If there’s one thing the COVID-19 pandemic taught me, as well as the rest of people who live in urban areas like London, it’s how we have strongly underestimated the importance of having enough of both green spaces and greenery around us. When coronavirus hit, it hurled social and environmental injustices to the front of our collective consciousness. And during that time, even the smallest acts of what is known as ‘guerrilla gardening’ helped us breathe and feel less trapped in a concrete jungle.
Chances are, you’ve now woken up to a problem that never seemed to bother you before: nature deprivation. But being aware of an issue is only half the battle—it’s time for you to take action and do something about it. That’s where the upcoming event Planting the Future comes in, to show you the way forward and inspire you to transform cities from grey to green.
Taking place on Wednesday 28 July from 6 p.m. at Selina’s new location in Camden, London, Planting the Future will consist of a seed bomb workshop, an eco-poetry reading, and an environmental art exhibition. Put in place by Emma Latham Phillips, a freelance writer with a focus on the environment and agroecology, and Ellen Miles, an activist working at the intersection of climate and social justice who’s behind innovative projects such as Dream Green and Nature is a Human Right, this event is the first winner of The Special Event Call Out.
In partnership with Selina, we asked London’s thriving creative scene to submit their most inspiring event ideas and promised to take care of all the rest in return, from production to promotion. And you truly delivered! Ahead of the Planting the Future event, we sat down with Miles and Latham Phillips to encourage you to join us on 28 July and give you the opportunity to learn more about the many benefits of guerrilla gardening.
The term is pretty self-explanatory, it is the act of transforming “neglected, lifeless patches of your neighbourhood into vibrant patches of plant life, with or without permission,” Miles told me. After a few months of campaigning to make access to green space a right for all through Nature is a Human Right, Miles wanted a more immediate and tangible solution. “One within my own power,” she added.
Why now? When coronavirus hit, “for the privileged, with many-roomed houses, gardens to nourish, and parks to escape to, the ‘stay at home’ imperative was bearable. But for those trapped high up in a balcony-less tower block with no nearby parks, not only was lockdown a ‘living hell’ (as one single mother described it), their greyer, more polluted surroundings put their lives at risk—manifesting as lethal comorbidities,” she explained.
“2.7 million people in the UK don’t have any ‘green space’ within accessible walking distance, and one in eight don’t have a garden. For the communities sitting at the intersection of this bleak Venn diagram (disproportionately low-income households and people of colour), the consequences are life-threatening. Studies have found that mental illnesses are 40 per cent more prevalent, life expectancy two years shorter, and violent crime 50 per cent higher in grey urban areas compared to greener environments,” Miles further explained.
Galvanised by all this, the activist discovered guerrilla gardening and started posting videos of her doing it throughout London on TikTok. Soon enough, she accumulated millions of views as well as a palpably-energised following. “I realised that there was a huge, latent army of guerrilla gardeners out there—a social movement ready to spring to action, if only they were given the right support… So I founded Dream Green, the social enterprise that educates and equips people to become guerrilla gardeners.”
For Planting the Future, Miles has joined forces with Latham Phillips to bring you an evening celebrating nature in the city. Their eco evening extravaganza is split into three parts—a workshop, a three-course meal, and a nature-inspired art exhibition and open mic poetry session.
First, you’ll be invited to join a workshop where you will learn how to make the essential tool in the guerrilla gardeners’ arsenal: seed bombs. These tiny, potential-packed balls of wildflower seeds let you ‘throw and grow’—just leave them on soil, and Mother Nature will take care of the rest! Soon you’ll be leaving bright patches of biodiversity in your wake.
Then, join Miles and Latham Phillips for a three-course meal, courtesy of Selina. A drink is included within the price of a ticket, and the set menu is vegan with a sustainable twist—fancy! The evening will finish with an open mic eco-poetry session (don’t be shy!) and the chance to view the artwork of regular collaborators of the duo inspired by the urban wilds.
“We mainly want people to have fun! Hopefully they’ll learn something new about how to make their streets greener, and get inspired along the way. Our audience cares about people, plants and the planet. Guerrilla gardening and creative eco-action involve, and are good for, all three,” Miles shared.
Not sure how best to celebrate the UK opening back up? Can’t choose between dinner, art exhibitions and live entertainment? Planting the Future has got you covered! The dinner event will bring you all three. “If you’re looking to make the world a better place in a way that’s not only simple, but fun, come along to our workshop, and learn how to make your local streets better for birds, bees and communities. You’ll get to take home a pouch of your own DIY seed bombs as well as knowledge to last a lifetime,” Miles added.
Convinced? Join Dream Green and Nature is a Human Right on 28 July at Selina’s new Camden venue! Click on this link to purchase tickets—workshop: £16.50 and three-course dinner: £42.50. See you there!
How does a climate scientist get up in the morning? I’m going to tell you how to face your worst climate fears. Since you have clicked on this article, I know that you are afraid and that you are ready to admit it. I have one thousand words this month to help you through this. Today could be a day during which you think about something bigger than yourself. Perhaps such thoughts will fill you with a surprising sense of calm and connectivity.
I’ve been speaking to climate scientists all month, in search of hope. I’m going to show you where the hope is hidden, but first I’m going to write to you about the bad news, because you have to read it, again. What good would a therapist be if they didn’t sit you down with your greatest anxieties and hold them up to the light, for a proper examination?
Asking a climate scientist if it is all going to be OK is like locking eyes with an air host aboard a plane about to plummet into the ocean. Indeed, sixteen-year-old climate hero Greta Thunberg wants you to panic. Climate scientists and activists wake up every day and know it is too late to mitigate climate change entirely. We are going to have to adapt and nobody knows what this will look like, but that’s what makes a climate scientist tick. It might make you tick too.
Jeffrey Kiehl is a climate scientist and a Jungian analyst living near San Francisco. Kiehl, who has been in the climate biz for four decades, has studied warm climates in the deep past. Earth had a warmer climate before, tens of millions of years ago, but obviously humans weren’t around for that. Here is what Kiehl told me, ten minutes into our Skype call:
“If we do not stop our dependence on fossil fuels we’re going to push the climate system into an extremely dangerous state—one that the human species has never experienced in its entire evolutionary history…when you look at the rate at which the climate system has gone into and out of warm states [in the deep past], it’s been the timescale of tens of millions of years, we are pushing Earth’s climate system into a state like that on a timescale of a century.”
Your first instinct might be to reject this information. “It can’t be that bad. That’s not the whole story.” All those defence mechanisms which protect us from unpleasant feelings of uncertainty will kick back against this trigger with which I am presenting you. You are not a climate denier, but you might be experiencing climate disassociation or disavowal.
Kiehl points out that back in the late seventies, when the scientific community realised what would happen if we did not get off fossil fuels, everyone just assumed people were rational enough to wake up and change. What Kiehl finds interesting is that we, the human species, are not acting nearly as quickly as we need to.
Kiehl is interested in the polarising discourse of climate change in the U.S. He believes the modern American myth of “the rugged individual” who ruthlessly pursues their own success, renders it hard for some folks to accept the science of climate change and the government intervention which will be necessary in order to overcome the perils of the Anthropocene. Basically, if a culture values individuality too much, it is difficult to promote the sense of teamwork and altruism needed to overcome the issue.
Certainly, when speaking to those on the front lines of climate action advocacy, the toxic relationship between unchecked individualism and climate disassociation, or the emotional inability to wholly accept the reality of climate change, comes up repeatedly. Remember that last month I spoke to Liam Geary Baulch, a British activist and member of Extinction Rebellion. I asked Geary Baulch why we were so unable to connect with the horror of environmental catastrophe and he replied with the following wisdom:
“[The U.K.] is the country where the industrial revolution happened, this is the country where […] we decimated our forests to build warships to spread colonialism around the world, and then we decimated other people’s natural resources. I think you have to disconnect people from each other and from the environment to allow that much exploitation to happen…”
I wonder if climate disassociation, like individualism, is scalable. Katie Hayes, who is writing up her PhD in mental health and climate change in Canada, thinks most of us experience something like “climate disavowal”, where we move through the world with “one eye open and one closed…which is sometimes worse than climate denial.” In London, for instance, where we are only marginally less polarised than in the U.S., many accept that climate change is happening, but have the dangerous privilege of postponing action.
Now you have read the bad news you might be stomaching the heavy weight of despair; your skin might feel alive with fear or flightiness; perhaps you are frozen, numb or angry. This is exactly where you need to be.
You should message a friend, forward this article, tell them how you feel, ask them how they feel. This is the only way to heal our fear of climate catastrophe. We have to let this environmental shit-show wash over us. Kiehl recommends focus groups in which small communities can talk through their feelings about the topic, although he acknowledges that many societies will feel extremely uncomfortable with this. But we do have to ritually reconnect with each other and with the natural world we are so close to losing. Hayes and Geary Baulch both agree too, that treasuring a sense of community is an important part of healing the disassociation many of us are trapped by.
It is not only the stories of doom we should communally exchange, but tales of how we are making a difference. It starts with recycling a yoghurt pot. Hayes, who trained in climate leadership under Al Gore, tells me that we should write down these small actions, perhaps in a tweet or a diary, and share these amongst ourselves. In this way we can see how momentum adds up, and we are able to reconceptualise the problem beyond our individual actions and our isolated feelings of hopelessness.
“You are a messenger now”, Kiehl tells me. And so now are you. This is how to face each warming day. Go tell it in the office, at the supermarket, on the tube.