I have mixed feelings about COP26, seeing both the positive and negative from the outcomes. Clearly not enough was committed to, to keep us at or below the 1.5oC the planet needs, however resolve to return annually with progress and more ambition is important. Sadly, key countries returned immediately to their fossil fuel frenzy, seemingly uncomprehending of how their words and deeds are not aligned. This is, unfortunately, unsurprising.
Once again, the annual spectacle begins as our consumptive, bloated societies, wind up, gorging their way in celebration of a new, manufactured Christmas. Starting now, with the blackest of blacks, Black Friday, and racing full steam until into the New Year, we have replaced seasonal gratitude with expectation. The Dicken’s Christmas ghosts are just that, whispers of long abandoned values. We seek their messages only with a nostalgia for the bygone age. Christmas now, is radicalised by slogans and fake-sales.
For several years, many of my family and friends have lessened their impact at this time of year. Only buying secondhand or local, spending only a certain amount, making or creating something themselves, all appreciated tactics for people who already know they have really everything they need.
I know this thoughtfulness is expanding, yet the constant bombardment of advertising on our senses is nearly impossible to bear. We know the hard truth – buy, buy, buy = bye, bye, bye – yet, the sparkles and glitter play to our fears and societal expectations. My local shops are already filled with plastic toys, all myriads of shapes and sizes. All of them both wonderous creations of human invention and shameful waste. Their useful lifespans limited by their fragility, destined to outlive us for generations to come.
Isn’t there something better we can buy our children than something that is diminshing their future? How many others are now questioning themselves, how many more than the few of us who have changed already? How many others can take the further leap, disappointing their families and friends, requiring the explanation of why they chose not to participate in the jolly Christmas game of giving?
Like a recovering addict, I now revel, largely safe in the knowledge I am beyond advertising and its fearful clutches. It has taken time to shake off the shackles. Importantly, I know that the danger still lies around every website. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy Christmas immensely, warm fires and cold noses, frost, gloves and warm socks, family, friends and good food. What’s not to love? Gift giving is still joyful, more so because each limited present (only ever for children now) is more meaningful. All the children I know, including mine, have sooo much and need nothing. What they need is our attention and natures touch.
To seek our greater future, which is still achievable in retaining beautiful and wonderous life, we must hold hope and vision collectively. I have been privileged to spend time with a fallen tree. I am privileged. Not yet have I faced the danger of the weather, as our neighbours in Canada or elsewhere are facing. I know the devastation hangs heavily in the heart of many. I feel this pain in my heart and it hurts. In the quiet time I have spent with this tree, I connect once again with the landscape and its changing season.
A truth is, our economic model is unsustainable. It is eating itself. Growth without limits, in nature unnatural, trying to defy the laws of physics and the physical reality of the earth. We have solutions to alter our path. By steering economic value to that which includes social and environmental factors, circular and doughnut models, and people-led, local businesses, we can restrain the global economy to one which sits within the confines of the environment needed to support it. We will be building wealth collectively, one that future generations really can enjoy.
There is no global, one-size-fits-all approach. The conversations and actions we take now, with colleagues, family, friends and others we meet, need to address the realities, fears and challenges. These exist and must be addressed. Creating a just transition will need a depth of critical understanding, translated into policy and immediately, action. We do not have to rely on short-term politicians to resolve this crisis. Their flaws are our flaws, no more and no less.
Waves of meaningful actions are taking place across our planet. Everyday, no matter how small the action, these are building together. I have watched a community garden grow and die, from the first plant pushed through a chainlink fence to brighten the detritus beyond, to its closing celebration with a hundred or so people from the community holding hands in a circle as they accepted its development fate. That ephemeral garden lives on. I speak of it, as I’m sure others do, and hold the journey of our collective empowerment as a flame within.
The recent contentious wildflower verge, mown before its time, is another example of what might be deemed a failure, yet it is not. Not every park or green space is saved, not every polluting infrastructure project is stopped, but some are. All, like the community garden, build something else. A collective energy and awareness that we have agency over our fates, our communities and the places we live. Action begets action.
Eat, drink and be merry for the season. Dampen the need to buy obsessively and spend your hard-earned money on artists and experiences, local businesses and artisans. Take time to reflect on these turbulent and exciting times in which we live. There is hope and joy, music and dancing. Be human my friends.