Saturday 17 April 2010

The Politics of Powerdown

Last Sunday I met my first climate denier. It was at a play about climate change called Turning the Tide, that mirrored the dilemmas of a small rural community engaged in carbon reduction. Afterwards the director invited the audience to debate the issues in the play and that's when Climate Denier started to fill us in on some stats about Arctic ice and sunspots.

Even though the elections have replaced CO2 levels as the hot topic, it's clear our focus has shifted in the last four years. Planetary issues have entered our ordinary lives. The political parties may be playing their traditional game of musical chairs, pointing fingers at each other and making big promises, but we're not listening to them in the same way we used to.

Climate Denier was monopolising a conversation all of us were supposed to be having. In a time of uncertainty he sounded convinced, oblivious to everyone else in the room. Every sentence began with "I". But "We" Climate Fools did not believe him.

Civilisations are obsessed with power, the power to conquer the world like Alexander, to lay other countries waste and keep everyone else underfoot. They rule by division and conflict. As a result we become individualists seeking power at every turn: the power to go fast, to be above it all, to Have Our Say, with our power-hungry machines, our cars, our aeroplanes, our computers where we sit like the Wizard of Oz controlling everything… except the weather.

Last autumn I became part of a group of Transitioners who decided to voluntarily "powerdown" – to cut our personal carbon emissions to 50% of the national average over a year. We looked at transport, energy, food and "stuff" and began to consider our impact not only on eco-systems, but on the people who make our materially-acquisitive, fossil-fuelled lifestyles possible. And that's when equity started to kick in.

Climate change is a great leveller. The more you possess, the more carbon you emit. When you measure your life according to energy and resource use, you discover fair-share between people and nations. When you're struggling for power and material pleasures you're only thinking about Me and Them.

Something unforeseen happened as we engaged in this low-carbon life. We started to give each other things, swap seeds, buy food co-operatively and create our own culture. For some of us the economic downturn had already become a reality. So you wouldn't say we were better off, but in terms of conscience we were clearer, we were closer to the earth. And we didn't feel on our own anymore.

The reason most of us struggle for power is because no one wants to be humiliated and alone at the bottom of the heap. No matter what politicians promise, someone in our "one nation" will be required to be in the scapegoat position. The neighbour, the immigrant, the girl who wears the unfashionable shoes.

When you voluntarily powerdown the drive for success stops. The hostility stops. You might not know all the science behind climate change, but you know the world powered by that drive doesn't feel right. You have faced enough realities, crunched enough numbers, to see how to radically change your life. It's not a decision you've made in your mind, it's a heart decision, based on fair-play. And so the voices you listen to no longer belong to the loud and dominant. The issues you care about are happening everywhere on the planet, as well as the neighbourhood you live in. And that's when you find the people you've been looking for all your life.
Turning the Tide by Peppy Barlow was performed by the Open Space Theatre Co.

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