The environmental crisis is such a massive, complex problem that it may seem strange to concentrate on what local communities can do. Are they not just a drop in the ocean? We have experts giving dire predictions of where we are headed, world leaders making pronouncements and campaigners struggling to make their voices heard. They are talking about climate change, fossil fuels, the loss of biodiversity, extreme weather, rising sea levels and much more. It may seem like it is all beyond us, too difficult and too distant.
But how about if the root cause of it all was our culture? How about if this Western Culture, which has now spread to almost every part of the world, means that we are brought up with assumptions about the world we live in that are inherently destructive? Then the problem is found in every one of us, in the way our minds have been conditioned by the culture we live in and, particularly, how we have become estranged from the natural world, on which our lives depend. It also means, and this is the exciting bit, that the solution lies with every one of us.
Every person in the world lives in a local community of some sort and that community has the capacity to shape and to reshape the way that we feel about ourselves. It is also a place where people can interact with nature, appreciate its life and recognise that they are a part of something much bigger. In an age where digital media can so easily draw us into a virtual world where nothing is real, the local community is a place where we can become truly grounded, make a real difference, join with others and find a way to engage with the deepest issue of our time.
Few people have factored in the importance of cultural change in thinking about the environmental crisis and this movement has a special interest in the power of festival to form and reform human culture. This idea was first put forward by Emile Durkheim, the founder of what we now call sociology, but the modern world has not yet found a way of making his insights practical in promoting deep culture change. Until now. Festivals are a vital means by which people can be drawn together in a local area and united in a common cause. Festivals celebrating our relationship with the Earth can help us feel connected, as a community, with the natural world around us.
Annual festivals and such-like in local communities can be complemented with ongoing work that engages the local community with the natural world around them. This will act to maintain the social momentum of the festivals throughout the year and consolidate change in our perspectives regarding the natural world and the Earth itself.
The result can be culture change, with local communities acting as the seeds of that change, bearing fruit in a beautiful way and spreading around the world place by place.
One of the delightful aspects of this movement is that it is a positive approach to the deepest problem of the day. It does not focus on the dire warnings about the future and evoking ever and ever greater fear. It focuses on the potential for a new and much better way of living in connection with the Earth, that great and powerful living system on which all life depends, and on our local communities as a focus for affirmation and practical engagement.
As the movement develops you will find many stories and ideas on this website to encourage you to take this up in your local community. We are seeking Earth Partners to be catalysts of change in their local area. It is okay to start small, festivals can be as simple as just a few tents and a naturalist taking people around. Caring for the Earth can begin with any of those nature-related groups already active in your local area. But the aim is always to reach deep into your community, reach new people and change the way that all of us think and feel about the Earth. Then we will truly be making a difference.
Place by Place is managed in partnership with the Schumacher Institute, a registered charity and works with ideas developed by Chris Sunderland, an environmental entrepreneur, who has helped to found a variety of projects in his home city of Bristol, UK and is the author of the ebook Imagination is the key – to unlock the environmental crisis, which gives further details of this approach and its rationale.