Multiplication

Light-bulbs are boring. Carbon emissions are boring. Reducing your footprint is a worthy aspiration, but it’s reductive, it closes down and diminishes. It’s putting the cart before the horse.

Carts are boring. You can jazz them up, but it’s still a cart. The interesting bit is the horse at the front – that living being who can look you in the eye, who needs feeding and grooming and who might return a pat on the neck with a friendly nuzzle. Life is interesting. Tools are tools.

In the bible, in Genesis 1, there are two charges from God to creation. The first is in verse 22, at the end of the fifth day, when God blesses the fish and the birds and tells them to “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth.” The second is verse 28, spoken to humans: “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it …” OK, the charge to subdue and have dominion is problematic, although some argue it depends how you interpret it. What I want to reflect on is the charge to humans, birds and fish to “Be fruitful and multiply.”

There is a similar two-fold charge after the flood. In Genesis 8.17, Noah is told to bring out of the ark every living thing – “birds and animals and every creeping thing” – “so that they may abound on the earth and be fruitful and multiply on the earth.” A few verses later, (9.1) the same blessing is given to Noah and his family – to “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth.”

What do you think? Have these verses been over-fulfilled by humans and it’s time to stop multiplying and scale back? Could be. Certainly, we cannot continue with a way of life that would require more than three planet Earths when we only have one. The danger of multiplication is that it leads to more and there is an urgent need for us to stop at ‘enough’.

But I want to go back to my horse and the thought that life is good. Just as environmentally-concerned Christians have morphed Genesis 1’s fearsome concept of ‘dominion’ into the gentler ‘stewardship’, I think we may be able to find a way of being fruitful and multiplying that will lead to life that is flourishing, abundant and life-giving – for all.

Here I am going to borrow from Naomi Klein (in This Changes Everything) and her contrast of two mindsets – extractive versus regenerative. An extractive mindset is what’s been governing human behaviour for centuries. We take for ourselves what we want – coal, oil, timber, ore, food, water, whatever. Our focus is on what we want, and we apply our ingenuity to solving the problem of extracting as much stuff as we want. We are just starting to realize that we need to apply some ingenuity to the problem of what we do with the waste, because there’s too much of it. To an extractive world-view, multiplication is simply about having more. We will grow the economy, multiply the value of our property, have more stuff.

An extractive approach to the problem of excessive waste (including pollution) is to find ways of extracting less, mainly through becoming more efficient. We expect to maintain our way of life – keep the lights on, for example – while using less energy and other resources. It sounds worthy but it remains, at its core, extractive. It takes. Taking less is reductive and it’s still taking. And it’s like a boring cart. May as well make it a car (but a very efficient one), then there’s no need for that horse – because at the end of the day, there’s no need for life in an extractive world.

A regenerative approach would be more immersed and participative. It would be very mindful of what is put back into the natural system. We have to take – we have to eat and heat and so on. The question is, how do we give back and replenish, so that regeneration – new life – can happen? In a regenerative society, multiplication would mean putting more in than was taken out. A guiding principle would be that if you can’t add more back in, you can’t take anything out. We would live in order to multiply life.

In a regenerative world, we would pay attention to the relationships within systems. People more interested in giving than taking would naturally build strong and joyful communities. They would apply their ingenuity to inventing ways of growing food, travelling, acquiring and using energy, and so on, that multiplied life rather than diminished it. As more is put in than taken out, carbon emissions would go into reverse. But the focus would be on life, not on stuff. The focus would be on life that is abundant and flourishing, for all, including horses.

 

 

Autumn weeds

Hogweeds (cow parsley?)  tend to take over the wildlife reserve that is the end of the garden.  In the spring, I cut them down twice, but they were very determined and kept growing back, so I let them be.  In the summer, the flowers were visited by lots of different insects.

While enjoying my early morning coffee down there today, it struck me how beautiful these weeds look when they’re dead.

Hogweed 2

They provide a lovely brown contrast to the greens everywhere else.  They also provide good anchor points for spider webs.  The spiders are busy spinning all over the garden at the moment.  I like the idea of the spiders using these dead stalks for catching the flies that, a couple of months ago, fed on the flowers that grew on the same stalks.

Hogweed 1

What a shame it would be to cut them down.

I love gardening.

 

Camp

Last weekend I went to the Brighthelm Camp.  It started off as the church’s youth club camp in the 1920s, and those who go today are mostly the descendants of earlier generations of campers (or married to them).  There was a lovely, relaxed atmosphere and I was made to feel extremely welcome.

The camp takes place in a farmer’s field in West Sussex.  The only facility provided is a water pipe coming across the field from the farm.  One of the first tasks on Saturday was to dig some pits, the largest being for the waste from the latrines.  I helped make a gentleman’s ‘pissoirre’, which consisted of a piece of hessian cloth hung from 4 poles, to hide a shallow pit and the men urinating into it.

Over the years, the campers have learned ways for a hundred people to live happily in a field for a week.  This is the water boiler.  It’s wood fired and constantly topped up from the water pipe via a ball valve.  The tarp behind it shelters the fire pit, over which much of the cooking is done.

Camp boiler

This is a plate rack, hand carved years ago.  The plates are washed and rinsed in galvanised baths, then put in the rack to drip and be dried by the air and the sun, or further rinsed by the rain.

Camp plate rack

My favourite feature was the shower.  First I collected half a bucket of hot water from the boiler and half a bucket of cold water from the tap.  I carried these to the shower tent and poured them into a galvanised bucket which I raised up a pole with a rope and pulley.  Then I turned on the little tap linking the bucket to a watering-can rose and had a lovely shower!

Who needs the latest mod cons?  Life can be simple – all you need is some imagination and the will to choose a different way.

 

Why don’t I get out into the countryside more often?

On Monday, it was my day off.  My older son (just back from university for Easter) and I set out on our bikes.  We went down to the sea-front, along the eastern arm of Shoreham Harbour and crossed at the lock gates.  At Shoreham, we turned up the old railway line, now a trackway, and cycled along the river bank to Bramber.  Then through Upper Beeding, Edburton, Fulking and Poynings, where we had lunch at Rushfields Garden Centre and stocked up on supplies at their farm shop. Then we toiled up Devil’s Dyke and then coasted down back into Hove, barely having to pedal.

It was a dull day but mostly dry.  These little Sussex villages are so pretty and the countryside is just super, breath-takingly beautiful.  We really enjoyed our ride.   One of the things I love about cycling is that if you want to stop and look at something, you can.  You don’t have to find a parking space.  The freedom is half the exhilaration.  Physical achievement and going fast down a long hill combines for the other half.

Most of Sussex is covered by licences to explore for oil and gas through fracking.  I know that the landscape is already post-industrial (it used to be covered by trees – hence “Weald” from the Saxon for wood – which were cut down for ship-building, construction, iron-smelting and cleared for agriculture).  However, I think that it would be a crime and a sin to turn this beautiful countryside into a gas field – not to mention the harm that would do to the environment at large by burning all that gas and by the extra road traffic on the little winding lanes.  It seems a bit simplistic, maybe even sentimental, but is the beauty of the earth the best reason to look after it?

Talking of sentimental, I took some pictures and put them into a film.  It’s a bit rough and ready, but I enjoyed putting it together and I hope you’ll enjoy watching and listening.  One day I might part with some money to upgrade this blog so that I can embed video.  For now, you’ll have to click this link.

 

Burn, baby, burn

The second biggest energy company in the UK, SSE, has announced a price freeze on domestic gas and electricity until 2016.  Good news for customers for the next two years, then.

That’s the limit of the good news in this announcement.  Because of the expectation that this will hit the firm’s profits, they have also announced cost savings – 500 job losses (not good news for them) and the withdrawal of much investment in biomass and offshore wind generation.

Presumably, SSE’s plan is to focus on burning fossil fuels.  That makes sense given the prevarication of successive UK governments over energy policy, which has discouraged investment and left the nation with little alternative. The present government is putting most of their energy into promoting fracking, with tax breaks for corporations, and financial incentives (I think we used to call them bribes) for local communities.

The only way in which fracking makes sense is if the alternative is burning coal.  It’s a very short-term solution.  A shale gas well will only be productive for a couple of years, if that.  We will need many thousands of them in our densely populated country in order to meet our needs. I’m not sure what we’re going to do about water supply and road safety and so on, but then joined-up thinking doesn’t seem to be our strong point.

What we need to do is to invest in technologies that help us to use much less energy. We need to invest in renewable generation.  We need to re-think how we generate, distribute and use electricity. (We need to move away from using gas altogether – there is no climate-friendly gas).

But while the government (and opposition parties) fail to think beyond their big idea of winning the next election, and corporations fail to think beyond the next AGM and dividend pay-out, and citizens fail to think beyond this month’s bills, we will remain addicted to ways of living that will kill us all.

There is a bigger, longer picture, that involves us all living and thriving.  But who has the courage to imagine it, let alone seek to make it reality?

 

Moses the Eco-Warrior

A couple of things I’ve read recently have mentioned the Exodus story in relation to climate change.  Move over Genesis – you’re just too clichéd, with your garden and your God saying creation is good and, by the way, let’s not mention filling the earth and having mastery over it.  We need liberation songs.  We need stories of freedom for captives.  We need Exodus to take us through the desert to a land flowing with beer and chocolate (or whatever passes for milk and honey in your imagination).

Michael Meacher MP, writing in Resurgence Magazine (March/April 2014), refers to the part of the Exodus story where Pharaoh’s heart is repeatedly hardened (by God, somewhat embarrassingly – ahem, move on).  Meacher describes how Pharaoh “will not give up the way of life to which he is addicted”, i.e. a life that relies on a nation of slaves.  Today, the rich world’s addiction to stuff requires us to harden our hearts to the poor who are suffering most because of our way of life.  We know about slavery, plantations, loss of habitats, deforestation, tar sands, intensive industrial farming, flooding, species loss, refugees, and so on.  Yet we have to harden our hearts to it all because otherwise we would have to change beyond imagination.  We dare not set God’s people free.

In the same article, Meacher refers to the story of the Golden Calf, cast by Moses’ brother, Aaron, while Moses is up the mountain receiving the law from God.  Much of that law addressed how the Israelites could live together in such a way that all could thrive – a combination of instructions about worship and justice that Jesus (amongst others) later summed up as “Love God” and “Love your neighbour as yourself.”  Instead, the people worshipped a golden calf.  Meacher says, “The threat to religion doesn’t come from the likes of Richard Dawkins, but from out-of-town hypermarkets … The poverty of affluence has left a profound spiritual void in the West, and this remains an emptiness we all need to be awakened from.”

I have just started reading Rob Dietz and Dan O’Neill’s book, ‘Enough is Enough’ (and, yes, I do have that song running in my head).  Outlining their case for a Steady State Economy, as opposed to one based on endless growth, the book is subtitled, “Building a sustainable economy in a world of finite resources.”  Sounds good.  In his foreword, Herman Daly refers to the provision of manna to the Israelites in the desert.  In the Exodus story, each morning (except for the Sabbath), the Israelites found a wafer-like substance lying on the ground, and this provided their basic food for forty years of desert wandering.  They called the substance, Manna. Exodus 16.18 says that when they measured it out, “Those who gathered much had nothing over, and those who gathered little had no shortage.”  Each had gathered enough for that day.  If anyone tried to keep some over, it spoiled overnight.  The exception was the day before the Sabbath, when they gathered enough for two days and it didn’t spoil.  God provided enough.  It wasn’t a luxury diet, but it was enough.  No one could sell an excess and get rich, and no one starved.  There was enough for everyone.

We need to learn how to be content with enough, and build that ‘enough’ into our economics and our culture.  In order to do that, we need to be set free from our addiction to ever more stuff.  Perhaps the path to our freedom lies through the desert, learning to trust God, learning to love with softened hearts, and learning to be happy with little (but enough).

Welcome to Lent.

 

 

Pruning

I spent a happy day in the garden, pruning shrubs and doing a bit of general tidying.  Here’s one of my big fuchsias before:

Fuschia before

 

And after:

Fuschia after

 

They love a good prune! I wasn’t as severe as usual. I normally wait for the leaves to drop, but this winter’s been so mild that most of the fuchsias stayed in leaf, and now the spring leaves are bursting out.

In fact, spring seemed to be bursting out all over on this sunny February day.  Some of the daffodils are out, and the crocuses have been in flower for a few weeks.  A bumble bee was enjoying this crocus:

Bee in crocus

 

The dogwoods are next on the pruning schedule.  Not long now.

Cornus and crocus

 

My day in the garden was tinged with some sadness, as this will be my last spring in it.  A change of job means a change of house, even though my new church is only in Brighton and is nearer this house than the one we have to move to.  I hope that whoever succeeds me in Hove and in this garden learns to understand it. In particular, I hope s/he doesn’t chop down my trees and continues to let it be semi-wild. For example, those brambly log piles are home to all sorts of animal life, including frogs and newts. Hey ho – it’s not my garden. However much time and energy and planting I’ve invested in it, I was only a participant in nature, and that silver birch and that liquidambar were never going to mature in my time here.  But – it’s hard to be pruned.

 

 

Winter flowers

Here in southern England, we’re not really having winter, just a rainy season. In the relatively mild temperatures, several plants in the garden are waking up early.

This elder is coming into leaf (in mid-January!):

Elder leaf

Are plants like children? If they don’t get enough sleep, will they be crabby and crotchety all the rest of the year? How will that affect the rest of us?

Here are some pictures of snowdrops, crocus, jasmine and miscellaneous pretty purple flower. The jasmine should be in flower now, but I think the others are early.

Snowdrops

Crocus

 

Jasmine 2

 

Purple weed

 

It is lovely to have something in bloom in the depths of January, regardless of whether or not it should be.

 

Leave the leaves

This is what an autumn lawn should look like:

Leafy lawn

 

It’s not a very good photo, but you get the idea. The leaves are supposed to lie under the tree, rot down with the help of the fungi and bugs that eat them, and then enrich the soil to feed the tree. The blackbirds flick through the leaves to eat some of the bugs. A man in wellies kicks through the leaves just for the fun of it. If you rake them up, none of this good, life-giving stuff can happen. A lawn rake is a tool of the devil, and don’t get me started on motorised leaf blowers. Leave the leaves alone! Everyone is happier when things are left the way they should be.

 

Eaarth

The president of the World Bank, Jim Yong Kim, was interviewed on Radio 4 this morning. He was responding to Typhoon Haiyan, and while he was clear that particular weather ‘events’ can’t be attributed to climate change, he claimed that climate change is making these extreme events more frequent. He said, “Category 5 typhoons used to be referred to as once-in-a-lifetime events. We’ve had two in the last month.”

The thing that nearly made me choke on my porridge was when Mr Kim said that Bangkok could be underwater by 2030. That’s just 16 years away. He said, “This is not something for our grand-children’s grand-children.  This is something we’ve got to face by 2030.”  Kim argues that we need to invest in prevention – that every dollar invested in prevention will save three dollars – and that we need to tackle climate change now. He said that we must focus on what we agree on and take action right now and stop arguing about climate change.

It makes me feel I’m in cloud cuckoo land, fussing about light bulbs and cycling and other little ways of cutting the amount of carbon burnt on my behalf.  Maybe that was our task in the 1970s and 80s. Now we need to do much more, and quickly. Not only do we need to cut our fossil fuel use by a factor of 20 – unimaginable! – but we also need to start talking urgently about how to live well in a world that is changing rapidly – a world where many of the major cities and islands will soon (16 years?!) be uninhabitable unless you’re a fish.

I recommend reading Bill McKibben’s book, Eaarth.

Eaarth

His basic idea is that it’s like being in a sci-fi story where we’ve landed on an alien planet. As is so often the case in these stories, it looks somewhat like earth, but it’s different and to live there will require ingenuity and imagination. He calls this new planet Eaarth. McKibben suggests a number of strategies for making a good life for all on this new planet – living lightly, carefully and gracefully.

One big strategy is to decentralise. Power generation is one good example – moving away from large generating stations (whether fossil-fuel or renewable) and their inefficient distribution lines, and installing small, local and renewable generators. Food production is another good example where many of us can grow some food, whether individually or in groups, rather than relying on industrialised agriculture, which is increasingly inefficient (“It takes ten calories of fossil energy to produce a single calorie of modern supermarket food.” (Michael Pollan, quoted in Eaarth p.157)).

McKibben says a lot more than this – read the book! It’s very good.

The big message is we need to change; we need to change a lot; we need to get going with the change now; and we need to do it together.  We need to work for, as WWF puts it, “A world with a future, where people and nature thrive.”