Waking Up to Radical Change

Yesterday marked the start of NaBloPoMo (that’s National Blog Posting Month). I intend to take on the challenge of posting daily this month and, having started a day late, I’ll just have to finish one day late too!

I love the way the world throws coincidences at you. This year, at a time when I need to hear it most, I keep stumbling across statements that affirm the importance of self care for activism, like this speech by Scilla Elworthy:

Scilla talks about how self awareness — or “waking up” — is a prerequisite for effectiveness as a pioneering leader when working to create a better world.

She goes on to list ten radical value shifts that will help us survive the crises of the 21st century, beginning with:

“survival of the fittest” being replaced by an awareness that “cooperation is actually more efficient”

and ending with:

“consuming is our right” being replaced by “what we really desire is to satisfy the human longing for meaning and beauty”

I’ll return to discuss some of the value shifts at a later point, but in the meantime make sure you watch the video!

What’s in a name? A reintroduction of sorts

Green: synonymous with the environmental movement, sustainability, and “eco-friendly” things;

Lips: used for speaking, communicating, expressing ideas and emotions.

When I first started this blog my intention was to write primarily about environmental issues, including climate change, resource depletion, peak energy, and water scarcity, as well as other social justice and equity issues. I wanted to be a voice for my generation, to educate people about the dire circumstances that will make the rest of my life increasingly unpleasant, but also to be a voice of hope, writing about ways we can tackle these problems and make our lives better in the process.

In the last year, however, all my baby steps towards a more sustainable lifestyle were swept aside as I engaged in battle with my thesis. The tempestuous process of finishing my PhD left me battered and bruised, and I emerged on the other side shivering, a pale reflection of my former self.

I’m now reclaiming a sense of normality in my post-PhD life, but I’ve discovered that it’s a much slower journey than I’d anticipated. However, I picked up an essential piece of advice early on from Alice Walker, author of The Color Purple, when she spoke at the Auckland Writer’s Festival this year:

All activism and revolutionary fighting needs to come from a place of love, and, in particular, from a place of self love. We must look after ourselves if we want to accomplish any good in this world.

So as I move forward, on this blog and in the real world, my goals have broadened from addressing tangible environmental problems to cultivating a sense of compassion for myself and the world around me. And as my posts delve into personal well-being,¬†we’ll find that it is intricately entwined with living a more aware and sustainable life.

I’m glad to say my blog’s name is still fit for purpose too:

Green: synonymous with the environmental movement, sustainability, and “eco-friendly” things;

Lips: highly sensitive; used for communicating, taking in nourishment, and tender caring kisses.

Note: An earlier version of the name “The Green Lips” was suggested by my other half as a play on the Green Lantern superheroes — I love the sense of empowerment that comes from having a superhero name!

Grand Revelations

Over the past few months I’ve cultivated a set of guilty indulgences to help get myself through the final gruelling stages of my PhD. These indulgences range from edible treats, to peaceful walks on the beach, to rekindling my voracious reading habits.

One thing I’ve found myself particularly enjoying is watching Grand Designs. I think the attraction has many facets — emphathising with the difficulties of managing such a large project, Kevin McCloud’s insightful comments, and of course the inspiration of sustainable buildings.

The most recent episode to air in NZ was about the Crossway house in Kent, crowned by a beautiful parabolic arch and built to high sustainable standards — in fact it’s so sustainable that it subsequently became one of the first UK houses to receive PassivHaus certification.

A passive house is a house that does not require any active (externally powered) heating or cooling. Instead sunshine, insulation, strategic shading, and ventilation systems contribute to a comfortable living environment. Any other energy requirements in the Crossway house are met by solar panels and a biomass burner. Their water needs are also met on-site by rainwater harvesting. During his final visit, Kevin McCloud asks whether the house lives up to its goals as a passive house. The owners, Richard and Sophie, reply that instead of paying electricity and heating bills, they actually generate excess power that they can sell back into the grid for a profit.

Let’s stop and think about that for a second: They don’t pay utility bills. Instead they receive an income for the energy they generate. Isn’t that a revolutionary concept?!

Why do we trudge along in our daily lives, switching out an old light bulb here, turning off a running tap there, hoping that all our little savings will make a difference? If we’re to survive the profound changes that we will encounter in the coming decades, incremental gains in efficiency just won’t cut the mustard. We need radical transformations in the way we do things and this will only come from radical shifts in perception. The revolutionary idea that our homes can generate more than enough power to meet our needs is one of these.

Of course, not everyone can afford to build a brand new passive house. And, quite frankly, if we all tried to then the impact on resources like land and building materials could be devastating. But the financial and environmental arguments for passive design principles are strong, and all new developments and renovations should strive to create passive buildings for the benefit of us all.