Gaining the world, leaving your soul in the woods.

On Saturday we drove up the A23 to visit my sister and her family in Croydon.  Just before the motorway starts, there is a piece of dual carriageway that winds a little as it climbs a steep hill.  Until recently, the road went through mature woodland.  Now it goes through a barren landscape of tree trunks.  The road is being straightened out and widened to three lanes each way.

I am so sad at the loss of some lovely mature trees, all for the sake of shaving a few seconds off the journey time for motor transport.  I will admit that I don’t often use the road, and hardly ever in peak times; I have never been in a traffic jam there, and it’s only the gradient that slows me down.  I will also admit that I find hold-ups frustrating.  And I will admit to being sentimental about trees.  But was it worth the destruction of several hundred beautiful trees (and the habitat they provided for other wildlife) in order to speed up the traffic?  Roads are ugly, most cars are ugly and something ugly seems to happen to many people’s attitudes when they get behind the wheel of a car. They seem to regress through several millennia of evolution, back to the jungle where rules don’t matter, and the lives of people who get in your way or slow you down don’t matter, be they elderly, children, cyclists or other drivers.

Our culture is too fast.  We have become used to being able to travel distances that would have been unthinkable to our not-so-distant ancestors.  We seem to be willing to pay any cost in order to travel as quickly and conveniently as possible – family life, community, woodland, Pacific islands, polar habitats – all sacrifices worth making.

We are hell-bent on gaining the whole world at the cost of losing our soul.

I wonder what I do to opt out of this.  How do I say “no”, when I live in a culture so dependent on burning oil and travelling easily?  I have a few ideas:

  • use the car less.  Be more thoughtful about journeys I make, about planning holidays and about food miles.
  • resist the temptation to make economies of scale in church life.  The localization of life is surely part of a sustainable, low-impact future.  Small is beautiful in many ways, even when everyone seems to be screaming out for bigger, brighter, louder, flashier and high-impact.
  • learn to make do with less stuff, and perhaps less variety of stuff.
  • travel to Croydon by train next time.

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