The Earth Junkies Journal

Earth Junkies getting on the Climate Train:
There is this Afrikaans song, “een aand op ‘n trein na Pretoria” (one night on a train to Pretoria), sung by ‘Die Briels’, a very drag-every-last-word-out-band-of-the-I-don’t-even-know-what-age-in-old-South-Africa… Last night, as I sat next to Elizabeth of COPART on the South African Climate Train’s bar-carriage on a station in Worcester on our way to COP17 in Durban, I could not but wonder what she would have thought of the song, or if she even knew it. Our compartments are right next to each other, so I thought to myself that since we will spend quite a lot of time together in the following 6 weeks, this ‘boeremeisie’ (Afrikaans girl) actually needed to sing her the song. Let’s be honest, I can’t ride any train without thinking of this song at least once. I guess it is a part of my culture …

At first she didn’t recognize it, but then I noticed a glimpse of familiarity, a funny look in her eye, as if she had indeed heard it before.  “Ah, ja …I actually have heard it before, but didn’t recognize the title … I am English remember…”

It was the end of Earth Junkies’ first day on the Climate Train that departed from Cape Town on Friday night. I can almost immediately hear you saying, “Climate what? Train? What do you mean?” Well, the Climate Train is touring SA with a posse of journalists, artists, filmmakers, academics, researchers, teachers and government officials; its destination COP17, the international climate change conference in Durban. We travel by night and spend the days in small towns across the country to raise awareness about global warming and climate change (two different concepts, but more on that another time). More specifically, we try and work with members of these communities in the small towns to understand how climate change will affect our collective lifestyles and how our current lifestyles could affect climate change.

“Climate change”, I said to Elizabeth, “maybe we can actually talk about that, and you can give me a piece of your mind, just a little piece, as I have only embarked on this journey very recently. For me this whole ‘green thinking’ thing makes me feel yellow. I know absolutely nothing about it.”

I’m not sure whether she smiled because she thought I was funny, or whether she felt a little flattered, or if she was just one of those great listeners who nod and smile and just give you the right answer… “It is a bit like your train song actually” she said, “You sang that song, and even though I think I have heard it somewhere, you cannot expect me to just sing it all of a sudden. It is not in my culture. I was taught different songs.” She took a sip of her drink, “Climate change is a cultural problem actually…”

During our talk I was introduced to the idea that the human race is indeed in need of a whole ideological climate shift. In other words, the climate is more than the weather, it is more that current ideas and events, it is the prevailing set of attitudes that a group of people holds, like the economic climate and cultural climate … we basically have to change our ideological climate. We have to change, or at least adapt, our way of thinking about the world, the earth, the way people live in and relate to it and each other; we have to adapt our cultures. In essence, our biggest challenge in overcoming the threat of climate change is changing our social systems. We have the technology and everything, but we have not taken the steps to change our habits. Our habits say everything about our ideology… our actions speak louder than our words.

Confronting climate change is psychological and emotional. It is facing possible human extinction head-on, it is a huge challenge for the human race, for the planet, it is overwhelming. It will take the whole of humanity to make a difference, so dealing with it as an individual is terrifying …“I hate to say it, but maybe we are screwed, not the earth, us, we are the problem, we won’t stop … It’s asking us to face that we are a small minority that cares, and that the majority does not care. I mean, imagine we all had to stop living the way we are now and become hunter gatherers tomorrow…”

At her last sentence I laughed out loud. One always laughs loudest when someone strikes a chord close to you, one that you have not been able to articulate, out of inability or unwillingness, out of the fear of facing an overwhelming truth. I decided right then and there that if there is one thing that we are going to try and capture on this trip, it will be the simple ideas of individuals about the need to change an ideology, an outlook, a culture. Maybe in some way we can answer why so many people out there, including ourselves, have been feeling yellow in the presence of all these over-published ‘green’ ideals. 

PS: We have started a Facebook page, The Earth Junkies Project, and there is a wonderful competition on it. Please ‘like’ the page and help us get a 1000 pictures of your children’s vision of Mother Earth on the site. If you don’t have children, I am sure you know someone that does. Lets spread the Earth Junkie addiction far and wide. Who knows, maybe it is your child’s drawing that might become the design to cover the exterior of the Climate train …

The Earth Junkies 7th Day on the Climate Train:

I wish I could do the experience of the Climate Train justice in one single story; that my words could capture the feeling of waking up to a new view outside my compartment window every morning; that I could describe what it is like to have a carriage designated for solely plants and performance, to be given the opportunity to hone your craft and make it better on a daily basis, and to say exactly how amazing it is to focus just on that. I want to write about the joys of a shower when the train is moving at night, they way the movement of the train rocks me to sleep, the children and their innocent expectations of life and how they, regardless of everything outside the carriage, believe that we can save this world in a blink of an eye.

This is Earth Junkies’s 7th day on the Climate train.

We woke up in Klerksdorp this morning after leaving Kimberley late last night. I stood on the platform after my evening shower and heard Oom Willem, the train manager, blow the whistle. I rushed to the nearest door and, once safe inside my compartment, I felt the train slowly gaining momentum and beginning to move across the dark landscape, this land that we all love so dearly. I got into bed thinking how tomorrow we wake up in a whole new town.

There are such open and brave individuals on this train. Most people, in all their diverse projects, are trying to create spaces for communities to understand what it means to be living in a climate-changing world. The COPART creative education projects on the train are developed and sculpted to help individuals to imagine ways of living better and to listen to each other to change their cultural climate collectively. The Earth Forum is one of the projects whose approach has particularly influenced me and I would particularly like to incorporate some of its fundamental methods in the Earth Junkies’s Enviromental education. The Earth Forum allows for intimate conversations to become a ‘social sculpture’, an expanded form of art that Dylan McGarry is researching. The space and time given to each participant to speak and the respect and active effort to listen given by the rest of the group is seen as an artwork in and of itself. The social sculpture is the space between the participants; the empathy holding the group. I particularly like how this technique combines imagination and listening, and each person in that circle can really imagine what it means to be in someone else’s shoes. It chisels empathy into a recognisable work of art, right in front of our very eyes.

Dylan in collaboration with artist Shelley Sacks at the Social Sculpture Research Unit, at Oxford Brookes University are working towards creating new spaces for empathy to grow. It is almost as if he would like to exercise this new organ called “empathy”, as they believe it is innate in all of us.

He says that “the more I work in this field; with issues around the environment and people being disconnected from nature, I discover that people are divorced form each other and they are divorced form the world, because they have lost empathy.”

Dylan moves into a more comfortable position.

“We can have all the technology, do all the fixes, but it is useless if we don’t choose to use it.  If we don’t have the heart, the real essence to back that technology and that science, they are nothing without love.”

Arthur Zanjoc is a physicist that teaches undergraduates and writes about his realization that you cannot separate love and knowledge. Love, for him, is defined by four precious elements: the first is respect, the second, being vulnerable and open to learning and adapting, the third being gentle, and finally, having the willingness to transform. He realized that he could not expect his students to learn something that they didn’t love.

Love and empathy are not air-fairy concepts limited to churches, romantic comedies or mothers. They are fundamental instruments to change the way we live in this world. We can only save this planet for our children if we show empathy not only to people in our lives, but also to the world around us. We need to care for not only ourselves, but we also need to show empathy to a bird or an insect or to nature in general. I believe Earth Junkies does just that, it nurtures children’s personal connection to Mother Earth and allows her to become a character that they love. I also cannot expect the children I work with to learn to live in a new way if I don’t help to cultivate this love for the planet.

Whenever I get depressed about the condition of the planet and I start to feel that the task of changing cultural climates is an impossible task, I remind myself that when I walk into the classroom-carriage to read the Earth Junkies story and help the children draw their vision of Mother Earth, the seats will be filled with wide eyes who still depend on a gentle touch, a re-assuring smile, a dream within a story. I jog my memory until I again see that the children still identify the beautiful green in the branches of a tree that they draw and will put extra love into the layers of blue in a river. I take myself back to the way they look at me in anticipation to hear what will happen next and how, when I finally speak in the voice of the character of Mother Earth, they truly fall in love with her and believe that she does exist. It is then that I realize we still have love and empathy. As Dylan says, it really is an organ that we are born with, and that we should somehow look at our problems with the sheer devotion and imagination of a child. It is only then that creating a kinder way of living is possible.

PS: Please ‘Like’ the EARTH JUNKIES PROJECT on Facebook and vote for your favorite vision of Mother Earth. It would be super if you’re keen to share our page. We really look forward to more entries.