You may have noticed we didn’t do anything for Earth Day here on Make Wealth History. That’s partly because I’m moving house at the end of the week and don’t have time to write, but it’s also because I share the views of the writers over at WorldChanging. The Day, they argue, has become “a ritual of sympathy for the idea of environmental sanity”. Ultimately, no matter how lovely Trafalgar Square looks turfed over, it’s a day of feel good-good initiatives that offer little more than the “politics of gesture.”
In the end, turning a corner on our environmental crisis needs a whole lot more than ‘raising awareness’, or campaigns based around fun facts, top tips, or green consumerism. It has to be more than that. However, that doesn’t mean we leave it up to the government either, and wait for legislation to tax and ban us into greener lifestyles. It takes something deeper than either of those.
What it comes down to is the kind of people we want to be. “The climate-change crisis is at its very bottom a crisis of lifestyle — of character, even” writes Michael Pollan in the New York Times.
That’s a phrase that caught my eye in Pollan’s rather good essay “Why bother?“. We don’t talk much about character any more. It seems to have been usurped by image, consumer expression. It reminds me of something Rowan Williams says in his book Where God Happens, where he observes that although we’re encouraged to express ourselves through our choices, our choices are actually the least interesting thing about us. Why? Because a choice is a considered act. It’s been weighed and balanced, the opinions of others taken into account – the things we don’t choose are much more telling. It’s our unconsidered acts that are genuinely from the heart, the instincts, the intuitions. When we don’t think, and we just do, that’s character.
In the context of the environment, we’re encouraged to make greener choices, but that asks very little of us. Green choices are fashionable right now, so they’re easy to make. Although we’re led to believe that our decisions to recycle more, or eat less meat, will make us look virtuous and responsible, they say very little about our character. We could be making all the right choices and make no difference, because ultimately we’re living out of selfishness. Or we could be living generously, hopefully, with an eye on the future, and find ourselves living sustainably almost by accident.
So, what motivates us, choices or character? Who are we when nobody is looking? Does our lifestyle have any integrity, or is it done for the benefit of others? Are we proactive about our lifestyles, or following the latest green alternatives? Will be still want to live sustainably if there’s a media backlash against the environmental movement? How do we build character, in ourselves and in others?
As usual, more questions than answers from me on this one…