Being an environmentalist is a journey, as is everything, of course. When I started my business back in 2007 I was very committed; I wanted my business and my life to be perfectly sustainable and ethical and local and everything else I could find that made me feel was right. I also wanted my products and my life to be beautiful and have an edge, or at least that I was a designer as well as a perfectly ethical being. I read widely and this inspired me; I joined environmental groups and I made new friends in that world. As someone brought up in a very religious context, but inevitably disillusioned, I suppose an all-embracing solution and sense of meaning was going to give me a sense of completeness. Intellectually it did, but then life and reality made it rather a challenge.
I found it hard to convince the world that my vision was what they should believe in too, with the same intensity as me. They didn't feel the same desire to sacrifice financially and socially. They didn't want change. I loved, and still love, change. My work was hard to sell and it hasn't sustained me financially. Then my personal life imploded and I could just about manage to look after myself and my dog, and keep my close friends and family near me; I had no energy for my other friends and many sadly fell by the wayside. I had to get a job and was too tired for much else. It's a process countless people go through - and hopefully they come out of it clearer and happier - as I have done, despite the ordeal. Of course, I couldn't change the world and be a perfect eco warrior through all this.
It's good to regain your humanity and see the world like everyone else does. I didn't go on a carbon binge or a Primark binge. But, I did chill out a bit about buying the odd piece of clothing from cheap shops, or the odd plane ticket when I felt I really wanted a trip somewhere hot. I stopped judging people; that's good. I stopped judging myself; that's good too. I can see how everyone is so busy and tired and has so much on that they don't see that they have time to make all their own food from scratch, research the ethical credentials of everything they buy, or buy local. It's such a pleasure doing that but you need time. As part of this process I moved up to Scotland as I knew I needed a simpler life - but I'm totally aware that I've chosen to be on the margins; not work full time in a paid job. I have a flat in London and partly support myself on the rent (fortunate I know) and I am happy not being in the throng so, even though many people curiously think I'm brave, I'm pretty happy.
I have no doubt that because I've caught up on my sleep and my stress levels are much reduced I've got the mental space to start looking out into the world again, rather than my small existential hub. I recommend a year in Scotland. So I feel inspired again; after saying I must read Naomi Klein's new book, I finally did it.
Naomi Klein's 1999 book, No Logo, was of huge importance to me when I was conceiving my business. I had a tedious job in London Docklands in 2006 and fortunately no-one seemed to notice that my lunch hours were well over an hour as I sat, ironically, in a comfy Starbucks armchair (the only place in this desert of a business area) reading the book with a great sense of purpose. I didn't read her next work, The Shock Doctrine, as it inconveniently coincided with my own individual shock doctrine. But, I've just read This Changes Everything and it's got me back on track.
I can't say it's changed everything for me as she's very clearly preaching to the converted for me. However, it's given me some clarity.
Essentially, Klein is an engaging and thorough writer. She's a self-declared anti-capitalist who reveals how our unfettered globalised economies wreak havoc socially and ethically, and now she turns her attention to how this system is destroying the earth. If it weren't so sad, her wry humour about the climate-change deniers is worth a read and she seems astute in her analysis of the fear neo-liberals have of the climate debate. Do read the dismaland chapter on our national treasure, Richard Branson. She has clear solutions (essentially involving state (& global) intervention): large-scale systemic change, regulation of both business and individuals to effect a reduction in carbon emissions. She is optimistic that this will happen due to a growing groundswell of resistance, from local residents resisting the impact of 'extractivist business' and other political pressure groups gradually dominating the debate as climate disasters perpetuate. She cites the successes of historical movements such as the abolition of slavery, the feminist movement, LBGT campaigners, the civil rights movement.
I do feel she's optimistic. I look at the horrors of the last century, in particular the holocaust, and feel chastened that this happened on my continent and was not stopped. The impact of climate change will cause many more deaths and we'll have sleepwalked into it because not enough people seem to be able to personally or politically take the hit that this change will bring. If we all do it, it will be ok, or at least not so bad and we'll look back with shame at how we lived before, in the same way that we look back at racism in the 1970s. I really hope she is right, and I will be there supporting those who advocate change that will stop this CO2 burning frenzy.
What has changed in me since reading this book? I'm not going to man the barricades this week or change the world personally. I'm a bit more conscious of my choices. I profoundly distrust our governments and our globalised trade system to provide a solution; but then they're just doing what their electorate tell them they want; they'll never risk votes for this. I'm a lot clearer that the environmental question is the most important of my time. I'll do what I can, especially when the time comes, as I hope it will, for our communities to change.
I am an environmentalist. I'm clear about that.