I started this COP21 fortnight on the London Climate March with a slightly random selection of my extended family, spent five hectic days in Paris and have since been following and reflecting on the talks with colleagues and friends. I’ve felt the impact of these experiences on my mind, body and spirit and am now keeping an eye on the last days/hours of the negotiations tucked up in bed with hot lemon, ginger and honey.
On the Transition launch training, it is suggested that working for positive change in the world means having your feet on two different conveyor belts, each travelling in opposite directions. We’re operating within the dominant post-industrial growth system and can’t detach ourselves from its influences and constraints while at the same time we’re imagining and striving to create a very different way of living. It can feel like quite a stretch!
For these past two weeks I’ve moved bewilderingly quickly from moments of joy, connection and hope to moments of cynicism, anger and overwhelm and back again. So it has felt helpful to keep remembering about those two conveyor belts and let myself accept and pay attention to whatever emotion feels uppermost at any given point.
Here are some of the joyful moments of connection:
- marching through London with 40,000+ other people, including my lovely 17 year old niece who is thirsty for information and full of energy and righteous indignation;
- watching stories of people imagining and creating better ways to live unfolding beautifully in front of me at the premiere of the film Demain and feeling excitement and longing flow through the audience;
- standing in a soulless exhibition space and having a short conversation with a bloke called John about climate justice and community service and both of us getting emotional and intrigued by the similarities between his work with the Historically Black Universities and Colleges of America and mine with Transition Network;
- closing my eyes and listening to Casey Camp-Horinek of the Ponca Nation, Oklahoma opening a meeting where This Changes Everything was to be shown, by speaking of the pain of her people and the distress felt recently in Paris, and helping the whole audience get in touch with the fears and desires that united us;
- throughout the fortnight talking via skype chat to a group of Transitioners – TN trustees, staff and hubsters – and sharing slightly random facts, insights, photos, cheering words and ridiculous emoticons which helped me process both information and feelings.
And some of the moments of frustration and overwhelm:
- watching my Prime Minister make a speech on the first day of the talks in which he seemed to put all his faith in technical solutions and left me with no sense of how the UK government intends to work with its citizens to ensure delivery of the commitments it has made;
- walking around that miserable, artificial exhibition space at Le Bourget feeling ignored and disempowered as the negotiations went on in the security-protected space next door.
- hearing from Rob and Corinne about their visit to the corporate “solutions” event and watching Rob’s scary film of people being carried out by snatch squads of police.
- getting frustrated at the old style formats and approaches used even by organisations working for change – lots of heady talks with little opportunity for discussion, showing a powerful and potentially overwhelming film without giving the audience time to reflect and connect with each other. Once you’ve tasted another way of working – as I have within the Transition movement – these approaches feel deeply uncomfortable and disengaging.
And, now the final agreement has been drawn up and adopted by nearly 200 countries, again I’m awash with mixed emotions. The agreement is full of loopholes and inconsistencies and there’s a huge difference between ambitious words on a page and the collective action needed to reduce emissions and keep fossil fuels in the ground. BUT we’ve never had a universal statement like this before – one in which almost all the governments of the world acknowledge the urgency and seriousness of the challenge we face and the impact already being felt by many of the poorest communities around the world. It feels like a huge shift in the way climate change is discussed and one which gives us a platform on which we can continue to build. And it is surely important for us to pause and celebrate the effort, energy, vision and courage of all the many people who got us to this point even as we gather our strength for the next phase.
Most of all, however, I want to cherish the moments of connection – holding hands with my new friend John in Le Bourget, eating a relaxed meal with other Transitioners after a busy day in Paris, hearing via skype chat about Lara’s workshops, Filipa’s school visit, the Transition France stall at the Village of Alternatives and Luca’s experiences inside the negotiations. These are the moments that I want in my life – they nourish and sustain me through unsettling times. And running through all those moments are stories of the great stuff that’s happening in communities across the world and the sense of a new culture being developed and shared.
It was those stories and that culture that the Transition Network team was able to pass on in Paris and which feature in the book, 21 Stories of Transition, and the film Demain. The response was incredibly positive – people are really hungry for practical examples of how change can happen and seem to find it pretty easy to make a connection with their own lives, work and dreams. So I’m left with a deep appreciation for all those working within and beyond the Transition movement to find better, healthier, more sustainable ways to live right now – let’s keep enjoying the connections and telling our stories.
Sarah McAdam is Transition Network’s Delivery Director.