Seeing the trees for the wood

California is on fire in November; national politicians are tone deaf to the urgent warnings of the scientific community about the impending global warming crisis; and half the – admittedly woeful – Cabinet has just resigned in protest at not being able to realise their ambition of turning the U.K in to a post-Brexit open air Thunderdome. In the words of Rufus Scrimgeour “these are dark times, there is no denying. Our world has perhaps faced no greater threat than it does today.”

How do we stay resilient and active in the face of such overwhelmingly grim odds and, far worse, such underwhelming political action? While I have both the luxury and the privilege of being able to effect greater change than the average citizen – either through the publicly-owned, clean energy company I’m helping to deliver; the work Hackney Labour is undertaking to significantly decrease the Council’s consumption of fossil fuels; or the significant increase in renewable energy the Council will soon procuring; not to mention other exciting commitments around ‘green infrastructure’, recycling, biodiversity, and demonstrating how it’s possible to vastly reduce the amount of plastic consumed by an organisation with an annual budget of £1 billion and thousands of employees – even I routinely feel overcome with an all-encompassing sense of doom in the face of such gargantuan environmental challenges.

While I by no means advocate ‘coming to terms’ with global warming – indeed, I intend to expend every last ounce of energy I have in actively resisting the apocalypse and its agents – it’s absolutely essential that we identify mechanisms to prevent burnout. One of the best I’ve personally encountered is engaging in what Roman Krznaric refers to as ‘outrospective empathy‘. That is, actively building social solidarity through dialogue and organising, acting in a material way upon the issues about which you are concerned, and working with others to magnify these efforts. For me, heading to the park, litter picker in hand, to lift every last piece of carelessly discarded plastic I encounter while my children play on the swings, and talking to other parents and park users about the plastics crisis, is a way of both mitigating against the feeling that I’m shouldering an unbearable weight, and a means of encouraging others to take action. Crucially, it makes me feel like I’m doing something, anything, to ‘take back control’.

So, with National Tree Week almost upon us (24 November – 2 December), the Climate Change Committee’s announcement today that tree planting in U.K ‘must double to tackle climate change’, and – crucially – it being pay day, I decided to engage in another act of radical outrospection today by spending some of my moderately hard-earned income on 210 ‘trees for pollinators’ from the Woodland Trust, which I’m going to be giving away free (along with 210 spirals and canes, to give our wee friends a helping hand) to the people and schools of Hackney (and perhaps beyond, demand permitting).

The trees available will be Blackthorn, Crab apple, Dog rose, Goat willow, Hazel, Hawthorn, and Rowan. While these specimens will eventually deliver some of the oxygenating, carbon-scrubbing, cooling, shading, and drainage that Hackney – like all urban areas – will need to mitigate against the effects increasingly extreme climate events in the coming years, these particular species have also been selected to benefit bees and other pollinators, with differing flowering times providing nectar, pollen, and nesting sites throughout the year.

Buying, offering, and distributing the trees is just one side of outrospective empathy; the other involves people being willing to plant and care for these little silver bullets in the fight against global warming. They’ll be arriving next week and I’ll be distributing them from the Town Hall. In order to maximise the chance of their survival, we need to get them planted as quickly as possible. If you’d like one (or more), please e-mail me at jburkepaperwork@gmail.com to get the #HackneyForest ball rolling. We can do this!

Oh, one final thing, these trees are just for tenant/leaseholder/private gardens, businesses, and schools. Street trees and trees in Hackney’s green spaces are part of the Council’s tree planting programme. I’m just doing this in a private capacity, not as a Councillor!

See, I told you my next post would be good news.

Jon

 

 

The seed beneath the snow.

Welcome to Radical Light.

For a variety of reasons, I’ve decided to commit to digital paper my thoughts on the unfolding global warming crisis, mine and others’ last gasp efforts to avert it, and the possible (better) alternatives to Anglo-Saxon capitalism that we will inevitably need pursue if civilisation is to survive.

As the Cabinet Member for Energy and Sustainability in a Labour administration that has placed rapid decarbonisation, the democratisation of (clean) energy, the circular economy, sustainable procurement, resource conservation and plastics reduction, biodiversity, and public ownership at the heart of its work, I thought this the most appropriate platform to demonstrate both the practical work being undertaken in Hackney, and the challenges encountered on the way.

I’d also like to use this blog for the purposes of discussing how the solutions thrown up by our increasingly desperate attempts to thwart the march to even greater environmental disaster might help us lay the foundations of societies that meet people’s material, social, cultural, and familial needs within the resource limitations of the only known habitable planet in the universe. To uncover, in the words of David Fleming, ‘the inspiration that has lain dormant, like the seed beneath the snow’.

While I’m keen not to ascribe blame for our parlous ecological circumstances to individuals, who are locked into an economic system over which they have little control (anyone who has attempted to acquire food shopping not universally covered in non-recyclable plastic film will attest to this), radically different lifestyle choices can both have a practical impact and help us to salvage a degree of agency and sense of control in an increasingly unstable world. I’d like to use this blog to look at everything from buy-me-once products, to low-carbon holidays and zero carbon fun, to reducitarianism, to palm oil-free soap. Given that we are already consuming 2.5 times the resources that the planet has the ability to replenish, and that the OECD estimate resource consumption will double between now and 2060, learning to live well, and perhaps better, with less, is an art we are going to have to rediscover.

Finally, being an environmentalist with a wife and two young children on a dying planet is very, very hard on your mental health. As I write this post, as my beautiful children lie abed, Southern California is in the grip of wildfires. In November. The feeling of grief, helplessness, anger, and claustrophobia is, at times, overwhelming, and exacerbated by what can only be described as a psychopathic political class committed to the fantasy of endless economic growth on a finite planet at all costs. It’s bad enough that I’m afflicted with these thoughts and feelings, but worse that I routinely offload them on to the people I love. They’ve undertaken enough emotional labour on my behalf already; it’s time for the blog to pull its weight as a form of therapy.

Next time, it’ll be good news. Promise.

Jon