“I remember when libertarians fulminated against requirements to wear seat belts. Councils now differentiate between recyclable and general household waste – unthinkable 40 years ago. The controversies over smoking in public places ? Today, no one wants to inhale secondary tobacco smoke and smoking is seen as antisocial. It’s the same story with gay marriage. In all these areas, the cultural change preceded and laid the basis for progressive legislation, cementing what we wanted into law and could not be resisted, however hard the right attempted obstruction.”
“As Consumers, we have so much power to change the world, by just being careful in what we buy” Emma Watson
The recent COP26 summit was full of promises but short on action. All the ambitious rhetoric has been swiftly undermined by new projects to extract oil from the Gulf of Mexico and off the Shetland Isles. A growing number of people, particularly the young, are therefore increasingly doubting whether our political leaders can be trusted to deliver the necessary changes to seriously address the looming threat of catastrophic climate change. Just one country, the Gambia, is on course to meet the target of 1.5c warming. Most people living in developed societies, which are responsible for the 79% of historical carbon emissions, are still wedded to values where happiness and success are a function of material and financial success, despite a growing body of evidence that shows that once a certain standard of material wealth has been achieved, real happiness and well-being are to be found through non-material pursuits. Nevertheless, a recent international survey has found that while western citizens are alarmed by the climate crisis, most believe they are already doing more to preserve the planet than anyone else, including their government, and few are willing to make significant lifestyle changes. If we are to make the transition to a new set of social and spiritual values that can provide the foundation for a society more in balance with our environment, we are going to need institutions, networks and projects that promote the necessary cultural values that can inform the lifestyle changes we are all going to need to make to lead less materialistic, more ecological, happier and healthier lifestyles. In our search, we can take inspiration from the many indigenous cultures that have a deeper ecological and spiritual wisdom than we find in the spiritually barren, materialist west.
Building on 5 years experience in running world-class ‘conscious’ events in one of London’s largest club venues and 5 years experience of running a successful youth, community and eco-arts centres in Camberwell South London, and Brighton, Synergy are proposing the creation of a network of eco-arts and wellbeing centre in Brighton, Bristol, Accra (Ghana) and a rural eco-village in the Volta Region of Ghana, which will harness the power of creative media to promote lifestyle change around a more sustainable and healthier cultural value set.
The proposed urban centres would house :
- Medium sized (1000-2500 capacity) venues to facilitate Synergy’s unique style of multi-media conscious events and to be available for local promoters, people, communities, campaign groups and cultural groups to hire.
- Affordable workshops, rehearsal, office and storage space for hire / rent to local community groups, social enterprises, artists, well-being practitioners etc.
- A community café serving healthy food and drinks, produced as much as possible locally. .
- The Synergy Youth Project – a series of after school and evening workshops and activities to promote the personal and professional development of local young people in the creative and cultural industries, culminating in a series of events to showcase their talents.
- The Synergy Internship scheme in which aspiring young professionals can gain experience working on the many aspects of running the centre, or with partner organizations.
- Work-based learning opportunities for people the long term unemployed or those suffering from social exclusion and worklessness due to homelessness, substance abuse or mental ill-health.
- The Synergy Social Enterprise Support Network, where people setting up or running their own social enterprise can receive training, support and network with others in the sector.
- The Synergy Community – a ground-breaking new social network and community finance initiative using a complementary currency to develop the progressive movement, promote the development of the sustainable / ethical economy.
- Youth exchange and volunteering projects at other Synergy Centres in the developed and developing world.
- Strong representation of indigenous cultures, via visiting musicians, dancers and spiritual leaders, facilitated by sister charity, Indigenous People.
The rural centres will house :
- Sustainable and organic farming of a variety of crops for local consumption and export and for use in eco-construction projects.
- An ecotourism and indigenous tourism facility in which visiting tourists and youth groups can study traditional drumming, dance, singing as well as learn about the medicinal plants, ecology and spirituality of the indigenous people. The facility will be built from local, natural materials and will employ the latest eco-technologies in the generation of power and the management of waste.
- An enterprise development and support facility advising, nurturing and guiding local people in the running of their small businesses, focusing particularly on the agricultural, handicrafts and tourism sectors.
- Workshops and courses in well-being activities and the community music, dance and spiritual culture of the host indigenous community.
- A volunteering facility where young people from the West can work on environmental and development projects inspired by a strong ethos of sustainability and holistic health.
“Even if we act to erase material poverty, there is another greater task, it is to confront the poverty of satisfaction – purpose and dignity – that afflicts us all. Too much and for too long, we seemed to have surrendered personal excellence and community values in the mere accumulation of material things. Our Gross National Product, now, is over $800 billion dollars a year, but that Gross National Product…counts air pollution and cigarette advertising, and ambulances to clear our highways of carnage…Yet the gross national product does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education or the joy of their play. It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages, the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials. It measures neither our wit nor our courage, neither our wisdom nor our learning, neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country, it measures everything in short, except that which makes life worthwhile.
Robert Kennedy, University of Kansas, March 18, 1968