Three things you can do to lessen suffering in the ecological emergency
We’re in an ecological emergency. This includes but is not limited to changes in the atmosphere affecting climate. This also includes the extinction of vast numbers of species, most of which we have not yet understood or even identified. This also includes the rapid polarisation of attitudes, so that someone who sees the world one way, with might as right and trusting in God won’t tolerate someone who sees the world another way, with rights for all and tax the rich to pay for a just transition.
The problems these issues create for us are threatening civilisation as a whole. The system cannot tolerate too much fracturing, too much of a pull away from a coherent centre. That’s what we face right now. But there are some things we can all do.
First, we can make small changes to our lives. These changes matter. This is dealing with the problem externally, as it were, but starting somewhere is all that counts. In https://institute.global/policy/planes-homes-and-automobiles-role-behaviour-change-delivering-net-zero we’re told that voters, or citizens, have low incentive to change how we live. It costs money and takes effort. Definitely, governments have a huge responsibility for putting technological fixes into place so we can use low carbon fuels, recycle plastics, don’t get sold stuff that’s unsustainably made, or eat stuff that involves exploitation and abuse of animals at a huge level. But small changes in individuals count. We only need to reduce how much we fly by six percent each to get to net zero. If you flew 100 times in the last ten years, you would now fly 94. If you flew 10 times, you would now fly 9. If you flew five times in the last four years, you could reduce that by one. This is a relatively small change. It just requires a bit of thought on the part of each of us. The same with eating meat. If we just reduced the number of times we ate meat and fish by one day, we’d make a huge collective difference. A meal without meat or fish that uses highly processed soya, or vegetables and fruits flown in from across the globe, is not the answer, obviously. Local vegetables, in season, are the best alternative. Pushing for local produce helps local farmers, and local businesses.
Second, we can create a conversation in our community. We can talk about what we’re doing and what we want to do for ourselves and our children. Being able to say what we want rather than what we don’t want is difficult. It takes a bit more imagination. But it’s interesting to find out how much we have in common with almost everyone else: we all want to live in a safe place among people who treat us with respect, we all want to be able to eat well and socialise, and most of us want to be able to learn throughout our lives, and to contribute to the community we live in somehow. We want to explore, and we want good health. We want to be loved and to love. These are all basic human needs and finding common ground like this helps us to realise that we are not as isolated and that people with different ideas about how to live are not all that different, in essence, from us.
The third thing we can do is to learn to be kinder to ourselves. This might sound like a strange thing to do in an ecological emergency. But being able to be compassionate towards ourselves is actually at the heart of how we treat the outside world. It’s a battle, too, for most of us, to fight the constant stream of self criticism, self doubt, despair, envy, rage and fear that we wake up with and that chatters away throughout our days. Meditation might help for some. Talking might help for others. Walking or running and noticing how beautiful nature, or the more-than-human world, is works for me. But so do all three.
We can often feel as though there is nothing we can do about the way the world is and that one person makes no difference. But if we consider that what we do is a mirror, in a sense, of what everyone is doing, then we can become the change we seek. We may not be able to avoid pain, and we may not be able to significantly reduce suffering in the world for the vast majority. But what we do in our homes and communities really matters, because it adds up, and that’s how change takes place, be it an avalanche or a revolution: a little shift here, a little acknowledgment there. Good luck and let me know what you think!