25 May 2014

Creating Change is Like Gardening

It was a sad day for me. I discovered yesterday morning how difficult it is to change a norm, even if it's a simple change (with not much sacrifice attached to it) and even when making the change would be a gift to the children and their future.

For almost a year, I've been a member of a group of teachers who are interested in social justice issues. I sit on the sub-committee that deals with environmental justice issues, so it's normal that we would bring forward environmentally related issues. 

Yesterday I presented a simple motion that we transition to meatless meals at our meetings (which would amount to a couple of lunches, the three times per year when we meet). The supporting statement explained that eating lower on the food chain (note no use of the V word) has many benefits.

My rationale was that this would lower our carbon footprint and set an example to other educationally-focused groups. It truly is the easiest way we can reduce our personal and collective greenhouse gas emissions. 

Industrial livestock processing (veganspeak: the inhumane torture and slaughter of almost 30 billion animals every year in the USA alone -- but I didn't use that language, because it's often considered inflammatory) (imagine how it feels to the animals, then compare that to the "pain" we feel when we "feel their pain" -- we're such wimps at times, eh?) is one of the most carbon-intensive and environmentally damaging human activities on the planet, polluting water, degrading land, and spewing carbon, nitrous oxide and 35-40% of anthropogenic methane emissions. 

It took me three meetings to get up the nerve to put forward this resolution. I guess I already knew what the reaction would be. And I was right. To be fair, I was encouraged by how many people spoke in favour. But we use a consensus model and that means that one person holding up a red card can scuttle a motion. Four or five people held up red cards. One person tearfully admitted she's not ready to give up meat yet. (For six lunches per year?) Another said she didn't want to lose her freedom of choice. (Forget that billions of people are losing their freedom to choose to live on a habitable planet.) 

The motion was defeated. I was defeated. Afterwards, I got some advice and had some helpful discussions. I'll rework and reword my motion and present it again the next time we meet. But the bittersweet ending came during our farewell go-round. One of the no-voters thanked the group for opening her up to new ideas that haven't been within her realm of consciousness. "I might even start eating less meat," she said. "But not quite yet."

What do I take from this experience? Creating change is more like gardening than building. We have to plant our seeds (the earlier the better) and then be patient. A lot of the process is outside of our control ... though definitely within our circle of influence. Time for me to tend those seedlings.

p.s. Speaking of food growing, the news from drought-afflicted California grows ever more terrifying!

From 7 States Running Out Of Water"At [the current] usage rate, California has less than two years of water remaining."

And this, from Cows, Rice Fields and Big Agriculture Consume Well Over 90% of California's Water: "Agriculture uses 93% of California's water and almost half of that is devoted to growing alfalfa for shipment to the Far East, mainly China, to feed their cows. California is, in effect, shipping almost half its precious water to China."


  1. You were brave to propose a change of values around eating together. One might think that social justice would be a good motivator to try eating the way half the world does on a regular basis (with no meat as part of a meal). But your gardening analogy is true - you've tilled some soil and planted a seed. Growth doesn't come instantly. It's worth trying again in the future. Shifts in consciousness are special crops. Bravo from Elise.

  2. Sometimes it is hard to see that you are effecting change at all. But you are Julie and you made people stop and think about something in a way that they hadn't before. I haven't eaten beef for 40 years. You just reminded me of some of reasons I made that choice so long ago. And I have to agree with the previous statement from Elise, "shifts in consciousness are special crops". Wendy

  3. I just reread this post and thought, "No, I'm not going to retry at a future meeting." But then I also reread your comments, Elise and Wendy, and am feeling buoyed. Thank you for your moral support!

  4. Yes Greenhearted, I agree with you that compasssion is one route to a solution. And I appreciate your efforts at planting seeds in this direction. Your warmth shows through in the way in which you write up your (sad) story re your raising of the possibility of non-eating of meat in some meetings. Norma

  5. Hi Greenhearted. I too appreciate your effort at planting seeds! All warm wishes, Norma


I would appreciate hearing your thoughts or questions on this post or anything else you've read here. What is your take on courage and compassion being an important part of the solution to the climate change emergency?