products around the world when local alternatives exist. Or why we should create something called ‘waste’ which we return to nature by the billions of tonnes?
Looking through this lens we see that the environmentalist obsession with attacking aviation is misguided. Our priority should be stopping behaviours with big eco footprints but low utility. Aviation has immense value and attacking it will make the green agenda unpopular at exactly the time that we need to be igniting a poplar mass movement.
Greens are waking up to the fact that Martin Luther King changed history by saying ‘I have a dream’ (not nightmare) and that rather than beating with a stick we should be luring with a carrot. For example: if you live / work locally you will have healthier communities and more time with you family; if you cycle or walk to work you will be slimmer, healthier and save money; if you have interesting hobbies using your creativity you will be saner and happier than if you spend every weekend in the shopping mall.” These are the hallowed sustainability double dividends explored in more detail on the Green and Happy page; ways in which we can boost well being whilst reducing our eco footprint. Collectively these activities make the happier, healthier world we are trying to move to and should be the first behaviour changes to go for. HRH Prince Charles is ahead of the game (again) with the launch of his new Start Initiative which promotes positive activities.
The next campaign issue to address is low ambition. We have been watching with dismay as the UK 10:10 campaign (which started with such a flourish) seems to have shrunk in ambition so low to a point that it has now morphed into a campaign simply to get the UK government to shift the daylight savings times. Even this small, logical change apparently requires a campaign (with requests for donations and fax-your-mp click-throughs!). Couldn’t this kind of small step be achievable through a well presented argument or report put to the right parliamentarian? There are only so many times we can mobilize people to take an action so when we do we should make sure the outcome is worth it.
So let’s dream big; imagine the future we want; be ambitious and go for big popular issues that will make a significant difference to our world. First up… the Work Less; Live More Campaign.
NB: Before launching any campaign it is highly recommended to check the excellent Campaign Strategy website.
All you really wanted
Which is to say
You only wanted more.
Ram Tzu knows this…
What you now have
Is all you’ll ever have.
On the last Friday of every month something strange, spontaneous and spectacular happens on the streets of central London. The roads are congested (as always) however; they are not filled with big, heavy, dangerous machines that spew out poison gas. They are filled with cycle fanatics who insist on propelling themselves around the place under their own steam; powered by whatever they last ate. This is Critical Mass and it’s a wonderful improvement to the city.
For a brief time this enthusiastic, motley assortment of London residents join together to reclaim the streets and celebrate their freedom of movement. The giant mobile herd is diverse composed of people of all shapes, sizes, colours and affluence; bound together by the shared love of self propulsion.
This melange of misfits meets up on the South Bank at 18.30. The air is buzzing with excitement as friends reunite. Beers are cracked open, bikes admired and tales of surviving on the mean streets of London traded.
Soon the crowd swells like water behind a damn and the air is filled with the dinging of bells. Anticipation gives way to urgency and the cracks in the damn start appearing as the first brave riders head up the ramp to the Imax cinema roundabout and off into the heart of the city. The hive-mind has been engaged and without an agreed route or leader the peloton surges forth to find its way to an unknown destination.
Once beyond the safety of the South Bank you find yourself on roads which have had their ownership seized by the sinister Cult of the Car. So powerful is this cult that the membership is utterly convinced, despite all the evidence that it is reasonable to sit in giant polluting snakes of mechanized metal along the arteries that traverse our giant human beehives. They have suspended rational thought to the point that they cannot see the obvious truth that cars and cities don’t go. Like square pegs and round holes, metal and microwaves and turds in swimming pools.
By invidious means the perverse, sociopathic behaviour of these cultists has been normalized so that London is now permanently shrouded in a haze of pollution and death on London’s roads is an accepted part of city life (4000 deaths by air pollution, 184 deaths by traffic collisions in 2009, 3043 serious injuries). This is the price we are all supposed to pay for the mythical individual convenience that leaps out from billboards but never comes close to manifesting in a city where millions of people are compelled to share limited space and move about each other in some kind of harmonious diurnal cycle.
Maybe it’s a power thing, maybe it’s a class thing or maybe it’s the myopic and inapt conflation of technology with progress. Whatever it is, car drivers are convinced the road is theirs as if cars always existed and always will. Car drivers naturally assume that they always have priority over cyclists. So when drivers have to wait as a giant swarm of happy riders surges by in front of their over-engineered wheelchairs they literally start having a nervous breakdown. They froth at the mouth, throw their rattle out of their motorized prams, bang their neo-luddite skulls against the steering wheel and curse the unjust laws that prevent them from teaching us once and for all that cars are mightier by driving through us in a glorious eruption of fossil-power.
They scream out of their windows that they are trying to get somewhere and how dare we be so inconsiderate as to hold them up. They might think we would care but they are speaking to the wrong audience… big time.
There is not a single person on this ride that doesn’t have to daily put up with the gross imposition of the car. Day after day we breathe in their fumes, wait as they block up huge sections of the city and weep as they kill our friends. Day after day we peer into the windows of cars filled with solitary occupants and try to comprehend how the system screwed up their weak little minds so badly that they think this offensive behaviour is okay. They are crapping in the swimming pool daily and like thieving mps they say it is okay because it is not against the law. For once they can wait. The bikes are biting back.
It might not seem like much but actually it is. This is the sharp edge of a wedge of dissatisfaction against the tyranny of the car. A critical mass of dissent is growing on the streets if London. For one evening a month, for a couple of hours, we take control of the streets. For a fleeting moment in time we can cycle in safety surrounded by friends and music. We can see the city as it could be…. as it should be. Open and flowing, alive not dead.
This is what cities in the future will be like. And the happy and healthy residents of these cities will remember these pioneer cyclists who took a stand for something they believed in against seemingly insurmountable odds and raise a glass to them.
More photos from Critical Mass: