The environmental movement, despite Herculean efforts has failed and continues to fail. The evidence for failure is:
- Populations of vertebrate animals—such as mammals, birds, and fish—have declined by 58% between 1970 and 2012. More details at this link 2016 Living Planet Report
- We are on the business as usual scenario for climate change…this means we are headed for the IPCC scenario of a rise in global average temperature of up to 4.5 deg C by 2100. This is not survivable on many levels and may even be overly optimistic as it does not take into account many of the self reinforcing feedbacks we are starting see in the melting arctic. Read more here:
- Every mothers breast milk is contaminated with toxic chemicals from industrial civilization.
Why are we failing?
First off, we define environmentalists as a separate class of people, separate from the average person, which emboldens the myth that the environment is separate from “us” the human species. These so called environmentalists fight to preserve habitat, protect species, and reduce harm from being inflicted upon our human habitat, our fellow species and our planet. One would have to be insane to not see that our human habitat is the same shared habitat as for the rest of the species on earth. Most people in the “environmental movement” get this basic concept of inter-connection… It’s called ecology – the earth is a complex living system of relationships; relationships that work together to provide the necessities of life. So every time you hear about “environmentalists” doing this or standing up for that, simply change the word to “the people”. This makes a very powerful statement about WE and not THEY.
The danger in the continuation of environmentalists as being “they” or “them” is that “they” become targets. When you have people speaking out against Site C, “they” are moms, dads, farmers, First Nations, community members, students, scientists, economists, etc. More appropriately, “they”, should be called “the people”. The term environmentalist is actually a denigration and distraction to the issue at hand.
Secondly, our human civilization, culture and global economic system are profoundly broken. Even those of us wanting to live in a way to drastically reduce harm can only go so far…we are trapped. As an example, here at Eco-Sense we literally live in a MUD house and shit in a bucket. Our award winning home has been called the “world’s greenest modern house” as it achieved petal recognition with the Living Building Challenge. The home features living roofs, rain water harvesting, solar PV, solar thermal, earthen floors, earthen counters, recycled wood, recycled features, LED lighting, very high energy performance for the full lifecycle of the building, and a low carbon footprint, etc. However, the biggest thing that makes our home green is our lifestyle. Our lifestyle directly challenges the paradigm that cradles the economic system. Our lifestyle is not good for the economy.
- We use 90% less energy and water in the home than the average person in BC. We have less STUFF to plug in and and use energy carefully. (Conservation First)
- We grow and process the majority of our food here on site (or source locally) year round. We eat local ecologically raised meat and wild meat. (Local Food)
- We choose to earn less money. Earning less money means that we buy less stuff. The whole Less Life STUFF…More Life STYLE saying is one we came up with over a decade ago. (We don’t maximize our earning potential – we have better things to do with our life)
- Over this last decade, we have created sufficient diversified employment for ourselves that fits with our values. (Perennial food systems plant nursery, education, tours, consulting, presentations, rain water harvesting, writing, municipal politics, and more.) (No specialization… we specialize at being generalists…more fun)
- We don’t fly (Local Living)
- When my parents moved out we paid back their investment not through a bank or credit union, but through an arrangement with friends. This large chunk of cash coming from friends did not create more debt in the system and therefor did not help to fuel the growth economy. Our friends were able to then remove their funds that were invested in planet destroying activities and invest in us and our regenerative design initiatives. (Local Finance)
- We consider natural capital, social capital, human capital, financial capital, and manufactured capital in all our decision making. We make sure to factor in all forms of currency. Life is complex and beautiful.
- We have homemade wooden wedding rings (no gold or blood diamonds) as a symbol to each other and to the earth.
BUT sadly, even given everything that we do here, we still consume more than the planet can support. If everyone lived like us we would still need more than 2 or 3 earths. We acknowledge that there is only so much individuals can do…the system needs to change. In order to get to the next stage of living in a fully regenerative way, we need community…we all need to be in this together. It’s delusional to try and go it alone. Prepping is not going to cut it.
- We still have a car (used smart car), and a farm truck (filthy and old). (CO2 and mining). In 2016 we drove less than in all our prior years at Eco-Sense.
- We still buy a few new items like clothes, tools, and some garden items. We have fleece (micro plastic clothing) and plastic rain gear. Can’t buy used due to all the toxic fragrances people use.
- Buy coffee (organic and fair trade). (CO2, habitat losses)
- We each have a laptop computer (no green fully recyclable computers available)
- We purchased a pond liner (after trying for 5 years to seal the pond with clay).
- We buy pumps, tools, metal products, etc for the farm. (CO2 and mining)
- We use some concrete (BIG CO2 footprint)
- People drive here to buy plants (lots of CO2 and mining)
- We buy some mined products like aluminum, copper, coltan, etc which are in our electronics, solar panels, wiring, solar panel frames, orchard ladders, etc. (mining is toxic and destroys habitat)
- We produce some plastic garbage. (Toxics, and CO2)
- We buy some misc household stuff…but really try and look after it so it lasts a long time.
And the third reason why the environmental movement has failed is that many “environmentalists”, oops, I mean “people” standing up (safely from their desks) to work on environmental and human rights issues are not actually doing much to reduce their own impact. Many of the activist people out there are not walking their talk. They are flying the “flag”… and flying (the single biggest impact item we can do as individuals), and consuming, and spending, and wasting precious resources and carbon budgets all while preaching what we need to do. By not taking reasonable steps to curb ones personal contribution as much as possible many have compromised their moral authority.
Imagine a parent teaching their children to do as I say, not as I do – modelling action is immensely more useful. Action is the BIGGEST tool we have to effect cultural change. Walk your talk as best you can and begin starving the beast. By not standing up to the broken culture, to the consumption economy, many activists give power to the system as they are part of the system.
Now What? First and foremost, we need to start acting like we really want to see the changes we are working so hard for.
- Stop fuelling the system we desire to change by reducing our personal consumption. Live simpler lives. Walk our talk as best we can. When we are unable to walk our talk, we acknowledge this gap between our values and our actions and carry on. We don’t beat ourself up. Talking about our consumption/over consumption will go along ways to help change the story. Change the story : Change the system
- Work to change the system…pick something that you’re passionate about and go for it: economic systems, political systems, community building, health and wellbeing, equality, oil tankers, pipelines, dams, LNG, water, farming methods, old growth forests, invasive species, polar bears, carbon taxes, electric cars, transit, greener buildings, endangered species, butterflies, bees, small homes (tiny too), energy efficiency, local food, fragrance free personal care products, GMO’s, glyphosate and pesticides, oceans, the arctic, palm oil, rain forests, etc.
- Create a better system: The fun part – permaculture principles can be applied to everything from food, to shelter, to community, to governance.
- Stop calling people that care “environmentalists”…call them people.
- Give up on hope or attachment to outcome. If you pay attention to the full science, complexity and magnitude of our global predicament it will seem hopeless. Grieve it, cry, get over it, and then get busy. Find others to grieve and get busy with.
So what has inspired our latest rant? Many things, but primarily the documentary by Leonardo DiCaprio called Before The Flood. It’s excellent, However Leonardo is one of this earth’s single biggest consumers alive today contributing to climate change and mass extinction. It’s the ultimate in absurd to be an activist and not walk your own talk and this approach will only lead to more failure of the environmental movement. All activists need to live like they believe in what they are fighting for. (This is where Ann spews profanities, but Gord edits them out) We are literally toast if we don’t change our way of life – NOW. It was a stunning moment in the documentary where Leonardo is discussing with Sunita Narain of the Centre for Science and Environment in New Delhi, where he basically says that the American way of life is not negotiable. Seriously watch this documentary and then read the analysis by Rob Hopkins. Both are here on this link. http://www.resilience.org/stories/2016-11-02/leonardo-dicaprio-s-before-the-flood-a-review
So there it is…if we don’t change our way of life now, we are literally changing Life on earth to Hell on earth. In order to change the system, we need to change ourselves and the external system we live within. We need to change EVERYTHING.
And for those now depressed, we’re sorry. Please know that there is still abundant joy out there by living simply. Here’s what we do to help cope:
- Spend time with friends
- Spend time in nature (gardens, hikes, etc)
- Limit our time online or listening to the news.
- watch permaculture videos…seriously, they really help
- Cook and enjoy local whole foods
- Drink home brew/wine
Thanks for Reading,
Ann and Gord
Most awesomely , awesome. This is exactly what I’m writing to the folks that organize “EcoHome Tours” on Salt Spring. It mostly comes down to behaviour. Yes, indeedy. I feel like I should argue against something you’ve said to prove I’m not just reading/engaging with people in “my own bubble”. Except really! we’re all in this one bubble. A really awesome Eaaarth bubble. Oh shit. Thank you.
Thank you Gord and Ann! Yup, it is harsh to think at the macro level – and all to easy to blame others. I value that you have littered your rant with practical, clear and simple things to take a step, and then another, and then another… because that is where hope is. You continue to be an inspiration!
Thanks Christina. Watching your family transform is inspiring to us. Thanks for the steps you take.
I love this post! It made me wonder…is there a way to quantify how sustainable we are as individuals? And the point about environmental activists made me so happy that someone feels the way I do. A lot of political figureheads, including some at my university, love to preach and point fingers but don’t propose new ideas or change their own lifestyle. I loved your view.
I agreed with almost everything here :)!
Please also mention that garage sales and thrift shops are a GREAT place to buy what you need. I have only bought 1 pair of new pants since 2000, and it was a pair made of hemp and cotton, everything else is from thrift shops, same with blouses/shirts.
Things we no longer want/need go right back to our happy little thrift shop to find a new owner.
Agree Margaret. We often use used Victoria. However, sadly we are unable to buy used clothing any more as most is now covered in fragrances. At the larger scale, Gord and I are initiating a conversation for a free cycle program at Hartland dump and have prepared a motion for our council (for our Tuesday night council meeting) to request the CRD Environmental Services Committee to pursue this initiate.
Thank you! You are absolutely right! Permaculture is the solution, as well as turning the home into a place of production, instead of consumption. I absolutely LOVE your home and way of life. I enjoy your YouTube videos too and wish you would make more, although I know it’s time consuming, I think it really does show people how rewarding your lifestyle truly is….isn’t it time for Peak Moment to come back again😂
Thanks. I really liked what you said about turning our homes into a place of production rather than consumption.
As far as the videos go, yes they are lots of work. There are also some other videos available when you click on our “in the media” tab…not sure if you have found these. There are a few more 10-20 minute videos that are not part of our YouTube or Peak Moment series.
Thank you so much for this post. I think we are a kind of experiment (egocentric consciousness) and that may ultimately be what we are witnessing the unsustainablitly of (goodness gracious Mr. Decaprio!). I really agree that in letting go of hope we can find a kind of love and freedom that has the potential to transform us.
Many years we let go of hope, looking at it as energy invested in outcomes that we had no control over. When items we hope for do not come about, then despair consumes us. So instead we find much more pleasure in vesting our energies in activities intended to reach our goals, without expectation of outcome. It is so much more rewarding, we spend less time feeling consumed by the negative, and thus have so much more impact and reward and hence it reinforces the energies we invest in those activities. Not hoping for something is in no way a form of pessimism.
There are more and more people writing about the need to transition to a livable economy (one where we can save the environment and where there aren’t economic and “Jobism” incentives to destroy it) via advocating a universal livable income (aka ‘basic income’). To quote Socio-Economic Democracy writer Robley E. George:
“Four immediate environmental benefits of a universal, democratically set guaranteed income:
1) guaranteed income would financially allow people to refuse to work in industries which significantly pollute the environment. That reduces pollution.
2) guaranteed income would sustain people while they demanded nonpollution-producing jobs and even jobs to reduce present pollution. That reduces pollution even more.
3) the democratically set guaranteed income for all would allow more people to refuse to buy the significantly polluting products of industry.
Pollution is thereby reduced even further.
4) guaranteed income would allow more people to demand nonpolluting products from industry and even products and processes which ecologically complement other existing products and processes.
All this contributes to the well-being and welfare of everyone and everything — including the environment, solid, liquid and gaseous.
A really good article on the environmental reasons for a basic income is “Alive in the Sunshine” (Jacobin 2014):
“There’s no way toward a sustainable future without tackling environmentalism’s old stumbling blocks: consumption and jobs. And the way to do that is through a universal basic income.”
“But done right, a reevaluation of work from an ecological perspective could elevate the unpaid work of making a social, livable world.
“How might we do that? To begin with, by divorcing income from conventional notions of production, and by instituting a social wage in the form of universal basic income.
“But it marks a critical starting point in rethinking the relationship between labor, production, and consumption, without which environmental hand-wringing will go nowhere.
“More pragmatically, in providing an alternative to dependence on destructive industries and removing the threat of job blackmail from communities desperate for livelihoods, it makes change a real option, giving workers and communities more power to demand protections against environmental harms. It can start to reorient social focus away from an eternal game of consumption catch-up toward the good life.”