Will a barefoot politician please step forth?

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This post first appeared in Plan C – http://planc.typepad.com/plan-c/  in December.  Nick Kettles is a freelance journalist and broadcaster – www.nickkettles.co.uk

The recriminations for the failure of the Copenhagen Climate Change summit to deliver a more robust deal on CO2 reductions are continuing in earnest.  Ed Miliband has, like President Obama, blamed China.  Environmental commentator George Monbiot has in turn blamed the US Senate.  Someone, somewhere will definitely be blaming Canada.  They always do.

Yet, it’s possible that the real reasons are far less obvious, than the current identity parade suggests.

It’s possible that Copenhagen failed for the simple reason that none of the delegates from the 192 countries represented, were truly able to represent the interests of the earth.  Even if the delegates were genuinely concerned about the facts of climate change, that doesn’t mean they were deeply concerned for the continuity of all life on earth.

And, there is a difference between these two things.

It’s true that intellectual discourse can provide the basis for a deeper heart felt awareness of our intimate connection with nature, as Ray Anderson, CEO of Interface Carpets’ eco-epiphany clearly shows.  Ray Anderson claims the impact of reading Paul Hawken’s “The Ecology of Commerce” literally felt like a “spear to the chest” and awoke him to the urgent need to set his company on a new course toward sustainability.

But there is no guarantee that it will always be so.

Abstract concepts based on data sets and statistical analysis are just too easy to disconnect from the world they represent.  If scientific facts could emotionally move politicians sufficiently to take decisive action, then they would have already taken such action a decade ago.  What kind of action might the delegates at Copenhagen have taken if they felt as deeply about the planet as the indigenous tribes people, who met in Anchorage earlier in 2009, to make their own declaration on climate change?

“We reaffirm the unbreakable and sacred connection between land, air, water, oceans, forests, sea ice, plants, animals and our human communities as the material and spiritual basis for our existence.”

Of course we have heard about Obama and Gordon Brown ‘growing their own’ in the gardens of the White House, and 10 Downing Street, but just how often have they actually got down on their knees and gotten their own hands dirty to till the soil?  Or harvested the fruit of their labour with their own hands, and then prepared it for their family to eat?  What’s more likely is that they are like the vast majority of the human race, and that means the delegates at Copenhagen too, who environment writer David Nicholson Lord suggests spend less than one day in a lifetime in sensory contact with Nature.  If this is the case, then it’s likely these forays into the garden, are little more than PR exercises designed to mollify the green lobby they hope will keep them elected.

Politicians, mostly male, middle class, wearing their immaculately groomed uniform of suit and tie, spend most of their time disconnected from the earth, gathered around synthetically made conference tables, sitting on pump chairs, in largely synthetic environments, where the air, according to German Chemist, Michael Braungart, co-founder of cradle to cradle design, is likely to be more toxic than a smog filled city.

I imagine the conference centre in Copenhagen was little different and the end result is that we ended up with what politicians usually deliver: sick solutions thrashed out in sick buildings largely by men, who spend little time enjoying sensory contact with Nature.

The fact is that we desperately need our politicians and leaders to get out more.  We desperately need them to forge a deeper and more authentic relationship with the earth, because it’s clear that when they do, they act decisively.

It’s claimed that after camping in the open air in Yosemite Valley with naturalist John Muir, in 1903, President Theodore Roosevelt, was more receptive to addressing the state mismanagement of the valley and rampant exploitation of the valley’s resources.  Snow fell on them the night they camped here, near Glacier Point. It was, according to President Roosevelt, the greatest day of his life:  “There can be nothing in the world more beautiful than the Yosemite, the groves of the giant sequoias and redwoods, the Canyon of the Colorado, the Canyon of the Yellowstone, the Three Tetons; and our people should see to it that they are preserved for their children and their children’s children forever, with their majestic beauty all unmarred.” Being emotionally moved by nature’s beauty, can awaken the same instincts to nurture and protect that we might feel for an infant or a child.  This is the kind of instinct that is infinitely harder to deny, than the rationale of hard science. Living in mud huts and wearing hemp trousers is not my personal vision of what a sustainable society might or should look like, but when it comes to our world leaders this might not be a bad thing in helping them develop a more authentic relationship with the earth.

What kind of discussions might have unfolded at Copenhagen if the delegates had camped out in the wilderness, and discussed the future of the earth, gathered round a camp fire they’d made themselves?  An end to oil as soon as humanly possible?  The radical transformation of urban landscapes into green sustainable cities? The possibility that we might frame our sense of well-being, by the depth of our relationship to the earth and all its creatures?

Will a bare footed politician please step forth to lead the way?


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