Staying Slow In An Emergency?

In my own life in recent years, I’ve made a commitment to living slower and living smaller. Aside from improving my wellbeing (and that of my family), this is also much more compatible with greener living.

When I think about the climate crisis, I’m pretty convinced by those who argue that in the long-term, we need to move towards de-growth and localisation. As a culture, we’ve been living big and living fast. Many of our carbon emissions would be reduced if we switched to slower food, slower travel and slower material consumption. If we lived a little (or a lot) smaller, we might end up with a local economy that would provide satisfying work opportunities in our own communities, with less need for commuting to stressful careers in globalised corporations.

But what about the transition from ‘big and fast’ to ‘small and slow’? With climate change reaching the urgent status of ‘emergency’, are we going to have to act big and fast to make the necessary transition happen? How do we move towards a new set of values without relying on the old values to get us there? Do we need to keep the westernised norms of driven ambition and success-orientation in place for a while, to drive this change?

Here’s why this troubles me. My current level of wellbeing is hard-won: I’ve spent years using the practices of mindfulness and self-kindness to free myself from unhealthy conditioning. My own self-destructive patterns included chasing achievement, compulsive problem-solving and inhabiting an identity built on trying to save other people from their difficulties. These tendencies kept me stuck in a skewed world-view that was all about my individual survival and ‘success’, rather than truly connecting with (and contributing to) the wider world that I’m part of.

So now, how can I respond to the climate emergency without stepping into these old habits? Trying to be an over-achieving eco hero would be a sure-fire route to depletion and burnout, leaving my capacity for long-term contribution much reduced.

From this position, I’m wondering how I can remain rooted in slow, simple living and contribute to a community response to climate challenges.

There is no easy answer to any of this, and I believe that it will become increasingly important to ask good questions, to learn to sit with uncertainty, and to embrace not-knowing.

Perhaps we will need to bring a sense of sustainability to this process of transition itself. Granted, maybe we don’t have time for complacency, but we’re unlikely to solve these issues quickly. We will need to conserve our personal energy so that we can keep working on the transition to a new culture for many years to come. I don’t want to peak too soon by being over-ambitious now, and then withdraw later on when it all gets too much. I want to stay engaged, not get disheartened when I realise my efforts haven’t been a ‘successful’ fix in just a couple of years.

Maybe I’m simply realising why more and more people need to be involved in a collective response, so that we spread the effort and create a momentum for change that is in itself sustainable.

Viewed in that light, maybe the efforts I’m already making are enough. I certainly can’t save the world single-handedly, but communities of people all doing ‘enough’ might enable the radical transition we need.

For further reading on degrowth, see the writings of Samuel Alexander, and on localisation, you may be interested in the work of Helena Norberg-Hodge

If you enjoyed this post, you might also like to read my piece on making space for how we really feel about climate change – Plastic-Free, or Guilt-Free?

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