Hello my name is Neil and I am the environmental equivalent of an alcoholic.
In fact I am Exxon, Bhopal, Chernobyl and the Torre Canyon.
I am another climate denier and my hands drip with the blood of forests, mountains and oceans.
There, I said it. That feels better now.
You see, as someone who has worked as a professional environmentalist for thirty years, seeking to protect it from our human excess, I developed a terrible habit of pointing the finger at others. But I never acknowledged my own addictions to things and my own part in the excesses of western culture.
I have a car, computer and smart phone, I overheat my house in winter and overcool it in summer. I fly on aeroplanes; I buy out of season foods. I have a house full of gadgets that could easily be shared through common ownership given how infrequently they are used.
On these electronic devices, I can look at a world seemingly in turmoil, dying from the painful and excruciating process of a thousand cuts. Each of these slashes tears at my heart, yet I too wield a knife and I am one of earth’s assassins.
Like alcoholism then, one needs to recognise and accept the problem on a personal level before transformation and healing can take place. It is not everyone else’s fault, I too am the problem, right here and right now.
A while ago I was invited by the wonderful people at The Good Men Project to become part of a team running a Social Issue Group on the environment. I accepted straight away began to think of articles and what to do. I saw many positive projects that I wanted to share, I also had many more examples of environmental outrage that I wanted to post. Slick memes with powerful images, but all of them were about this mythical ‘other’.
I could have sat there and railed against corporate greed and reckless pipelines, but I am an oil junkie. I could feel the anger when I read about sweat shops and child labour, but I’m typing this on a computer that is built on the tears and lost dreams of childhood. I could go on, but you get my drift.
I realised pretty quickly that within the group I would either be preaching to the converted or engaging in polarising and futile debate with someone ‘on the other side’.
For a moment I was a little lost and unsure on how to proceed, then, as ever, the truth was there staring me in the face.
All I can do, and in truth all any of us can do, is to start with ourselves. First and foremost to remove any feelings of guilt and anger. We cannot feel guilty about being here, or as being a member of our species. For with this guilt comes anger, hopelessness and increased separation from what we are; an inextricable part of nature.
We cannot force or shame people into green behaviours because this will always be a chore and not an act of reverential communion with this beautiful planet.
Rather we need to engage our hearts, not only loving ourselves and each other, but the world around us. We can never truly save what we don’t love. It all starts with love and guilt has no place here.
How do we generate that love for this planet?
By reconnecting ourselves in a more profound and integrated way with nature.
Starting with families and education, but also at every level of business, planning and decision making. The cities and our production systems need to be greened, not to save the planet (that’s just the effect) but rather to create beauty and softness in our lives. To bring pleasure and joy into the places we live and work. In so doing we begin to foster respect and awe and we start to heal ourselves of the addiction to things.
But this all starts with the personal, with me looking into the mirror and accepting that whilst I am part of the problem, I am also the solution.
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