Last Saturday there was a demonstration in Montreal to highlight the need to take action to prevent continuing climate change. The attendance was reasonable without being particularly mighty – despite the fact that wildfires are still raging in various parts of Canada. There were speeches and songs and I’m sure everyone felt like we were doing our bit but…. it all felt fairly insignificant to me. Maybe I’m being negative but there just weren’t enough people there to feel like it was a social movement actually inspiring change. For instance, the leader of the Green Party of Quebec was there, holding his Green Party banner – alone.
The issue of climate change is a tough question, and we humans don’t appear to like dealing with tough questions about our own survival. In our time off we want to have fun, not gather together with a bunch of people doing something earnest.
This summer’s extreme heat has pounded the issue home again and again, it seems, with barely a denialist voice being heard now, thank God. The BBC has now accepted that its supposedly “balanced” interviews and debates about climate change were not actually providing balance but distorting the debate. Still, we know what needs to happen but seem powerless to do it. There’s a bind of some kind: currently our lives depend on fossil fuels, so we are implicated in our own destruction but unable to break the link.
The truth is that we fear the alternatives and what they appear to mean: that is, not travelling anywhere much, not heating/cooling our homes much, not having the convenience of shops providing us with the staples of our existence (food, clothing, furniture, etc.) from all corners of the world. Something has to change but the choices appear to be limited to:
- The alternative lifestyle choice: become totally self-sufficient. Some people can handle this – I can’t and I suspect that a large proportion of society is in the same boat.
- Increased taxation of the fossil-fuel elements of our lives: we don’t want this because it will hit us hard in the pocket. It will also be regressive, i.e. it will hit everyone equally, which means unequally, since those on lower incomes will be hit hardest.
- Incentives for low-impact lifestyles: this is great for people who have the capital to invest in things like solar technology, electric cars, etc. but not an option for people on low incomes.
- Radical political change: this brings to mind communism, which nobody wants (apart from dyed-in-the-wool Marxists), mainly because it would mean having to surrender your individuality – and that’s boring.
So then we’re stuck in a bind. Which is funny, because in yoga there are postures which are physical binds – for instance, one where you put one hand between your legs and catch it with the other hand behind your back – but they are challenging and useful to us, although obviously you can only hold the bind for a short time and then you have to release it.
Talking of yoga, we went to a yoga class yesterday and the teacher called our yoga practice “a worthy endeavour” – i.e. something worth doing, and not just for yourself but also for the general good. The phrase sounded good, too. Clear of religious or spiritual baggage; not earnest-sounding or intense; something to be proud of. Can we bring this same spirit to our climate-related work? It has to be something we practise regularly, perhaps with some guidance, and feel the support of our community. What could that be?
The only thing I can think of is joining with other like-minded people but also engaging with the realities of the world outside your group. And you have to be able to feel hopeful – that’s the key.
Next week: Why politicians are all the same and what we can do about it