“To individual Friends we issue a clear call to action to consider the effect of their lives on the world’s limited resources and in particular on their carbon usage. We ask Friends to keep informed about the work being done locally, centrally and throughout the Quaker world and to educate themselves. But above all that, Friends keep in their hearts that this action must flow from nowhere but love.”
– Minute 36, our Canterbury Commitment to sustainability
What would a sustainable world look like? We need to reduce our use of energy, of throw-away things, and especially of fossil fuels. In my visioning, this usually involves people working together more closely, sharing more generously, and focussing on interaction rather than material things; for other Friends with whom I have done this exercise, it looks very different. I’ve heard people speak about cities crumbling, or of more manual labour and less intellectual work. When I share my vision, people sometimes say things like ‘but you can’t expect everyone to get along’, and when I hear other peoples’, I frequently feel that as a person with chronic health problems whose talents run more to reading and writing than gardening (not that I don’t enjoy gardening!), I would have little to offer in those future worlds.
I do think that we need to look at the state of our communities, locally and nationally. Groups of common understanding, like Quakers, are good, and have a role to play; but what about groups of accidental commonality, like people who live on my street? I live in a building with three flats. I know the names of the people in the other two because I see their post, but that’s really all I know about them. It wouldn’t occur to me, when in need, to go to them for help, and I’d be surprised (not upset, but surprised) if they came to me over anything other than which night to put the bins out. I’ve sometimes thought about reaching out to people like them, and to others on my street; but the memory of the leaflet which came round a couple of years ago, moaning about how there are too many students and there needs to be a cap on rental properties, stops me. Students are busy, and non-students wish we weren’t here.
(If my readers are a typical Quaker audience, someone out there is probably thinking ‘but students are a nuisance! They are loud/messy/too many/etc.’ – I’ve heard this said in Meeting settings several times. I have no real reply; I don’t like the sound of drunken parties or bins left endlessly on the pavement, either.)
In my vision of a sustainable world, we travel less, and feel consequently more attached to the location in which we live. We move house less often, and get to know our neighbours better. We don’t dash around looking for a better-paying job, but go on living on what we have. We spend money where it’s needed – food, health – and not where it’s not – cutting our ‘defence’ budget, for example.
I have no idea how to get from here to there, though. If I get the jobs I actually want to do, I’m going to have to travel for them, move house for them, and work for promotion within them. I’m not going to get to know my neighbours. If my personal life continues as it is, I’ll probably live alone. If my health continues as it is, I’ll heat my house to ‘too warm’ and go on eating food and taking medications which are packaged in plastic. Above all, I have no idea whether that’s a reasonable course of action – it’s what most people would do, but is it right? What alternatives do I have?