By Roger O’Halloran
Unfortunately it is completely understandable that we find ourselves in a climate crisis, despite knowing for so long that carbon released from particular productive activities damages the atmospheric balance that protects our globe. Analysis by The Club of Rome and others, which I read in my Economics course in the early 1970’s, may not have covered all the maladies, but the conclusion was clear: The cost of mitigating environmental degradation needs to be included in the final price of products.
We find it hard to accept increasing the price of a good or service beyond immediate input costs. For instance electricity is not produced without payment being made for the land, equipment and people inputs needed to produce it. However, electricity can still be produced without paying the environmental cost of emitting carbon beyond the natural cycle, so it is easy to avoid that payment.
The silent majority seem to be choosing to at least half believe the vested arguments of those who profit most from dismissing further need to act on climate change. Even now, with many communities suffering at the hands of increasing climate catastrophes, such as drought, longer and more vicious bushfire seasons, and rising sea levels, we resist factoring in this cost of production. So why do I suggest that this is completely understandable?
Ending our Materialism = Happiness Myth
I suspect many are convinced that material comfort, a deeply ingrained measure of happiness in our culture, would be curbed if we had to pay more for goods and services with a high carbon footprint. Aside from all the other benefits, a Palms placement embodies an antidote to this cultural limitation. Palms asks participants to experience living simply because we know that ultimately, what the world needs to be sustainable, is less resource consumption overall, which was summed up by Mahatma Gandhi: “Live simply so that others may simply live.”
Some agencies working abroad pay their “volunteers” up four times more than locals working in the same positions. Motivating “volunteering” with such a recruitment strategy is often done to meet the contract of a Government more interested in volunteers as agents of soft diplomacy than sustainable development. It threatens the spirit and ethos of volunteerism. With the key energising value of the Palms program being SOLIDARITY, we will never seek to match such payments.
We believe that with appropriate focus our participants can develop personal resilience, community connections and the wisdom for living simply rather than making life more comfortable for oneself. Higher payments also provide another pressure. Being materially better off than members of the host community comes with some guilt. To assuage the guilt one is stimulated to spend funds providing things, which by Australian standards appear to be missing.
Our experience and studies inform us that drawing attention to the deficits in this way stymies good development. Providing things may seem harmless enough, but it creates an expectation that can shift the focus of a placement from the slower, but more sustainable skill development. As well, reliance on the visitor to make things happen can develop, rather than a belief in the strengths of the community. Partner organisations that have experienced this have been critical of neo-colonial volunteers for re-introducing a Cargo Cult mentality making their community more dependent.
Danger for Palms
If alternative agencies are successful in responding to the fear of being without material comforts they will draw all potential participants to their programs. I believe we must and can tap into, and support those who wish to respond to higher challenges.
We need to reinforce that “To have life and have it to the full” (John 10:10) is about discovering the richness of life that learning brings, rather than the simpler proposition that the skilled Australians we send are to provide learning for earning, with the promise of access to excessive material riches that ultimately crowd out deep peace and happiness.
We need to make Pope Francis’ call below more appealing than the material rewards:
“We are called, then, to draw near to the poor, to encounter them, to meet their gaze, to embrace them and to let them feel the warmth of love that breaks through their solitude. Their outstretched hand is also an invitation to step out of our certainties and comforts, and to acknowledge the value of poverty in itself.World Day of the Poor. 2017
We know that those who do embrace this challenge appreciate becoming “simply rich” in the process.