Monday, November 7, 2016

Climate Change and (in)Human Nature

A few people have shared a documentary, Before the Flood, in which Leonardo DiCaprio explores the topic of climate change, and what needs to be done today to prevent catastrophic disruption of life on earth. Because they are people who matter to me, I watched it. To me it was was nothing new. I knew it all - maybe not in exact detail, but certainly there is nothing there to surprise, nothing to make me gasp with sudden insight.

Or perhaps there was. I realised that for someone who knew it all, I have taken shockingly little action.

I remember when I was at university (1969 - 1973) I read Rachel Carson's Silent Spring and had that sudden shock reaction which changed my attitude to food and food production. I remember reading Vance Packard's The Waste Makers which told of planned obsolescence in manufacturing, and the sudden shock of that led me to buy the best quality products I could afford. I marched in the streets of Hamilton against French nuclear testing at Mururoa and against the Vietnam War. I was full of ideals and enthusiasm. I read about living differently - communities, communes, hippy back to the land, The Farm but I was always holding back, always scared of going 'too far'.

Then Mac and I headed off for a year and a half of Kiwi OE, to Britain and Europe. It was mainly fun and exploring a different part of the world, but occasionally there were sobering reminders of human destruction and cruelty: mile upon mile of crosses marking war graves in France; the concentration camp at Dachau, near Munich; IRA bomb threats in London; a visit to Scotland where some of my cottage weaver ancestors were made homeless and jobless by the industrial revolution and thus made the move all the way to New Zealand. But the fun times dulled the shocks.

Home in New Zealand I took more interest in healthy food, organic gardening, making my own clothes again. But then we behaved like good little Kiwis, and instead of joining a commune, we bought a house in suburbia and settled down, making concrete paths, including one leading to the Hills Hoist clothesline. We made vegetable gardens, and had babies, and though I did become a little alternative by moving to using various alternative therapies when ordinary medicine failed, and by homebirthing and homeschooling, I somehow drifted into living a pretty ordinary suburban life.

While at university I had also marched against Springbok tours, but in 1981 I did not march. I still believed, more than ever, that South Africa's apartheid was wrong, but could not bring myself to risk being arrested when I had a three month old, breast-fed baby. Or was that just a coward's excuse? I truly don't know still.

And so I leaned further and further into conformity and its comfort. I can say I use as little plastic as possible, grow as much of my own food as possible, make as many of my own clothes as possible, live as simply as possible and so on. But it isn't true.I could do so much more. I don't work in the garden in all weather, as subsistence farmers do. I have way more clothes than I need, most still bought, most still made overseas probably by slave, or near slave, labour.

Our home is huge, our sons grown and gone. Each bedroom is as big or bigger than a refugee camp tent, and there are New Zealanders, Raglan people, homeless, but here we are living, just the two of us, in a four bedroom house, surrounded by unused land that could be producing way more food. The part of me that knows these things is not strong enough. I can't even bring myself to take in WWOOFers to help us on our land. I'm so entrenched in the first world luxury of being able to indulge my introversion, my depression, my difficulties in understanding others, my fear of both attachment and rejection, and my personal comfort. I would be happy to share my home with any of my sons, but even that would be difficult. The local council rules are such that we could build a small 'granny flat' so that one of my sons could take over the big house, but I'm not ready to give up my big kitchen and pantry. I'm a typical selfish baby boomer, one of the ones who have been destroying this world with our burning of fossil fuels, plastic waste, plastic values.

I've been reflecting since I watched that documentary. I have four sons. FOUR sons! When I was at university we talked of zero population growth, and my contribution was going to be having no children. So much for good intentions! I gave in to the base animal instinct to procreate. I am so happy to have my sons in my life, but can't help but wonder when I conveniently 'forgot' my principles. Is it human nature to push to the back the difficult decisions, the painful actions, or is it just me? Or is it most of us, with just the special few leading the way, trying to drag the rest of us along, screaming and shouting and denying? Will my young friends who are aware of the realities of climate change retain their sense of urgency to change the world, or will they too gradually slip into the mediocrity of old age? I hope this new generation is stronger than me and mine.

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