Sometimes the truth isn’t so obvious!
Yesterday, I wrote a post under the title of Running on empty! I listed just a few recent items that had left me feeling very dispirited. Trust me, not a familiar place!
I also raised the question ……
All of this is sending out a message. The message that if we are not very, very careful this could be the end-game for human civilisation on this Planet.
But do you know what really puzzles me?
It’s that this message is increasingly one that meets with nods of approval and words of agreement from more and more people that one sees going about one’s normal life.
…… then didn’t expand on what was puzzling me!
Let me come at this again; in full!
But do you know what really puzzles me? It is the terrible lethargy across so many societies. The lack of any substantial social and political force for change. Especially, when so many scientists involved in climate research are warning we are leaving it dangerously late.
I’m no psychologist; far from it. But I want to recount a true story that gave me an insight into one of my own delusions. Please stay with me because it does have a message at the end of it! 😉
Many years ago, I spent 5 years living on a boat in Larnaca in Cyprus. My boat was a wonderful heavy-displacement ocean-going yacht. A type known as a Tradewind 33. Here is a picture of my boat.
For years I had devoured all the books written by the great yacht sailors who had sailed the oceans, many of them completing solo circumnavigations of the world. Part of me wanted to sail the oceans.
Living on a boat close to me was Les Powles. Many will not have heard of Les but this quiet, softly-spoken man knows a thing or two about solo ocean sailing. As an article in The Guardian newspaper explained (in part):
In the 1980s and 90s a British man called Les Powles sailed three times round the world – always single-handedly, once non-stop. He couldn’t afford a radio transmitter, and on his greatest adventure he didn’t speak to anyone for 329 days. At 84, his circumnavigating days are now behind him, but he still lives on his boat, the Solitaire. What’s the appeal of sailing, I asked him. “It’s the solitude. When you’re out at sea on your own, there’s no government or bankers to worry about. You’re not responsible to anyone but yourself.”
Three times around the world – solo!
Thus getting to know Les was a great inspiration in getting me over the hurdle of can I really do this! (Les once said to me “the first three days are the worst!”)
Thus it came about that I departed Larnaca and worked my way Westwards along the Mediterranean, eventually arriving in Gibraltar. After a few days getting ‘Songbird’ ready for my first ocean leg, Gibraltar to the Azores, I took a deep breath and headed West out into the Atlantic Ocean. Frankly, I was a tad too late to be starting out but the thought of spending a Winter in and around Gibraltar was too much to contemplate and, anyway, it was only 8 or 9 days sailing to the Azores; a distance of 1,125 land miles or 980 nautical miles.
Fewer than 48-hours before my estimate of coming into Horta Marina on the Azores island of Faial, Songbird of Kent was struck by an early, fierce Winter gale. I seem to recall it was touching Force 10 Beaufort Scale (54 – 63 mph or 48 – 55 knots).
Anyway, it just about finished me off: literally as well as psychologically! I was so frightened, so utterly scared that I could think of nothing else other than getting to Horta and never going sailing again.
It revealed my delusion!
It proved that I had been in love with the courageousness of those many ocean sailors that I had read about. In love with the idea of a solo Atlantic crossing and being seen as a courageous hero. But, in truth, utterly in denial about what ocean sailing was really about!
Are We Bothered?
May 16, 2014
The more we consume, the less we care about the living planet.
By George Monbiot, published on the Guardian’s website, 9th May 2014
That didn’t take long. The public interest in the state of the natural world stimulated by the winter floods receded almost as quickly as the waters did. A YouGov poll showed that the number of respondents placing the environment among their top three issues of concern rose from 6% in mid-January to 23% in mid-February. By early April – though the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change had just published two massive and horrifying reports – the proportion had fallen back to 11%.
CarbonBrief has plotted the results on this graph:
Sustaining interest in this great but slow-burning crisis is a challenge no one seems to have mastered. Only when the crisis causes or exacerbates an acute disaster – such as the floods – is there a flicker of anxiety, but that quickly dies away.
Why is it so difficult to persuade people to care about our wonderful planet, the world that gave rise to us and upon which we wholly depend? And why do you encounter a barrage of hostility and denial whenever you attempt it (and not only from the professional liars who are paid by coal and oil and timber companies to sow confusion and channel hatred)?
The first thing to note, in trying to answer this question, is that the rich anglophone countries are anomalous. In this bar chart (copied from the website of the New York Times) you can see how atypical the attitudes of people in the US and the UK are. Because almost everything we read in this country is published in rich, English-speaking nations, we might get the false impression that the world doesn’t care very much.
This belief is likely to be reinforced by the cherished notion that we lead the world in knowledge, sophistication and compassion. The bar chart puts me in mind of the famous quote perhaps mistakenly attributed to Gandhi. When asked by a journalist during a visit to Britain, “What do you think of Western civilization?”, he’s reputed to have replied, “I think it would be a good idea.”
Our erroneous belief that we are more concerned about manmade climate change than the people of other nations informs the sentiment, often voiced by the press and politicians, that there’s no point in acting if the rest of the world won’t play its part. For example, last year the Chancellor, George Osborne, remarked:
“I don’t want us to be the only people out there in front of the rest of the world. I certainly think we shouldn’t be further ahead of our partners in Europe.”
But we’re not “the only people out there in front of the rest of the world.” In fact we’re not in front at all. As this map produced by Oxford University’s Smith School suggests, we are some way behind not only some other rich nations but also a number of countries much poorer than ours.
As for the US, Australia and Canada, they are ranked among the worst of all: comprehensively failing to limit their massive contribution to a global problem. We justify our foot-dragging with a mistaken premise. Our refusal to stop pumping so much carbon dioxide into the atmosphere is pure selfishness.
Both the map and the bar chart overlap to some degree with the fascinating results of the Greendex survey of consumer attitudes.
For years we’ve been told that people cannot afford to care about the natural world until they become rich; that only economic growth can save the biosphere, that civilisation marches towards enlightenment about our impacts on the living planet. The results suggest the opposite.
As you can see from the following graph, the people consulted in poorer countries feel, on average, much guiltier about their impacts on the natural world than people in rich countries, even though those impacts tend to be smaller. Of the nations surveyed, the people of Germany, the US, Australia and Britain feel the least consumer guilt; the people of India, China, Mexico and Brazil the most.
The more we consume, the less we feel. And maybe that doesn’t just apply to guilt.
Perhaps that’s the point of our otherwise-pointless hyperconsumption: it smothers feeling. It might also be the effect of the constant bombardment of advertising and marketing. They seek to replace our attachments to people and place with attachments to objects: attachments which the next round of advertising then breaks in the hope of attaching us to a different set of objects.
The richer we are and the more we consume, the more self-centred and careless of the lives of others we appear to become. Even if you somehow put aside the direct, physical impacts of rising consumption, it’s hard to understand how anyone could imagine that economic growth is a formula for protecting the planet.
So what we seem to see here is the turning of a vicious circle. The more harm we do, the less concerned about it we become. And the more hyperconsumerism destroys relationships, communities and the physical fabric of the Earth, the more we try to fill the void in our lives by buying more stuff.
All this is accompanied in the rich anglophone nations with the extreme neoliberalism promoted by both press and politicians, and a great concentration of power in the hands of the financial and fossil fuel sectors, which lobby hard, in the public sphere and in private, to prevent change.
So the perennially low level of concern, which flickers upwards momentarily when disaster strikes, then slumps back into the customary stupor, is an almost inevitable result of a society that has become restructured around shopping, fashion, celebrity and an obsession with money. How we break the circle and wake people out of this dreamworld is the question that all those who love the living planet should address. There will be no easy answers.
Tomorrow I will offer my own reflection on all of this – and finish off the story of me and ocean sailing!