On many occasions I have made a long list of things to do: urgent things, important things, really important things, and admin stuff. Then I go about doing all the easy things – all the admin, the urgent emails and none of the important stuff that demands wholehearted and uncomfortable commitment.
I need to careful about how my attention is focused. Too much attention in the wrong places does not lead to good places: this is the danger of Small Victories. Small victories are comforting but dangerous distractions from deeper issues.
Most recently, I was reminded about this by the fracking debate. I was a at gathering in my village last month, attended by the local MP and ex-Energy Minister, to discuss questions around fracking. Fracking sounds like a ludicrous idea. So ludicrous that it won’t take off, surely. If it does, I’m sure I’ll turn up waving angry placards. It does need attention because ludicrous ideas have been known to take hold in the past (burning billions of tonnes of coal to make disposable novelty plastic toys for instance, or buying a house bigger than you need with a mortgage you can’t pay).
But too much attention on fighting the ludicrous idea can divert the attention away from the fact that my own unsustainable lifestyle is the real problem. So maybe we need to talk a bit less about fracking for a while. The real problem around fracking and renewables is not how we generate our energy, but that we consume vastly too much energy – for things that we generally do not need, and need to learn to do without. Water supplies and democracy are already threatened, fracking is only another example highlighting this; beating fracking won’t do anything about the fix we’re in.
Small victories tend to justify and prolong the wider status quo. They do not challenge the real problem, they are worthwhile causes that make me feel I am doing something, when I’m not really. As long as I concentrate on small victories, I can just keep on consuming, and voting for governments that encourage the nation to consume more and grow.
Buying green products, signing petitions, doing sponsored runs, attending charity galas – these are all good things to do but the mistake is to think that it is enough; that’s when small victories become a threat. They become an escape from the uncomfortable deeper truths, a dreadfully scaled-up version of spending the day reading Upworthy articles shared on Facebook rather than doing my overdue homework.
What does appear to be necessary – something along the lines of radical, government-led behaviour change – unfortunately lies a long way outside my comfort zone. In many ways my comfort zone is the problem – there is a heavy toll that has arisen and accumulated from the attempted elimination of hardship in western lifestyles, through short term convenience and happy-gadgets and other things powered by coal and shale gas and solar panels. This erosion of fortitude leaves me poorly placed to do the important things required of me.
Once I’ve done my admin and my emails I have little time and energy left for anything else – a few small victories and I’m already exhausted, or even worse I feel righteously satisfied, full up on little goals like a feast on white processed bread. The energy debate is about far more than electricity, it’s about how and where I direct my own power.