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Posts Tagged ‘literature’

Lately, I can be found in my lunch hour to be taking a break from environmental economics and exploring the literature of the Beat Generation. In the last 8 weeks I have finished 8 books by Jack Kerouac, whose descriptions of solitude and self-discovery have left me contemplating my own relationship with tranquility and what exactly produces it. I now find myself on an uncertain road having just finished university, and I seek tranquility to help me come to terms with this fact, whilst also using it to fuel my own reading and writing hobbies.

The Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) has created a national tranquility map, making it possible to assess the likelihood of finding tranquility in the UK. The CPRE’s tranquility map is made up of layers of information based on what people say adds to and detracts from finding tranquility. Surveys were used to determine what tranquility means to people, and the different factors which determine ‘tranquility’. For example, the top survey responses to defining tranquility include seeing a natural landscape, hearing birdsong (as we discovered at envecon 2013 this year) and seeing the sea.

The search for tranquility is why 49% of us visit the countryside, according to the same survey. In fact, many people in the UK pay hundreds and even thousands of pounds to escape on holiday and to find tranquility. I have enjoyed many holidays in Cornwall and would describe my experiences as tranquil and happy. In Cornwall I can find peace and quiet and I can see and smell the sea every day. I can’t find phone signal however, but this all adds to the flavour of finding tranquility in what is a beautiful part of the UK.

On the contrary, the CPRE’s tranquility map suggests that seeing towns, cities, airplanes and light pollution deters tranquility. This would suggest that investment in Green Infrastructure could be a waste of time as tranquility cannot be found in urban locations. I argue the opposite however. Since finishing my exams, three friends and I recently scaled Nunhead reservoir, an abandoned green space in Peckham which provides a view over London more beautiful than that from Primrose Hill. We sat to watch the sunset, seeing the city’s lights come on and followed airplane contrails for miles. It was one of the happiest feelings I have experienced and despite what the CPRE tranquility map suggests I had found tranquility in a place which according to the map should really detract from tranquility.

I argue that tranquility, however you imagine it and wherever you find it is an invaluable experience. It is a very personal moment and cannot simply be standardised or measured by the characteristics of the surrounding environment. It can be found and experienced anywhere. The value of tranquility is how it makes you feel and what it inspires you to do and think. Whilst desolation is a strong term to describe my current life phase, I found myself coming down from my education peak in Peckham smiling from ear to ear and happier than ever.

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Away from the pasture for the holidays, I’ve been doing some reading…Chekhov plays. I knew he was a visionary, but I didn’t know environmental issues were his bag. So imagine my surprise when I read this little exchange in the play Uncle Vanya – Scenes from Country Life in Four Acts written in 1897!

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Sonya: ….He [Astrov] says that forests embellish the earth, they teach man to understand beauty, they inspire ideals in him. Forests alleviate a climate’s harshness. In countries with a gentle climate less energy is spent on the struggle with nature, and so man is gentler there, more delicate; people are handsome, versatile, easily aroused, their speech is refined, their movements graceful. The arts and sciences flourish among them, their philosophy isn’t gloomy, their attitude to women is fine and noble.

Voynitsky [laughing]: Bravo, bravo!…all that is charming but unconvincing, so [Astrov] my friend, you must let me go on stoking stoves with logs and building sheds with wood.

Astrov:  you can burn peat in your stove and build your sheds of stone. Well I grant you can cut down forests out of need, buy why destroy them? The forests of Russia are being wiped out by the axe, thousands of millions of trees are dying, the homes of animals and birds are being laid waste, river levels are dropping and drying up, wonderful scenery vanishes forever, and all because lazy man hasn’t the sense to bend down and pick up fuel from the ground….One has to be a mindless barbarian to burn such beauty in a stove, to destroy what we cannot create. Man is endowed with reason and creative power in order to increase what he is given, but hitherto he has not created but destroyed. There are fewer and fewer forests…rivers are drying up, game is becoming extinct, the climate is damaged and every day the earth is becoming poorer and uglier. You are looking at me ironically and thinking all I am saying isn’t serious, and…perhaps this really is just craziness, but when I go past the peasants’ woods, which I’ve saved from destruction, or when I hear the hum of my young trees, which I planted with my own hands, I know the climate is a little in my control, and if in a thousand years if man is happy, the responsibility for that will in a small way be mine. When I plant a birch and then watch it come into leaf and sway in the wind, my spirit fills with pride and I…However….I must go. All this is probably craziness after all. I bid you farewell!

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Well, farewell 2010…wishing us all more compelling arguments in favour of the environment in 2011!

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