When I was a young university student in 1981, Helen Caldicott’s film If you Love This Planet played in one of the lecture theatres and on a gloriously sunny spring afternoon I went to see it. If for some reason (like perhaps you are visiting from another planet) you’ve never heard about this film and Dr. Caldicott’s work, it is about the threat of nuclear war – of what will happen to the planet if nuclear weapons are deployed intentionally or accidentally, as well as the risks of uranium mining.
I came out of the documentary in a state of shock, fearful that a nuclear explosion was likely at any second. Even the brightness of the sun seemed threatening. The intense fear and anxiety lasted for months. I remember going to sleep being thankful that we’d got through another day and wondering if I’d see tomorrow. Eventually the raw fear did leave but still sometimes it amazes me that we have actually managed to avoid dropping a nuclear weapon in all these years since — and there have been several accidental close calls.
When my friend asked me to go and see Rob Stewart’s new movie Revolution with her I wasn’t very enthusiastic about it because I remembered that trauma from If You Love This Planet, but she said she’d heard it was an uplifting message. Yes, you must see this film too. The main message of the movie is that our oceans are dying, or rather phytoplankton are, and they are responsible for producing at least half of the oxygen we breathe. We have about 20 years in which to avoid catastrophe for life on earth.
“Every second breath we take comes from the ocean.”
Well, I guess the good news is that I didn’t feel traumatized and paralyzed after watching this documentary. The world has changed since my university days. For one thing through social media and this blog I can process and share my feelings. We have a voice now.
Biologists believe the earth in the process of the sixth mass extinction. Think about that for a moment – only 20 years left! Will we continue much as we are today until a fateful day 20 years from now when it all collapses? Somehow I don’t think so.
One of my first thoughts after coming out of the film is that people are going to need some way to process this, to deal with the stress and anxiety because if we have any chance of turning this around, life as we know it will have to drastically change. Scientists are saying we need to stop burning fossil fuels. It isn’t as if there is an unlimited supply of fossil fuel left anyway: many scientists say the depletion is already in sight. Yet we continue ‘business as usual.’ What can we do, as individuals, that will make our voices heard? Stewart says: “don’t buy anything.”
Distrust any enterprise that requires new clothes.
~ Henry David Thoreau.
Which is exactly what I said to my friend as we walked home after watching Revolution. To me that means contentment with what I have and making do, buying used goods, looking after things and when I do make a new purchase, chose better quality goods that will last. What I do for leisure must change: less travel for one thing. I’m not pretending this will be easy, and I applaud those who are already there. I know I have some inner work to do and habits to break.
And at the same time, if we all stop consuming – or even if we as a society drastically cut down – people will become displaced in their jobs – and not only in the manufacturing industry. Our revolution has to expand to figure out alternate ways of surviving. We need to start thinking now about what is really important. As I see it we need visionaries, healers, inventors, movers and shakers, teachers, poets, artists, writers, musicians, growers, and fixers. Green spaces, beauty and sacred space are important, but we really don’t need more shopping malls.
My greatest hope is that as a society we will look beyond our own survival. You and I will live and die no matter what happens, but how each of us decides to live with whatever time is left to us will make a difference. Like planting a tree, we don’t do it for ourselves but for the next generation and if I can do something today that will mean my young nephews have a future, it will be worth it.