Tuesday, 27 September 2016

R50: Walking our Talk with Satish Kumar

Fifty people were invited to walk fifty miles with Satish Kumar to mark his 80th birthday and celebrate fifty years of Resurgence Magazine. I was lucky enough to be one of them… Satish, for those who don’t know is a former Jain monk and one of the world’s great peace activists who most definitely walks his talk in the world as founder of The Small School, editor of Resurgence & Ecologist Magazine and one of the guiding lights and founders at Schumacher College in Devon.  Satish has made many significant pilgrimages throughout his life and the plan to celebrate his birthday and Resurgence’s 50th by walking came to him during the filming of Emergence’s documentary series ‘Being an Earth Pilgrim’ last year.

Photo of Satish Kumar, Ruth Davey 

There and then he committed to walking from the source of the Thames, along the river and into Oxford arriving in time for ‘R50,’ a major celebratory conference with speakers and participants attending from all over the world to be held at Worcester College in Oxford. He would not walk alone but with anyone wanting to walk with him. This was a significant event for the all reasons listed above and also for me personally, it marked a formal completion to a very significant three month walk - my ‘Grail Quest’, my ‘Fools Errand’ around Wales I’d begun earlier in the year on 17th June...

18th September
The Resurgence 50th anniversary walk official meeting point was at the New Inn Hotel, Lechlade-on-Thames. Thirty-six of us - all issued with a candle and a bright orange, 'One Earth, One Humanity, One Future' T-shirts and name tabards stood in a circle for the official welcome and route briefing. A few words from Satish and then we were off. The Badgers - Keith and Debbie were the first I met - they'd given a generous contribution to our crowdfund campaign last year to make Emergence’s landmark documentary series, ‘Being an Earth Pilgrim’ on Satish Kumar which we were due to launch at the forthcoming R50 celebratory gathering later in the week at our destination, Oxford. The Badgers were over from Australia to do the walk and attend the Oxford event. He told me about his epiphany of a walk - four and a half months from John O'Groats to Lands End, him and Debbie walking together. Before the walk he’d been a successful accountant and businessman. He said, returning from the walk, going home and opening his closet with all his clothes and non-essential stuff had completely derailed him. Something happened in his body which rebelled against a return to 'business as usual' he thought he was having a breakdown and then spent months after trying to understand what was going on. Someone gave him Satish's book 'NoDestination' to read, he took a trip to Schumacher College and then and there started remaking his life building on new values he didn't even know he had. He's writing a book about it now, on his third draft.

R50 Walkers, photo Debbie Badger

Going into silence between conversations was a balm to the senses. Conversation, however rich, pulls me out of my senses and into my head. The walk was facilitated so we had opportunities to talk but also chance to look at the river, the trees, the sky, still the mind and deeply connect to the places we were moving through. Then a walk and talk with Muchti, Satish and his wife June Mitchell’s son, one of the first students to go to ‘The Small School' in Hartland Devon, started by Satish for primary and secondary age kids. Muchti, a brilliant mind with a big heart was a carpenter and scientist who'd built his own boat, developed the Resurgence Carbon Calculator and now ran the company 'Cosy Homes' developing new ways of reducing the carbon footprint of old and listed housing stock - practical, down to earth and passionate.

At lunchtime Satish talked to us about the spirit of pilgrimage, "a tourist expects, whereas a pilgrim accepts". The day was more talk than walk, but walk we did - six and a half miles to The Swan Inn, Radcot. On arrival, our group dispersed to our various campsites and B&B's for the evening to digest the day and prepare for the following.

19th September
Our second day was cool and damp from the start. Soft, light rain came in just before noon and stayed for the duration. Our group was a little changed, a few new and a few missing from yesterday. The Thames was broader, seemingly more present and certainly wider than yesterday, gentle khaki green without a ripple. The conversations seemed more spacious, less frenetic (or was it just that I’d relaxed?), everything settling into a deeper rhythm. I spoke with Susie, psychiatrist turned psychotherapist who'd worked a lifetime in the NHS, then Claire a volunteer now facilitator at Schumacher College about alchemy and seagulls, Ying a Chinese student just finishing the economics masters at Schumacher on the I Ching, Vision Quests and the greening of China. She mentioned a phrase from one of her teachers that resonated strongly: "We are not here to save the world we are here to serve the mystery". I wanted to get a T-shirt printed with that one on.

Fewer stops today as the drizzle kept coming. Abundant and ever-present blackberries that we snacked on constantly. Wet feet tramping through wet grass by early afternoon. Still, the rain was gentle and no chill wind drove us onward. We arrived at 'The Rose Revived' our final stop of the day to copious cups of tea bought by Satish and began the long slow dry out. Someone thought me a gardener or farmer for the dark dirt under my fingernails. They were mistaken, it was from eating a chocolate muffin earlier…

We had arrived at our halfway point along the Thames path on our pilgrimage to Oxford. Our merry band drying out wet shoes in preparation for the third day of our walk tomorrow. This country feels unknown and alien to me. I have not even looked at a map as we were following copious way markers and our walk-leader RosalindTurner. No towns or other markers, only the river to remind me this is the sacred Thames, the river I grew up in the shadow of half a century ago. TS Eliot's words from his ‘Four Quartets’ have been circling round my head these past two days..."Sweet Thames, run softly till I end my song. Sweet Thames, run softly, for I speak not loud or long." Shantih, Shantih, Shantih.

Satish by Sacred River Thames. Photo, Debbie Badger

20th September
We gathered in a circle holding lighted candles by The Thames, around forty of us now, still in our orange 'One Earth, One Humanity, One Future' T-shirts. They were getting slightly grubbier and we with them. Satish spoke to us about the five elements - earth, wind, fire, water and the fifth - IMAGINATION. This really struck me - imagination being an element...the one that weaves the other four together. This felt radical and deeply important. I'd never heard him say this before... And I thought after the time I've spent listening to him in conversation during the making of our DVD documentary series for twelve hours, that I'd heard it all. I tucked this new revelation away like a squirrel burying an Autumn acorn. We walked past numerous locks and weirs, the Thames curving and widening as the day went on.

There were still so many people on the walk I'd still not had the chance to speak to. I discovered by chance that one of the walkers was Sandra, who'd I'd first met in India, from Australia - we'd done Satish's Gandhi & Globalisation course together which also featured the incredible Vandana Shiva, in 2011. We had a lot to catch up on…

 Photo, Fern Smith

Autumn is most definitely in the air, sloes on the trees as well as bright red hips and haws. We single filed it in silence along the river, all of us stretched out over perhaps half a mile. After lunch Satish spoke about spiritual ecology. Lovely to see his son Muchti on his left and His wife June on his right. All of us sitting on the grass, completing the circle with a multitude of tiny frogs jumping around before us. "Non violence is not just a tactic but a way of life". After, a chance to speak with Rosalind the walk organiser as we walked together, she'd worked with Satish over the past eight years on his Earth Pilgrim courses, we shared stories of organising walks and walkers, "like herding cats", my parter Phil would say. Mid-afternoon a few of us jumped into the Thames and had a glorious swim in its green reedy waters, one patient swan looking steadily on at our activities. A walk and talk with Satish after, initially talking about DVD practicalities for the forthcoming conference and then sharing thoughts and receiving welcome advice about Emergence’s future. Much to reflect on. Much to consider.

Eleanor & Fern with Satish, photo Sandra de Poi

We arrived at the Eynsham, almost eight miles beyond our start that morning in Newbridge around 5.30pm. A cuppa or pint at the pub before various departures and then goodbyes til tomorrow. My good friend Will Tooby and I walked the mile to our overnight accommodation, The Swan in Shifford. Friendly, clean, basic. A small, sleepy village, well-heeled and leafy. A curry at the lovely local Bay Leaf and chat to the staff about our walk and Satish, doing our bit to spread the word about the 'R50' walk. Homeward to our pub and a sad and slightly menacing encounter with a smashed and shouting Slav. We tried in a quiet way to neither aggress nor be cowed by him. A sad and complex end to a rich and beautiful day. Worlds collide at this time - the very best of times, the very worst of times.

21st September
Our last days’ gathering place was at The Talbot Inn, Eynsham in readiness for a morning of walking the eight miles into the Oxford. We stood in a circle, lit our candles, dedicating this walk again to the five elements. We paired up and conversations flowed like water. "Be like water" says Satish, quoting The Dao, "water always adapts to the shape of its container. Flow like water. Water has the power to wear down stones and is so soft you can bathe your eyes with it..." Had the most head spinning conversation with Julie Richardson who runs the Economics for Transition Masters at Schumacher College, "the meaning of life is a life of meaning". We spoke about connections between the unmanifest and the manifest. Things so on the edge of our consciousness and central to our deepest passion - her an alchemist of economy and Chinese medicine, me following my way sharing how Emergence has been leading me to things out of my yen, comfort zone and control. The conversation could have continued a lifetime or two. Possibly a project to be hatched. Definitely a deeper connection with a fellow traveler.

Then yet another 'life changing' conversation with William, known fondly to many as Captain W - the former house manager of Schumacher College for the past 27 years. I spoke, rather than he, about my recent three month Walk round Wales (my ‘Grail Quest’ and ‘Fools Errand’) - some insights, something in the talking and something in the power of being listened to. The secrets of my Grail Quest are there still to be discovered. I still don't know what happened but all the elements of an alchemical transformation were and are present and beginning to manifest. I felt a little like a raving crazy but he quoted Jason Bourne when I apologised for talking so much. "It's O.K, I find it relaxing".

A sense that time was running out on us for all our not-yet-had conversations, those we wanted to continue and those we'd not even started. I walked with Francisco, a young and vibrant Costa Rican just finished his Masters at Schumacher, his newly formed trinity for living, "Have fun, be kind and make history".

Satish speaks outside Oxfam, Oxford. Photo, Fern Smith

We dipped our hands in the sacred River Thames as we started to see the city of Oxford approaching. More snippets of conversation and moments to savour as we walked along roadsides, over bridges, and gradually more built-up areas until we arrived at Broad Street, Oxford and Oxfam where Satish was due to give a short talk on the pavement outside. This was the first ever Oxfam shop opened in 1942. He reminded us it was International Peace Day today the 21st September. We gathered round in our four day old, a little grubby now, R50 T-shirts enjoying these last moments of being part of a merry band of pilgrims. We crossed the road into the shockingly beautiful grounds of Balliol College for tea and biscuits and some hellos to new people, goodbyes to some walkers not attending the forthcoming conference, contact swaps and photo moments. Our walk now over. The R50 Resurgence conference still to begin. I could leave now, with another lifetime of inspiration and information to digest but it's only Hasta la Vista til tomorrow...where the Great Transition/New Story/Grand Turning of the 'One Earth, One Humanity, One Future' is gearing up to begin...

(this story is to be continued)

Fern Smith is an artist and creative director of Emergence www.emergence-uk.org.
She is co-director of the Emergence documentary, 'Being an Earth Pilgrim' a six hour landmark documentary series about internationally renowned peace activist Satish Kumar available now from the Resurgence Shop. All proceeds go to Resurgence.

Wednesday, 10 February 2016

My climate change journey, Part 2: Joyful disruption; making a leap to a quiet revolution in Paris - by guest blogger Patrick Driscall

“They always say time changes things, but you actually have to change them yourself.” – Andy Warhol

Paris next stop! I’d decided to go to Paris, to take part in the demos putting pressure on negotiators at COP21 to make an agreement that would stop climate change, back in the summer. I’d already booked a train to go to Paris and a hostel to stay in through Friends of the Earth as well as hotel accommodation in London en route. With the terrible Paris attacks having happened I went through some tense weeks questioning the risks taking part in demonstrations and checking what demos if at all were going ahead. I even signed a campaign to the mayor to allow outside demos about climate change despite the city being on high security. I had met Alison, a Swansea member of Greenpeace, who said she was still keen to go. We planned to meet in Paris.

I was relieved to find that Friends of the Earth successfully regrouped with some organisations and had concrete plans for a networking event and public demonstration within the security restrictions. I was keen to join in the 350 degrees Red Lines demonstration. I had some reservations, especially in the face of a police force in Paris that were understandably rattled by terrorism.

Arriving at Gare Du Nord on the early Eurostar from St Pancras we were escorted to our hostel not far from the Canal St Martin. If I was to take part in the Red Lines demo I was to attend an induction event starting an hour after my arrival. I briefly chatted in the hostel foyer with someone called Lucy who was considering going. We joined forces in a mad dash across Paris to the Z.A.C. (Zone d’Action Climat) for the induction. There was a touch of serendipity as Lucy turned out to be a friend of Fern’s from Emergence in Swansea.

The headquarters of the Coalition Climat 21 at Z.A.C. was set up to serve as a place where people in Paris could attend screenings, participate in discussions or discover art exhibitions about climatic disruption. The Z.A.C. was intended as a place to increase the rhythm of the mobilisations: with preparations for symbolic actions and artistic happenings and a media centre as a working space for journalists. Coalition Climat 21 was a response to the failure of the 2009 Copenhagen conference and the hijacking of the 2013 Warsaw conference by industry interests (which led NGOs to walk out). It brings together 130 organisations from social movements, religious and international solidarity, environment and human rights. All affirm that the COP21 negotiations, though necessary, are not enough to combat climate disruption and it’s resulting inequalities. The objective therefore, was to capitalize on the political and media exposure of COP21 launching a strong and sustainable movement for climate justice.

The Red Lines plan was to walk in pairs towards the Champs Elysee. When horns sounded we would step off the pavement onto the road heading towards La Defense; the financial district. We were assured, perhaps naively, we would be in relative control and could withdraw from the protest if things became tense or violent. Lucy was already suitably paired up so I had the slight embarrassment of “speed dating” for a buddy to walk with. I paired up with Sam from Sussex.

Lucy invited me to a presentation by ArtCOP21 at an old theatre. ArtCOP21 was set up to challenge the idea that climate change is seen through policy or a scientific lens, and that solutions are discussed in political offices, boardrooms and negotiating halls. They believe that climate is culture and that active engagement of citizens worldwide is needed to transition away from fossil fuels towards a greener sustainable future economy.  ArtCOP21 has established an amazing global climate festival of over 550 major events.

What moved me was a personal account by a Philippine artist and activist. He spoke of the devastation caused by a typhoon on his city, the looting that followed and clearly communicated the emotional costs to him.

Next we headed to Jardin D’Alice, an office building being used as an experimental social and ecological laboratory. For a small entrance fee we were treated to a meal of curried brussel sprouts and rice. The building was packed with artistic and political activity. An impressive area was being used as a studio to make banners, posters and sculptures. Art materials and tools were available. Lucy helped paint banners and I was inspired to do a banner ready for the demo the following day.

In my artistic enthusiasm in such a busy space I lost Lucy so went on to the nearby Palais de Congres where Friends of the Earth had been explaining the plans for the next day. I’d missed the main activity and a small party was in swing. Tired after an exciting day I headed back to the hostel and to bed.

Catching up with Alison over breakfast we decided to walk to the Red Lines demo at Arche de Triomphe and meet up with my buddy Sam. Passing through Place de Republique we were moved by the many tributes to those lost in the recent tragedy. 

Place de la Republique, Paris - November 2015
Further south we stopped for coffee close to Le Carillon restaurant; scene of some of the worst of the shootings its glass shattered with bullets. It felt surreal. My thoughts turned to the dead and their families and those around the world who have also suffered at the hands of terrorists.

The walk through the wonderful Paris streetscape in the sunshine was an antidote.  You could not help but be aware of the COP21 talks with posters, adverts, graffiti, signs, art and sculptures everywhere. We spotted Caroline Lucas from the Green Party at a security check at the demo start and I managed to shake her hand. Meeting Sam we were relieved to hear that the demo was now declared legal.

The demo was diverse, with a brilliant vibe of collectivity, independence, focus and creativity. It was truly mesmerizing! Horns sounded and we paused remembering those affected by war, terror and climate change. Then a further horn sound and the demo began. Red was everywhere: on people’s clothing including quirky costumes and in the red flowers and umbrellas carried by activists. Very striking were the huge lengths of red cloth held above people heads down the length of the street and waved up and down to the myriad rhythms of bands, singing and chanting.

There was a carnival atmosphere and we headed back and forth up and down the Champs Elysee. The police blocked the way to La Defense and every side street. The activists represented many causes with climate justice being the most prominent. Somehow we remained peaceful and even joyful. Most exciting were the huge inflatable red and silver cubes originally planned to serve as a barrier against any police counter activity. These became playthings, banded up and down the street over our heads.

 COP21 Paris – D12 demonstrations/actions/mobilisations: 
Short clips from some of the many actions, meetings and demonstrations that took place during the last two days of COP21, the climate summit in Paris by Sam Milford

After lunch we gathered underneath the Eifel Tower for another rally. There was a peaceful sit down protest. The police had split the area by the tower into three zones so no large gathering was possible. We followed a Mexican band of demonstrators to the final zone next to the stage where Naomi Klein gave an inspirational speech about the planned fight in 2016 to keep fossil fuels in the ground. I think we calculated we walked about 12 miles that day and what a day!

 The demos left me inspired and energized. What stood out for me was the positive energy and humanity of the people from around the world united in that one street.

Humanity is defined in The Collins English Dictionary as “the quality of being human” and “kindness or mercy”. It is further defined as charity, compassion, understanding, sympathy, mercy, tolerance, tenderness, philanthropy, benevolence, fellow feeling, benignity, brotherly love, kind-heartedness. Maybe brotherly love would better read as respect for one another.

The great success in Paris was the connectedness represented there that day. A question for the future is how we build even better connections with each other locally and globally to combat climate change. By the Eifell Tower a student from Portugal interviewed us for her research asking how we felt about climate change. I was able to answer I felt positive. Naomi Klein declared “we are nature”. I agree we need to rekindle our spiritual link to each other, the planet and nature. We must accept responsibility for causing climate change and accentuate and celebrate the positive qualities of humanity. We must question capitalism and find a new model of economics and of living respectfully together that doesn’t damage our humanity or the planet irrevocably.

As the activists sang on the day: “Changeons le system pas de climat.” Change the system, not the climate.

“There is still much to do but we now have the means, the intent and the hope. In the days, weeks, months and years ahead art, culture and imagination will continue to play their part, helping us to bridge the gap between what we know, and we know we must do. We can see that another world is possible. We have only to choose to create it.” – Bill Mc Kibben

Patrick Driscall is a head gardener and occasional journalist whose interests include growing, music, climate change, human rights and new economics.

Monday, 1 February 2016

My Climate Journey - Pt. 1: Melting Ice and the Kindness of Humanity - by guest blogger Patrick Driscall

“Fear makes us feel our humanity.” Benjamin Disraeli

What a year it’s been. Little did I know in January of last year, that by December I would be sitting on a bridge in Paris demonstrating against climate change, or that I would share many meaningful conversations about climate change at the COP events Emergence organised.

My partner Phil’s father Selwyn told me stories of how he had collected sheep dung from Singleton Park in Swansea during the war selling it from his bicycle to local gardeners for profit. Having realized it was a notable anniversary of the blitz on Swansea during World War 2 I found myself looking at pictures of the war damage in Swansea and was thoughtful about the effects of war on people’s lives.

Somehow, this internet quest led me to peace activism, Satish Kumar and from there to a peace walk being organized right here in my city by Emergence. I didn’t stop to think. I was going to do the walk in memory of my mother Esme who was evacuated from Brixton to Cornwall. The trauma of evacuation and the fact that she never had a chance to reconnect with her parents probably contributed to her suicide when I was seven. Another reason to join the walk was I myself now wanted to feel more connected to Swansea. From these beginnings, the peace walk was the start of something much bigger.

The Swansea Station to the Sea Peace Walk - 27th June 2015
 My climate change interest started in the 80s when we talked about aerosols, and the hole in the ozone layer! Inspired, I made quirky designer T-shirts to sell in London markets to help get the message across. Thirty years later living in Swansea, I realised the fast approaching COP21 climate change negotiations in Paris were the last chance saloon for taking positive steps to stop the world from overheating. I’d already planned to go on the London climate march and now became hopeful of making the Paris demonstrations.

The peace walk turned out to be an amazing and moving experience in good company.  I followed it by booking a place on a Harvest Walk also organized by Emergence.  This included a lovely trek up to Arthurs Stone on Cefn Bryn on Gower and hearing about local growing and farming. The experience reminded me of my activist youth and left me even more determined to go to Paris! A problem for me as a newcomer to Swansea was I was not well connected locally. I literally had no one to demonstrate with in Paris.

“I define connection as the energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard and valued; when they can give and receive without judgement; and when they derive sustenance and strength from the relationship.” - Brene Brown

Listening to Fern Smith from Emergence successfully connect many people together I asked her if there was a way Emergence might organize something around climate change locally. I suspected there were other people like me who felt overwhelmed and even isolated in their quest to do something. To my surprise, out of the blue, a friendly phone call - how would I like to help out in some potential events she was considering?

These events were to be known as COP1, 2 and 3 here in Swansea. The events combined discussion, creative offerings from local performers, music and film screenings. It was fun to be part of the organizing team and to understand that by sharing our concerns and fears we could plan individual solutions and collective actions.

These COP events helped me see my own relationship with climate change. I was encouraged to face up to the guilt I feel, my own part in it and to recognize the breadth of the issue. There is no easy solution and the starting gun has already fired. Sparks flew as the audience let off steam. It was personal and at times challenging. Among the films we saw were Chasing Ice and This Changes Everything.

 The film “Chasing Ice” brought us up close and personal with the melting of the ice caps. En masse it has enormous beauty. When it melts it potentially spells disaster in many ways. The film graphically and beautifully proved it is disappearing and fast. I’m writing this having read that a few weeks ago the temperature at the North Pole shot up by 30 odd degrees in winter perhaps due to climate change. On Twitter there is a report that 35000 walrus are currently grouped on one beach in Alaska because they can’t find any ice nearby. 8000 Arctic Murre birds have been found dead from starvation on another Alaskan beach because the sea is too warm. Icebergs are arriving four months earlier than usual off Newfoundland. Where are we heading on this planet? What can I do about it?

Jack and Finn Harries ’s Arctic Mission video for WWF (kind of a follow up to Chasing Ice)

The enormity and range of issues that add up to climate change can be hard to take in. We really can’t do it all alone but we can do a lot in our own backyards and preferably together as part of this thing called humanity. Many of the best moments for me in the COP events were the conversations between us. Diverse opinions were expressed. Personal reactions and, experiences and inspiring potential solutions were shared. There was much to listen and learn and reflect upon.

The film “This Changes Everything” was a collection of stories brought together by Naomi Klein in her book. They showed the terrifying impacts climate change is already having on this planet’s land, food and people. Importantly it showcased ways in which people across the world were banding together to fight the issues, often with very different people sharing a common cause. Indigenous people were teaming up with ranchers, oil workers with environmentalists. There was destruction throughout, but also hope, as progress was being made. It challenged us to think again about the way we continue on a capitalist growth path and that this threatens our future on Earth. At the COP events there was live music and time to draw, write and discuss all helping us to express how climate change affected us. I felt empowered hearing stories of new initiatives; individual and collective, and found people’s personal reflections particularly illuminating.

 I had mixed feelings when I headed up to London to join the Peoples March for Climate Justice and Jobs. I was sad to be missing the local demos yet felt a strong attachment to London, having lived there for years. I hoped to march with a couple friends and the territory was familiar and easy. I felt this was a big issue that demanded people power on the streets. Arriving in London on the Saturday, I’d arranged to meet my friend Seppe and his new partner Mehmet. We shared a meal together in Soho. The funny thing was Penny Arcade who played a role in Andy Warhol’s film “Women in Revolt” had just been sitting in the very same seat I was now sat at having known Mehmet from his days in New York. I’d just missed her. She is apparently now a performance artist in her own name.

The demo started in squally weather that was enough to scare off my friends from coming. So slightly bedraggled I positioned myself with Greenpeace stuck behind some bear figures held on poles that threatened to knock our heads as we marched. There was an eclectic mix of music from Radiohead’s Thom Yorke who was dj-ing from a wooden ship on wheels. I quickly teamed up with a lovely woman, Jane from Sussex. She shared stories of her involvement in the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament at Greenham Common. Hearing about activism was an inspiring thread in my climate change journey.

Greenpeace Polar Bear - Climate March 2015- Patrick Driscall
The march was atmospheric and included many different causes.  It was exciting to see people from all parts of Britain and overseas. Jeremy Corbyn spoke as did Caroline Lucas of the Green Party and the leaders of the anti fracking campaign in Lancashire were particularly popular. The march ended at Westminster with further speeches including a rousing one from comedian Francesca Martinez and a song from Charlotte Church backed by a Welsh choir.

There were more than 50,000 people on the march. The overall impression for me was one of solidarity around climate justice. The will to change things was clearly expressed in the faces and voices of the people around me.

The biggest thing that stuck in my mind was when Jane said “they are all kind people here”. For me kindness is clearly connected to our humanity. It was our common humanity that was driving us forward that day. It strengthened my resolve to go to Paris.

Patrick Driscall is a head gardener and occasional journalist whose interests include growing, music, climate change, human rights and new economics.

Wednesday, 16 December 2015

COP 1, 2 & 3 - From Paris to Swansea by guest blogger Phoebe Gauntlett

Its well known that theres a block in many peoples minds when it comes to discussing climate change, and the impact were having as a species on the planet we call home. Its a difficult notion to deal with - that unequivocally we are causing such destruction in so many ways. I am well aware that I mostly go about my day living a life that is contributing to this destruction, and as this is something I have to deal with every day, I have to put my hands up and say I do push it to the back of my mind and carry on. This is the case for most people, and is a hard burden to live with. 

The space created by COP3 I believe to be incomparable in the way that it allowed for those often suppressed emotions and fears to be brought out, explored and supported in a caring and trusting environment. The day led the thirty or so attendees through an emotional spiral. It was more than a film about climate change, and more than a discussion session and film about climate change. 

Initially, it gave people the time to settle into the room and connect with each other, getting to know the space and letting the fast pace of life calm a little. The focus of the day was then brought in, alongside everyones shared fears around this often disregarded topic. The One-Eyed Man very effectively brought these fears into the light in the form of the charismatic and passionate voice of Phil Ralph, who says everything were often all too afraid to think and say ourselves, and a whole lot more. At this point there was quite an agitated energy in the air, the effect of a bunch of people in a room with climate change on the forefront of their minds - buzzing with awareness, intrepidity, and spirit. 

The film carried this energy to another level, a mixed bag of emotions for my part  shock and anger laying alongside hope. This Changes Everything is a horror story in many ways, speaking openly and bluntly about the impact of climate change around the world, and how many lives and how much of the land it has destroyed, and will do in the future - bringing into reality all our fears. It goes on however, to tell the story of cases around the world where people have stood up against the destruction, have fought for themselves and for the land around them, and have WON. A much more uplifting message contained in the end. 

Nonetheless, the impact of the main message of the film, the destruction, left a firmer imprint on me, and I believe others too, and left me feeling that sense of hopelessness and despair Im so familiar with. This is why COP3 didnt conclude with the end of the film. The recognition of these feelings is of such importance, and having the time and space to express this and to form it into positive energy, imperative to it not consuming you. After the film, time was given to express those passions through the use of word, colour, images; whatever medium each person connected with, and space was given for each person to speak freely about how the film touched them. We let it all out.

After this, action was at the forefront; discussions on projects, initiatives, and organisations working to improve things and inspire change. People dedicating their time and lives to creating the change we want to see in the world, and opportunities and ways people can get involved. Any action, no matter how big or small, contributes to this movement. 

This knowledge that people are taking matters into their own hands, and that there are so many inspiring stories to hear, took precedence over the feelings of despair; the energy in the room had moved to a different place, one full of vigour, motivation and strength. 

All in all, I feel that the COP Swansea events were an incredible shout out to Paris and COP21 from the people of Swansea, especially as it allowed people who might have wanted to be in Paris for the climate summit to show their support at home. For me, it was also refreshing to be able to express my emotions on the subject, which at that time were particularly prevalent due to what was happening in Paris. COP3 created a space in which I could connect with my feelings alongside others, and move through them as a collective in a supportive environment, to a place of hope.

About Phoebe - "'I'm a London-bred country bumpkin with a passion for all things green and eco. I involve myself with the arts and environmental scene of Swansea as much as I can, as I fell in love with Swansea when I moved here a couple of years ago, and it very quickly became home."

Saturday, 12 December 2015

Reflections on COP3 Swansea by guest blogger Peter Anderson

I broke all personal records travelling to town on Saturday 5th December. Sitting high in the saddle, arms outstretched, I was freewheeling most of the way, literally gone with the wind. Those coming the other way with painful grimaces on their faces and heads turned to the north as the sand blasted their skin like a sadistic exfoliator. Dunes were accumulating in front of cars parked in the side streets. I thought to myself how quickly parts of the city might disappear if weather like this persisted.

A fitting backdrop then for COP3, the third in a trilogy of 6 hour events focused on climate change in Swansea town centre. The venue was Volcano theatre who run a fantastic hot pot of arts and cultural events. Outside the door while putting some cream on my face I ended up in a conversation with a lovely girl, exchanging stories about the realities of our quite different skin conditions! Both somewhat debilitating in different ways.

I suggested that sharing some of the real issues we’re faced with on a daily basis as mortal beings clinging to the the fragile thread of life would be an interesting icebreaker at these kind of events. Fern Smith, the organiser and founder of Emergence, often talks about the positive stuff that can come out of holding that kind of space for a time with others. Too heavy maybe?

A lovely welcome on the door and invitation to keep my bike inside, it was then an assault on the senses by the fluorescents. It always frustrates me when basics like this are not attended to as good ambiance can make people feel so much more comfortable. After checking in with others who tell me they feel a similar way, I politely ask for some of them to be turned off which they soon were thankfully.

Not to dwell on this but I feel there are some key messages here about how many of us clearly choose to filter out and ignore things that are insulting our senses instead of speaking out. This gives us some perspective on either how desensitised or conformist we have become or how much fear we feel when challenged to speak our mind. How much do these traits contribute to the world we live in today? How many of us are suppressing the issues we see in the world today to a place where they can hardly be felt? How many are following the crowd and keeping quiet because of that fearful feeling inside?

Fern later referred to ‘Blessed Unrest’, a book by Paul Hawken, where the title is encouraging us to acknowledge that uneasy feeling we have inside, contemplate on it, get to know it well and use it as a signpost pointing to a place we need to go, somewhere we've never been and that quite frankly ‘scares the **** out of me’ as Phil often says quite openly.

Phil, Fern’s partner and co-facilitator is a very rare breed indeed! If all the the personality traits mentioned above are the chalk, Phil is indeed the cheese, and some tasty, mature, extra-mouldy blue cheddar he is at that! Phil has that rare ability to stand in the middle of a room of people and speak so openly, frankly and truthfully that it's totally compelling to watch. Most of us, certainly me, have never before seen such an eloquent and naked expression of the self laid bare for all to see.

“I'm feeling REALLY scared”, “I’m feeling REALLY angry”, “I'm in a REALLY foul mood” would be his opening gambit. Then he'd stand there and ask us if any of us feel the same way. Of course several resonated and acknowledged the mutual feelings and then he's off, the forthcoming pre-bottled rant now justified. But this was no ordinary rant. Phil managed to deliver in a way that encouraged participation from his listeners with emotive responses soon interjecting, making this a memorable show of many subjects from dealing with the seemingly hopeless nature of our situation to dodgy analogies involving slowly boiling frogs and quantum theory. As Phil would admit “I haven't got a clue where I'm going with this!”, and we subsequently all burst out laughing.

I really feel like I'm learning something brand new and exciting when I watch (and occasionally participate) with Phil in these sessions. It should be a class embedded at every level in our education system aimed at emotional intelligence, meaningful conversations,and confidence building. What a great antidote that would be to the prevailing British etiquette!

“The ice is behind us”, Phil would declare. Yes that's right folks the iceberg is already behind us. Meaning we've gone past the point where we can safely sustain not just human life, but many forms of life on Earth over the medium and certainly longer term. Between 30% & 50% of species are anticipated to become extinct by 2050!!!

Don't worry, life isn't going to just vanish when we reach some arbitrary tipping point, it's far more likely to be a slow and painful demise as catastrophic climate events increase in frequency and fury and take their toll.

I don't mean to be alarmist, but the reality right now is that there IS NO sustainable future for forthcoming generations. Any of us with kids should be as, if not a whole lot more, concerned than anyone else. The current trajectory, and there is little doubt about this if you care to immerse yourself in the data and evidence, is what some refer to as 6X. That being the sixth mass extinction of life on Earth. Shall we pause and reflect on that notion for minute.... 1, 2, 3, ...  (maybe just enough time for you to Google it) .... 59, 60.

Now the 21st COP (conferences of parties) currently being orchestrated in Paris is, as I understand it, trying to come to some agreement on how the world's nations will collectively keep the global temperature below that of 2℃ above what they call pre-industrial levels, meaning the 1880s. We're at about 0.8℃ now.

This seems TOTALLY crazy to me to be trying to avoid some target set well into the future as we already know 1987 was the last year that we stayed under safe limits to sustain life on Earth. I'm talking in terms of carbon in the atmosphere. 350 parts per million (ppm) to be precise. And where are we now? Depressingly, we celebrated the passing of 400ppm earlier this year. To really grasp the extent of this rise, take a glance at this graph.

‘This Changes Everything’ was the fitting title to the film we watched which documented the battle between Capitalism and the climate. In short, capitalism is based on the relentless pursuit of profit at all costs. In turn profit primarily looks at financial reward and unfortunately there is little or no accounting for the wellbeing of people or the planet! Consequently it's perfectly legal and normal (unbelievably!) for you and I to set up a business today that makes us a tonne of cash at the expense of people's health or a pristine natural environment and the habit of other animals

The film followed examples of local communities and their David & Goliath plight to protect their communities, ancestry, local economies, children's future and natural environment from massive industrial projects such as gold mining in Greece, electric power plants in India and the Tar Sands in Alberta, Canada, now the largest industrial project known to man and sprawling over 140,000 sq/km!

The inevitable devastation from these projects is clear to see and in each case fueled an uprising of coordinated collective action from local people, often with surprising results. Displaying our strength through “democratic cooperation” was one of the core positive messages I came away with and one I'd like to see more of and be part of in Swansea.

All this has given me renewed vigour to progress some democratic projects I've been involved with for a while now but also for some new seedlings that have emerged more recently around geographic cooperatives of citizens to take more ownership and responsibility of the places where we live.

These citizen's - or people's - cooperatives would provide a mechanism by which we can organise ourselves more effectively, share and replicate ideas and projects more efficiently and express our collective strength in numbers when necessary to lobby against damaging policy - or to crowdsource local initiatives such as services and buildings which can no longer be supported and threatened with closure.

It's clear to me that a core aspect of our evolutionary journey as humans finding our way on Earth at this time is one from centralised and closed power structures to new distributed and transparent systems that imbue us individually with a strong tangible feeling of empowerment.

We see this transition in almost every sector with new emergent services such as local energy coops (now over 1000 in Germany), Bitcoin and the block chain (with an estimated 7 million users), food coops (paying farmers approx 80p/£ where the supermarkets pay only approx 7p!).

As Fern pointed out at each of the workshops and while referring to much of Joanna Macy's work, the answers lie largely with systemic change and I wholeheartedly agree with this outlook. I'm confident the issues we face are not with the people themselves but with the systems we operate within as they have such a profound influence on shaping our behaviour. One chap piped up with the fact that the 5p charge for plastic bags had reduced their consumption by 80%!! Such a simple initiative clearly deriving massive impact.

Educating young kids, helping to reconnect them with the natural world and installing new ways of doing things that they will then naturally permeate into the world was also a clear priority in the room. Also acknowledged was the role of women and what incredible leaders of communities and healers of the earth they can become when empowered to do so. I believe we must do much more to nurture this.

To cultivate these themes of democratic cooperation, systemic change, empowerment, education and projects that will deliver both social and ecological benefit as a priority over financial, a grand plan has been hatching recently to take on the 6,000sq/ft space above the Volcano Theatre.

Coastal Housing, the landlords, have already been very generous in offering the space at a very modest rent so all that remains is for interested parties to express their interest and to crowdsource the space into existence. I'm massively excited about this prospect because it means I might get to see all those lovely people again that I've met over the past 3 weekends who I feel like I share a meaningful and common bond with.

Thanks to Fern and Phil’s decision to stay in Swansea and create a space to inspire local people through their Emergence initiative instead of stomping the streets of Paris, a community of kindred spirits has had a brief chance to get to know one another and some chemistry has been set in motion. Clearly this is just the tip of the iceberg and I don't think it'll be long before we experience some tangible alchemy.