Monday, April 02, 2007

The terror of graphs

Went to a really excellent meeting Saturday night launching a new Buddhists for the environment group in Cambridge. It was a sound turnout (although the organiser was disappointed as, I think, he'd thought he'd get around 100 people - which is setting the bar rather high).

I was not the only non-Buddhist there of course. Ray Galvin, one of the founders of the New Zealand Green Party and former Presbyterian minister, was speaking in his capacity as a WDMer as well as Shilpa Shah from the Akashi Project who is, I believe, a Hindu as well as a thoroughly lovely person (see note below).

Some of the interesting things about the meeting were a) how little the actual relationship between Buddhism and the environment was discussed. I'd thought that I might feel a little out of my depth if it got technical but the tone was kept very down to Earth and practical.

b) this was possibly one of the first meetings I've been to where power point has been used and it hasn't irritated me.

c) how frightening a graph can be.

Ray is particularly good at breaking down the scientific evidence into an understandable form without stripping away important detail or dumbing down at all. This makes his presentations very, very frightening indeed because, of all the future scenarios for the climate, very few end with the words "and they all lived happily ever after".

It's good to hear this, because these are the facts. If we pretend today we can do a little bit here and there without consequences in both the medium and long term then it wont make these problems go away.

Like most sane people I'm utterly daunted by the task ahead of us and this can lead to paralysis, or simply continuing to live my life in the same way as I did before. It's really easy to say "What difference will my little bit make? It's the government that has to do something."

Unfortunately that's a cop out. We'll never build a movement for change without integrating an awareness of the environmental impact of the human race into our everyday living. The government will be hard enough to shift (or move aside) if we can't even change our light bulbs.

More than this though - by creating a culture, or a community, of people who all take the environment seriously and are determined to lessen the horrendous impact we are having on the world we actually make it much easier for us to change our own behaviour too. It's no longer "what good is my little bit going to do" but "we're all working to make the world a better place" and that could, hopefully, have a wide ranging, positive impact.

We can improve our quality of life in (almost) every area and reduce our environmental impact - I firmly believe that - but will we do it, that I can't know. I can only try to make that happen as best I can.

Trying to build up a spirit - like that of the 39-45 war (without the bombs) - that takes the threat seriously but also harnesses the power of community to ensure we're focused on the problem from the bottom to the top of society is the only way we are ever going to have a fighting chance of reducing greenhouse gas emissions in time to prevent going over the tipping point. If that's even possible.

It's interesting that people I talk to are surprised when I mention I find the battle ahead scary, and sometimes I admit I'm full of pessimism about our chances. After all as an active activist shouldn't I be full of piss and vinegar - indomitable - and full of certainties about the kind of future we can make.

Thankfully no. But I do take Brecht's slogan seriously. "Sometimes when we fight we lose, but if we don't fight, we have already lost."

Note: I was wrong - she is an ex-Hindu with complicated and interesting spiritual beliefs.

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