We’ve just been approached by someone running ‘sustainable living apprenticeships’ in Peru, asking if there’s anywhere to promote them on our site. This sort of thing happens all the time, by the way – yoga retreats in India, conferences in Malaysia, meditation on Greek islands etc.
I replied and explained that we’re a UK-based organisation, and therefore we’d be encouraging people to take long-haul flights (probably quite a few) to take up the apprenticeships, and that’s not very sustainable, is it? Not only would it involve pumping carbon and toxins into the high atmosphere, but it would also enrich the corporate oil and airline industries.
A reply came back explaining that ‘it may seem unsustainable’ (it does), but there are a lot of UK travellers in Peru, as well as from other countries, and that people take the things they learn on the apprenticeships back to their own countries. My question is, why can’t they learn those things in their own countries too? There are plenty of people offering courses in sustainability topics in the overdeveloped world.
I explained that we’re just launching Low-impact Australia, but a) it’s for Australians, and b) Dani and Sam who are launching it volunteered with us in the UK and travelled back to Australia overland, taking over six months to do so – all via public transport or hitch-hiking. Travelling broadens the mind and brings people into contact with different cultures – good things – but why not take time out to do it, overland? It can be done – even across oceans. A life spent taking city breaks and long-haul holidays is self-indulgent and extremely environmentally-damaging.
If we’d agreed to promote the apprenticeships from the UK, I know that we’d be helping to encourage long-haul flights, and I absolutely don’t want to do that. I think that people who understand what’s happening to the biosphere (and surely that should include people running ‘sustainable living apprenticeships’) should avoid flying themselves, and certainly not start projects that require people to fly half way around the world.
I suggest that people running sustainability projects abroad learn the language and aim the project at the locals, or if the locals don’t have the money to pay for their services, then either raise funds to provide it to them for free, or return home and work with people who then don’t have to fly to attend. In this case, the fee for a one-month course is $1000 – twice the average monthly income for a Peruvian, but as they’re in Peru, where the cost of living is much lower, I’m not sure why they would need to bring in that much money.
Better still, projects in poor countries that help people live in a sustainable, non-corporate way should be run by locals and for locals. The role of Americans or Europeans could be to raise funds, but not to set up in those countries themselves, and definitely not to serve other Americans and Europeans, who have to fly there to take part.
Or am I missing something?
The views expressed in our blog are those of the author and not necessarily lowimpact.org's
1beatricesalmonhawk March 1st, 2016
Very good article and arguments. What came to mind when you say what have I missed is m
ay be it is much much cheaper to be an apprentice in Peru? I find the courses in the UK far beyond my meagre budget. And yes, I know about woofing, etc. just thought that might be something that you had overlooked. If you are on a gap year or something like this…whilst there are still planes flying. It won’t be for much longer!
2Dave Darby March 1st, 2016
Hi – their course cost $1000 for a month though, and then there’s the flight. Plas Helyg – http://www.plas-helyg.co.uk/ – do occasional month-long low-impact living courses in Wales for about £800 – all food and accommodation included. And there are many more.
But still, my main point is that it’s too damaging to fly – and flying from the UK to Peru for a sustainability course is beyond parody, I think.
3spacemao March 1st, 2016
Great points dave – I think having westerners fly across the world to learn sustainability is completely backwards – I wouldn’t mind so much if they were going to TEACH sustainability – though it would still be a contradictory behaviour in that it would take the students several years to pay back the carbon costs of their visiting tutor.
In the west our problems with green adoption are down to the profit motive, and our position as beneficiaries of imperialism – people are too distracted by their foxconn made iphone to start decentralised alternative industries, re-establish the commons and develop low consumption technologies – those that escape the trappings of convenience and start to build something soon get crushed if it threatens the eco-system of the corporate hedgemony.
In the ‘third world’ (god I hate that term – so I will use ‘global centres of capitalist exploitation’ instead) their problem is the opposite of ours, lack of money, lack of education and ability to read, lack of communication – and as we are at the centre of exploitation, they do not need to suppress revolutionary thought with liberal notions of ‘freedom’ and a constant barrage of distracting consumer goods – they do it with guns, they do it to workers who have no unions and ability to defend themselves, in short, their problems are actual violence – not the field of lazy fecklessness of thought and act, through which revolutionaries in the west must trudge (and themselves suffer from.)
This is why the centres of capitalist exploitation produce a clarity of thought regarding the nature of society and how to fix it, because their exploitation is obvious, and their exploiters still visible, their outlook is correct from a much earlier stage – they do not need to out-think the liberal hedgemony before they can think like a revolutionary.
I see their problems and our problems as complimentary. These people need to build alternative societies that are (given the material conditions created by being at the forefront of exploitative capitalism) autonomous. If we want our fledgeling eco-activist / anarchist / communist to thrive then we must assist them in every way – after all, they are far more important than us; one strike in one factory, or one act of industrial sabotage, will both damage the profits of capitalist exploiter locally to them – and damage the profits of the capitalists in the city of london. Equally, one commune, one alternative community organisation, one solar PV, created in the centre of exploitation – is far more damaging to capitalism’s destruction of the environment than a commune or community organisation in the capitalist west – where thanks to our abundance and convenience of petrol infrastructure, people will invariably burn gallons of petrol to get to it. (cont)
4spacemao March 1st, 2016
(cont) I am not saying don’t have both – I am saying absolutely DO BOTH – but that the movement in the west needs to be grounded in internationalism, that we must not only interact with, but support similar movements abroad where capitalist exploitation is stronger. This is the gift of internationalism – and the way to actually change things. As we know that funnelling our movement through the nation state system (and the autonomous limitations of working inside a nation state) has achieved next to nothing for the past 40 years. Tactically speaking, I guess we might investigate forming international cooperatives of groups like radical roots – that we might fly people from Peru to England to learn how to build autonomous democratic communities that are grounded in sustainable thinking (that would have to be revolutionary in nature if it were to be useful.) Jokes—btw we don’t need to fly them here when we have the internet.
Many of the things that we, the sustainable / revolutionary movement in the west have to teach will be utter junk to those in the centre’s of capitalist exploitation. No amount of liberal clap trap will help foxconn workers get decent living conditions, no amount of eco-legal lawyers can help all the people of the third world stop extraction from eventually destroying the land around them, no amount of low-impact farming will reverse fuedal cultural conditions that capitalists can so easily manipulate. No amount of demonstrations will stop Monsanto lobotomising the farming ability of entire continents. Moreover, these people will see that liberal techniques cannot help their immediate material conditions – and will therefore reject them and anyone who tries to teach them it. This is why we have to forget ourselves, we are not the most important things in the universe, it is the masses (and the people of the world) who we must serve, and we must adapt our technologies (mental and physical) to be usable in their societies – as if they are not then they are useless generally, as at best they can only confront capitalism with a minor challenge which it can eventually make profit from.
tldr: why are westerners flying to the east to learn sustainable techniques that can only help them in the west – WHAT IS GOING ON HUMANS!?
PS. Dave can you give us a rough idea on how much it cost to travel on land from UK to Australia? I have some friends there – can’t think of a better way to get there!
5Dave Darby March 1st, 2016
When I read something with the word ‘revolutionary’ scattered about it, I worry that a lot of people will see it, and think of people in balaclavas throwing petrol bombs or worse. Of course, the only thing that revolutionary means is that we will have a different system. Not the same system tinkered with a bit, not the same system made to look a bit greener, not the same system with different leaders – but a different system. And in that I’m completely with you – this system can’t be reformed, because a) the corporate sector is in control, and won’t allow it to be reformed more than they would like – in other words, gay marriage or race laws, fine (and even in our out of the EU, fine), because it’s ultimately no threat to their power, but preventing corporate political donations, corporate tax avoidance or lobbying, or closing sweatshops – no, and any government that tries to do it unilaterally will be punished by international investors until they change tack or lose the next election; and b) because the corporate sector is cancerous – it can’t be limited – it will grow until it dominates the global economy, unless we remove it.
I’ll ask Dani to respond about travel overland from the UK to Oz.
6spacemao March 1st, 2016
V good points dave – I use the term ‘revolutionary’ so frequently because I want to scare anyone who still has an irrational and child-like reaction to the word – there was this Indian guru who said his goal was ‘to scare people out of their retardation.’ I think the mentality is similar haha though perhaps the execution needs work.
My response to this is that society is in a constant state of change anyway, and it is the people who are actually the motive force behind this change; the reinforcement of the toxic system is subject to their coercion, and the removal of such a system can be executed only by the people generally.
For me, thinking sustainably (in design, both for personal systems and for systems used by others) is at it’s most advanced stage when it is revolutionary in nature – I would go one step further and argue that the true logic of sustainable thinking IS revolution. We are ultimately trying to create a human living system that encompasses the world and sustains it’s life support system. As we already have a human living system that ensnares the world through imperialism and destabilises it’s life support system through the profit motive – we are pressed into revolutionary thinking by the very obstacles that our first, most elementary ‘baby-step’ tactics must overcome.
I honestly think that the readership of low-impact are too clued up to lose themselves in thoroughly propagandised liberal imagery of balaclavas and molotov cocktails when hearing the word ‘revolutionary thinking.’ I am sure that most will understand that revolutionary thinking is simply radical change of the system – they might approve of this in the legal spectrum of revolutionary activity (ie, forming communes and exercizing your ‘freedom’ of speech) thought they might disapprove of the illegal spectrum of revolutionary activity (ie, sabotaging foxconn or creating autonomous states.) And so for these people I would hope to convey that there is no line that seperates these two spectrums of activity – history shows us that it is the repressive forces of capitalism that cross into illegal activity (and arguably already have – particularly with the way they surveil data) and this ultimately creates the circumstances which warrant illegal revolutionary acts (such as in spanish revolution – arming the people against a fascist military coup.) In reality the line between illegal and legal revolutionary action is an ever shifting grey area, different depending on where in the world you are. If we are internationalists, and if we correctly understand that we can look at revolution scientifically, then we must not immaturely draw a line in the sand between the two spectrum of activity, and consider them all in a rational framework of tactical ideas that are centred around the mass forces and their material conditions.
We are in a fist fight with capitalism anyway – and we tie one hand behind our back if we do not grasp these principles and the history that reinforces them.
7Dave Darby March 1st, 2016
oh yes, the ‘repressive forces of capitalism’ are involved in a lot of illegal activity – invading countries, illegal surveillance, corruption of politicians, tax avoidance, and plenty that isn’t illegal, just nasty – Stagecoach ran free buses in towns until the local bus company went bust, then took over the bus routes; Nestle told African mothers that breast milk was bad for their babies, causing the deaths of thousands of children etc. etc. ad nauseam.
8Dani Austin March 2nd, 2016
The costs will vary depending on the route you take. We went UK-Scandinavia-Russia-Mongolia-China-SE-Asia-Australia. It took 6 months in 2012 and the cost was around £7 500 for us both (£3 750 each). A few hundred of that was for visas, about £100 a pop for Russia and China, then around £50 for Mongolia, and some SE Asian countries.
The transport was mostly trains, some hitch-hiking, and some buses. For transport by region: Scandinavia (flexible rail pass, and hitch-hiking), Russia to China (pre-booked individual tickets for our itinerary), SE Asia (a mix of trains and buses bought as we went). Then due to migratory visa requirements I took one short flight to Darwin, and lastly, across Australia on the Ghan (train). We got A LOT of information from Seat 61: http://www.seat61.com/
Accommodation was mostly couchsurfing, with some camping, and some hostels/hotels. Included in this time was also two weeks volunteering in Laos.
Our blog shows lots of photos and practical tips regarding the journey:
http://daniandsamoverland.blogspot.com.au/ (starts at the end with the latest blog) OR….
http://daniandsamoverland.blogspot.com.au/2012/07/amsterdam-netherlands.html (the first blog post after we left the UK)
We were pretty budget, but it could easily cost more or less. However, I would happily have spent twice the money for that adventure. As we don’t fly off on holidays from Australia we can save for another big overland trip in the future if it opportunity arises.