Shifting towards a conscious society – reflections on the Small is…Festival

4th September 2012 by

Yesterday I came back from the Small is… Festival organised by the amazing charities Practical Action and Engineers without Borders. The event was full of stimulating thought.  The overall theme asked: How can we empower people at the grassroots to tackle global issues like the energy crisis? Currently around 1.5 billion people are still living without modern energy while in the developing world we are consuming more than our planet’s-worth of resources.

People matter and must be engaged

The talks made me recognise the importance of engaging people in the things that matter around them and to become politically excited and engaged as agents.  Toby Kellner, for instance, spoke of a project to engage communities living on low income estates in Bristol by injecting some fun into a solar array project and building a solar tree installation.

Another salient point was about making sure energy technologies are intelligible – people need to understand the mechanics of where their energy comes from at a basic level.

Demonstration of a micro anaerobic digestion unit – it’s a great, simple technology to get your head around and is the sort of knowledge that needs democratisation

We must speak from the heart

The founder of International Peace Initiatives had a different approach to engaging people into action.  Karambu Ringera spoke truly to the heart – she emphasised going within and finding out who you really are and the importance of love as primary forces acting in change projects. Her project building an orphanage on a wasteland in Kenya in the face of opposition from the men surrounding her is testament to this philosophy.

Another technical fix isn’t enough

In actual fact, although we grapple with finding the right social and cultural projects to prevent rising energy consumption and climate change, a more technical fix is on the table. A friend recently suggested that a mechanism to tax carbon at the production side would solve our climate woes. Set highly enough so that only a limited amount of carbon would be emitted, it would effectively force the market to provide solutions and get to the crux of CO2 emissions reductions fast.

Job done? Hmmm, not really. If implemented carefully it may be a fix for climate change but what of social transformation – the reclaiming of our political, economic and social spheres away from the elites towards a commons? How do you engage those who have very little yet have the most to gain from change?

I don’t subscribe to a view that people who have very little materially aren’t interested in engaging in activism and radical themes but I do recognise that many who struggle just above the breadline may have less ‘headspace’ because of the pressure to get by. I think it’s about going to the places and hearths of people to strike up conversations and thoughts – be it stands at the supermarket, or banners on main roads.  The loss of spaces to socialise and meet people and talk about issues is making us more isolated. We need to claim these back in order to flourish. This will be an issue that will perpetuate with or without climate change and I think is fundamental to being tackled before we invent another way to damage ourselves collectively. The real question is how do we make the very workings of our society nimble and truly conscious?

Carla Jones is an Otesha cycle tour alumnus.

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