Suffer the Little Children…

 

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The other night there was a piece on the TV news in which a child psychologist bemoaned the fact that children were being frightened by news about the Climate Emergency, suggesting that we should tone it down and perhaps not mention it in schools – I don’t remember the precise details – to which I said ‘Good! Children need to be frightened by it!’

That didn’t go down too well with my wife, who naturally felt that children shouldn’t be frightened.

And usually I would agree with that, but as unfeeling as it might sound I think it is right that they should be frightened by what is happening. It is their future which is inevitably going to be impacted by the actions we do or do not take in the next few years. Their future which our inaction will damage or destroy. And at the moment, that future looks none too promising.

If they are frightened they are likely to raise the issue with their parents, and the resulting conversation may result in more adults learning how imperative it is we take action, and perhaps beginning to add their voices to the demands for action.

And they will be far more frightened if their homes and schools are flooded, or their neighbourhood catches fire, or armed conflict breaks out, all of which look increasingly likely unless we really DO SOMETHING!

It is the actions taken by concerned and frightened children which have become school strikes, and which have led to the formation of Extinction Rebellion, and which may ultimately lead to a people-led drive to finally take meaningful action to try to prevent catastrophe.

So, sad as it seems, they need to be frightened.

We all need to be frightened.

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The Great Disconnect

There is a huge disconnect between the human race and the natural world. This is nothing new, of course, it is something that has gradually been developing ever since man first discovered farming and began to live in settled communities rather than living a nomadic existence. But it has accelerated rapidly since the onset of the Industrial Revolution, until we passed the point where for the first time there were more people living in urban areas than in rural ones. That may seem an obvious fact to many in the Western World, but that statistic is a worldwide one. 55% of the population today is urban, but the spread is very uneven. In North America, for example, 82% of the population today are urban, whereas across Africa as a whole it is only 43%.

This creeping urbanisation has had many obvious consequences, such as the growth of villages into towns, and thence into cities and finally into super-sized metropolises covering hundreds of square kilometres with hardly a tree or a bird to be found in some parts. Such as whole villages being abandoned as the population move to towns to find work, partly due to the growing mechanisation of farming and the demise of traditional rural industries. Such as a rapidly shrinking amount of land that can be thought of as wilderness. Even those areas that are not now covered with an urban sprawl may well be covered with farmlands or plantations, or large areas devoted to leisure activities such as golf courses which as far as wildlife and plant diversity are concerned, are little better than deserts.

And such as a growing and deepening disconnect between humans and the natural world.

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In small part, this is natural and necessary; it is a process that is inevitable as we evolve from a species indistinguishable from the other great apes in behaviour and purpose, into a species able to pursue activities unrelated to simple survival.

Of course, we have also become a species capable of wiping out our species and all other species, too.

But this trend seems to have accelerated at an alarming rate over the last thirty to fifty years. Of course, urbanisation continues to be a growing trend, the growth of technology continues to feed into areas such as farming, where we now have huge farms that can be operated by a couple of people alone, which might have required a labour force of maybe a hundred once, and we have social media and computers and gaming and thousands of on-demand TV stations.

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This last phenomenon I think is mainly the cause of what appears to be an especially severe disconnect between the natural world and the younger generations.

Now before everyone rushes to tell me of wonderful younger folk who love the natural world and who actively fight to protect it citing, perhaps, the incredible people who make up Extinction Rebellion, obviously there are many exceptions to this. But it is a trend. Before I retired, my job was teaching outdoor activities such as climbing or navigating, and I worked with many children and young adults. The environment in which I worked, of course, was the natural world. And although many of the youngsters who came along lived in towns or cities, there were also many who lived nearby, in a more rural environment. And what shocked me, was that so many of them had no better understanding of that environment than those that lived in inner cities.

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I met country children that couldn’t recognise an oak tree or knew what an acorn was. Country children who couldn’t recognise a kestrel. Country children who had no idea what wild garlic was.

As a kid, I lived on the edge of London. I don’t think I was in any way exceptional, but I would spend as much time as I could playing with friends in the woods and fields I could walk to or get to on my bike. We splashed around in streams and climbed trees, learned what different butterflies looked like, 037bfound stag beetles and slow-worms, caught minnows and sticklebacks, and absorbed a lot of knowledge about trees and birds and insects and mammals from books and TV programs and just being out in the country.

I assumed it was what all kids did.

But this seems to be no longer the case. I have already written about The Lost Words (here), the book written by Robert Macfarlane and Jackie Morris as a response to learning that supposedly common words such as conkerlost words and kingfisher and acorn are words that the majority of children today are unfamiliar with – something that would once have been unthinkable. And this disconnect seems to me the saddest thing. So much of our very rich heritage has a rural background, be it music or literature, architecture, leisure activities, or traditional crafts. And the same is naturally true for most countries and societies.

But to return to the reasons for this, I feel the rise of social media and on-demand electronic entertainment has been the largest single influence on the younger generation, especially, to the point where to the majority of them, pretty well all their leisure time is taken up with these things and there is no desire to explore the natural world at all.

Sometimes I think the electronic world is more real to many of them than the real world is, anyway.

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Sigh. I’m off to check the vegetable garden.

Feed Me! (2)

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There are millions and millions of bloggers out there.

That must mean there are a huge number of talented people beavering away writing posts that would really interest me, but who I have never heard of. And looking through the list of those I do follow, I can see that a large proportion of them have not posted for six months or a year or more. I hope that’s nothing to do with me…

But that must mean it’s time to track down some more to follow.

So if you have a particular favourite or two you would like to suggest I go and take a gander at, please leave a link in the comments box.

In particular, I like to read posts on India and Nepal, creative writing, and environmental issues, but my interests are by no means limited to these. I also follow quite a few others who post about the most diverse things.

I tried this exercise a year and a half ago, and the result was half a dozen splendid new (to me) bloggers to follow.

So, let’s do it again!

My contribution, then, are the following two bloggers:

Delhi-based artist Prenita Dutt blogs as Indian Saffron here and really deserves a much wider audience for her beautiful paintings.

Ellen Hawley is an American living in Cornwall, England, who blogs about the eccentricities, madness and just plain weirdness of much of British life. Full of dry humour and always very readable, her blog can be found here.

The Joy of Unknowing (1)

We have just returned from a few days away in Shropshire, which is one reason you haven’t heard from me recently.

We were incredibly lucky with the weather, and spent the time walking and reading and mooching around towns and villages. And finding time for the occasional meal and cold beer, of course.

Yes, we did some lovely walks. And I find it a natural thing to be constantly identifying and photographing whatever I see when out for a walk. I have always been interested in all aspects of the environment, be it the plants and animals, the geography and geology, the weather, or the historical impact of people on the environment in forms such as old trackways, deserted buildings, or ancient boundaries.

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And we have spent several fantastic days surrounded by an environment rich in all these things, as we have walked through woods, fields, and open hillsides, seen ancient settlements, butterflies, birds, and many wildflowers, and all this in an area of some of the most complex geology in the UK.

But sometimes I feel myself tiring of the constant need to identify and record everything; it is really a way of trying to own them.

And when you post on social media too, it can feel at times a little like a competition to put up the best pictures of this or that wildflower or bird or mountain, which naturally need to be identified and named. Especially on Twatter, whose format seems to encourage this.

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So, on our first morning away, as we walk up a track heading into the hills above Church Stretton, under early morning blue skies with the air crystal clear and beautifully cool, I decide that for now I am just going to exist in the moment.

Because by doing this, I am relieved of the constant necessity of deciding whether this bird is a rook or a crow, or whether that flower is greater stitchwort or lesser stitchwort.

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Because it doesn’t really matter.

And for now, instead of having to always know whether it is this or that bird singing, I can allow myself to simply think there is singing. There is birdsong.

Or, even better, there is a sound I find melodic, and it pleases me.

By doing this, I can relax and centre myself, which is something I feel has been badly lacking in my life recently. I have struggled with social media in any case, feeling a huge pressure to post new material and to read the many I follow, even when I don’t feel up to it.

It feels like a return to a much simpler time in my life. I can enjoy the views of the hills, the sounds of the streams and birds, and just concentrate on being.

This must have been part of the pleasure I felt as a child on every occasion when I could roam outdoors. Certainly, I was curious about what I saw, but since I knew so little about them, there was always an openness to the experience and the excitement of discovery. I would see butterflies I had not seen before, and I would just get the thrill of seeing them without having to know anything more about them. I would see wildflowers I didn’t recognise and just enjoy the shapes and colours.

Naturally, you cannot really unknow things in that way, just as you cannot really return to that point in your childhood, but it is possible, even if for only a short while, to let go of the need to identify and quantify (and therefore own) everything, and simply exist in the here and now.

Brexit, or Not – And Then What?

Over the last months comment has frequently been made that we need to be having a conversation on how to bring people back together after the divisiveness of Brexit.

Yet, I see no evidence of this conversation being had.

The whole atmosphere surrounding the issue is unpleasant and divisive, and frequently vitriolic, and however it is eventually concluded (if, indeed, it ever is), there is the prospect of a large number of bitterly disappointed and angry people making their feelings known and even the possibility of some turning to violence.

We urgently need to be having this conversation, and we need to be having it before whatever the conclusion is, happens. Otherwise those putting ideas forward will be constantly accused of smugness or bitterness or some other motives.

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Not sure why I chose this image – something to do with the whole sorry process, I suspect.

So how is it proposed that we bring people together who have held often bitterly opposing views and who have been, perhaps, shocked by the hostility with which they have been voiced? People who may feel that one-time friends have become unexpected enemies? A familiar observation on the American Civil War (the first one, that is, just in case another has broken out by the time this is published) is that it divided families and turned brother against brother, father against son, and friend against friend. This left a bitter legacy for years afterwards, a legacy that persists yet in some places over a hundred and fifty years after hostilities supposedly ceased.

It is this sort of legacy we must avoid at all costs.

Whether we leave or remain, I think it important to focus on this being a healing process, so the focus might perhaps be on the community and the environment, where there is the potential for all of us to contribute to the healing.

There should be purely enjoyable things, such as festivals and concerts, but also important issues should be tackled such as re-wilding and planting trees, or projects to help those disadvantaged in society. People might be encouraged to take part in this as a way to enable those of differing views to work with a common purpose. Whether we are in or out of Europe, community at a local level is important and is part of who we all are.

It is vitally important that we agree not to replay the arguments over and over again once it is over. The emphasis must be on how we move forward in whatever situation we find ourselves in, not point fingers and discuss whose fault it was in the first place.

There has been a certain amount of talk of the traditional political parties being no longer fit for purpose, and the possibility of them fragmenting. If this does happen, it seems likely to contribute to uncertainty and instability in the political process, perhaps with no party able to gain power outright in future elections. Like it or not, we would then enter an era of coalition government, much as is seen in much of Europe. If we have left Europe, of course, this would be rather ironic.

Strangely, this could be part of the conversation, as we will need to find a way to move on from purely adversarial politics, towards a point where parties look more for common ground. This was supposedly attempted with the Conservative / Labour talks on the Brexit plan, but neither side appeared to negotiate in complete good faith and I suppose I can think of several reasons why that was.

As an aside, it would be fantastic if every politician connected with the whole sorry process could be ditched and fresh untainted ones brought in, but I know that really is wishing for the impossible.

Yet I find it difficult to think of other ways a nation-wide healing process could take place, and so this is why the conversation needs urgent input from everyone.

Heathrow Airport Expansion

For my own sanity, I’ve had a week away completely from writing and blogging and all but the odd glance at social media.

Although if I had any sense, I’d stay away from the news, too.

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In my last post I suggested that if the Government were at all serious about tackling the climate emergency they would cancel the expansion of Heathrow Airport. I also said I was certain they would not, because I just don’t believe they either take it seriously or care.

This morning I read that the advisory Committee on Climate Change (CCC) recently said the UK’s planned increase in aviation would need to be curbed to restrict CO2, and that a ‘senior civil servant’ (whatever that means) has told a green group that means ministers may have to review aviation strategy.

The group says climate concern is so high the decision on Heathrow expansion should be brought back to Parliament.

Unsurprisingly, the Department for Transport has defended the proposed expansion, saying it would “provide a massive economic boost to businesses and communities” across the UK, all at “no cost to the taxpayer and within our environmental obligations”.

Unless you define ‘environmental obligations’ as an obligation to destroy the environment, an expansion of the world’s second largest airport to enable yet more flights to take place is NOT within them.

So there you have it. The official line is that we can all go to hell in a handcart, because economic growth is more important than the environment, or our children’s and grandchildren’s lives.

Revolution, anyone?

The Climate Emergency

Yesterday, history was made in the UK with Parliament passing a motion declaring we are facing a climate emergency, although if you look at news websites this morning you might be forgiven for thinking nothing had happened. Is that an omen?

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Are we going to see some meaningful action, now? I’d love to think so, but I strongly doubt it. The Political Right is in thrall to Big Business and vested interests, while the Left is more inclined to measure things by employment. As usual, there will be hand-wringing and lip-service paid to the ideals of cleaning up the mind-blowing mess we have made of this planet, and then all sorts of excuses why we can’t actually do anything that makes a difference.

The usual reasons are that it will impact upon economic growth and that it will cost jobs.

Not that there will be any of either of those when Earth begins to resemble Mars or Venus.

Yes, there has been some progress in some areas, but it all seems to be driven by activism and protest. This is why we need them more than ever. Without the School Climate Strikers, without Extinction Rebellion, last night’s debate in parliament would not have happened. It did so only because M.P.s were pushed into it.

All of the impetus so far for companies to change their policies with regard to the likes of excess packaging, changing plastic straws to paper, removing plastic from cotton buds and the like has come from activists, not from the government. From public pressure.

And so we must not only keep up that pressure, but ramp it up further.

If the government were really serious about tackling Climate Change, the first thing they should do now – do today – is to cancel the Heathrow airport expansion.

But they won’t. They will argue we need it for economic reasons, and therefore that earning money is more important than halting climate change.

In short, they will demonstrate an absolute disregard for the planet. I’d love to be proved wrong, but I won’t be.

Pathetic!

On the back of the climate change protesters in London this month, inspirational Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg yesterday addressed MPs at the UK Parliament. And she scathingly shredded our responses to the crisis.

The UK has, admittedly, done a little more to tackle the issue than many other countries, but compared to what is needed our response has been, quite frankly, pathetic.

There is still no political will to tackle climate change. Politicians would rather the protesters just disappeared and everything could go back to business as usual. But, no matter what they would like to think, unless there is drastic change, one day it won’t be business as usual any longer. Not for any of us. Their response to the protests? This is bad. People are being inconvenienced.

Inconvenienced?

I’ll tell you what the end of the world isn’t, it isn’t people tutting because their bus is a bit late because of protesters. It isn’t people getting angry because other people who care passionately about the world and its future are telling them uncomfortable truths. It isn’t people being ‘inconvenienced’. And it isn’t some already rich and privileged people having to pay themselves less to ensure that millions of ordinary people aren’t made homeless and destitute by rising sea levels, devastating weather patterns and disappearing farmland.

Inconvenienced?

I cannot tell you how angry that makes me!

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‘One day, my boy, all this will be yours’

As Greta Thunberg said, climate change is not a matter of opinion, it’s real. It’s a fact. It’s science.

And it’s not someone else’s problem – it’s your problem and it’s my problem. Every one of us needs to do more:

  • Turn down the heating. Maybe wear something warmer.
  • Switch off lights you aren’t using.
  • Don’t leave taps running.
  • Use recyclable bags rather than plastic. Re-use ones you already have.
  • Plant a tree in your garden. Two if you have space.
  • Refill containers rather than buy new ones.
  • DON’T buy bottled water!
  • Avoid plastics wherever possible.

And badger politicians and manufacturers to do more:

  • Go on protests such as Extinction Rebellion. Help to raise the profile of this issue.
  • Use public transport wherever possible. There are bonuses – here in the UK it’s often cheaper to buy long distance train tickets in advance than it is to drive, and you get the bonus of being able to relax and read or listen to music or whatever floats your boat rather than sit in a ten mile tailback on the M1.
  • Sign petitions – politicians are more likely to act when they know they are being scrutinised.
  • Fossil fuels will destroy the world. Let no politician tell you that renewables are not viable, because they are. And they are already economically viable, too. Only vested interests pretend otherwise.
  • Badger manufacturers to do the right thing – write to them and tell them you will no longer buy their products unless they are environmentally / ethically sound. If enough people do that, even those who really do not care will be forced to act.
  • And look at the Food Miles when you shop. Don’t buy food that has been transported halfway across the globe – buy a local alternative. And if that means you have to do without a particular food you fancy, well, is that so important? There are so many alternatives available.

Even if you don’t do this for yourself, do it for your children, and for their children.

Let nobody fool themselves. If we do not seriously tackle the issue now – as in NOW – then the consequences will be spreading deserts, rising sea levels flooding large areas of land, more devastating forest fires, wars over water and food supplies, and possibly other consequences too terrible to contemplate.

Now that’s what I call inconvenient.

It’s Time to Get Smart With Plastic

Let’s be realistic, we are not going to stop using plastic. It can’t be un-invented, and even the most die-hard environmentalist would not want a world completely free of plastic.

Why?

Because without plastic we have no electronics other than very basic lighting and heating.

No computers. No phones.

None of the smart machines that help to keep us alive in hospital.

Forget aircraft, other than the wood, glue, wire, string and cross-your-fingers ones of the beginning of the 20th century. They’d be propeller-driven and trips to the other side of the world would be a thing of the past, other than for the very rich with lots of time on their hands.

Although that brings up another environmental question altogether, of course.

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No, I don’t know why I chose this picture either.

What we do need to do is to get smart with how we use plastic, and what we use it for.

Most importantly, single use plastic bags should go. Period. So should all plastic bottles. Just getting rid of those items would cut plastic waste enormously.

We should return to using paper to wrap food products, and linen or paper bags to carry them.

This would limit what could be shipped long distances, and our choices, but we need to accept that.

There will still be those who say ‘I demand freshly picked paradiddles from the rain forests of the Antarctic and I don’t care about the environment!’ but society has to learn to say ‘Well, you can’t have them!’

But might we be able to have our cake and eat it?

Or even our paradiddles?

Possibly…there are already excellent alternatives to plastic bags, in the form of bags made from corn-starch, which is similar to the plastic ‘traditional’ plastic bags are made from, but really is bio-degradable. In fact, they are bio-compostable, which is one step up from being merely bio-degradable, in that they break down into carbon dioxide and organic matter only. This means that to get rid of them you simply chuck them on your compost heap and they break down rapidly. * but see below

There are disposable cups, food storage containers and much more already in use. And even the thickest items, such as corn-starch cutlery, take only 6 months to decompose once thrown away.

Why is there not a greater push towards using these worldwide?

Dare I suggest vested interests?

 * I am now adding a rider to this!

It seems I didn’t do my homework thoroughly on this one. There are problems in disposing of corn-starch polymers in that they have to be separated out from all other plastics, which is totally impractical since they look much the same, and cannot be sent to landfill sites. And if mixed in with ‘normal’ plastics, they contaminate them and prevent their being re-cycled.

Pah – I thought it all seemed too simple!

The (Shy And) Retiring Type…

A few days ago, I made the decision to retire from my present job.

It is something I have been brooding over for some while, and having a little time and space to think while I walked on Dartmoor last week enabled me to finally accept a decision I had really come to some time before.

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For a long time I have instructed groups in an outdoor environment, in activities such as climbing, canoeing, navigation and team building. As I have got older, though, I have naturally found these activities both physically and mentally more demanding. After all, when you are responsible for people’s safety as well as teaching them skills, there is an added pressure on everything you do.

A number of other stresses in my life over the last year or so have not helped, especially as they are still ongoing.

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So as well as a sense of regret, there is certainly a great feeling of relief. Regret, because I have had a huge amount of both pleasure and satisfaction from this work, which has carried me through those times when I felt it was becoming all too much, but relief that now it is time to call it a day, as I have reached the point where I know I cannot carry on for much longer.

I love being in an outdoor environment. It is why I choose to go to hills and woods and mountains rather than towns and cities, and this was instrumental in my deciding to teach these activities in the first place. But the obverse of that coin is that so often I am unable to really enjoy being there, since I am entirely focused on my group and the activities – which is how it should be, of course.

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One thing I shall look forward to, then, is being able to enjoy that environment every time I am there, without constantly having to check everyone is safe, or ensuring the activities are taking place as they should be.

While I intend to bring a greater focus to my writing, and also to my painting, I will also have to find something to bring in a little money for the next couple of years until I reach the state retirement age. I’ve no idea what that will be, yet.

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Essentially, I just feel burnt out. It is a very intensive job, in the way that care work, for example, can be, and I know it is the right time to go. Otherwise, there is the risk I will begin to run sessions that no one will want to take part in.

And that’s not the way I want it to finish. Far better that people should ask why I am going, than they should ask why I have not gone before now.