“Come the revolution!” became the rallying cry during my retreat at the Gaia Partnership in Herefordshire last week. Just in case this gives the impression that the centre was a secret breeding ground for radical eco-warriors, let me clarify – we were actually a group of well-meaning, middle-class, middle-aged liberals who just happened to care more than average about the fate of this planet. But even among these moderate types there was a poweful sense of urgency about the need for a more sustainable way of life.

I had arrived at the retreat wanting to reconnect with my environmental mission. I had been reading back through the journals I wrote in 2004, when I first became aware, truly aware, of the disproportionate impact that humans are having on the Earth. In 2004 I’d had a burning mission to switch to a greener lifestyle, and to use such influence as I could to persuade others to do the same.

But somewhere along the way my passion for the cause had waned, and I had started to doubt what I could achieve alone. At times I even lost sight of this mission that had driven my decision to row oceans. It is all too easy, in all the hurly-burly of activity, to forget the original reason for all the busy-ness. I needed to have my faith restored, and to feel that I could make a difference. And it worked.

Through my long walks through the wintry countryside (pictured above), the easy live-ability of the eco-house where we were staying, and the passionate conversations with my fellow eco-retreaters, I was reminded that there is a huge and ever-expanding network of people all over the world who do care about the Earth, and that if we all pull together we really can have an impact. I left with renewed hope that we can still limit the damage we have inflicted on our beautiful planet home.

Our mentor for the week was the energetic and enthusiastic Elaine Brook – author, former mountaineer, and former wife of a Nepalese sherpa. You can see Elaine talking about her eco-house and the joys of one-planet living on YouTube. The retreat philosophy was a gentle blend of Buddhism, sustainable living, and Gaia Theory – which states that humans are part of an intricate web of life, subject to the same laws of nature as any other living being – and that we cannot break those laws and expect to get away with it in the long term.

I left Peterchurch full of passion and enthusiasm for the challenges of the year ahead. It is going to be a formative year – both personally and globally. Our future as a species looks increasingly uncertain, but I now have a renewed faith that if we pull together, we can save the world!

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  • Lovely post, Roz. And so nicely balanced between alarm and determination. It’s worth pulling together… Even if the outlook is Grim, Grimmest.

  • “A balance between alarm and determination” pretty much sums up how I feel. Yes, things are bad – but not much point in dwelling on if-onlys. Much better to stay positive and figure out how we can limit the damage from now on. I have great faith that human beings CAN rise to the challenge if we can just recognize that we are all connected – to each other and to this Planet Earth.

  • Good post. My thoughts for the New Year. To me whether we survive is just a question of who wins : those in power protecting their immediate and local interests and the “status quo” or those that see beyond their noses and will actually make real changes and material sacrifice. Is there sufficient capability within democracy and diplomacy to effect change in time? Can people power prevail in time? They usually suffer a lot of abuse before they arise, but in this case this will be too late.

  • How I try and save the world is by not eating meat and fish. How can we possibly save the planet if not even Roz who rows oceans for the sake of helping the environment still eats fish and meat? I’m afraid we’re a lost cause.

  • Liz – well done you, for not eating meat or fish. That certainly helps reduce your global footprint – as do many other things. It is the accumulation of ALL these things that will save the planet.

    We are none of us perfect – there is always more that we could do. I have significantly reduced the amount of animal protein that I eat, but I find it too hard to sustain my training programme and rowing for 12 hours a day on a purely veggie diet. It just doesn’t work for me.

    And just to put it in perspective, I don’t think that my personal dietary preferences are grounds for your fears that the entire planet is “a lost cause”. I am actually very optimistic – yes, we face an enormous challenge, but there are many signs that we are equal to that challenge IF we put our collective mind to it – and soon.

  • Liz,

    Any research into English land use will show precisely why some animals were bred for food: not all land is arable. We can’t simply plow it all into wheatfields. There are a lot of meadows which are best served as pasturage. There are also low woodlands, and non-arable areas of farms upon which chickens, goats, pigs and other meat animals can be kept.

    Domesday survey talks repeatedly about keeping pigs in the woodlands. They would root around for their own food, and, then be slaughtered. Yet grazing is far better use then cutting down the woods to make more plowable acres.

    If we plowed the whole world and made it into a large wheatfield (or beanfield, etc.) we’d destroy a tremendous amount of the ecosystem in a wholly different way. Plus, much of that would be unsustainable because of underlying soil conditions. We’d have to ship in fertilizer. i.e., we’d either need artificial nitrates, or a lot of animal poop.

    Hence the crop rotation, to allow some to go fallow, to be fertilized naturally, and then plow on the second or third fields while the other land recovers.

    Many farms in poor soil areas will grow short grasses, which are fine for animal grazing, but are unsuitable for crops.

    There was a great study done in 2007 about the difference between a low-fat vegetarian diet and also, one with a bit of dairy and limited meat. Surprisingly, the dairy and limited meat won out in terms of “efficiency”:


    While it would be great to pull in 100 bushels of grain from every acre put to plow, we must face the facts that not all of the earth is capable of sustaining that sort of output. And the various agricultural tricks we try to pull to keep highly efficient output also imbalances the system.

    We can learn a lot from the practices of Domesday and beyond. A few chickens, goats and cows make sense now and then.

    Note: this is purely a “human footprint” analysis, and does not address the ethics of eating other beings, plants or animals.

  • Thank you Peter, for your interesting input on the veggie/non-veggie question. It’s a thorny area, that’s for sure.

    As with so many things, I think it’s a question of balance. Many of the problems have arisen because there are so many of us, and because we have gone to such extreme measures to create and protect our food supply, by using chemical fertilizers and poisoning our competitors (insects, grubs, rodents, etc.).

    One of the books that has most influenced me in this area is “Ishmael” – a fascinating perspective on man’s role in the intricate web of life – what it is compared with what it was designed to be. I was going to say it changed my view of the world, but in fact I think it would be more accurate to say it reminded me of what I already knew on some more intuitive level. A very worthwhile read and highly recommended.

    And a happy New Year to you too!

  • Roz, Peter, very good points. Absolutely, Roz your diet doesn’t make the whole human race a lost cause, lol, you are right! I did a lot of thinking, and theorizing over the past couple of years as I went vegetarian to vegan and back to vegetarian again, although I haven’t eaten meant in almost 20 years!

    I’ve come to the conclusion that, there’s no way the affluent of the world are going to drastically change the content of their diet, not for their own health’s sake, not for the environment and least of all for ethic’s sake. David Suzuki eats meat for heaven’s sake! Al Gore eats meat! So, how are the rest of us, who are far less passionate of a cause going to change our diets for environmental reasons?

    The solution, I believe, is that those of us who are not third world people should switch to organic, local, free range, grass fed food. Many vegans would not agree. As I went from vegan to vegetarian again, I’ve been making the switch to organic foods, and it’s a lot less restrictive, and the quality of food is much better. With a little research I’ve found local farms that sell organic, free range eggs and dairy products. These farms are what farms were like before agribusiness turned meat, eggs and dairy production into a house of horrors. I believe, I’m doing a lot more for animals if I chose to support these idealic farms.

    I think the Slow Food movement is onto a lot of good ideas for society. Thanks Peter, and Roz for your responses! I feel we aren’t a lost cause anymore. There is hope.

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