Save the world, and save ourselves…where to start?

My yoga teacher keeps repeating to us every time we meet him, ‘slow down and simplify your life’. I think that if we are going to succeed in reducing the amount of pollution we create, we need to follow this advice. I keep observing my life, and the life we collectively live and I must confess that it feels like this big knot that I don’t really know where to start unknotting. I want to use less my car, but I pack my days with so many things ‘to do’ that this is going to be almost impossible during the winter months (it is quite difficult to achieve already now, but I’m still managing…almost every day). I want to produce less waste, but I do buy food that helps me cook faster: pre-cooked pulses in tetra pack, vegetables at the local supermarket that come packed in plastic because the option to buy at the Asian shops downtown seem too time consuming for the moment, cereal for the kids for breakfast, etc… Why? Because I don’t have time during the week to spend that much time cooking, and I still want to give my kids a varied diet (exclude the cereal in this statement).

I could continue writing about how I am NOT contributing to stop global warming and waste production, but I think you get my point. My point is not to go on a self-blame ride either, I am just observing, and hopefully, will find better ways to really simplify my life so I have time to make choices that don’t affect the environment in a negative way.

I see this happening at the bigger scale too. I was lucky enough to be among the teachers at our school that took the middle school students to an interdisciplinary day about biodiversity some days ago. One of the highlights of the day was a political debate led by a couple of our students where local politicians were confronted with questions about the environment written by our students or asked ‘live’ by the audience during the debate. All politicians in the panel seemed to agree on the fact that we need to take care of the environment to take care of biodiversity, but their answers were for me quite wishy washy. One of the questions was about protecting the bumblebees. All the politicians in the panel agreed that keeping or increasing green spaces in our city was the way to go, as well as encouraging people to grow grass on their roofs, and many other very innovative and positive ideas.

Our school is by a big public park . It has mainly trees and grass, and some weed does grow like dandelions, and other wild flowers. During the last four or five years however, the municipality (or whoever owns the park) has started to rent (or lend?) the park to different instances to run festivals. There is a kids festival in the Spring, a “neighbourhood festival” at the end of the summer with concerts, this weekend was another kind of festival. I understand the motivation and the thinking behind it: to bring people together and promote culture, but here we are again wanting too much at the same time. Every time these festivals are finished and the organisers take their stuff away, the grass is damaged by the amount of people tramping on it in the lapse of some few days/hours, the equipment they bring, the cars/trucks they need to use to transport all the stuff they need for the festivals. This is what I see, but what about the insects and birds that live in the park? How are they affected by this? So what is the priority here? Protecting the park to protect biodiversity or to use the park as a festival arena? Can we have both? Do we need to prioritise something?

This brings me to another advise I have been hearing from my Yoga teacher the last five years: prioritise and live with clarity. What is your clarity now? Is it to experience this and that, to not miss out, to do this and do that, to get this and get that, or is it really to take care of the environment? If we take this seriously, we need to start making some serious changes. Changes that I feel need to be made both individually and collectively in order for them to make an impact.

I have started to think that to simplify our lives is not what we have grown to believe is to simplify our lives. To buy fast food because we don’t have time to cook, is not to simplify our lives. To use the car instead of public transportation because we don’t have time is a sign that we don’t have a simple life.

I am trying to take small steps, but I must confess that I still feel that it is not enough. I am much more conscious of what I buy and where I buy it, I have stopped eating meat, and serve less meat to my family. I am trying to encourage my kids to reflect on what the want and what they really need. I am avoiding using the car as much as I can except when I have to drive to the other side of town to take my girls to swimming on weekdays. This makes me wonder, should we give up swimming just because of that? Should we change clubs to the one that is at the swimming pool on this side of town? Oh, but we like that other club so much better! That is one of the dilemmas we’re in for the moment.

So what is my point? My point is that I think that in order to be able to start taking more care of nature, we need to start slowing down, look at our lives and prioritise what really matters and let go of what we can let go of. We have to create some clarity, what is it that really matters right now? We need to live closer to nature too. How can we respect something that we have become disconnected from? We certainly don’t need to panic or loose motivation when we look at the challenge we have before ourselves, but we need to take it seriously and reevaluate what we think is simplifying our lives because I believe a lot of it is simplifying it short term, but not longterm.

On self-responsibility and the climate change

A concept in the yoga practice that I find most appealing is self-responsibility.  In order to improve our well-being, we need to stop pointing our finger at the world and take a look at what is happening inside us. The fact that life is tough at times is not denied, but precisely because life can be tough because life is unpredictable, we need to learn to stand our ground and do our best through storms.

I am a mum and a teacher, and I have been reflecting a lot about the youth movement that is going on to save the environment. I think it is great that a young girl has taken the initiative to bring awareness among children and adolescents about the challenges our natural environment is facing because of years and years of unconscious use and misuse of resources and uncontrolled development of cities and industry.

What worries me, is kids and adolescents learning to point their fingers by blindly going out on the streets, especially in countries like Norway without even knowing who the ‘bad guy’ is.

I know many countries in the world need to put the conservation of the environment higher in their priority list, I know the Norwegian government could do much better than they already do. I think marching and protesting is good, but I don’t think it is good enough.

As a teacher, I think that I can support students striking and going out on the streets to protest only if they are knowledgeable, and see the whole picture. They need to set this movement in context and know exactly what they are asking for. I cannot accept empty words like “We are marching for the environment”. How does the environment benefit from my students and my kids skipping school and going out on the streets and yell words they don’t even understand?

Consumerism is a known word in rich countries like Norway. Almost everybody nowadays has to have a certain amount of things. As a mum, I am often trying to find the right balance between educating conscious kids by reflecting on what they want and what they actually need, and not raising super alternative kids that don’t fit in. I have heard so many times parents say they just have to give in because everybody has this or has that. I admire those parents that don’t give in. I have some students in middle school that don’t have a smartphone, and even though I know they do think it sucks, they still have friends and live a meaningful life. The smartphone is just an example, but maybe we can spend more time with our kids reflecting before buying.

We adults get carried away too. We want the house, and the cabin (and maybe even two cabins), and the car(s), and the boat, the trips to faraway places at least twice a year, the clothes, the full equipment for every little hobby we start, etc, etc. Maybe we too need to reflect on how much we want and how much we actually need.

Going back to the idea of self-responsibility, yes, let’s demand from our authorities to have better policies to protect the environment, but in addition to going out there and point our fingers, let’s take a close look at our lifestyle and start making some changes. Let’s get a bit uncomfortable, eat less (or no) meat, buy less, teach our children to need less. Look at what we buy, where it comes from and investigate the impact its production has on the environment. Take our family out to nature and teach them to respect it.

Let’s allow this youth movement to open our eyes to what we do and reflect on the changes we can make to contribute to save the environment. Don’t allow this movement to become another way to escape from our responsibility.