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Sometimes we have to take the lead

Monday, November 16, 2009 by Marianne Elliott

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Bikes at the 350 International Climate Action Festival in Wellington, New Zealand.

So the world's leaders have, this week, failed to make progress towards a legally binding global climate treaty. After the excitement of the international climate action day this comes as a sobering wake-up call about just how little we can rely on our so-called 'leaders' to actually lead us. I guess when you made it to the top of your game using one set of rules you might be reluctant to see the rules change. But we need to change the rules. The way we are playing just isn't sustainable.

So what now?

There is still time to tell your Minister for Climate Change (in New Zealand this would be Nick Smith) that you want him or her to take a positive, constructive approach in Copenhagen next month.  Don't be afraid to write to your Minister or Representative. You don't need to be an expert on the topic, they have technical advisors for that. You just need to be honest and clear about how important the issue is to you. They are elected to represent us, so they need to have a strong mandate from us if they are to take bold action. Tell them now that you will support them in the boldness that they need to show to protect our planet's future.

But our elected leaders can only take us so far. We also need to know that we are our own leaders. So I say, let's lead this thing ourselves. There are so many ways that we can reduce our consumption and they are not sacrifices, they are abundant new ways of living and they have so many benefits.

The biggest change that I've made is going car-less. I'm not going to pretend it is always easy making the transition. I have to plan my entire day well in advance and allow much more time for everything. When I teach a yoga class in town it can take up to five hours for the round trip when it might have taken 45 minutes to drive in each direction. I'm learning to put my time on the bus and train to good use and to consider them to be part of my productive day.

But there are benefits. Taking the train slows me down. I can't leave it to the last moment and then jump in my car and whiz into town to teach or to a meeting. Instead I spend an hour on the train where I can brainstorm ideas for a meeting or settle myself in preparation for a class.

On public transport you also have a good chance of meeting people. At least once a week I end up on the train or bus with a friend or an acquaintance and it is a wonderful chance to catch up properly, without interruptions. Not having a car also makes me more reliant on the generosity of friends which in turn feeds my own desire to be generous.

On Saturday morning this week I was in the city on my way to teach yoga. The bus that I was waiting for didn't come. Fifteen minutes later one bus went past with a "Sorry Not in Service" sign up. I kept waiting. Ten minutes later another bus passed, also with a "Not in Service" sign. By now I had called a taxi, because I was going to be late for teaching. I was disappointed because the cost of the taxi was going to cancel out the money I would have made from teaching the class and right now, those classes are my only income.

I jumped in the taxi which, thankfully, had come immediately. As we sped off I explained my plight to the driver. He said that he had noticed there were anxious-looking people at the other bus-stops as well. As he said this I looked out the window at the person he was gesturing towards. I recognised her. She was a masseuse at the yoga studio where I was teaching. I felt certain that she was heading to the same place I was going. I asked the driver to stop the cab. I leapt out and ran back along the road to her, calling out for her to come join me in the cab.

Her face lit up as she recognised me and she ran towards the cab. She, like me, had been waiting for a bus for nearly 30 minutes and was worried that she was going to be late for her first appointment of the day. She had just been sending a little plea out to the universe for a transport angel when I jumped out of my cab and waved to her.

For the second time in a week one of my 'public transport disasters' had turned out to be the perfect opportunity to help someone else out. So this is also going on my list of reasons why public transport rocks. It won't always go according to plan, which gives me opportunities to practice letting go of my preconceived ideas about how my day should go and paying attention to what is right in front of me.

It's not always easy relying on public transport but certainly has it's upsides. It might not be right for you. But wherever you live and whatever your lifestyle there will be ways to make changes that do work for you. By consuming less (less energy, less water, less packaging) you'll simplify your life, reduce your expenses and give the planet a better chance at surviving the next century.

This isn't about feeling bad about our relative privilege. I've finally learned that feeling guilty about my privilege doesn't do anybody any good. Instead I cultivate gratitude for all that I have and I look for ways to share more. I trust that when I make changes that are motivated by love for the planet and all the people on it, those changes will bring unexpected benefits and they won't feel like sacrifices at all.

How about you? How do you feel about the balance between holding our elected officials accountable and taking action ourselves? Do you have your own experiences with making changes that seemed like sacrifices but turned out to be blessings? What do you make of the stalled climate talks? What more can we be doing?

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3 Responses to "Sometimes we have to take the lead"

  1. Emma says:

    I want to post something that really captures my admiration for you and your willingness to put yourself “out there” (for lack of a better term) but the brain is just not working, so this will have to do. You inspire me, lady.

  2. cath says:

    the hubby and i do have a car – but it’s reserved for the odd weekend away. everyday, i commute to work using the subway. it takes me roughly an hour and a half each way. there are days when i curse the trip – how much of my time it eats away, how much earlier in the morning i have to get up, how much later in the day i get home etc etc… but, in reality, those are hours that would probably not be spent wisely if i weren’t commuting. and on the train i read, i write, i do a version of a breathing meditation – all things that i wouldn’t allow myself time for otherwise. i’m with you on the public transport option. it rocks. (except when i hate it… but we all have those days :))

  3. Just wanted to let you know I was here.
    a fellow yoga teacher and writer,

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