Mario Petrucci is an English poet of Italian parentage, and a literary translator, broadcaster, educator, ecologist, and physicist. Petrucci's poems, short stories, articles, and essays investigate profound cross-disciplinary concerns relating to creativity, politics, science, and the environment. He has received major literary prizes across the board (National Poetry Competition (3rd); four times winner of the London Writers competition; Bridport Prize (winner); New London Writers Award). His book-length poem on Chernobyl, ‘Heavy Water’ (Enitharmon 2004), captured the prestigious Arvon Prize for poetry and forms the backbone of a powerful film (Seventh Art Productions). His other volumes include ‘Flowers of Sulphur’ (2007), ‘i tulips’ (2010) and ‘the waltz in my blood’ (2011). He devises courses for the Poetry School, the Poetry Society’s Poetryclass initiative and Arvon/Foyle Young Poets. His remarkable poetry soundscape ‘Tales from the Bridge’ was a centrepiece of the 2012 Cultural Olympiad and was shortlisted for the 2012 Ted Hughes Award for New Poetry. Mario lives in north London.
I could comment here on my local ecological issues, but may I do so by going back a step? For me, there are, at the very least, three factors in contemporary society that prevent the emergence of a fully creative human consciousness that is in harmony with ecology. These three factors, both directly and indirectly, accelerate climate change, favour global inequality over fairness, and seed alienation rather than togetherness. They are: bad ‘memes’, ‘Radical Inertia’, and ‘Framed Questions’. First, a meme is a self-replicating unit – a recurring splinter – of culture. The term was coined by British evolutionary biologist, Richard Dawkins, to describe the gene-like behaviour of cultural fragments, propagating from generation to generation, often mutating as they go. Think of a famous folk melody, a TV catchphrase, or a political idea that makes a neat headline. In fact, the idea of a meme is probably itself a meme. I don’t completely believe in the cogency of the concept, nor in the absolute explanatory capability of memes; but when I look at how assumptions, values, and behaviours concerning climate change are perpetuated against the tide of data that calls for urgent action, the notion of the ‘bad meme’ does seem a useful partial idea. Next, Radical Inertia describes a profound resistance to change. This is encountered when a particular way of doing, or seeing, things is rooted deeply within us – not just ideas, but infrastructure, laws, customs, and so on. We’d come up hard against Radical Inertia if we tried to abolish the use of fossil fuels, say, or TV. Any such inertia is ‘radical’ when alternatives are barely considered and/or have become practically impossible to implement within existing systems. Finally, Framed Questions are questions with an agenda, posed so that only certain ‘answers’ are possible. ‘Shall we reserve 0.1% or 0.2% of GDP for sustainability?’ That’s a Framed Question. They happen in politics and art because so many of our assumptions are largely invisible to us, such as the idea that economic growth is always good. In fact, the long-standing pursuit of global economic growth provides an example of a major non-sustainable human endeavour that interweaves all three problems into deep intractability. Perpetual economic growth is itself perpetuated by socio-economic and political memes that have been welded into our norms of discourse. The enterprise has accrued immense Radical Inertia through established thinking and practice, and it is mostly examined via Framed Questions that discuss, say, its desirable rate rather than its actual validity. Economic growth has faced some validated challenges of late from alternative thinkers, but it persists more or less intact in many quarters nonetheless. CONCLUSION: Whatever our region and its unique eco-issues, these three universal 'crises' of perception and practice are often behind the particular ecological crises we observe and experience. So, we must continue to connect locally, yes; but for thoroughgoing change to occur, we must also somehow address the global.