As a collector of words, ocean is right up there with gumption, superfluous, and kaleidoscopic as one of my favourites. Not because of the onomatopoeic evocations of its “sh” sound, not because uttering it requires my mouth to mirror the undulations of the waves that mosaic it but rather because of the pleasant associations it inspires.
Ocean, for me, symbolises the unknowable magnitude of the universe. It is the sublime, a dimpled embodiment of the overwhelming, mind-numbing enormity of a planet we trivialise with proprietary nouns; an awesome force that is at once greater than us yet an inherent part of our anatomy, echoing within the flowing of our blood, beating of our hearts. For me, it is the soothing lullaby that comforts with the safety of its permanence, grounds with the elemental swell of its vastness.
However, its once calming connotations are now changing, churning up new images as its constancy becomes increasingly jeopardised in an escalating climate crisis. That sense of vastness is no longer synonymous with the transcendent power of nature but rather the rising levels of my climate anxiety. Ocean now means permanently overwhelmed for me – not by its splendour but rather by the plastic that will outweigh marine life by 2050, the almost unintelligible extent of our own blind destruction, and the enormity of a problem we have precious time left to rectify.
My kitchen cupboard isn’t a source of nourishment but a derisive accusation – every plastic-packaged herb, every aluminium-tinned legume a ringing indictment of how I have failed, and continue to fail, this earth.
This deluge has flooded my consciousness to the point where even banal tasks have become existential undertakings filling me with a guilt, shame, and anger not easily assuaged. More than that, they leave me crippled in confusion as every planet-friendly decision I attempt to make is mired with conflicting information that tells me I’m damned if I do and cancelled if I don’t.
The weekly grocery shop is no longer a simple shopping list and mindless amble through aisles of possibility but instead an obstacle course of confusion as I pick up and put down item after item with phrases like ‘single-use plastic’, ‘carbon footprint’, and ‘imported from Chile’ ringing siren-like in my ears.
I think most of us are adrift in this tsunamic pressure to change, act, and break the habits of a lifetime while still not breaking stride in our fast-paced schedules.
My kitchen cupboard isn’t a source of nourishment but a derisive accusation – every plastic-packaged herb, every aluminium-tinned legume a ringing indictment of how I have failed, and continue to fail, this earth. The shower, once a place of luxury and sanctified surrendering to the psychological excavation of cleaning, is now a suffocating coffin as plastic-bottled unguents accuse me from rusty shower shelves, soap dispensers spit insults with my every embarrassed pump, luminous razors (peeved at lack of use) glare at me through slitted eyes.
This is the ocean I find myself floundering in – a sea of seemingly endless confusion, unanswerable questions, and wave upon wave of products marketed to me as sustainable with little explanation as to what that catch-all term actually means.
I think most of us are adrift in this tsunamic pressure to change, act, and break the habits of a lifetime while still not breaking stride in our fast-paced schedules. We all know what the problem is, the issue is that we don’t know – having bought our keep cups, diligently committed to meatless Mondays and foregone January sales – how to tackle it. We are swimming in an ocean of information but without a life buoy (preferably made from upcycled materials) of solid information to bolster and guide us. Which is better? Which is kinder? Which is more ethical?
I, personally, have reached breaking point. The problem is too vast and I feel at once culpable and insignificant, villain and victim. I cannot change the world. I cannot deal with the deluge of global waste and I single-handedly cannot clean up our oceans.
However, I can be a drop in that ocean – one atom of change in the thrashing tides. That is what this column will be – my drop in an oceanic issue, a monthly deep dive into what we can do and why we should do it. In it, I will be exploring one small change I am making in my voyage towards a better future. No more dubious statistics, no more emotive branding, no more silent and solitary indecision because we are all too scared to admit we are torn between want and need. This column is about finding answers that empower rather than accuse and choosing agency over the awful inertia I have spent too long flailing with alone.
More than this, this column will be about reclaiming joy – of rediscovering the potential for beauty in each individual act of kindness. It will be a repossession of our voice, which I fear we are losing to a sea of despair, and finding that sweet spot between what we can do today and what we hope to do tomorrow.
Because let’s be honest, a drop in the ocean might be all we are and all we can achieve in the immensity of a problem that predates and transcends us. Yet, in that drop, whole worlds are contained, a universe of potential exists and there is atomic action in its seeming insignificance.
No more dubious statistics, no more emotive branding, no more silent and solitary indecision because we are all too scared to admit we are torn between want and need.
Yes, I am a vegan who adores cheese. I am an eco-warrior who works two jobs and therefore doesn’t always have time to pre-soak and boil package-free chickpeas and so instead buys 40c tins from Tesco. But I am trying and, sometimes, that’s enough. This column will celebrate the enough even as we sail towards more.
So, here is to finding answers. Here is to mining hope and determination to keep us buoyant in stormy waters and to beginning a new voyage of discovery as we navigate our way to a New World.
A world in which, with every drop, my favourite word returns to itself, becoming once more an evocation of the force that cradled me in childhood, steadied me in adolescence, and now, in reluctant adulthood, continues to mould me on its coastlines as I shout ideas and hopes into its omniscient blue, the answers always – always! – mysteriously, miraculously, divined in the sand it thrusts into my shoes.