Communities can become the driving force behind the concrete changes that our planet is so badly in need of. A multiplicity of joint initiatives is a good antidote for the feeling of powerlessness and incapacity, including the incapacity that leads us to accept world leaders’ procrastination, writes Johanne Schmidt-Nielsen from Denmark.
I think more and more of us share that same feeling. We are trying the best we can to behave in climate-conscious ways. We ride our bikes to work, make an effort to buy quality goods, which last longer, refrain from eating big red steaks every day, generally go for the eco-friendly products and bring our discarded clothes to the local recycling-shop.
Even so, we are struck by powerlessness. I certainly am, for one. Because how much effect will it have? Will it matter at all? We stand with our own small achievements in one hand, but even now, when we’ve got the Paris Agreement in the other, it is excruciatingly difficult to see how the world is going to make it.
Indeed, the climate agreement in Paris was good in the sense that it underlined the global consensus that the fossil fuel era is a thing of the past. And that something needs to happen. It’s just that no one actually have committed to doing what is necessary to achieve that goal, everyone has agreed upon.
For that reason, solely relying on the world leaders it is not an option. Unfortunately, in Denmark we have a right-wing government which is not even ashamed of reducing its green ambitions and which has invented the concept of so-called “green realism”, which is neither green nor realistic. As such, it is outrageous (in Danish language we say: “it is a cry to the sky”) that responsible behaviour and action on climate now must come from other sides in our society.
This is what leaves you in this situation, as a responsible individual, where you think: “But how would I possibly be able to make a difference?”
I think we need to think about it in a different way, because as individuals we are rarely able to create change. But that is something we are able to in communities. History is full of perfect examples of this. And that community does not necessarily have to be the State.
Of course each of us have a responsibility, but at the same time we must join forces and move forwards together in, for example, our local housing association, to find common ways we can make energy and heat consumption greener. We must make use of our togetherness in the pension fund – if used wisely, the gigantic investments which pension funds make can have significant influence on society’s development.
We can engage with the local grocer co-op and together have an influence on which products are placed on the shelves. We can help each other to create good opportunities for having green choices when we shop. Establish a food community with neighbours and thereby contribute to supply a district with healthy, organic and climate-friendly food.
Seen alone, the many small initiatives may not seem particularly significant. And it is easy to claim that green, communal, small-scale initiatives are completely out of touch with the scale of the problem – that global climate problems will never be solved with our collective tomato-growing on the roof. But in this way, the real potential of communities is being overlooked. Each of them as well as in total, they do make a difference.
Local food communities who insist on non-toxic food from local farmers, for example, help establish a market for food that is not transported several times around the globe before it ends up on a plate. Just like it matters when people on the island Samsø join forces to buy land in the community with the aim to become self-sufficient in organic food.
The entire Danish wind adventure, and the fact that Denmark will soon have 50 percent of our electricity generated by wind turbines, started in small communities – where it was then picked up by visionary politicians who dared to invest.
A multiplicity of joint initiatives is a good antidote for the feeling of powerlessness and incapacity, including the incapacity that leads us to accept world leaders’ procrastination.
When people send e-mails to me and ask what they can do, I think the best answer is: Get organised. The single-standing, politically correct consumer does not have enough influence.
The future is green communities which are able to put massive pressure on the leaders, whose actions we indisputably depend upon. And in particular: Communities, which in themselves can become the driving force behind the concrete changes that our planet is so badly in need of.
Johanne Schmidt-Nielsen is spokesperson for the Red–Green Alliance in Denmark
‘Fællesskab’ is key
There is a new book out in Denmark, called ‘Life After Growth’, which puts more words, research and depth to Johanne Schmidt-Nielsen’s call above to get organised and to have confidence in the transformational strengths of local, green communities.
Jon Faber from the Danish newspaper Information recently interviewed the authors of ‘Life After Growth’.
“What is the first step in this society-wide transformation? What is most important?” he asked them.
“Fællesskaberne,” co-authors Marie Holt Richter and John Holten-Andersen replied in unison.
Meaning: the local communities, the co-ops, the collectives and the groups of people who realise they have something in common and begin to share it between themselves. There is no English word for the Danish word Fællesskab, but imagine a word that mixes ‘local community’ and ‘something we are together about’, ‘have in common’ and ‘share’ into one single word, then that would be close to what Fællesskab means.
Marie Holt Richter: “It is local fællesskaber – the local communities – that make another way of life possible. And in our book, we are pointing towards such fællesskaber. Just take a look at Svanholm [which was founded in 1978 as Denmark’s largest collective with shared finances]. In Svanholm, the residents put part of their income aside for the community, and in return they get the advantage of not having to go through this daily battle with themselves while standing at the supermarket’s refrigerators – should I buy organic or not? They just go out and get what they need in the large pantry.”
John Holten-Andersen: “And then of course there are duties connected to living there as well. There are dishes to be washed, and buildings that must be maintained, soil that must be nurtured…”
Marie Holt Richter: “The point is that if you want to be part of a local community, there will be situations, from time to time, when you have to put restrictions or limitations on your own personal freedom. I myself live in a collective with rules, and sometimes I need to stay at home to do my share of cooking for the others, and so on.”
“Words like ‘pantry’ and ‘collective’ make it sound like an elitist project. Aren’t you afraid to only be preaching to the already converted?”
“It is a misconception that the restoration of sustainable, local communities is only for those who have the resources,” says John Holten-Andersen and highlights the energy community on the island Samsø:
John Holten-Andersen: “It may be that the initial idea to turn the island into a green, sustainable island based on renewable energy originated from greenie-minded intellectuals like us, but first of all it was possible to get the entire island involved with the project: from the Nationals-voting farmers to the former conservative mayor. Secondly, the project was never about being politically correct. It was a survival strategy.”
Marie Holt Richter: “Samsø is an example of how you can gather people who share some acute practical problems and needs. It may have been based on a green agenda, but there was no converted choir to preach to, just a bunch of farmers who knew they would be forced to move away from their island unless some new jobs were created very quickly.”
John Holten-Andersen: “The director of Samsø Energy Academy, Søren Hermansen [who is coming to give a key note speech in Melbourne in February 2017, more here,] actually is interviewed in our book. He talks about how he started out by talking about a green vision. Then he learned that many of the locals couldn’t care less about a green vision. The academy’s caretaker, for instance, suggested to invest in a new oil furnace, simply because it was easier. It was only when Hermansen articulated his project as a remedy for solving problems with living in a remote district and challenging the ongoing centralisation that he got the wind in his sails.”
“But with Svanholm and Samsø, we’re talking about some relatively small examples. How will we be able to up-scale Svanholm and Samsø to a society-wide transition?”
“What we are talking about here, will never succeed as a ‘top-down’ project, where some sympathetic politician-type makes things happen from above,” replies John Holten-Andersen. “It must come from bottom-up, through a lot of local community initiatives which are putting so much pressure on the politicians that the structures eventually will have to give in. I see many more small projects cropping up today than I did just five years ago.”
» The above is an excerpt of this article in Danish language
New public urban vegetable garden in Copenhagen
‘The King’s Vegetable Garden’ (Kongens Køkkenhave) is a popular and modern kitchen and a service for local residents in Copenhagen, Denmark, who want to learn how to grow fruit, vegetables and edible flowers.
“Together, let us create a stunning green frame for new communities in the heart of our capital,” sounded the call when the garden was inaugurated in May 2015. The garden was created by the Food Ministry in cooperation with the Agency for Palaces and Properties and TagTomat and is situated where King Christian IV in the 1600s established a vegetable garden which supplied food and crops for the royal family.
The large raised beds are self-watering and each have a water reservoir of approximately 300 litres. On Wednesdays, a gardener from TagTomat helps volunteers tend to the garden. The garden is also used in workshops for children.
Forget the politics, we’re making changes now
Natalie Isaacs, founder of 1 Million Women, wrote:
“We can’t just fight for climate action, we must live it too.”
“There are great things happening globally in the fight against climate change; China is on a fast track for a renewable energy future, Bhutan is completely carbon negative, and The Paris Agreement has entered into effect. But with everything on the table, there’s still a gap. Countries need to dig deeper if we have any chance of keeping the world below 1.5°C degrees of warming.
Which is why we must rise above any political system and just get on with it.
Just imagine if entire populations cut energy usage by 20%, ate half as much meat, stopped over-consuming, or took public transport instead of driving their cars solo. Imagine if we all divested from banks and institutions that invest in fossil fuels and used every single dollar we spend to shape the kind of world we want to live in.
There’s no doubt that changing how we live is challenging; we are ingrained in a society of over-consumption, and often detached from the impacts of our lives. To truly, profoundly, and honestly change how we live, we must emotionally connect with what is at stake. We must peel back the lid on the culture of convenience that we live in, and take ownership for our actions.
And that’s the essence of 1 Million Women.
In 2017 we are launching our new, free to download, App for zero carbon living. We are rolling out our new Roadshow, showing women everywhere a new way of living. The world needs a lifestyle revolution and 1 Million Women is leading the charge.”
» Source: Newsletter
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Yep, Natalie – well said. This is where we are at. Our elected leaders have failed us big time. It turns out that it is entirely up to us – individuals, citizens, families and communities – if we want to see change, if we as a society want to get out of this absolutely irresponsible and life-threatening stalemate, this pathetic inaction, if we want to begin to make a real measurable difference for our children and future generations, securing that they will be able to live in peace and security on this planet after we have left them.
If you want to see change, be that change! There is no other way.
The transition to a zero carbon society which we have up till now been patiently and quietly waiting for someone ELSE to kickstart, is not going to happen unless we begin to “BE that change” which we want to see in the world. It really is the time to evaluate what your priorities are, how your lifestyle impacts the planet’s ecosystems, and to figure out what needs to be done differently.
The good news is that you are not alone. This is an emergency – and this is something we will have to do together.