Friday, May 30, 2008

Changes

Earlier this week I was awoken from my sleep by the sound of the falling rain. Before fully surfacing into consciousness my instinctive reaction was to feel around me to ensure that my possessions weren't touching the walls of the tent and thereby letting the water in. Then I realised that I was in my bed, in my home and not in a tent in a random field trying to look unobtrusive. It was a startling reminder of how my trip has changed me.

Now that I have been back a few months I can see the ways in which I am different and act differently than before. Of course it's difficult to evaluate such things from such an up-close standpoint, but I hope I'm being honest with myself. Firstly I feel I am far more phlegmatic, at least towards other people and external factors out of my control. I am far less likely to let things bother me - a delayed train, torn clothes, annoying kids, shit weather, flat tyre and other minor mishaps I take in my stride. Similarly I think I am less judgemental than I used to be, having on numerous occasions had to change my views of people and places once I had gotten to know them better (this really infuriates my dad who feels he can't get a single opinion out of me as I evade his questions with caveats and conditions).

I also find myself more open towards people and more willing to go to them to try and help them out. Before I wouldn't hesitate to help someone if they came up to me and asked for it, but now I will actively offer if I see someone who I think is in need of help. Not that I am trying to make out that I am some sort of saint, but so often have I been given a helping hand when I least expected it, with no questions asked and nothing expected in return, that I know what a positive effect that can have on a persons day, regardless of how small the act is. The world can certainly do with more random acts of kindness (such as the one at the start of this post).

During my trip I was lucky enough to see first hand some amazing natural landscapes as well as the damage and degradation being done to it. I therefore feel far more responsible towards the environment in my actions and decisions I take (although I'm far from being perfect). I've also become evangelical in trying to persuade people to be more environmentally aware in their everyday lives by, for example, reusing plastic bags, switching off appliances, trying to recycle and so on. However it's difficult to be forceful with people you don't know that well and so my attentions are often focused on my brother who, I feel, doesn't understand the urgency of the situation, which leads to stalemated arguments where I accuse him of being uncaring and selfish and he retaliates by saying I'm not practical and far too idealistic. And this is where I feel very pessimistic about the future, because if people as intelligent and well educated as my brother, who have been educated about the various environmental problems that beset our planet from an early age and have the means to make lifestyle changes still do not do enough, then there is little hope for people who have not been educated, and struggle just to survive, to make those changes. And I am not holding up my brother as some evil or callous person, quite the opposite is true, but he is symbolic of the apathy and dislocation that are far too common in our society. In western Europe especially, we are far removed from either hardship or nature in a pure, unadulterated form. It's a shame because, despite being an atheist (and proud of it), I had several moments that are best described in English as religious experiences. All occurred when alone in the middle of some expanse of wilderness with the only sign of humanity the thin, indistinct trail leading off in front and behind me. It is impossible to fully describe the feeling of awe, and respect, and warmth, but the (natural) world becomes more precious to you (not that this means I will become a hermit and live in a cave somewhere). And since we rarely have the opportunities to make these connections ourselves our view of the world is only half of what it should/could be.

Not that I have an answer or anything - you can't just ask everyone to walk off into the wilderness so that they may find your epiphany. Now if you'll just excuse me, I'm off to be morose in the corner.

1 comment:

Jeli said...

I understand the 'urgency' of the situation to the extent that the information on climate change has been presented. I don't disagree with you on the issues of climate change, recycling etc. but to the extremes we should go.

You see me as someone who doesn't do enough but on the full spectrum the difference between you and I is negligible when compared to a hermit and going the other way, the difference between us is negligible again when compared to a "non-conscientious, energy swilling, westerner".

Our "stalemated arguments" lie in a difference of opinion in how we lead our lives and it is nothing to do with the environment, but you seem to think that it does (although there are always consequences to the environment but then again nearly anything you do has these consequences at an almost idiotic level...e.g., I eat a carton of yoghurt, well energy was needed for its manufacture, the energy came from polluting sources ergo eating yoghurt is bad for the environment).

I don’t think you are too “impractical or idealistic”, it’s just the way you tackle the problems in a different way to me and I believe that incorrectly you may have illusions of a pious crusader when in fact we both share common goals when it comes to the environment.

The real fact is that we lead different lives and I have different priorities from you which you need to respect (as you should with everyone). The whole population needs to take the environment seriously as I do, but it doesn’t mean we should be unhappy or live like hermits (I understand you don’t advocate this extreme view but I’m using it as an illustration).

I’m not ‘apathetic’ when it comes to climate change but pro-active in the actions I take. Again, coming back to the spectrum I would argue that you are the same as me. Sure, you do a lot of “personal” green actions which are all about you using less energy. This pales in comparison to someone who is doing something for the masses either campaigning, or working in a job that helps climate change, advancing science etc. These effects are orders of magnitude more helpful than the your ‘personal’ contribution.

In fact, in some ways I do more than you. You say that “it's difficult to be forceful with people you don't know that well and so my attentions are often focused on my brother”. I, on the other hand, try and persuade others and have actually changed the habits of my girlfriend.

My reason for writing this response is so that you don’t get too blinkered in your own world and views. As someone who has travelled so much and seen so much you need to take a broader view of people’s situations and circumstances, especially from their perspective. You have pigeon-holed me incorrectly, not that I care too much, and I will continue to do the right thing for the environment.