Wednesday, 8 July 2009

Can I make a difference?

I worked for almost three hours on my notebook this morning, which leaves me about an hour and a half on the battery.

It's been colder after the rainstorms, so I wore a cardigan today and decided I needed something hot at lunchtime.

I picked some broad beans, just coming ready now in the veggie patch close by, and I filled the storm kettle with clean water from the bottle in the Palace Flophouse. I lit the little fire under the storm kettle, using receipts, scraps from old letters torn up, dried grass and dead twigs tossed down to me by the plum tree.

I put the beans on to cook on the top while the water for tea boiled in the storm kettle. It only takes a minute or two for the water to boil: I made the tea in the billy-can, transferring the beans to finish cooking over the little fire.

With the beans I had canned sardines and canned sweetcorn. I drained off the water from the beans into the sardine can, to start cleaning it ready for recycling. The bean pods I chucked onto the fruit beds, where they will rot down in no time.

The billy-can takes up most all the water from the storm kettle, holding enough tea for two big mugs, where I needed only one. So I used the hot tea left over mixed with a little cold plain water to wash up the cans and spork and plate.

A few sparrows were hanging around outside, so I put down some grain for them.

In the course of the morning I needed to pee three times - I emptied the bucket of fresh pee onto the roots of the young apple trees we planted. The free-draining earth here doesn't hang on to nutrients. You can buy nitrogen fertiliser from the shop to feed the plants, but as human urine is one of the richest sources of nitrogen, why waste the money and generate all that packaging, transport etc? I washed out the pee-bucket with water from the rain-butt - a lot came down in the night - and emptied that on the fruit bed.

If I'd been in the big house, I would have boiled the electric kettle for tea, cooked the beans on the gas hob, run the tap until the water was hot then filled the bowl to wash up, and flushed the loo three times (that's fifteen gallons I think).

So I guess I saved about eighteen gallons of water, plus a certain amount of gas and electricity, as well as enjoying the company of the sparrows and generally having a groovy time chilling out here in the Flophouse.

I also saved someone the trouble of manufacturing me a car and a whole lot of petrol, having exercised some determination in choosing to work freelance from home. That choice is not made without personal cost - my bank accounts are dry right now, waiting patiently for fees owed me to flow in. It took patience, effort and commitment to arrive at the place where I could get off the car-driving carousel; it didn't just happen to me by accident, the luxury of a middle-class life others would like but can't afford.

So I saved some water, gas, petrol and electricity today. So what?

Someone pointed out to me a while ago that the difference I can make is too small to be a difference. I can't stop the climate changing. Anything I can possibly do is too little and too late. I might as well just decide what I want to do, and do that - forget about trying to make a difference to the Earth.

I thought about that quite a lot, and I concluded it's both true and not true. After listening to the government man's guff at Haddenham on Sunday, I think it's fair to say that if we leave our future in the hands of our illustrious leaders we'd better start marinading ourselves ready to be barbequed now. I think almost everyone I meet makes choices that are basically selfish whatever badge they like to wear on their lapels. I do so myself, a lot of the time.

But, I also believe firmly that the value of truth and righteousness are intrinsic. In a tsunami that swept away ten thousand people, it still would be worth rescuing one child. The truth is still the truth when nobody's looking, nobody's listening, and everybody else is telling lies.

Even if the Earth is destroyed by our greed and selfishness, it matters to me that while I lived, the Earth knew I was her friend. Because I believe the Earth is not just stuff, but has being and awareness. Of course the Earth will die one day - so will you, so will I. But I would not leave your friendless in your lifetime because your lifetime will some day come to an end. And if you were suffering, if you were abandoned and persecuted, it would be more important, not less, to be on your side. Jesus said 'I was in prison, and you visited me' - not 'I was in prison and you released me': you do what you have the power to do, that's all.

Also, even if I can make no difference whatsoever to climate change, the Earth and human society, everything I do, say and think will certainly make a difference to myself. I care about that, not only for the sake of achieving what I aspire to be and do, but because I spend a lot of time alone and cannot escape myself: I am my own companion - I need to be able to like and respect the me that I have to live with.

It's worth holding in mind that it is impossible for an individual to estimate the extent of the influence and change s/he can achieve. When Jesus died on the cross, he had been tortured and broken, he was thirsty and in agony; he even felt himself abandoned by God. He never saw with the eyes of his flesh the Temple curtain torn in two or heard the centurion say 'Surely this man was the Son of God'. Maybe we also, struggling here with the futility of what we can offer, will never get to see the difference it might make. Only afterwards, when 'It is finished', will we see the thread we wove into the pattern. But even here and now, though we can't know the extent of our contribution, we can know the nature of it, and whether or not we did our best. If we were to throw that away, I can't imagine what we would be left with that could be called worthwhile.


Unknown said...

Wow, you made a big difference just with the water! I feel terribly guilty now. I've been on the laptop about 4 hours, and been to the loo about three times, had shop cereal with soya milk and I'm sure I'll have left a big bad anti-green footprint. I shall have to do some thinking...

Pen Wilcock said...

LOL - yes, you notice I kept mighty quiet about my cereal and soya milk too! I'm proceeding on an 'every little helps basis' and all I can say is that had better be good enough because it isn't easy is it.
The big secret for us who aren't loaded with dosh seems to be SHARING - that's the way to do it!

Buzzfloyd said...

A person's a person, no matter how small... It was the smallest Who whose shout made the difference! :-)