29.02.2016 - 29.02.2016
So I'm still living in Almaty, along with the coldest part of the year. The city is lying under a few inches of permafrost, and the surrounding mountains are white with snow (I wrote this about a week ago. It's now sunny and warm). Around noon the roof of the hostel porch is bombarded by sheets of ice sliding off the top roof, sometimes waking me from a midday snooze. I always take a cautious glance upwards when I step outside. So far so good.
Since nothing much has happened I thought I'd write a letter instead. It's something I've been meaning to do for a while. I chose now because living in a city again, amongst mankind's madness, I felt compelled. I appreciate this may sound like an angry rant, but for those of you who know me well you know that this is a subject close to my heart, and like anyone who writes of these, it's almost impossible to remain dispassionate. I apologise if it's verbose at some points, but there is so much to say, and as much as I try to reign in my tangents, my emotions sometimes get the better of me. It is intended as an article of how I believe humankind has been mislead by those able to mislead, whether through ignorance or negligence, and how ultimately we are all responsible for undoing the damage that has been done, and modifying what it is we will do; in us lies the problem, and therefore the solution.
I don’t pretend that I'm not a hypocrite. I like bikes and kites, I use Facebook, I take trains and I sometimes fly. That said, it doesn't change anything; reality is still reality, and like so many things in life, it is not as simple as choosing one or the other. When we make our choices we often take with it a fragment of the other. I appreciate there are many out there who are aware of the following, and who act upon it. So when I write of 'we', I write of myself and many, but not all.
Sounds like a good pitch? Please, bare with me and read what I have to write.
My path is patterned with contrasts. Different colours, habitats, foods and cultures. Nature sitting in stark contrast with urbanisation. Oil tankers and container ships bob up and down on the gleaming surface of the sea; a road winds it's way up a valley, making it's way to the lowest point between two mountains; a distant mountain range is severed by two smoking factory chimneys. And it all lends perspective; something which is rapidly disappearing from our eyes.
Many of us are too busy in boxes; living in boxes, driving in boxes, working in boxes, eating in boxes. And then within these boxes we choose smaller boxes. We spend much of our time flicking through Twitter feeds or down Facebook walls, burying our minds in a mass of binary junk. And it's closing us off. Like Chinese dolls, we've hidden ourselves away. We've shut our eyes and ears, trusting a handful of people to tell us about our world; celeb columns, news channels, supermarkets, multi-nationals, TV adverts, personalities, billboards; all a mass of information which only concerns the world we have constructed. Crucially, it is only the human world; not the real world. In general we turn a blind eye to the real world. When do we ever read in the papers or hear on the news anything concerning the environment? About the air around us filling up with poisonous gases, or the rubbish that's building up in the hedges we travel past every morning? True, there is the odd story here and there, but they are side-lined; displayed at the end of the pages or of a broadcast, and this completely undermines their significance.
This disconnection is so much more damaging and dangerous then we realise..
All this 'human' information pales in significance to the global environmental meltdown. Why? Because, perhaps with the exception of war, it doesn't threaten our very existence. We're like the frog, and the environment is the water. Put the frog in boiling water and it'll jump out. Put the frog in warm water, bring it to the boil, and the frog will slowly cook to death.
Of course there are good things happening. Recycling, the EU working towards a zero waste circular economy (have a look at the Ellen Macarthur Foundation - a fantastic organisation which promotes circular economy thinking), the slow popularisation of green culture, green technology. But these come nowhere near to offsetting our output. Wind turbines - the forerunner of the green energy movement - are a sham. They're unreliable, high maintenance and take huge amounts of energy to manufacture and install; an example of how capitalists are exploiting the green movement. Governments and corporations want bigger economies, more businesses, bigger armies, more manufacturing, more TV channels, more flights, more trade. There is a possibility that a man who embodies all of these things may become the next president of the US - god help us. Children are more spoilt then ever, and there are more new versions of everything almost every year.
Having looked at the curriculum in the UK I came across no significant obligation for children to be taught about the environment. Only a couple of weeks in Geography. Environmental ethics should be it's own subject, as significant as Maths, Science or English. But instead we provide the tools for the future generations to continue on the current course. Like Adam with his apple; the power without the responsibility. More businessman, more designers, more engineers, more financial wizards, churned out into an intoxicating climate of excess. I would say the current schooling institution is outdated and irresponsible, and it needs to be changed; a greater proportion of time committed to environmental teachings, with particular emphasis on responsibility.
As for the green initiatives, these are schemes that only first world countries can afford. What about China, countries in Africa, and India? For anyone who's taken a train in India you would have no doubt noticed the constant pile or rubbish that flanks the tracks, standing a couple of feet high. On a ferry in Tonga I watched people bag up the packaging of their food, and simply throw it into the ocean. They are savouring their slice of modern living; enjoying it's 'fruits' without any thought of the consequences. And third world countries have yet to. All this aggravated by the explosion in world population.
Kazakhstan is a country in the midst of a transitional economy, and the indulgence and excess is palpable. 4x4's driving around with one or two passengers; bins overflowing with rubbish; glitzy shops selling the latest whatever; all lying under a thick layer of smog.
As example of why the lifestyles that these far off countries choose affects all of us, I offer the following.
I'm sure some of you have heard of The Great Pacific Garbage Patch. It's a gyre of plastics, chemical sludge and other man made materials, located roughly in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Although no true size has yet been proven, it is believed to be at least the size of New Mexico. The environmental ramifications are almost too horrific to think about. Tiny pieces of plastic are suspended just below the surface. Here they are ingested by microscopic marine life, where they enter the food chain. Toxic chemicals, resultant of the break down process, leach into the water and interfere with animal hormone cycles. Birds and marine life often die because they mistake pieces of plastic for jellyfish, or some form of food.
A study was conducted on the Albatross population of Midway Island. Of the 1.5 million said to inhabit the island, almost all were found to have plastics in their digestive system. 1/3 of the chicks die from being fed plastics by their parents. 25% of the 20 tons of plastic washed up on the island every year is eaten by Albatrosses. Have a look at the following Wikipedia article - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Pacific_garbage_patch. The other day I read about an Orca Whale that had washed up on a beach. Following an autopsy it was found that the cause of death was a pair of shoes it had ingested. Not exactly the BBC's Planet Earth.
So why does the environment matter so much?
For all the problems we can find about our relationship with the environment, it all boils down to one simple, undeniable state. Like a mathematic equation, if you like. I will try explain as best I can, in probably far too many words.
Humans, like animals, need 3 fundamental things to survive - water, food and air. These are all provided by nature. But with our hands on the hammer we have driven a wedge between ourselves and nature. What is the wedge? The economy. Instead of picking berries off a tree, we buy them in the supermarket. Or instead of enjoying clean air, we put petrol in our cars. That's one of the ironies of science and technology. On the one hand it enables to understand how we need these things to live, and on other hand it provides us with the ability to destroy them.
So what is the economy? It is system of trade for everything that we have both extracted and derived from the environment; oil, concrete, metals, lumber, fish, plastic, computers, planes, bog brushes, micro chips, bicycles, cars, clothes etc… basically everything that is an existential extension of ourselves. It is this process that it compromising our environment - the very thing that enables us to live. The forests are being chopped down, the oceans are filling up with plastic and oil, and we are depleting the populations of animals until they are no longer able to sustain themselves.
So why do we love the economy? Why do politicians babble on about it as if it where there own child? It's simple. It exists to remedy our relentless pursuit of the self fabricated concept of 'happiness'. Everything we create and buy feeds our desire to have something better, because we think that it will make us happy. But it doesn't, because if it did, then it would stop, and if we really needed it we wouldn't be here in the first place. So what's the point really? There is no point. Put it this way. Do you really think having an Iphone 3 will make you less happy then having an Iphone 6? Or the latest Mercedes from the old one? If your answer is yes, then is it worth the sacrifice?
I'm not saying we should all go back to living as cavemen, which is essentially what my argument is advocating. That's of course asking a little too much. But we should extract principles from it. To strike a compromise, and cast off the excess.
How do we change? Moderation, relevant education, communities, localisation of domestic services, resourcefulness. A psychological revolution; understanding, modesty, compassion and humility. A desire to understand and consider the world beyond that of the human. To break down the concrete, metallic and digital barriers we've made for ourselves and open up our eyes to what humanity really is doing to this world. To wean ourselves off mindless consumerism. To overturn the current selfish, toxic system of ignorance, denial, and indifference. To look beyond the spheres of humankind; personal, families, nationalities, religions and races. To think of the contents of this world as one, intrinsically linked organism, because that it exactly what it is.
If your looking for inspiration then I believe there's no greater source then nature itself. How animals live harmoniously with the land, without destroying it. We marvel at ourselves for all our technology, education and intelligence. But really, we're the stupid ones.
With the exception of the paragraph on ocean plastics, nothing that I have said here has been read from a book, or understood from a documentary. It's simply extracts from my own observations, and if you agree with what I have written, then you should now understand perhaps my biggest point. That we don't need to wait to be told what to do and how to do it. We simply need to put down the Iphone, the tablet, or whatever, remove that voice from our heads, and look around. Because when you do you see reality, you see our world for what it is, and compelled by it, you will also see the solution.
My litter petition is a start. Please check it out @ https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/118853.
If we don't, then the following words of the Cree Indian Tribe will be all too relevant.
Only when the last tree has been chopped down. Only when the last river has been poisoned. Only when the last fish has been caught. Only then will we realise we can't eat money.
Change something now. Read and research. Support green organisations. Start projects and movements. Pick up litter. Consider a courier change. Campaign. Get involved in politics. Hassle supermarkets and other polluting organisations with letters/pressure groups. Public displays of whatever to raise awareness. Support/create green charities. Write a letter. Do anything that you think will make a difference for good. It's up to me, and it's up to you.