THE TURNING POINT
Co-written with Lucy Lepchani for Glastonbury Green Magazine, April 1990.
The needs of the environment are often in conflict with what society encourages us to see as our needs. And our real need, to live our lives in harmony with the environment, can demand a complete change from what society regards as ‘normal’. How best to cope with such a change, the psychology of shifting to a viewpoint which is outside of society’s conventional and mainstream, is an issue which needs addressing by greens and all those interested in radical change. The following article was co-written with Lucy Lepchani for the ‘Glastonbury Green Magazine’, published during Earthweek, April 1990. It concerns how to deal with the personal realisation of our own relationship to a planet in traumatic ecological crisis.
All of us are becoming more aware, all the time, of the ecological disasters facing the world. Suddenly, everything from eggs and spray cans to the Amazon rainforest and the temperature of the oceans is taking on a new kind of importance.
Both as individuals and as a species, we are realising how close to ecological and economic collapse we all are. And whilst none of us want to be part of the process that’s causing this disaster, we are realising how all these things are linked, small and large, and how we as human beings all affect each other – world-wide – by our everyday actions.
This is a profound change of outlook, similar in scope to the Renaissance realisation that the world is round, not flat. In the same way, it is coming to affect everything in our lives: art, commerce, religion, relationships, everything. And its implications – with the life of the planet itself ultimately at stake – are if anything more profound.
This is easy to say in a broad historical way; but what is most important is that the world is full of millions of individuals, each of us different, and each of us one by one waking up to the global situation. This means different things for different people, but each of us is affected personally and directly, for the problems and the changes needed to solve them all touch each one of us and the way we live our lives.
For each of us the particular questions raised for our own lifestyle is different; for many the changes in our personal lives can be huge, for some the effects can be shocking and traumatic. For every individual, to acknowledge the thoughts and feelings that come up is a turning point.
With all this going on, all over the world, it’s little wonder that dramatic political changes are taking place, matching the climatic changes brought on by the greenhouse effect, and the economic changes brought on by the break-up of the Soviet bloc. All these things are just beginning: the future holds mostly uncertainty, adding to the disorientation for many individuals. All we can say for sure is that in a generation’s time the whole world – including western Europe – will be a very different place.
Another factor is guilt: all of us have used CFCs or lead in our petrol, or poisonous garden chemicals, or products whose manufacturers abuse animals, pollute rivers, or ruin the health of their workers. All of us have put the health of the natural world in second place to our own desire for comfort or convenience, and the only real answer to the question “Whose fault is the mess the world is in?” is “All of us”: we all share responsibility. This in itself is hard to come to terms with.
Then there is the realisation of how much we are victims: all of us are polluted, some beyond redemption, by agricultural chemicals, industrial effluents, or nuclear power stations. All of us live in an environment that is degraded or completely ruined. There is no escape, with or without dramatic accidents like Seveso and Chernobyl. This fact can lead to feelings of hopelessness and powerlessness, which themselves will make things worse if we allow them to.
For there is also no escape from dealing with these things in our own personal lives – we all suffer from their effects; and also we all have to choose what we buy when we go shopping or what we do when we go to work, and we all have to explain to our children (as best we can) why the world has become the way it is. We are all forced to decide what contribution we can make towards creating a change.
The initial realisation of what is happening to our planet, the real devastating harm which is right now wrecking our only home, can be a shock, and the surge of emotions that follow is intense. But what we find there is a heart-felt common bond between people who have suffered the same shock, and this can be our lifeline. The importance of coming together in our communities and social spheres is crucial: we need a spirit similar to the one that won the war – but this time the task is to save our environment from destruction.
We can ignore it all and blame it on “the politicians” – or trust them to put things right with our half-hearted co-operation. But this doesn’t help if the food we are eating is becoming unfit to digest, if strange fluctuations in the economy or the weather can throw us off balance from one day to the next, and if politicians and “experts” are completely divided over what should be done, and how urgently whilst common sense is screaming the answers out loud.
We also have to bear in mind that Great Britain is being more and more vilified by the rest of Europe for being their “dirty old man” of pollution. This reality has been obscured from us by the establishment, at all levels and from all political persuasions, but it is the case. For the sake of our good name, as well as everything else, something has to be done.
But to do something is to risk becoming “anti-establishment”, looked upon as a problem, a social outcast, or even completely mad. Taking even a small step in this direction can lead to an enormous sense of being alone; whilst failure to do so at the crucial time creates tension, the danger of family or nervous breakdown, sometimes even suicide.
Certainly there will be an inner conflict, reflecting whatever outer struggle is going on. For all of us, it takes courage; to find strength we need to take time, to look within; to appreciate, learn about and enjoy nature itself; to become less interested in using things, more content to be part of things.
Return to Outer Expression
At this time it is important to remember that we are not alone. Millions of us are all going through it, one way or another. All of us share the same uncertainties and the same disorientation, though all of us of course react in different ways. Some become greens, “hippies”, or hunt saboteurs; some work quietly away within the establishment, trying to affect what changes they can; some put their energies into volunteer groups for conservation or recycling projects.
If we have come through despair, then just as the first breath of spring fills us with great happiness, so does reconnection within the mind, body and spirit. To have taken steps toward a new reality is to be empowered with choice, with control over our destiny, and with life itself.
The one thing we can all do is to come together, to offer emotional support, and to share our experiences, our concerns, and our ideas.
We can do this within our local community, both formally and informally, at work and at home, and amongst our circles of friends. We can do whatever seems worthwhile, as groups with sufficient sense of purpose to actually make things happen. And we can act within the wider social and political sphere, believing that widespread changes will follow on from what happens at the “grass roots”, amongst ordinary people, wherever we are – right here.
With this happening on a global level – which it increasingly is we have the perspective of an evolutionary event for the human race; a fragmented, divisive world in conflict, at last being drawn together with a united will, with on-going awareness, with courage and compassion and love. “May our hearts beat as one”.