Visitors from afar

Faraway visitors make their impact on Findhorn, while Findhorn makes its impact closer to home

Londoners say there is no need to travel - just sit at the foot of the statue of Eros in Trafalgar Square and sooner or later, the whole world will come to you. Findhorn sometimes feels like the Eros of the eco-spiritual world.

The latest traveller to wash up on these shores – literally – is Mukti Mitchell. Mukti is sailing round Britain in a self-built yacht on a six-month speaking tour to promote sustainable lifestyles. His ‘Low-Carbon Lifestyles Tour’ sailed out of his home port, Clovelly in North Devon, in early April and will cover around 50 ports nationwide by mid-October, see here.

Last night was our turn and Mukti gave a presentation in the community centre on how each of us as individuals can significantly reduce our carbon footprints. At the heart of his message is that lowering our footprints should be fun: “People who have tried it find that a low-carbon lifestyle saves money, gives you more free time and brings quality, meaning and satisfaction to life”

This seems to be the key message that needs to be communicated at the moment. As the old Findhorn motto has it, "If it ain’t fun, it ain’t sustainable". Mukti is in the business of helping release the paralysing grip of fear over an uncertain future.

Another traveller and truth-seeker is coming towards the end of his time here in Findhorn. Kasmir Msigwa (pictured) is a teacher from Dar-es-Salaam in Tanzania who has been with us for around six weeks. He has been working in the local Steiner school, as part of an exchange arrangement within the Steiner global family. Kasmir has been a gentle and wise presence around the place with a deep curiosity and hunger for learning about new ways of doing things that he can take back to his school and community in Tanzania.

It was most touching to see how impressed Kasmir was with Mukti’s talk. I know all too well from my time in Africa that the prevailing stereotype of we Europeans can be of cold, unfriendly and decadent folk, carelessly abusing the planet and indifferent to suffering in other parts of the world.

Yet, here was Mukti demonstrating a passion and commitment to justice and sustainability and actually doing something about it. Great to witness this level of positive intercultural sharing and appreciation.

By the way, you may remember that a couple of weeks ago, I wrote about the students from Rokeby school in East London who came to spend a week with us. Well, I have come across the ‘Six Principles of Respect’ that they themselves developed and have now posted up around the school to guide the school’s ethic and behaviour. These are worth sharing:

Rokeby Respect Policy

We start with ourselves
We give respect to receive it

We take pride in ourselves and in our community
We never waste or damage things

We care for each other
We choose not to use language or actions that will harm others

We are kind and thoughtful
We include the needs of others in our thinking and action instead of thinking solely of ourselves

We listen, not just speak
We try to hear and understand others and we talk calmly and politely

We are fair, honest and work as a team
We tell the truth and we take responsibility for ourselves and others

- Rokeby Student Council, January 2007

Jonathan Dawson is a sustainability educator based at the Findhorn Foundation in Scotland. He is seeking to weave some of the wisdom accrued in 20 years of working in Africa into more sustainable and joyful ways of living here in Europe. Jonathan is also a gardener and a story-teller and is President of the Global Ecovillage Network.
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The rise of the green mayor – Sadiq Khan and the politics of clean energy

At an event at Tate Modern, Sadiq Khan pledged to clean up London's act.

On Thursday night, deep in the bowls of Tate Modern’s turbine hall, London Mayor Sadiq Khan renewed his promise to make the capital a world leader in clean energy and air. Yet his focus was as much on people as power plants – in particular, the need for local authorities to lead where central governments will not.

Khan was there to introduce the screening of a new documentary, From the Ashes, about the demise of the American coal industry. As he noted, Britain continues to battle against the legacy of fossil fuels: “In London today we burn very little coal but we are facing new air pollution challenges brought about for different reasons." 

At a time when the world's leaders are struggling to keep international agreements on climate change afloat, what can mayors do? Khan has pledged to buy only hybrid and zero-emissions buses from next year, and is working towards London becoming a zero carbon city.

Khan has, of course, also gained heroic status for being a bête noire of climate-change-denier-in-chief Donald Trump. On the US president's withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, Khan quipped: “If only he had withdrawn from Twitter.” He had more favourable things to say about the former mayor of New York and climate change activist Michael Bloomberg, who Khan said hailed from “the second greatest city in the world.”

Yet behind his humour was a serious point. Local authorities are having to pick up where both countries' central governments are leaving a void – in improving our air and supporting renewable technology and jobs. Most concerning of all, perhaps, is the way that interest groups representing business are slashing away at the regulations which protect public health, and claiming it as a virtue.

In the UK, documents leaked to Greenpeace’s energy desk show that a government-backed initiative considered proposals for reducing EU rules on fire-safety on the very day of the Grenfell Tower fire. The director of this Red Tape Initiative, Nick Tyrone, told the Guardian that these proposals were rejected. Yet government attempts to water down other EU regulations, such as the energy efficiency directive, still stand.

In America, this blame-game is even more highly charged. Republicans have sworn to replace what they describe as Obama’s “war on coal” with a war on regulation. “I am taking historic steps to lift the restrictions on American energy, to reverse government intrusion, and to cancel job-killing regulations,” Trump announced in March. While he has vowed “to promote clean air and clear water,” he has almost simultaneously signed an order to unravel the Clean Water Rule.

This rhetoric is hurting the very people it claims to protect: miners. From the Ashes shows the many ways that the industry harms wider public health, from water contamination, to air pollution. It also makes a strong case that the American coal industry is in terminal decline, regardless of possibile interventions from government or carbon capture.

Charities like Bloomberg can only do so much to pick up the pieces. The foundation, which helped fund the film, now not only helps support job training programs in coal communities after the Trump administration pulled their funding, but in recent weeks it also promised $15m to UN efforts to tackle climate change – again to help cover Trump's withdrawal from Paris Agreement. “I'm a bit worried about how many cards we're going to have to keep adding to the end of the film”, joked Antha Williams, a Bloomberg representative at the screening, with gallows humour.

Hope also lies with local governments and mayors. The publication of the mayor’s own environment strategy is coming “soon”. Speaking in panel discussion after the film, his deputy mayor for environment and energy, Shirley Rodrigues, described the move to a cleaner future as "an inevitable transition".

Confronting the troubled legacies of our fossil fuel past will not be easy. "We have our own experiences here of our coal mining communities being devastated by the closure of their mines," said Khan. But clean air begins with clean politics; maintaining old ways at the price of health is not one any government must pay. 

'From The Ashes' will premiere on National Geograhpic in the United Kingdom at 9pm on Tuesday, June 27th.

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.

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