Reflections from the wheelie bin

A lot of ecology-related words have become highly politically charged – sustainability, environment, climate change etc – to the point where they seem to have lost all power to engage.  To restore the words’ meaning and help me understand again, I often find it useful to visit the woods, especially ancient woodland.

Mature ecosystems are mind-blowingly impressive and complex feats of design.  Marvel, for example, at the perfect and endless cycle of life and death.  One thing’s death provides life for another.  Waste is food.  Decay and growth rely on each other.  There are no piles of rubbish pushed outside the wood, and the beetles have no means to ship it to China.  It is healthy and whole.  I suppose the ancient woodland achieves ancientness exactly because of this.

Any condition other than zero waste is what “unsustainable” means.  That is why spiders do not make loom bands and woodpeckers don’t use power tools.  This is why they still exist.  Humans, however, have begun taking things like chlorine and hydrocarbons, and mixing them together to make toxic compounds that the earth has never had to deal with before, and we spray it over the ground which is where food comes from.  We make rather a lot of nasty waste that no-one can have a use for.  We make cars and batteries and convince ourselves this can last.

wheelie bin 2I ponder this as I drag my overflowing wheelie bin to the edge of my domain for someone else to take it I don’t know where.  My wheelie bin violates that basic Law of Waste that disqualifies me from being part of a mature, healthy system; disqualifies my existence past a certain (approaching) deadline.  It doesn’t feel this way from my armchair, but Progress has been steadily transforming a highly sophisticated ancient ecosystem into an immature, malfunctioning one.

It feels like we are coming to the end of a degenerative phase of evolution.  There’s no exact date at which this phase started – the invention of writing perhaps, or farming, or electricity.  Anything that dramatically boosts human productivity and fills wheelie bins, anything that produces waste rather than food, is broken and doomed.  Our civilisation has become huge and destructive enough, in an enclosed and finite space, to threaten its own existence.  And, belatedly, is provoking increasing numbers of participants to sense its demise.

Sadly, we are not also on the cusp of a regenerative phase, just because climate change is reaching the top of the agenda.  Not as long as we think that switching to a hybrid car is the solution, or throwing our batteries into special Hazardous Household Waste bins.  If a person achieves the factual insight into what havoc is involved (read this maybe) in manufacturing and then disposing of any type of car – regardless of the driving part – combined with an equally factual but also spiritual insight (which can’t be got from Upworthy I’m afraid) into how the soil, water and air that’s getting filled with waste is the stuff that nurtures all living things, an extension of ourselves, then behaviour in that person would surely change.  It is the only thing that can happen when a healthy human has such an insight…

But I do not seem to be healthy – must be all that physical, mental and spiritual waste everywhere – so there is little or no behaviour change… and out rolls my wheelie bin filled with another fortnight’s Progress.

None of this truth is a pretty picture, and maybe that’s why it is so staggeringly ignored.  It is natural that this should be the source of huge underlying anxiety for those who seek to deny it, a source of deep despair for those who have just begun to confront it, and a source of profound inspiration and motivation for those who have accepted the truth and are moved to action.

So what can I do, as despair starts to seize me?  Funnily enough, despair is a rather important thing, which can be invited in.  It reflects a deep forgotten love for life.  Once digested, it leads to gratitude and positive action.  There is always a scary guardian at the gate…

If I spare the time to stand in the woods and have a real look, or to stand by my wheelie bin a few moments longer and gaze at what I am contributing to my own ecosystem, I might begin to make a few simple connections and actually begin to give a shit.  Or at least acknowledge that I am too lost in fear, comfort and powerlessness to do anything, but allow the productive forces of despair to commence their good work on me.  Anything will do, anything except numbness and indifference.  Anything but a wasted life.


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