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Diary: The rules of the game

I get a kick out of finding ways out of tricky situations, and usually small odds don’t discourage me. But there always comes a point where the odds are so tiny that it seems ridiculous to believe that a way out is possible. 

As with climate change.

Except with climate change there aren’t any odds. I think it’s pretty damn certain that we are starting to experience what will become a massive amount of suffering and loss of life on this planet.

How do I feel about this? Mainly numb actually, probably because I don’t know how to hold all the rage, grief, despair, that is underneath the numbness.

I’m active in groups working to stop the burning of fossil fuels, and in groups that are building strong communities to be more resilient to change.

Mostly I just get on with it – apart from a strong sense of solidarity with the people I work with on these projects, I don’t have much other feeling. I usually have a barrier protecting me.

Then, in quiet moments every now and then I get a sense of being connected to the ground beneath my feet, and I feel so deeply sad about what’s happening to this planet and the life on it.

Like the other day when I read that CO2 levels in the atmosphere haven’t been this high for three million years. I had a good cry about the 400 parts per million.

I just sat with the sadness for a while. It was actually a relief to feel this sadness, for a short while I didn’t have to ignore it.

Incidentally, I’ve been sad the whole while writing this diary entry! It’s actually helped me engage with feelings of anger and grief that I don’t usually give time to.

And there are also times when I have some hope.

Last week I ran a game with a group. The participants all stood in a circle, with a blank piece of A4 paper in front of each of them on the floor. I said: ‘There are two rules to this game: you can touch the paper, and you can’t touch the floor.’

I then stood on the piece of paper to model. They all stood on the paper.

I told a story about how the paper represented an important resource, and the resource is being stolen by some corporation.

So gradually I took away the pieces of paper. But still the rules remained, so people jumped on each other’s backs, they stood on tiptoes, they shared the paper, anything so they can still stand on the paper.

Of course, I never mentioned anything about standing on the paper. I just modelled a culture, which they accepted as they had no reason to reject it at the beginning.

Eventually there was one piece of paper left. They all tried to get all the feet on one piece of A4.

They struggled, they laughed, a couple of people fell over, but I can say with certainty that it’s impossible to get 40 feet onto one piece of A4 paper.

Then someone shouted: ‘Hey, why don’t we sit on the chairs?’

At which point they started coming up with all sorts of creative ideas for touching the paper without touching the floor.

Within a minute they were all sitting back on their seats, either sitting cross-legged or resting their feet on another chair, each holding a tiny piece of the paper, which they had ripped up.

I love this game, as it gives me hope that humans can make radical changes when we need to.

I’ve played it with a lot of groups – as soon as a group realises they don’t have to stand on the piece of paper, they get creative, and find a solution that works for them.

I wish civilisation would bloody hurry up and figure out that we don’t need to stand on the piece of paper....

Hannah Lewis is a climate activist and trainer.