Slowing down leaves a mark. That’s how it works with trees. Time is only visible because of the contrast between winter and summer growth. Long warm days build wide rings of pale-coloured wood. Cold dwindled daylight is marked with a narrow dark ring. Each combination of growth and dormancy is a year, the ying to the yang. Our veteran trees are an archive of time and weather, record keepers of the heat and rainfall of centuries.
It’s the lull that I love about the time ahead. We tend to go like the clappers in these days running up to Christmas, pressure building to make this The Best One Ever. But for many of us there will be that quiet time before New Year to recover. It’s a good time to lay down a defining line, separating what’s gone before from what’s up ahead.
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This column was going to be about books to read over Christmas, but then I started thinking about a man I met in the summer. He was a reader, dear reader, and talked about how much he liked the column. Honey to my ears. But the sting was coming. “Of course I don’t do any of the things you write about,” he said, chuckling. I know it was a joke, but still.
The truth is, we have to move from inertia to action. There are wonderful books to make us fall in love with the natural world. But there is one book and website that could collectively move people in a direction where we harness its power. Paul Hawken is a veteran writer, economist and environmentalist, the inspiration behind Project Drawdown. His latest book, Regeneration, Ending the Climate Crisis in One Generation, is a bracing and beautiful text. He believes environmentalists are using the wrong language. We talk in war and sports terms about fighting and winning the battle against the “other” that is the climate crisis. That language is othering and steeped in toxic masculinity, both of which have been part of the problem.
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The solutions he presents are “inherently ones that cause great benefit for everybody in the world, virtually everybody, except people who are super rich”, he said in a recent interview. His website presents a “what-to-do manual for all levels of society from individuals to national governments”. You can log on and create a “punch list” of actions you can take in the year ahead – everything from reducing your meat consumption to carrying reusable containers, cycling more, joining community groups and spending more time in green spaces.
The money machine will be shuffling us all towards detoxing and buy-more-stuff self-care codswallop in a few short weeks. Collaborative care for each other and our one and only beautiful planet can be our mark on the time ahead. Our generation has no other choice.