As a species, humankind seems to be both incredibly innovative and creative, but infinitely destructive, often both at the same time. Throughout history, periods of warfare have been followed by great leaps in social, political and cultural development.
We only have to look at the Renaissance, perhaps the period in history which influenced our current society most. Not only were there significant developments in art, literature and culture, but also in science, education, religion and politics.
When I look around me at the moment, I wonder whether we are undergoing a similar sort of upheaval. In the midst of depressing news there are rays of light, and hope that we are learning from our mistakes.
The advent of mass communication has enabled us to stay on top of issues around the globe which until the last 50 years or so would have been largely unknown or at least at a safe enough distance not to seem relevant. Reading of a battle or crisis in a foreign country in the newspaper some days after the event, we could remain detached; today it’s beamed into our living rooms whilst it’s taking place and therefore has greater impact.
Are we experiencing a 21st Century Renaissance?
Whilst the Renaissance was a time of cultural revolution, it was also characterised by political and social unrest, and here I see some similarities in our current world.
In the midst of terrorism, political instability and uncertainty, poverty, homelessness and a refugee crisis amongst other things, there are a great many initiatives and movements that are trying to change things for good.
For a long time, we have in the main relied on our governments to ‘make things better’. I feel there is a growing realisation that they can’t solve all the problems alone, and society needs to take back some responsibility. Change which comes from the bottom rather than the top tends to work better, so this is a really positive move.
Rays of hope in our dark days
Last week’s Cornwall Sustainability Awards celebrated some of the organisations who are working hard in a wide variety of ways to help protect and grow our environment and support those who live and work in it.
The Local Nature Partnership Annual Conference, earlier the same day highlighted 21 different initiatives aiming to change behaviour, support environmental protection and growth, celebrate our environment and encourage greater biodiversity.
It’s not only locally. We are seeing national and international campaigns. Individuals and small groups taking action to help repair the damage we have done. Examples of this are in the growing awareness of the problems caused by plastic, and in particular, single use plastic. Consumers are making change happen, demanding action from governments and forcing manufacturers and multinationals to change the way they operate.
News recently has focussed on premature deaths caused by air pollution, and the increasing burden that respiratory disease is putting on our health services. Not only are individuals asking for action to limit air pollution, but they’re taking positive action through buying electric or hybrid vehicles, reducing car journey and increasing active travel for business and pleasure.
Taking back control
I feel that the general lack of trust in government and official bodies to act boldly on our behalf is probably the best motivator of all. It has seen individuals and communities take back responsibility and not just expect ‘someone else’ to sort things out.
After all, as the wonderful Pat Smith from The Final Straw project (http://finalstrawcornwall.co.uk/) says ‘ I used to wonder why somebody didn’t do something about that, then I realised I am that somebody.’
It’s when our backs against the wall, and we are facing adversity that our true resilience and resourcefulness comes out. Despite all the awful news that we hear daily from around the world and on our doorstep, I feel very positive that we are taking back responsibility for our lives, our surroundings and our future.
When all around seems chaotic and depressing, look out for those rays of light who are leading the way to a more positive future.