Some weeks ago now, I sat in a lecture theatre at Newcastle University and listened to George Monbiot talk about economics and politics. 20 years ago, actually, even 2 years ago, I would have laughed my head off at the very idea that one day I might feel engaged, interested, passionate even about economics. I remember friends at uni who were studying it and I thought it was The Most Boring yawntastic subject I had ever encountered. There was nothing that could convince me that economics was a subject to throw my energies towards. To be true, I didn’t really understand it too much.
How times have changed. Recent connections with The Green Cloth Collective, No Serial Number Magazine, and writers like Monbiot and Kate Raworth have turned my head and caught my attention in a way I could never have anticipated. Why? Because I joined the dots between my eco-warrior heart, and the newfound understanding that world economy, and it’s impending, necessary shift, are stitched together like the patches of a quilt. It began with an article I sat on for a whole year about Eloise Sentito, with her landscape medicine in the form of beautiful hand-woven woollens, made on a wooden loom in the back of her camper van home in various stunning, remote locations in Celtic lands. (Eloise has written much on the subject (see her blog here) that’s also discussed at length in the group she created, The Green Cloth Collective.)
Essentially, there is a drive, a growing global need, to take our current economic structure, (which depends on growth, on making and using and discarding more and ever more “stuff” in order to be considered “successful” and with the needs of humans, animals and planet, not considered at all or considered last) throw it away, and start again. Understanding, finally, and being able to articulate, finally, that all my eco efforts and most of everybody else’s, were frankly in vain unless we can move into a new economy where the needs of humans, animals, eco systems, the land, the very earth beneath our feet are put above all else, has been an important journey.
In a report by the WWF, we are told that since 1970, a mere 4 years before I was born, we, that’s me and you and the rest of the human population, have wiped out 60% of wildlife populations worldwide. 60%. In my lifetime. The report talks about how we are on the very brink. The toe teetering, waving your arms in the air, trying hard not to plummet to your death, very edge of the cliff. Hanging on by our fingernails. That scene in Titanic – the one where Leo and Kate are crouching on the back of the ship, taking a deep breath before they hit the icy waves? That one. Except without life jackets or wardrobe doors to cling on to. And definitely no lifeboats to row back and save us.
And what will save us, and the wildlife populations, and the earth we depend on for life? The answer has been staring us in the face so long we just haven’t been able to see it. Or we’ve been taught incredibly well to NOT see it. Rejection of capitalism, of consumption, of planned obsolescence, of buying stuff we don’t need but want because it’s cheaper than it was yesterday, or will be tomorrow. Rejection of the corporate elites that put lining their pockets before supporting and promoting human, animal and planetary well-being. Rejection of the notion that’s been fed to us for years – that stuff will make us happy. I read this article by Robin McAlphine today, and it really hit the mark for me.
Except it’s not that easy, is it? When I began to write this, only a few days after the Monbiot lecture, I was sitting at the computer, with a heap of tabs open, items in my shopping carts, debating on whether I could justify spending money I don’t have on stuff the kids wanted for Christmas. Worrying about whether they would resent me when they’re older for trying to put my eco beliefs before their desires for lots of presents to unwrap on Christmas morning. My first Christmas as a single mum, and the desire to make it a magical and special time felt stronger than any other Christmas I have had as a mother. It’s so hard to detach from the stuff equals love/stuff equals joy equations. It’s hard when you realize you’re trying to make up for the shitty times they’ve endured, by buying them stuff they want (but don’t need), effing up the planet just a little bit more in the process just to see them smile and hear them woop with joy, as the house is filled with more plastic tat that will be played with for half an hour and then forgotten. It’s cognitive dissonance at it’s very best. It’s an emotional cycle which deserves to be smashed to smithereens. For the people at the back, (and mostly, for me) stuff, does not equal love.
As it was, Christmas was magical for us. It was declared by both my children as the best Christmas ever, and I strongly believe it was not down to the stuff in their Christmas stockings.
This year, before thoughts of Christmas stockings and magic, and the self-induced pressure to make it a wonderful time for my kids filled my head and my heart, I joined in with #buynothingday and shut up shop for the weekend, determined to dig my heels in and make my stand against Black Friday and the chaos of offers and deals that swamped my newsfeed and email inbox. I’m happy that I did, but some of the conversations that rose up out of a weekend of not buying anything other than food for the kids, have really resonated with me. Jane Grice, creative upcycler, retired fashion lecturer, and fellow member of The Green Cloth Collective, during a conversation about the buy nothing day activism being taken, said “I think the things we need to boycott are as you say the mass-produced tat. Small makers are the solution not the problem and so I don’t think you need to shut shop, just don’t buy mass produced tat EVER, not just on Black Friday weekend.”
And you know, I think she’s right. A hand-woven woollen shawl, such as the one I own and have written about at length, made by Eloise, will keep the draft off my neck and shoulders potentially for the rest of my life. A pair of handmade sheepskin slippers, that I bought 4 years ago and which are still going strong but can be repaired and resoled, could potentially last as long, saving untold long-term cost and resources and energy and time on the equivalent man-made, synthetic ones, made to break so you’ll buy more. Small businesses, making goods that we need and will use and can repair when worn, will be the ones to thrive when the sea has risen to swamp the low-lying plastic tat factories. But is it enough to wait it out, while small pockets of people wake up to the alarm call of ecological disaster, and work through their cognitive dissonance to a place of understanding and action? Is there enough time for slow burning action, do we need the collective voices of the crafters, the creatives, the heritage makers, the small business owners and the musicians and the writers and the artists rising up to make enough of a din that we are heard? If you go by the science (and we should) we really don’t have long. Pressure on the Governments to act (and act now) might be increasing – see this article written on 26/11/2018 by Caroline Lucas – but without the changes to our economic structure suggested by Monbiot and Raworth, and without these changes happening now, soon, yesterday, we may not get there in time. Governments and leaders in Industry and the oligarchs have no motivation to bring change. So it rests on our shoulders. And it starts with a turnaround of the things we base our happiness gauge on. Being happier with less – being content to have our basic needs met, for food, shelter, community with a lesser desire or need for “more”. Finding joy in that which is already around us – people, places, events – and not stuff. A bloody hard task, particularly at this time of year when the January Sales have already begun in earnest. So what to do? I’m going to spend this coming year really considering the purchases I make, asking if I need them, or just want them – can I live comfortably without? Can I buy second-hand, rather than new, handmade rather than mass-produced? Can I support those businesses which already operate a circular model, can I support those businesses seeking to reduce waste, can I challenge those companies that don’t? Can I refuse to be coerced into buying things I don’t need with money I don’t really have to spare? Can I step off the capitalist merry-go-round and stand sure-footed and joyful with what I have? Can I do all these things with consistency? They’re things which I do already, often, but not always, and which if I do, always, may make a difference. We are always going to need “stuff” but we cannot continue to consume and dispose of it at current rates. BUT! if we all step forward into a brave new world of less, standing together to reject the current economic system of growth as the only indicator of global wellbeing, accepting that the fallout will be sales plummeting, businesses closing, and perhaps, dare we hope, a new earth-focused consciousness in the way companies operate – we can surely bring change. Turning our backs on plastic tat, makes for a very good first step.
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