An Elder's Perspective: Living in harmony with Nature, our only hope
Pat from Christchurch, New Zealand
I was born in England in 1935 and grew up with a love of Nature, of birds, insects, and moorland landscapes. I benefitted from a free education studying Biology at University. I came to understand the complexity of ecosystems, how living creatures are interdependent and cooperative. I understood this was the basis of life and it has informed my values and politics for the rest of my life. By this time I was living in New Zealand and teaching science at the local high school. Against the backdrop of New Zealanders’ love of the outdoors there was a growing public awareness of how the environment was being exploited, the logging of native forests, the pollution of rivers, and the use of pesticides. I joined the growing band of “environmentalists” seeking to protect the environment. I could not understand how those in power, and commerce failed to realise the disastrous consequences of their actions.
The story we have told ourselves for over a hundred years is of human progress. There seems no limit to human ingenuity and inventiveness. Medicine, technology, space travel, the internet, surely we have proved that the human brain can find solutions to any problem, and that is still a popular view. But has the day of reckoning arrived? Over the years prophetic voices, have warned that we have forgotten who we are, forgotten where we came from. Our ancestors were hunter gatherers, and for thousands of years lived as part of the natural ecosystem respecting the land and water, the trees and other creatures with which they shared the Earth. They made mistakes, but they learnt from them, and developed an intimate understanding of the natural world and their place in it. This is what we have forgotten. We have come to see ourselves as apart from the natural world, seeing it as just another commodity to be mined and drained and cut down, in pursuit of money and progress. We are at a crossroads, facing interlinked crises, climate change, ecosystem collapse, and social breakdown.
The nations of the world have come together through the UN to set out a pathway to lower our carbon emissions but the politicians, fearing it will mean a return to less affluent times, are reluctant to give strong leadership.
What can we do? Our priority must be to stop using fossil fuels which means thinking the unthinkable, dismantling the global economy. Currently we move millions of tonnes of goods around the world, food, logs, clothes, household goods, furniture, cars, trucks, as well as tourists and migrant workers. The transport emissions are enormous. The good news is there is an alternative. Local communities all around the world are organising to grow food in community gardens, to set up farmers’ markets, to repair and upcycle goods, to replant native trees, to control pests. I am part of a project which is doing all of these and running workshops to educate and encourage families and businesses to lower their emissions. We can set up community energy systems with solar panels on homes and schools and hospital roofs, where energy can be stored in old EV batteries and shared within the community. City councils are building cycle ways and funding community projects, improving public transport and rebuilding rail to carry freight and people. Government is already working to get rid of plastic, to outlaw obsolescence so appliances last longer and can be repaired. We can set up local factories, making goods we used to make but now import. Strong local economies provide jobs and keep the money in the community.
Life with lower emissions may indeed be simpler, but it will also restore social wellbeing and equity and make for healthier lifestyles. At the same time the ecosystems we depend on are returned to health and birds and insects thrive. This is the future I have chosen to work towards.