• High Tides

    To see the images of the floods and to be living though this mental weather we’re all experiencing brings up a probably predictable, though far from comfortable, variety of feelings. There’s the sense of disbelief and alarm at how rapidly water can rise, the incomprehensibility of it, the frustration at not knowing how it all can be checked or when this series of storms will finally calm down. Though while there are no shortage of immediate concerns for everyone affected, it’s heartening to see in the face of it all the practical help that volunteers and servicemen are providing round the country.

    But there is also of course the dismay over fingers being pointed at the Environment Agency who are so obviously already the victim of cuts in funding. At times like this the blame game gets us all nowhere fast. Though when the waters ease and we have some better sense of breathing space, there will of course be many questions worth asking and with a newfound sense of urgency.

    That the floods may be a sign of something we can expect much more of with climate change does little for any sense of peace of mind. And it’s obviously fairly staggering in the circumstances that our cabinet still holds members openly sceptical about man-made climate change despite the overwhelming body of evidence. If we are to do more than tinker at the edges of policy, or pour increasing funds into fingers-in-the-dyke-like palliative responses, if we have it in us as a country to respond fittingly to the great crisis of climate change, it’s clear we must be much bolder and more imaginative than ever.

    Anyone wondering about what an appropriate response might look like could do much worse than look at the Centre For Alternative Technology’s report ‘Zero Carbon Britain’, the latest version of which was released last year but which has been with us in some form for a mere seven years now. It would be easy to go ballistic on prescriptions at this stage and there’s no doubt there’s a great deal governments can do; encouraging more sustainable transport with renewed alacrity or cutting back and replacing climate impacting fuels – including fracked gas - with the kind of spirit and speed so clearly called for being two of the most obvious examples. Greater efficiency in our energy supply systems is also a huge area we tend to hear little about. The national grid for instance is estimated to lose a colossal 99% of energy in the process of generating and transporting electricity used for domestic lighting, including inefficiencies in our own homes.

    It’s also interesting to consider suggestions such as that of John Michael Greer who looks at a totally reformed system of taxes that accounts for our impact on that most essential foundation of our economic life – that of nature, the ‘primary economy’ that is awarded no recognition in our current economic system other than an apparently limitless base of resources. That those resources are anything but limitless and that the kind of weather we’re experiencing is a direct result of the strains we are placing on the ecology that supports us only helps demonstrate how out of kilter our priorities are.

    To simplify slightly, Greer asks whether we should be placing taxes on resources as they are extracted from the natural resource base and placing other taxes on emissions – the sting of which would be compensated for by cutting out other more conventional taxes altogether, governmental revenue and personal expenditure remaining consistent. The slightest mention of modifying taxes sends alarm bells ringing in many camps of course but if implemented properly it would represent a way in which more ecologically sound behaviour could be encouraged in corporations and individuals alike without any extra strain on their finances.

    But it’s wrong to look to government for all the answers. Perhaps the greatest changes that can be put in place sit in the hands of us all – there’s a huge amount we can all do and the time has never been more fitting for massive behavioural change. But it’s equally true that intention and consciousness can be malleable things and for at least the last hundred years many of our patterns of behaviour have been increasingly moulded by the effects of an advertising industry that has been growing more insidious by the day.

    It’s hard not to feel an inner wail of bewilderment for instance when stories on the news of fresh inundation are followed by adverts proclaiming that the best response to an unreliable climate and disrupted transport networks is to invest in the latest model of Saatchi, or which bring our attention to deals for cheap flights to transport us to the Mediterranean to escape the dismal weather here.

    Adverts aside, there has to be much more we can all do as individuals. We need to look with greater scrutiny at domestic energy use – from replacing electric kettles with those that go on the hob, from filling freezers with anything, even scrunched up newspaper, to avoid the toll of cooling empty space, to installing solar water heaters and encouraging all efforts for community electricity generating schemes that cut down on the huge embedded waste in the national grid as mentioned above.

    If seeking to do away with car use is a step no self-preserving politician can actively seek there’s a host of ways we can modify our transport habits, leaving car use purely for unavoidable trips, private car ownership being phased out towards more car sharing clubs in a way rendered all the more tenable as fuel costs continue to rise, with a vastly improved bus and train service taking up the slack to what should be an unprecedented extent.

    Really though, we have to all want to change. That doesn’t mean that we should compromise on the fundamentals of a decent life – it’s the great argument in favour of fracking that the anti’s are somehow slyly seeking to deny honest ordinary people with such basics as adequate heat and light. It’s not a reasonable assertion with the knowledge that the alternatives already exist – it’s simply a question of what we choose to invest in. But we also have to look more avidly at every opportunity for increased efficiency we can find. We need a more balanced relationship with technology where we get the best out of it without being subservient to all our gadgets – a move towards a better synthesis that makes the most of our innate capabilities and potential where machines remain tools, not the all-consuming media-saturating monsters they have become for many today.

    We need a profound shift in emphasis, one that redefines our priorities from an addictive technocracy to something which values that which holds a greater depth and resonance. If books, time spent in nature, crafts, live music, localised and humanely scaled industries, a resurgence of home economics and decently socialised lifestyles where we spend time face to face with other human beings (and consider ourselves rich for the opportunity) became the new hallows of our lives perhaps we might feel more keenly how good life can be when we enter into a sense of greater harmony.

    Perhaps we might feel to a more empowering extent that the appalling floods we are witnessing now carry with them too a kind of new opportunity to examine all the harder the way we lead our lives. That might not be much comfort to those with living rooms underwater or all those anxiously watching water levels up and down the South. But in the long run it’s got to be a better bet than an otherwise nihilistic downward spiral into denial, recrimination and lack of any kind of genuinely constructive response. The kind of future we can expect might still rest to a more than obvious extent with the power of our old imaginations.

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branchlines

The posts here originally grew from a website that was set up to advertise a book that describes things a long time ago. That book was always intended to address more than any single issue, even if it encompassed that as well.

At its broadest, I hoped it could help express how things can be when anyone of us acts on behalf of the environment, of their community, of our collective future itself. It was informed by far more than simply the times it describes; it was an attempt to articulate a feeling that has carried on and grown and means more than just a narrow 'us and them'.

I'm mainly working on other writing at the moment but thought there was probably something to be said for keeping these posts online while the issues they deal with remain relevant. I hope you find something on these pages that proves of interest or use as we all rise to meet the new times.

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