Gardening #2 (is it “green”?)

Is gardening a “green behaviour” anyway? Not necessarily!

I regard it as a recycling and repurposing opportunity (all sorts of throwaway items turn out to have potential garden uses, that’s part of the satisfaction) but buying a few things is unavoidable. So I’ve trotted along to my local garden centre and my local Wilkos. From this it is very clear that gardening can also function as a shopping opportunity.

For example it turns out you can buy specially made little plastic nubkins to pop on top of your canes so that you don’t accidentally poke your eye out when bending down to look at your plants. The principle is a good one but it takes no ingenuity whatsoever to make your canes safe with corks, or plastic bottle tops, or chunkettes of expanded polystyrene, or old drinks bottles or whatever. Plastic whatsits are also available to join canes (also available in plastic) together when constructing wigwams for climbing beans – but but but, you know … string for goodness sake. But not only are these gizmoids sold, but someone somewhere must have designed them, someone whose employer was trying to expand the number of things that could be sold to people.

Which is fine, I suppose, because that’s how the world now works – flogging stuff to people – and heaven forbid that anyone should call me “anti-business” (whatever that’s supposed to mean – like “luddite” and “anti-car” it’s just another meaningless boo-word), but these plastic fubbles do not add any real functionality above corks and string. Presumably some people do buy them, but why?

More money than time? So you think “I’ll get into gardening!” which is at root a wholly positive, wonderful, and green urge, and, as one does at the start of projects, one gathers together materials. The gathering together of equipment and materials feels like a part of project itself, feels like an active sort of doing something, making a start. But this can be deceptive because what can happen is that one’s enthusiasm becomes displaced onto shopping – especially as shopping is not a new activity but a wholly familiar one, and one which takes place in a familiar and predictable environment. And shopping is fun, yes I know that: it can create quite a gratifying sense of directedness and autonomy. Kind of: “Ok, got my list, got my shopping trolley, all set to go, I need these and these and better get more of these … and oh, look – those will be useful, and ooh, I like the look of that, and ummm maybe instead of bamboo canes I’ll get those plastic ones because they won’t splinter, and …”

So you feel like you’ve done something. But in fact, so far, you haven’t done anything at all except fulfil your social role as ‘consumer’. You have not moved one inch closer to the benefits that you can expect from a bit of gardening: no closer to perfectly fresh food, no time spent outside, no physical exertion, no social capital from being able to talk about gardening with other gardeners, and certainly no true feelings of greater connection with the natural world.

And when (or possibly if) you actually do get going, there will arise a further set of consumer opportunities in the purchase of overspecc’d tools and equipment (power tools make sense for professional gardeners, and so – perhaps – do heavyweight pesticides for farmers, but it doesn’t make you a better gardener to use the tools used by professionals because there are questions of appropriateness, of understanding).

Oh dear, this is going to be like the flying thing isn’t it? I start out with a plan of a couple of posts and it just drags on and on and on … and I also appear to be a darker shade of green than I wish. So anyway, why can “growing a few veg” be counted as “green behaviour”? I’ll do that one next time.

Gardening #1 (intro)

Back in November 2015, shortly after starting this blog (which in reality is no time at all, even though, in delusory internet-time, it is so long ago as to be not even worth mentioning), I laid out a list of my personal green behaviours. Not as a boast, (no really, not even a “humblebrag”) but as a starting point for further discussion on wider environmental issues. One of those green behaviours was “I’ve started growing a few veg”.

I have a tiny, snail-ridden backyard, half of which is paved (and paved over what I think must be a filled-in basement, because there is no depth of soil beneath), and half which is an – ahem – “wildlife garden” – that’s to say it’s covered in comfrey and comfrey-loving critters (bees!) I did make some early attempts to dig this over and plant stuff in it. ‘Stuff’ certainly germinated – the soil seems very fertile (you should see the size of the worms) – but was almost instantly devoured by snails. So I’ve mostly left the comfrey to get on with it, and am growing in containers on the paved bit, using my two small south-facing windowsills as the ‘greenhouse’.

Actually, I think what I’ve been doing for the last three years is not so much “gardening” more of a “garden-themed science project”. There’s so much basic stuff about the physical world that has demonstrated itself to me – including things I “knew” but didn’t really know. I’m going to spread my gardening discussion out into a number of posts and one of them will give a list of these “experimental findings” but before I get to that, I have to ask if “gardening” is necessarily a “green behaviour” at all …

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It is against the rules to write a blog post mentioning the word “garden” without a photo, so here you go:

Taken yesterday. Those tomatoes have *flowers* on them. Which means I could get fruit in *May*. Hah!

Taken yesterday. Those tomatoes have *flowers* on them. Which means I could get fruit in *May*. Hah!

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Individual and collective

As individual action, and why it’s worth doing, seems to be one of the themes of this blog, here are some apposite words from Kevin Anderson:

“I do not see the individual and collective (formal and informal institutions) as separate. They are unavoidably and intimately entwined, only drawn apart as a convenient reductionist tool of analysis to help make sense of complicated and complex issues. But we have to repeatedly remind ourselves that the separation is nothing but an epistemological construct – it is not ‘real’.[…]

When I focus on the individual, I’m seeing them, typically, as a symbolic but essential catalyst for collective (system) change.[…]

So individuals are solely an ignition source for the flames from which a Phoenix may arise – but only if others and ultimately institutions are mobilised.”

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Not talking about climate

From George Marshall on climate outreach (my bolding):

My view is that the climate change community (a deliberately all-embracing term that encompasses politicians, policy makers, scientists and  campaign organizations) have all underestimated the critical importance of social conversations in generating change. Peer-to-peer conversations provide a vital signal to us about the issues that are important and the opinions that are socially required for us to hold. And the conversation itself provides us with the forum within which we can then rehearse and negotiate our own views.

Such climate conversations are the essential underpinning for political change. If people do not mention climate change with friends, they do not mention it to pollsters either, which is why climate change never appears on the regular polls of key voter issues and is sidelined in elections. Politicians see it as a risky and divisive issue which will yield few votes so they too avoid mentioning climate change.

(The piece is about how little we talk about this – ‘stealth denial’ (“the fact that the majority of those who understand the problem intellectually don’t live as though they do“). Oh how true – I’ve talked a bit myself about how difficult it is to bring up such subjects in everyday life – relevant bit is halfway through, below the asterisks)

 

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Why is “less” so bad?

From Vaclav Smil (Energy at the Crossroads, 2003, MIT press) (emphases in bold are mine, those in italics are the author’s).

“what is called for is a moderation of demand so that the affluent western nations would reduce their extraordinarily high per capita energy consumption not just by 10% or 15% but by at least 24-35%. Such reductions would call for nothing more than a return to levels that prevailed just a decade or no more than generation ago. How could one even use the term sacrifice in this connection? Did we live so unbearably 10 or 30 years ago that the return to those consumption levels cannot be even contemplated by serious policymakers because they feel, I fear correctly, that the public would find such a suggestion unthinkable and utterly unacceptable?

[…]

“would the billions of today’s poor people be distressed when a generation from now they could experience the quality of life that was enjoyed by people in Lyon or Kyoto during the 1960’s?”

…I will ask any european reader … having a good recollection of the 1960’s, this simple question: what was so unbearable about life in that decade? What is so precious that we have gained since that time through our much increased energy use that we seem to be unwilling even to contemplate a return to those levels of fuel and electricity consumption?”

[from pages 338 and 353 of the 2005 edition]

The Green Party – further thoughts #2

How are the bees in my bonnet doing?

I’ve previously given the reasons I (re)joined the green party – basically:

“The mere presence of a Green party in boring old mainstream politics – having councillors, MPs, MEPs MSPs, Assembly Members, Lords – has the effect of making it feel legitimate to take the environmental context seriously. It gives salience to the wider physical context in which all the fun of finance and politics and business and trade and art and shopping and human life in general takes place. Green ideas will sound louder because some of their proponents are willing to play the game of mainstream politics.”

Tom Chance recently said something similar, and with the authority of actually having worked for elected green politicians in the London Assembly:

“It’s widely assumed that the Green Party isn’t needed now that other parties take ‘green’ issues seriously. It’s also often argued within the Green Party that we shouldn’t focus too much on ecological issues for fear of reinforcing the impression that we’re a single issue party.

But in my experience, it was all too often necessary to have a Green politician in the room to get ecological issues raised, and all too important for them to take those opportunities.”

It is because that particular bee is still buzzing that I chose to renew my membership.

The other “bee” is that, as I said in one of last years posts, the Green Party is not “left-wing”. Party luminary (I suspect he’d be amused by that description) Rupert Read seems to agree with me, though with rather more philosophical depth. Unfortunately we seem to be in a diminishing minority on that one.

The Clive Lord tendency

The Green Party had a leadership election recently. I gave my first preference vote to Clive Lord. He’s an elder of the party, almost a founder member, and I voted for him because he has rather similar bees in his bonnet. He stood for election, not with any serious hope of winning (he’s now in his eighties), but as an opportunity to send those bees out to forage.

His blog is worth reading and I have been gratefully enlightened by his arguments in favour of the Citizen’s Income (or something which amounts to it) as a means of creating the fairness which would be necessary for a steady-state economy to be acceptable. Here is his pitch to voters in a by-election (which he claims did actually work on well-off ‘natural’ conservative voters):

“The Green Party was formed to deal with things like climate change, but there are powerful vested interests delaying this. There will have to be a much fairer society if we live within the Earth’s limits, so the only thing we can be sure of is that people like you will pay more tax. But what you will get for your money is a planet fit for your grandchildren.”

He is also quite clear that the Green Party has “lost it’s way”, losing it’s specific environmental-limits-to-growth focus by opening its doors to any and every worthy liberal cause. It’s a toughie that one – worthy causes are of course worthy and who could refuse them a home? Except that … well, one thing that has become clear to me recently is that I am an anti-utopian and that “the perfect is the enemy of the good”. In a practical Green Party context this means that it is important that the social justice tail does not wag the ecological dog. I do genuinely find this a difficult conclusion, and I have havered over it, but what decided me is the following thought.

Accepting quite how deep in the soup we are is difficult, painful really. A good life is still possible for everyone on earth, but it cannot be the same kind of good life that is now enjoyed by most in the developed countries. There is therefore, even in some people committed enough to go and join a political party which titles itself “green”, an unconscious tendency to shy away from how bad things really are, and a welcoming of displacement activity. And what better displacement activity than social justice causes? Particularly as, (see earlier) a sustainable society, to be even tolerable, let alone pleasurable, has to be above all fair and reasonably equal.

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Last word to Clive:

“I have often said I cannot leave the Green Party, I have nowhere else to go. That remains true, but it does need putting back on the rails.”

Oh dear.