Judy Wilkinson: Ben Okri, the power of individual actions and Climate Emergency

Allotments campaigner Judy Wilkinson reflects on CommonSpace’s 30 May Forum on Climate Emergency via the poet Ben Okri

AT THE CommonSpace discussion on Thursday I read Ben Okri’s poem that starts: ‘They tell me that the world is rich with terror.’ 

For me this resonated with the vibes at the meeting. Ben Wray had chaired a good, thoughtful discussion on actions that are needed immediately. However, the poem ends: ‘But the world is rich with great love unfound...even in the terror there is love, twisted round and round. Set it free.’ I felt this strand had not been explored at the forum, particularly thinking about individual actions and engagement. 

Therefore this musing is about what drives me and what I can do. Following Geddes philosophy that we should first listen to our heart, then what we actually do already before we consult our heads and decide future actions, I began by thinking about my grandson Craig. He can neither talk nor walk but has taught me so much - to sit looking and listening under a tree, to dance with my eyes and my whole being, to enjoy the music of the waves, the breeze on my face, to laugh with joy and that life is.

READ MORE: Escalation: Where next for the climate action movement?

He has influenced my response to the threats in climate disruption, what we can do to reduce the impact and mitigate the effects. He has shown me that we are all connected and that how we think and act depends not only our selves (our genes and personal characteristics) but also on those around us, our families, friends, community and the larger society. This has made me realise that our needs and the contributions we make to our society and environment change as we pass through the seven stages of life. The young are hungry for experience and action (and now they are angry), the elders must listen, reflect and share their experiences of dealing with power and change. Change will come about through us all, everyone, working together. 

However there is a fundamental characteristic that we should recognise. It is explained by a character in the book Judas by Amos Oz who says that there are the dreamers who believe in universal love and every conflict is merely misunderstanding and those for whom love is a limited quantity, conflict is inevitable and that those who are hungry for power become shedders of blood. I believe this ‘yin and yang’ is present in all of us and that the challenge of our time is to to put in place structures to restrain the power hungry and enable dreamers to thrive. Also remember another poem by Ben Okri: ‘Out of bloodiness can come love; And out of slave trading can come a dance of souls; Out of division unity; Out of chaos fiestas’. 

At the CommonSpace discussion many people said the powerful should be confronted and action happen at all levels of society. Change through the Scottish Government for legislation, de-growth, investment banks, land reform and changes in the tax system are all required. Then local authorities must be held to account so all their plans and actions are for the common good, encouraging subsidiarity and local democracy, really co-operating, co-producing and actually trusting that people have the skills and ability to act. Individually we can only do a little but by contributing through our interests, abilities and skills, working together, listening, talking we can be part of the change. What do each of us really need (rather than want or would like) and what kind of a country, community, place could we live in ? 

READ MORE: CS Letters: From words to actions on Climate Emergency

As an individual I contribute my skills and energy towards mitigating the effects of climate change through my passion for my allotment. My plot gives me food, peace and tranquility and I find enjoyment and amusement in negotiating with the plants, insects and animals that also inhabit it. Politically if everyone who wished had access to a plot of land to cultivate,  food miles would be decreased, well being increased and we would all enjoy a rich urban environment.

However, although everyone in Scotland has the right to a plot of 250 square metres (Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act 2015) the problems of finding the land and helping people acquire the experience and confidence they need is not simple. It takes many small steps and connections across all the government silos. At the moment there are many ‘overarching themes’ advocated as a basis for government action - including climate change, place, food, culture, local democracy. Allotments and growing spaces are part of every theme.  If all those who have a plot or work in a community garden articulate their passion then the ‘decision makers’ may understand the contribution of growing spaces so the barriers disappear and we can build a different kind of society in which to live. This is where my actions are focused. 

I am a dreamer. I want a place where everyone can listen, dance and laugh as Craig and I do.

Picture courtesy of Manuel Vadillo 

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