- Foreword by Jonathon Porritt (Eco Living, Piatkus Books)
Karen Christensen’s first book, the predecessor of Eco Living, came out in 1989. A huge amount has changed during that time and all sorts of things that were still considered pretty wacky in those days are now taken for granted – have become fashionable even. No-one now disputes that we all need to be doing more to protect the environment, and many of the solutions to those problems are rapidly becoming mainstream.
Just consider the standing of organic food in society today, for instance. Having once been dismissed by farmers, retailers and most politicians as an irrelevant niche market catering for health freaks and tree-huggers, it’s now seen as the single most important antidote to the totally discredited model of post-war intensive farming. Sales of organic food in the UK are now growing by more than 40 per cent a year.
The hunger for user-friendly down-to-Earth advice about what each of us can do to play our part in this process is greater than ever. For me, Eco Living stands out as one of the best guidebooks available today, not least because it is about a lot more than ‘green consumerism’. Individual lifestyle choices, arising out of an acceptance of personal responsibility for those parts of our lives that we can directly control, are set in a much broader social, political and philosophical context. As Karen says, ‘This is not a green consumer guide. It’s about better living, not better buying.’ And better living means thinking of ourselves primarily as citizens (be it of our local community or of planet Earth itself) and only after that as consumers.
Even as we reduce our energy consumption, buy more organic produce and eliminate the last of those chemicals we might once have used in the garden, we must not ignore the political side: the letter-writing, the joining with others in local or national campaigns, the encouraging of best practice wherever we find it, and so on.
Both aspects of ‘eco living’ – the practical and the political – are essential. Each depends on the other. And that’s very much where this book is coming from.
It’s only through that combination that we can gradually bring our own way of life (and ultimately the way of life of each and every individual nation state) into line with the natural rhythm and cycles of nature. Our trajectory as a species cuts directly across those natural systems, wasting, polluting, poisoning, systematically liquidating the ‘natural capital’ on which we depend as utterly as every other species. Realigning that trajectory, by completely reconceptualising what progress and development really mean, is the greatest challenge we now face.
So we have still got a very long way to go. But as many have pointed out before, the journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step – and one of the things that I like best about Eco Living is that (unlike many books) it won’t make concerned and committed people feel inadequate or paralysed by guilt! Though it reminds me of endless shortcomings in my own lifestyle (busy green activists are often far from the paragons of environmental virtue that they might aspire to be – and no one aspires more than I do!), it encourages rather than turns me off.
As Karen says, there’s no point being ‘grim and miserable’ if you are seeking a greener way of life and a greener home. At its simplest (but most easily overlooked) level, environmentalism is all about celebrating the gift of life – life writ large, that is, not just the human end of it. Better by far to be celebrating that gift wreathed in smiles than permanently garbed in sackcloth and ashes – to celebrate, for instance, the joy of good fresh food rather than becoming obsessed by what we should or shouldn’t be eating.
Karen declares that her secret to happiness is ‘not getting more but wanting less’. I suspect that we are both still working away at that secret. Eco Living is about work in progress, not about some revealed truth from a distant green guru – and it is all the more useful and enjoyable for it.