Thursday 16 February 2012

A love affair with place

When we talk about relationships, we are normally talking about relations between people. Equally love. And when we talk about falling in love, a few characteristics typically come to mind: a sense of longing, a sense of 'nothing else matters', inner joy or peace, aliveness, and so on. Well I have to admit it - I've been there - been to that place - and that place is/was actually a geographical place. I fell in love with a City - or part of it - located 3000 miles from home, and I became addicted. Each time I left my other place, I had longings to go back. I felt an immediate sense of aliveness and vibrancy on arriving, and each time I returned home to Norwich I felt empty again. Something was missing.

Over a period of years this resonance with my other home, as it became, was so strong that I began to wonder whether I really belonged there, and not in Norwich. The thought of upping sticks certainly passed through me more than once, but against it, tugging the other way, were all my family and friend and campaigning connections in Norwich. After quite a process of examining exactly what it was which attracted me - what characteristics of Chris-ness were getting amplified and expressed when I was in this place - I began to realise what was going on.

Not long after this, timewise, in 2005 I was unexpectedly elected as a Green Party County Councillor, and with it a whole set of new responsibilities and transparency of values kicked in. By this time the awareness of flying in aeroplanes as a destructive pastime had really taken hold - and so now, I was faced with another dilemma to add to my list. Having let go of the idea of moving home and country, and promised myself I could survive and keep my attachment going by annual visits, I was now faced with the shame of knowing how destructive such visits would be, given the necessity of travel by air.

Here I need to digress a little. Volumes have been written on the ifs and buts of flying, some of it sound, and some of it highly misleading. The essence of air travel is speed and distance - that's the whole point - and of it's nature, anything travelling at high speed and over a long distance will use extremely large amounts of energy.

Try pushing a car. Then try pushing a jumbo jet. Then imagine this jet being propelled at 500 m.p.h. for hundreds or thousands of miles. Actually in my case, traveling to my special place involves, per person, about 3.5 tons of emitted CO2. So getting on this aeroplane and traveling for about 6 hours each way, I, personally would be responsible for emitting the same amount of CO2 as my house now emits in 7 years. To make matters even worse ( for my conscience), there is something called the 'forcing factor' when emissions are made at high altitude - which roughly translated means that carbon emitted at altitude, has 2.7 times the effect as that same emission would have on the ground. Put another way, this one trip would involve more carbon emissions than an average Tanzanian in their entire lifetime. And when it is widely regarded that a truly sustainable, long term, per person per year emission rating is 1.1 tons, there really was no way I was going to continue my addiction.

So then began the painful process of letting go of my attachment to this place, and of the dear friends I had made there. Actually, I still feel in some way connected with my friends, thanks to the wonders of e-mail and skype. The whole process has helped me realise just how difficult it is for us as individuals to kick the carbon habit, and how, over time, our lives have become dependant to such a degree on using energy and carbon. It wasn't exactly like coming off an addiction to ice-cream - although my special place had plenty of that in quantity and quality - more like coming out of a relationship. Sometimes I still feel that impulsively arrange a trip....but then I really do get that image of struggling sub-Saharan people in drought areas, whose circumstances are undoubtedly in my mind partially brought about by our addiction to carbon and guzzling energy. [ It's no co-incidence that all the major NGOs doing work in areas like that campaign vigorously on climate change issues].

Oh yes, and I've grown to really appreciate Norwich too!

My special place, if your really interested, is Boston - that's Massachussetts, not Lincolnshire.


  1. Hi Chris,

    Great post. Well, you know I've voted with my feet on that issue as well, and for me the decision not to fly for work was much more difficult than not to fly for leisure. But can I take a slight issue with your use of the words long-term? As I've inexpertly calculated here:
    that's actually 2034 for you. 0.7% decrease in carbon emissions after that may not sound very much relative to the 10% decrease we need until then, but the thing about long-term decreases is that they add up.

    Best wishes,

  2. Wonderful post Chris. Thank you. I really share your predicament. I was heart-broken when I had to leave Arizona and a whole community of people I had known for years. Now, ten years later, in Transition, I know it is unlikely I will ever be able to go back.

    One stranage thing though: I used to long to live in Suffolk in a similar way, in a cottage with apple trees in the garden. And now I live in that cottage just up the coast from the seatown I once thought of as a paradise.

    I feel connected to the neighbourhood and to this place now after living here for 9 years but not in the passionate way I once did. What I realised was I was loving places and people as a *visitor* and was not carrying the responsibility and inherited shadows of the country as a *belonger*.

    I think that's the challenge we face in Transition to belong to places ourselves.

    Doesn't stop me sighing occassionally though for those awesome desert nights . . . .

  3. Very close to my heart this, I lived for 6 years in Vancouver, moved back here 2 years ago and have not been back since, but I sure left an amazing set of friends, places and memories there...