Recession: a hefty hammer of a word, capable of fracturing an impenetrable mob of environmentalists into many shards of differing opinion. There is a ‘less is more’ school of thought, popular among cynics, which teaches that less money in the pocket of the consumer directly correlates with more reckless pillaging of earth’s resources.
Optimists may prefer the ‘back to the good old days’ approach, whereby reduced spending power leads more consumers to engage in sustainable practices such as growing their own food and making and repairing clothes. Most of us, however, will regard both of these outcomes as characteristic of the current economic downturn. Currently, the optimists seem to be on the ball. We are hurtling headlong into a global economic ravine, but we have not yet hit the bottom.
Consumers are cutting back on spending and so cutting back on consumption. Walking, cycling and using public transport are becoming a necessity for many with less money to burn. Soon, re-use will be in vogue once more, and the installation of pocket-saving, long-life bulbs in every light fixture will silently become a voluntary international movement. With appealing advertisements and persistent reminders, consumers shall turn gratefully to finance-friendly energy- saving options.
It would seem that the tide in the affairs of men, as it applies to environmental issues at least, is poised, ready to flood. Shall we welcome it and utilize its bounty, or will we retreat to watch miserably from the cliffs, as all is washed away?
Now is the time for hard-hitting environmental policy to protect our natural resources, before we begin to scramble back up the growth curve. Now is the time when we can make an effective difference. By using financial incentives to encourage people to think Green, we are merely attending to the symptoms of our species’ ailment. Such methods feed into the dog-eat-dog mentality, which has created our current situation.
We need to attack the root of the sickness – the primarily human trait of accumulation. We possess an ‘all for one’ attitude which goes beyond the gathering of resources for survival; hoarding food, land and possessions simply because we desire them.
We want profit for ourselves, our locality and our nation. As we grab for more, we forget that we are also citizens of the world, and as we receive, something or somebody must give – until there is nothing more to take.
If we wish to ensure the longevity of our species, that is, the lives of future generations, the linear process of give and take must become circular. If the human race is to be able to hold its head above water in the approaching climate crisis, it must become a contributing factor of the global ecosystem, instead of the destructive top consumer. We need to use this opportunity, this gift-horse, to change more than people’s attitudes to CFL bulbs and energy ratings on electronics.
It is true that this is not a natural process; it is not instinctive to preserve rather than consume. Should we follow the desires that come easiest, assume ‘business as usual’, and allow the forthcoming climate catastrophe to play out? After all, the ‘fittest’ will survive, and if that category does not include us, that is the natural order of things.
For the majority of the human population, this truth is not something that can so simply be accepted.
Our basic instinct, when all is stripped away, is for survival. Like any animal, we will respond with ‘fight or flight’ when threatened. On this issue, warned of the threat well in advance, it would seem logical that we fight. We have become top of the food chain due to our ability to make conscious adaptations to our behaviour – if we can change, we can survive. To sustain each other and the earth, to survive as fully as possible, we must have everyone’s hands in the circle.
As ‘earthlings’, we dwell not just in Ireland, France, Italy or any country, but in the world, and we must defend it as strongly as we would any nation, for the good of the globe. This global force must come from the ground up, initiated by people speaking with their feet. As shown by the collapse of the Berlin Wall, civil rights movements and other major grass-roots actions, success lies in people power.
In times of economic depression, people cry out for a symbol of hope. Sustainable and environmentally ethical living can turn hope for a better future into reality. We can turn recession into a win-win situation whereby individuals save money, local economies are rebuilt and we make tangible preparations for the forthcoming global changes. We do not require a vast, international hierarchy to manifest this reality, but we do require each other. If we are not part of the solution, the problem remains.
I urge you to jump gleefully into the New Year of Recession and, in the words of Gandhi, seize the chance to “be the change that you want to see in the world”. If you smile, the world smiles with you – what would happen if you were to make a change?