The king of kitsch, David Dickinson, must read this column, because he called me last week and invited me to auction off anything that was cluttering up my home. Regular readers, including Mr Cheap-As-Chips himself, know I’ve got so much unwanted stuff that charity shops pull down the shutters when I appear. Even our local landfill site has put up a sign: “Sorry, FULL!”The problem that gnawed at me was global warming. I’ve been passionate about ecology since I became a vegetarian in the Seventies: I realised that thousands of species of plants and animals were being wiped out worldwide by the aggressive farming techniques needed to supply the West with cheap meat for beefburgers.
No one talked about global warming back then. The idea was strictly sci-fi, and much less real than the prospect of a nuclear winter.
For decades I have sided with scientists who imagined the Earth as a single organism. We’re all part of one universal spirit — it makes sense that we’re part of a single living creature too.
Mainstream science didn’t take those voices seriously, even when establishment figures such as Sir David Attenborough sounded a warning about the planet’s future health.
And because I was used to being ignored by the mainstream, I suppose I felt slightly comforted. I’ve long accepted that everything I know to be true – that we live after death, that intelligent life from other places has visited Earth, that telepathy is a talent most people possess without knowing it — all these things are regarded as ridiculous by most commentators.
So it came as a shock when the mainstream started listening to ecologists’ warnings. That shook me right out of my comfort zone.
As I unfolded my newspaper on the 747, I read that this summer in Britain is likely to produce another heatwave, as scorching as 2003. And weather like that will be normal within 20 years, and distinctly chilly within half a century.
The only way to stop this, the paper warned, was for all of us to stop burning so much fuel… for example, by taking fewer flights.
If I’d been allowed to switch on my mobile, I would have called the editor and demanded to know what stories he was printing 25 years ago, when the only eco-news which made the media was funny photos of Greenpeace protests.
If you didn’t have a boat painted like a killer whale, and you weren’t hanging banners on oil rigs, you didn’t make the headlines.
But the editor would have wanted to know what I was doing on a plane that burned more fuel in ten seconds than a family car uses in a fortnight.
It was a question I had to ask myself.
We were heading for Japan, to launch my latest range of jewellery, and I remembered a word of advice my yoga teacher imparted on the slopes of Mt Fuji when we were discussing the region’s vulnerability to earthquakes.
Scientists had warned the quakes were getting worse, and some said that Japan might become uninhabitable.
“When people tell me the world will end, I ask them how old they will be themselves when this happens,” my wise teacher said. “The answer is always 70, or 80, or 90. Nobody ever predicts the end of the world will occur in their prime. They are describing their own fear of death, and projecting it onto the whole planet.”
“When do you expect the world will end?” I asked.
“Not before I am at least 200 years old,” he answered with a smile.
My teacher, by the way, hasn’t aged a wrinkle in 25 years.
Global warming is real, but that doesn’t mean the direst warnings will all come true. And we have to remember our planet faces other dangers — never forget there are bombs that can reduce Earth to a crisp, and many of them are in the hands of unstable governments. North Korea has nuclear weapons, and Iran wants them desperately.
A billion people live on less than a pound a day, and a child dies from starvation every five seconds. War has been raging somewhere in the world every minute since I was born, 60 years ago, and I was born into a warzone.
In other words, it’s important that we tackle global warming, but we can’t solve all the world’s worries by cutting our carbon wastage. All of us want to leave a healthy planet to our descendants — we won’t achieve that simply by swearing off aeroplanes for life.
So what do we do?
My yoga teacher gave the best answer I’ve ever heard to that: “Do what you do best. Do it, and be a beacon to others. Inspire those around you, and around the world, to live the best lives they can. If you can do this by bending spoons, or by sweeping the road, or by driving a bus, or by designing electronic gadgets… best of all, if you can do this by raising children in the right paths, then do it as well as you possibly can. Be a beacon.”
My teacher has been one of the brightest beacons in my life. Of course, since this is the East and he is a man of true humility, he would not consent to have his photograph taken, and he would not like even to be named. So this week, no name-dropping and no pictures.
I can’t promise to maintain this high standard of virtue next week, though…
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