A naturalist was studying the behavioural patterns of a fox family with three young cubs living in a river valley. There had been heavy rain for several days, but that particular afternoon, the sun came out. After a while, the naturalist noticed the mother behaving unusually. She left her cubs all alone, went up the side of the valley to a high bank and began busily digging another burrow. The cubs were left unattended for several hours. At last she finished her work. She returned to the three cubs and, one by one, carried them up the hill in her mouth and placed them in the new den. Sometime later the reason for this behaviour became clear … the river began to rise, fed by streams coming off the hills ,and a flash flood cascaded down the valley. Had the family remained where they were, they would have drowned.
Survival has always been about the ability to respond to change. Sometimes it means taking risks. My last blog post for 2011 is a story of 11 women who are on the frontline of this process …
1. Caroline Lucas
On 07 MAY 2010 Green party leader Caroline Lucas won the Brighton Pavilion seat. As our first green MP, Caroline has earned wide respect and shown Britain that Green is not a single and separate issue. Her website illustrates the array of work she has been doing both in Brighton and across the UK’s political agenda.
Wangari Maathai died in 2011, but her legacy lives on. In 1977, she started the Green Belt Movement, encouraging women in rural Kenya to plant trees as a way to improve their lives through better access to clean water, fire wood for cooking and other resources. It was a movement that has inspired people across the world. Once described by her ex-husband as
“ too educated, too strong, too successful, too stubborn and too hard to control”
Wangari went on to be elected to Kenya’s parliament and appointed Assistant Minister for Environment and Natural Resources. She was also the first woman to earn a doctorate in East Africa and in 2004, she won the Nobel Peace Prize for her contribution to sustainable development, democracy and peace.
Connie Hedegaard is the Danish Conservative party’s Minister for Climate and Energy and the driving force behind Denmark’s groundbreaking Energy Policy … that has achieved strict energy saving targets, a raft of green transport incentives and a strong shift to renewable energy generation for Denmark. Herdegaard sees no reason why environment should be regarded as left wing politics
“In my view there is nothing as core to conservative beliefs — that what you inherit you should pass on to the next generation.”
4. Margaret Atwood
Margaret Atwood from Canada is one of our truly great novelists, last seen in London this year at an exhibition called “Ghosts of gone birds” (art vs extinction) complete with a hand knitted auk.
The Handmaid’s Tale was written in the mid 1980s, during a return to conservatism in the US. The book is a “dystopian” novel, presenting an imagined world in which women’s rights are eroded away by a group of conservative religious extremists who have taken power and turned the sexual revolution on its head. Gilead is a society founded on a “return to traditional values” and gender roles, and on the subjugation of women by men. Women in Gilead are not only forbidden to vote, they are forbidden to read or write.
The Handmaid’s Tale remains one of the most powerful recent portrayals of a totalitarian society, and one of the few dystopian novels to examine in detail the intersection of politics, sexuality and the environment. It was a very important book at the time of the women’s peace movement.
“We still don’t know just how far we can bend, or how much we will enjoy living with cockroaches if other life forms vanish”
5. Juliet Davenport
Juliet Davenport is the chief executive and founder of Good Energy.
She studied Atmospheric Physics at Merton College Oxford during the 80s, and went on to take a Masters degree in Economics and Environmental Economics in London. She then worked for a while at the European Commission on European energy policy, before leaving to create a small, but groundbreaking green energy supply company called “Unit.”
It was a bold business move in an industry dominated by immense, powerful and competitive corporates. But Juliet Davenport records on the Good Energy website, http://www.goodenergy.co.uk
“We wanted to give people the opportunity to make a better choice – a 100% renewable electricity supply from a company committed to growing renewable energy generation in the UK.“
Unit was later renamed Good Energy.
6. Jane Davidson
“When I launched our third Sustainable Development Scheme, One Wales: One Planet, in May 2009, I launched a document that included a commitment to make sustainable development the central organising principle of the Assembly Government. Persuading my Cabinet colleagues to sign up to this commitment is probably the aspect of my portfolio of which I am most proud, because everything else that we do as an Assembly Government flows from this commitment. All of our policies and programmes then help us achieve the very ambitious vision of a sustainable Wales that we set out in One Wales; One Planet.”
Jane Davidson grew up in Africa, a place where survival depends upon careful harnessing of resources and cycles of renewal. With immaculate timing, she bought this understanding of sustainability to Wales during her tenure as Minister for the Environment in Wales, stitching sustainability into every aspect of governance from education to energy and from food to waste management.
7. Charlotte Hollins
Charlotte Hollins is one of two key people in the story of the Fordhall Community Landtrust. Together, she and her brother Ben, at only 21 and 19 years of age, launched a national campaign to save a farm.
The story begins when Charlotte and Ben’s father, Arthur first took over the tenancy of Fordhall farm in Shropshire almost one hundred years ago. During the war, the land was farmed intensively, leaving it malnourished, but Arthur noticed a difference in the rich growth in the woodlands and after the War he returned to organic principles of agriculture. The farm went from strength to strength but difficulties began in the mid nineties when neighbours Muller Dairy UK began to press the landowners to sell Fordhall.
Evicition notices followed and more finance was withdrawn from the farm to pay legal expenses that was when Charlotte and Ben began a public campaign to save Fordhall. It began with a local public enquiry and raised enormous public support. Three years later, a fantastic 8,000 people purchased shares to create the Fordhall Community Land Trust. Charlotte and Ben now have a 100-year farm business tenancy agreement and pay a rent to the trust and thanks to them, Fordhall farm will now be there for future generations.
8. Naomi Klein
Naomi Klein is a journalist and author of The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism.
Despite not completing her degree at Toronto University, she ranked 11th in an internet poll of the top global intellectuals compiled by the Prospect magazine in US. She has risen up through the ranks as a journalist, political commentator and author, including writing for the New York Times and The Guardian.
Most recently Naomi Klein has written a much discussed piece entitled Capitalism vs the climate. Here she presents the argument that corporate and conservative opposition to curbs on greenhouse gases arises primarily because a meaningful response to global warming would be a fatal blow to free markets and capitalism. This has obviously stirred up a few cosy nests! Klein challenges the environmental movement to embrace this reality instead of implying that modest changes in lifestyle and shopping habits etc can prevent runaway climate change.
“If you really do believe that freedom means governments getting out of the way of corporations and that any regulation leads us down Hayek’s road to serfdom, then climate science is going to be kryptonite to you. After all, the reality that humans are causing the climate to warm, with potentially catastrophic results, really does demand radical government intervention in the market, as well as collective action on an unprecedented scale. So you can understand why many conservatives see climate change as a threat to their identity. Too often the liberal climate movement runs away from the deep political and economic implications of climate science, which is why I wrote the piece. I think we need to admit that climate change really does demand a profound interrogation of the ideology that currently governs our economy. And that’s not bad news, since our current economic model is failing millions of people on multiple fronts.”
9. Vandana Shiva
Swadeshi…which means the capacity to do your own thing–produce your own food, produce your own goods
Swaraj–to govern yourself. And we fight on three fronts-”water, food, and seed. JalSwaraj is water independence–water freedom and water sovereignty. Anna Swaraj is food freedom, food sovereignty. And Bija Swaraj is seed freedom and seed sovereignty. Swa means self–that which rises from the self and is very, very much a deep notion of freedom.
Satyagraha, non-cooperation, basically saying, `We will do our thing and any law that tries to say that (our freedom) is illegal we will have to not cooperate with it. We will defend our freedoms to have access to water, access to seed, access to food, access to medicine.’”
Dr Vandana Shiva was born in the valley of Dehradun. She was educated in India and Canada, gaining a Ph.D. in Philosophy at the University of Western Ontario and went on to interdisciplinary research in science, technology, and environmental policy at the Indian Institute of Science.
She founded the Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology, which led to the creation of Navdanya in 1991. It has become a national movement to protect the diversity and integrity of living resources, especially native seed, the promotion of organic farming and fair trade. For last two decades Navdanya has worked with local communities and organizations serving many men and women farmers. Navdanya’s efforts have resulted in conservation of more than 2000 rice varieties from all over the country and have established 34 seed banks in 13 states across the country. More than 70,000 farmers are primary members of Navdanya.
Vandana Shiva has also served as an adviser to governments in India and abroad and recently received the Right Livelihood Award for placing women and ecology at the heart of modern development discourse.
“But we must be agile and graceful and bold enough—like the ballerina on the bull of the #OccupyWallStreet poster”
Doyle Canning is co-director and founder of SmartMeme. Now called the Centre for Story-based Strategy)
Her work is focussed upon changing the unsustainable central narratives that are maintained by conventional marketing and media.
We use stories to understand the world and our place in it. A narrative line can explain and justify the status quo but it can also be changed and it is the change in narrative that makes systemic change, to more sustainable human society, imaginable and possible.
“SmartMeme understands culture as a matrix of shared mental maps that define collective meaning. These maps are also a collection of stories that help us understand who we are. Thus, inevitably, popular culture is an ever-evolving contested space of struggle where competing voices, experiences and perspectives fight to answer the questions: Whose map determines what is meaningful? Whose stories are “true”?
As certain ideas, practices, and worldviews become normalized over time they form a dominant culture that represents mass “conventional wisdom.” Inevitably the dominant cultural map disproportionately represents powerful institutional interests and institutions, and the stories that validate their political agendas.
Grassroots movements have traditionally targeted the root causes: the unjust institutions and systems of power. SmartMeme is strengthening this strategy by targeting another essential component: the narratives of power.
Storytelling has always been at the very foundation of organizing. Narrative is how we dream, share, connect, and create. Human beings process information and make meaning through stories – and we can view culture itself as a schema of shared stories”
Mary Mellor is a Social Science Professor at Northumbria University.
She teamed up with John Stirling and Janet Hannah to write her first book “Worker Co-operatives in Theory and Practice” which was translated into several languages including Turkish and Japanese. Her books focus on the relationships between money, women, work and the environment and particularly women’s position at the boundaries of economic systems.
“The capitalist market system presents itself as a natural system, whilst distorting human societies and destroying ecological systems. Feminist and green economists in particular have argued that the money system draws artificial boundaries around economic valuation that excludes women’s unpaid work and ecological damage. A more comprehensive concept of the economy that describes the meeting of human need both inside and outside of the money system is provisioning. In order to live fulfilling lives, people need a wide range of supportive relationships and secure access to sustenance. They need physical goods and services, but they also need many other things including care and friendship, time, and space to develop their skills and personality.”