I have just returned from an enjoyable seaside holiday with my grandchildren and was reflecting during one (rare) idle moment on the beach about the legacy that will be left to them.
These thoughts were prompted by the inspirational address given by Pam Lunn to the Resilient Future conference held at the University of Lincoln in July about the extent to which we are facing, as she put it, a slow motion, but relentless collapse of the whole globalised, western-inspired and unsustainable capitalism.
Pam talked about the notion of Earth Overshoot Day which is as close science can get to an estimate of the gap between our demand for resources and how much the planet can provide.
Earth Overshoot Day, a concept developed by the Global Footprint Network and the UK think tank New Economics Foundation, is the marker of when, in each year, we begin living beyond our means.
This year it was August 20 which marked the date when humanity exhausted nature’s budget for the year. We will now operate in overdraft for the rest of the year and this has been going on since the mid 1970’s when we crossed a critical threshold when human consumption began outstripping what the planet could reproduce.
As Pam Lunn pointed out, in Britain we spend at the rate of about 3½ planets every year. The problems of financial debt that the global economy is currently struggling with are nothing compared to the ecological debt we are building up. We can’t refinance, default on, or write off ecological debt, and we can’t indulge in quantitative easing; there isn’t another planet we can borrow from, and we can’t create a new environment.
One of the issues that Pam discussed was the sense of powerlessness that many of are likely to feel about what you can do in the face of what seem to be global forces way beyond the power of an individual’s ability to influence.
There were several helpful things she had to say about this. Firstly, that we all need to take personal responsibility for the things we can do something about (and which a lot of people are already doing)
As Pam reminded us, it’s all those things we already know about but may not yet have fully implemented in our own lives: insulate our houses, use less gas and electricity, reduce our travelling and change our means of travel, eat less meat (or none at all), reduce all consumption and waste, re-use, repair and recycle everything we can, shop less, shop local, reduce food miles, grow your own, compost food waste, buy without packaging, cook fresh food from scratch instead of buying processed food, and so on.
Pam added many of us are already doing some of this, some of the time. We all need to do all of it all of the time, consistently and reliably, forever. I repeat: forever; this isn’t like going on a diet and then having a binge. It boils down to consume less, consume less of everything, consume much less of everything.
Secondly she went on to address the issue of the sense of powerlessness and fatalism that can be a reason for doing nothing. The powerful idea, first expressed by Marshall McLuhan that ’there are no passengers on Spaceship Earth, we are all crew.’
The first essential according to Lunn for turning passengers into crew is to prepare for interruptions in our normal supplies of energy, food and goods and services, get used to handling these things and being resourceful.
Of course many people already without some of these things already have, as a matter of course, often become very resourceful and self reliant.
But what Lunn says is everyone needs to learn how to grow food, how to make, mend and fix things. Between us, as extended families, networks of friends, and local groups and communities, we need to take back the hand-skills that the modern world has ‘outsourced’ to mass production on the other side of the world.
Lunn left us with the salutary thought that we either achieve one planet living or we all perish.