It’s spring and the plants are growing wild.
Our chickens hatched two clutches of eggs within days of each other and we’re now the slightly daunted stewards of twenty tiny, fluffy chicks. Some will join our team of laying hens; some will go to friends craving the joy that is fresh eggs, daily – and some are destined for the pot, our first farm-reared meat.
It’s an honour to be so immersed in the cycle of life. To be in the thick of it, tending, growing, invigorated and exhilarating.
It’s spring and we’ve had almost no rain this year.
In the midst of the rainy season, we’re already officially in drought. The signs don’t look good – a hot, dry summer is looming, and one that could last from these first too-hot spring days all the way through until the winter.
I’m sick to my stomach at times, with the worry. About our own little patch of land; the animals and plants that thrive here, that need water to survive. About our own sources of precious water: the spring in the corner of the land that provides for all our washing needs and the source in the village where our drinking water comes from.
I’m terrified, too, for the bigger picture. The prospect of swathes of this green gorgeous country succumbing to stony desert. The parts of the world where too much water is the problem: the lives lost, the cities flooded, the crops destroyed.
We are the grownups
Last week Nick and I sat up later than usual, talking. I was always an anxious child and I can’t quite believe that I’m no longer the wide-awake small person lying in the dark, fretting over the whales or the greenhouse effect, as we called it when I was a kid. (It always scared me, even then. I felt about long stretches of hot summer the way other children did about thunderstorms – they felt ominous, looming.)
Now, I’m the grown-up. And I’m just as worried. We whispered so as not to wake Elias, talking about his future in hushed, urgent tones.
About what we can do to best prepare him for a world which will be undergoing such deep and devastating change.
About how we can play our part in preventing the crisis, whilst readying ourselves for what may yet be unavoidable.
What will we want to be able to tell him we did?
What will we wish we had taken the time to teach him?
What will we wish we had taken the time to learn?
Hope in new forms
If this all sounds utterly bleak and doom-laden, take a breath. It is, a bit, at times.
Read any one of the latest articles on climate change – the impending loss of insect life; the ongoing sixth mass extinction of living things; the rapidly vanishing arctic and consequent rupture in weather patterns – and you might start to feel the same.
You probably have, at points. More and more I see discussion about what’s going on happening on social media, and sometimes from the most unlikely sources.
And if that ever leaves you feeling powerless, or despairing, or overwhelmed by grief, here are some of the ways I’ve been taking heart lately.
1. All is not lost (yet)
True, some of what’s happened already is irreversible. There’s a “lag” to the impact we’ve already had which means there’s no way to stop some of the significant changes we’re already witnessing: like extreme weather, melting ice and species loss.
But we still have time to turn things around. There’s still a possibility that we could reduce, and eventually even reverse, some of the biggest ways we’re destroying the planet.
It’s unlikely. But unlikely things have happened in the past. And if there is a chance, however small, I’d like to think I’m allied with that possibility and doing what’s in my power to allow it to happen.
2. Learning to change will save us (in ways we can’t yet know)
So perhaps you recognise that a crisis is happening, and you choose to step up.
You commit to making changes to how you and your loved ones live. You reduce your reliance on fossil fuels. You eat more locally. You start to ask questions about what you consume, where it comes from, and who makes it.
At times you might wonder what the point is, of any of it. How can what you’re doing make a difference? Isn’t it up to the corporations and the governments to take the big decisions that will turn things around?
To a point, yes.
But I believe that one of the biggest factors in how we get through the coming decades is how resilient we are able to be. How ready we are to adapt to change. The stark fact is, if we don’t manage to turn things around, life is going to be transformed in incomprehensible and unpredictable ways.
If you’ve started the process of adapting, making connections, and recognizing what’s going on you’re one step ahead. These skills will be more useful than ever, in an uncertain future.
3. Revolution is unpredictable
Individually and in pockets of action, in loose networks and wider communities, we change our lives. Different people take different paths.
Over here, people are returning to earth-based practices; connecting with the planet and finding fulfilment in nature and the cycles of the moon. Along the way, they reduce their consumption, slow down, and feel better.
Here, people come together to look at technological solutions. They devise innovative ways to save water and to replace disposable products with long-lasting ones, running on renewable energy.
This group are working to help bigger communities transition from fossil fuel reliance to a sturdier, more creative local network of transport and food production. Their purchasing habits change. The big corporations note a shift in consumer priorities, one that impacts their bottom line. Forcing the executives to ask “how can we be the ones to provide what they are asking for?”
And here, a campaign to end single-use plastic has brought business owners together and triggered a whole swathe of people to think about what they spend their money on. No more coffee cups or straws in landfill; no more factories needed to make those straws, or lorries to transport them.
When I imagine these tiny glimmers of light happening all around the world, I relax. The pressure to find The Big Solution – the one that will save everything, that all of us will agree on – is dropped.
And I feel inspired. I realize that I might not be able to change the world. But perhaps I can change some of the people I know. Perhaps I can start with myself, and find a new way to look at this problem, one which feels like play, like creativity, like an adventure.
4. It doesn’t have to be hard
I think we’ve been sold a big lie by the vested interests who’d like us to stay consuming, stuck in the system that’s failing us, panicked and fear-addled and scrabbling for the last dregs of the unsustainable engine that’s sputtering to a halt before our eyes.
They’d have us believe that life will be harder without what we’re used to. That the capitalist, petrol-fuelled world of plastic is the be all and end all, the pinnacle of our achievement.
And yet, for all the cheap flights and takeaway coffees, for all the family-sized bars of chocolate and endless rails of disposable fashion, we’re not actually all that happy.
We’re anxious. We’re stressed. And to worry about losing it feels like adding insult to injury.
What if the new way of being was more fun, more creative, freer? What if dealing with our shit and taking responsibility for ourselves feels better? More fulfilling? What if we forged deeper relationships, were kinder, and healthier if we shifted to a collaborative, connected approach to the world instead of this combative, sharp-elbowed scared one?
I think making the shift feels strange at first because change is scary. But once we embrace it? It might just be the best thing that ever happened to us.
5. We have nothing to lose by trying
Fatalistic, perhaps. And yet, it’s true. When we come together, we create amazing things.
Transforming our lives might be fun, rich, rewarding, fulfilling.
It might help turn around the terrifying trajectory we’re on; it might help us survive the next century with a little more grace and compassion than we fear.
One thing’s for sure: The time to act is now.
By the time my boy’s a teenager, we’ll know what impact we’ve had, and we’ll be taking stock of a very different reality. I want to feel proud of the stand I took and the example I made, and I want him to have trees to sit under and butterflies to marvel at.
I planted oak trees, last Sunday
Six of them, in a wobbly line along the farthest terrace, looking out at the valley. These gorgeous native trees live for two hundred years, and I have no way of knowing what changes they’ll see, what fires will rage around them. Whether they’ll find water, deep beneath the ground; be nibbled by goats or nudged by the strong noses of the wild boar. Hold nests in their branches; hoist swings for my grandchildren.
But I’m choosing to hope. I’m rooting my hope in the earth, and I’m singing it to the sky, and I’m choosing to let it flourish and fly.
Hope with me.