This short little book is a wealth of good advice about an individual approach to the climate crisis and the instability of modern industrial capitalist society. Her suggestions for living an authentic life on the individual scale are all familiar – reduce your ecological footprint, cultivate relationships and community instead of defining yourself through your possessions, and find ways to integrate creativity and nature into your life. She works through seven short chapters: What Makes an Authentic Life?, Authenticity and the Unsustainable,- Slow Life Sustainability, Wealth in Relationships, Creativity for All, Privilege, Poverty, Inclusion, Political Changes.
I don’t see these approaches as transforming life for more than a tiny minority of people. Since the mid-1960s this approach to personal transformation with the expectation of sparking widespread social and cultural change has been promoted and praised by well-meaning people in the alternative cultural and spiritual communities and nothing has changed in the larger culture.
I like what brown has to say, but, pragmatically, this approach has not produced the results that it is intended to produce in the past sixty years or so (aside from making those few who follow it feel better about themselves) and we should abandon it as a strategy and focus on approaches that are more likely to succeed.
A carbon tax and heavy government regulation is more likely than twenty short-lived back-to-the-land communal experiments to reduce carbon emissions. A subsidy on solar panels will do more to shift away from destructive energy emissions than reducing the temperature in my home by a few degrees. In other words, the principal focus needs to not be on individual, personal transformation, but large scale political and cultural changes.
Sustainability is a communal project, and a world-wide issue. We will not get sustainability in a single country (particularly not one, like the UK, her home, which imports most of its food and packs 65 million people onto a medium sized island). We are all of us in a web of mutual interdependence, exchanging food around the globe, exchanging cultural ideas and music alongside spices and clothing. Localizing will impoverish all of our lives – I like coffee, for example, and I don’t want to live on the beef, wheat, and lentils that grow well here in central Alberta.
I don’t want to argue against Ms. Brown because her sincerity and kind heart shines out through her writing here, and because there is so much richness in a life full of relationships, lived at a human pace, connected to the Earth, not centered on money. She understands the need for economic equity, the effect of inequality and the grinding of poverty, the need for inclusion across all of the various boundaries of sex, race, class, etc.
I see her ‘preaching to the choir’, to those of us who already broadly share her vision of the future. The great value of her book is a reminder and a nudge to us, rather than an outreach to the rest of the world. But I do not believe that her approach to the current crisis is going to work.
~ review by Samuel Wagar
Author: Nimue Brown
Moon Books 2023
71 pg. Paperback £10.99 || $12.95 US