We tend, actually, to group our environmental concerns under the term ‘sustainability’, but I didn’t want to wait until then to write about them. (I note, too, that when I wrote about Environment last year I meant it in quite a difference way.) In my mind, my environmental position has four aspects, one for each of the four most commonly cited Testimonies: Truth, Equality, Peace, and Simplicity.
The first step on a journey to sustainability is to care about, find out about, and support further research into the Truth about the situation. This is composed of the many truths which scientists establish by observation and experiment. If you’re not familiar with this body of work, I recommend starting with NASA’s page of evidence. In a world in which some people have not yet faced up to this evidence, are in denial about it, or just not sure what to think (or think that a snow storm in Yorkshire in January is somehow evidence that the polar ice caps can’t be shrinking or the globe getting warmer overall), it’s important to be clear about the facts: climate change is happening and human beings bear responsibility.
In responding to climate change, some people’s first instinct is to look after themselves. I’ve seen Transition Towns groups (generally a good idea) who wanted to only include the middle-class part of town. I’ve heard it said that because climate change will cause starvation in other parts of the world, we should tighten up our asylum laws and make sure we don’t accept too many refugees. I’ve heard a lot of people propose what the rest of the world should do about climate change (‘it’s no good unless the Chinese shut down their factories’, ‘we need to educate Africans so they don’t have so many children’).
I think, however, that in we need to hold on to our ideal of Equality – front and centre, even when facing the potential disaster that is climate change. We need to look at what we can do, as individuals and as communities: whole communities, for preference. We are actually all interdependent, and we need people to stack our shelves and people to study geology (to pick two jobs recently in the news). We need hairdressers and telephone sanitizers. We need politicians, too. I find it sometimes helps to hold my elected representatives in the Light while I write to them.
I’ve already hinted, I think, at how a commitment to sustainability will need us also to be committed to Peace. We will need to create peace in our communities if we are to work together, and the conditions created by climate change may lead to outright war over resources if we are not careful. Using those resources wisely, and being seen to share them fairly, will help, but it may need more than that. It worries me that even my Quaker community struggles with conflict (I’m not worried about us having conflict, there are always going to be misunderstandings and personality clashes, but that we struggle to handle it constructively). No wonder the wider community can’t cope!
Finally, Simplicity is perhaps the Testimony which people most readily connect with our Sustainability Testimony. Living a simple life goes along with trying to live in a more environmentally friendly way… except when it doesn’t. Don’t get me wrong, I think that often it does. Downsizing can be a move towards sustainable living (but remember, speaking, as we were a few paragraph ago, of equality, that not everyone can downsize and some people urgently need to upsize). Being focussed on what is important in life can lead to more sustainable living. Refusing to buy things to keep up with the Jones family next door can lead to keeping your life within a more reasonable carbon footprint. Going vegan or ordering an organic vegetable box (oh, the middle-class privilege!) can make life simpler and also be in line with environmental commitments.
I’m not sure, though, that fitting solar panels is simpler. It’s probably a good idea if you own a suitable roof, and it’s a very visible green statement. It’s complicated, though – researching the options and deciding what to do, the science and construction of the panels themselves, studies of shade and light to see how well your roof will do. Once you’ve got them, the electricity bills get more complex, too. Actually, a lot of things in this example can be generalised: it’s complicated to work out how to eat in the most sustainable way possible (fairtrade or organic? local supermarket, deliveries, home grown? Tetrapak or plastic bottle?), let alone buy anything else (new book already in this country or a second hand copy posted from the USA? DVD or cinema ticket? will my granny cope with my idea of a green present?). The things we buy are themselves complicated (parts made in many places, and usually travelled all over the country if not the world).
I’ve sometimes wondered whether the simplest things will last longest – setting aside foodstuffs, tools with fewer moving parts are easier to repair and maintain. The problem is that some complicated things are really useful. But if simplicity is ‘not having anything extraneous to your purpose’ rather than ‘the absence of complexity’, we might be allowed to keep our laptops and our solar panels while we are using them and source them responsibly.