Saturday, April 30, 2011

ECONOMICS UNMASKED

It is rare in the world today to find people willing to speak the truth. More often then not, most of us simply go along with the crowds and compliment the emperor on his new clothes, despite the fact that he is naked.  We worry that if we speak the truth, we will be ostracized for going against popular opinion, or be labeled stupid or ignorant. It is that fear that keeps us from reaching the wisdom we need to see things they way they really are and become courageous enough to be able to speak that truth and act accordingly. 

Like the imaginary cloths woven by the two weavers in Hans Christian Anderson’s story THE EMPEROR’S NEW CLOTHS, the economic system that cloaks the world today dupes most of us into avoiding the truth about it, in order to continue our plundering and pillaging of the earth and our neighbors.  Phillip B. Smith and Manfred Max-Neef honestly expose this economic system in their book ECONOMICS UNMASKED.    

Smith the physicist and Max-Neef the economist combine their efforts to expose the economic system that is primarily designed to “protect the wealth and power of the rich” and “threatens all forms of life” on our planet.   They review the history of our economic system and reveal that unlike the hard sciences of physics or chemistry that uncover the mathematics behind the real world, economics imposes it’s invented mathematical models in order to justify a system of consumption and control that ignores scientific consequences. 

They explore the lifeblood of our current economic beast, infinite growth and point out the impossibilities behind fueling this growth with a limited energy supply.  Instead of policies related to globalization driven by competition, they remind us that motivations driven by compassion rather then greed will be needed if we want an alternative to catastrophe and collapse. 

They propose an alternative “human-scale economics” based on five postulates:

1.  The economy is to serve the people, not the people serve the economy.

2.  Development is about people, not about objects.

3.  Growth is not the same as development, and development does not necessarily require growth.

4.  No economy is possible in the absence of ecosystem services.

5.  The economy is a sub-system of a larger and finite system, the biosphere; hence permanent growth is impossible. 

In their Introduction to the book, Smith and Max-Neef remind us that “words do have power, and perhaps the power of these words will help move humankind toward a better future”.   If a better future is what we desire, then we all need to find the courage to speak words based on truth.
  

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Religion in the Ecozoic



Some quotes from the essay “Religion in the Ecozoic Era”, by Thomas Berry, from the book THE SACRED UNIVERSE. 

One of the most striking things about indigenous peoples is that traditionally they live in conscious awareness of the stars in the heavens, the topography of the region, the dawn and the sunset, the phases of the moon, and the seasonal sequence. 

How different is this world from the world we live in.  We hardly live in a universe at all.  We live in a city or country, in an economic system, or in a cultural tradition. We are seldom aware of any sympathetic relation with the natural world about us.  […].  We isolate ourselves from contact with the natural world except in so far as we enjoy it or have command over it.

The most basic issue of our time is human-Earth relations.  We have disturbed the geological structure, the chemical composition, and the biological forms of the planet in a disastrous manner with our population explosion and technological power.  […].  Earth is now in a state of recession; its basic life systems have become disturbed, toxic, or are extinguished. 

When settlers came to North America, they saw the forest and the wilderness as a dark, even demonic, world.  It was a world to be conquered and exploited.  There was little sense or understanding of humans as integral members of a single sacred community composed of ever mode of being upon the Earth.  Only humans constituted the sacred community; only humans had rights. 

[…], the prevailing view was that the North American continent must in some manner be reengineered and its power appropriated.  Otherwise it was simply wasted.  Not to dam the western rivers – […] – was wasteful. […].  Not to soak the soil with chemical fertilizer was to deny ourselves an increased harvest.  Not to pave the roads was neglect.  Not to take petroleum from the Earth was to reject a god-given opportunity for bettering human life, despite the fact that nature had stored the carbon in petroleum and in the forests so that the chemical composition of the air and water and soil could be balanced in some effective manner. 

To explain such an attitude, it is not sufficient simply to go back to nineteenth-century industrialization, nor to Newtonian physics, […].  We must push our inquiry back into the anthropocentrism of the Hellenic world, back to the biblical world and the scriptural foundations of our Western life.  […].  We also need to reflect on the more profound implications of the biblical emphasis give to our experience of the devine in a historical rather than cosmological manifestation.  Beyond this, we should consider the effect of the primacy of an emphasis on redemption rather than an emphasis on creation in Christian though in recent centuries, […].

That our religious and humanist traditions, our educational programs, our jurisprudence, our economics, our commercial-scientific-industrial establishments and the other shaping forces of our society all contributed equally to our present situation might be too extreme a position to propose, but to note that none were able to prevent the destruction produced from within the Western civilizations seems entirely valid.  To say that all these traditions have been excessively committed to an anthropocentrism also seems a proper conclusion.  It could be said that they all favored processes that in some manner permitted, even if they did not actually lead to, our present situation. 

As we enter the twenty-first century, we would do well to consider our way into the future.  I propose that we need to go from the terminal Cenozoic  to an emerging Ecozoic  period, defined as that period when humans would be present to the Earth in a mutually enhancing manner. 

To recover such a situation where humans would be present to the Earth in a mutually enhancing manner, I believe we must return to a sense of intimacy with the Earth akin to that experienced by many indigenous peoples of earlier times.  This can be done through our new story of the universe, which is now available to us through empirical inquiry into the origin, structure, and sequence of transformations through which the Earth has come to its expression at the end of the twentieth century.  

Articulating this story fully would be the supreme achievement of modern intelligence. 

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Challanges of a Changing World

It was about a year ago that I started the Ecological Leadership Blog.  My goal in writing the blog has been mainly to give me a place to delve further into two topics that interest me – leadership and ecology.  My hope has also been that along the way I inspire some other folks who stumble upon my ramblings to experiment with their own combination of ecology and leadership to find out if it might be possible to create a more meaningful life for us human beings.  It has been my experience that undertaking something based on a hope for outcomes, can more often than not result in huge feelings of failure -- when in fact the practice is valuable in and of itself, despite the outcomes.  So with that reminder, I venture into another year of the Ecological Leadership Blog, trying to let go of the hope and focusing instead on the practice.

One of the first posts on the blog introduced a paper I stumbled across titled “The Ecology of Leadership: Adapting to the Challenges of A Changing World”.  The paper does a great job of laying out a foundation for why combining leadership with ecology holds great potential in improving our relationship to the world that supports us.  In the interest of continuing my own practice, I thought I would revisit this inspirational paper by Kathleen Allen, Stephen Stelzner, and Richard Wielkiewicz.  Reverting back to hope, for those of you who may be interested a copy of the text from the paper can be downloaded here, by entering the name of your local library.

The authors lay out what they call “five adaptive challenges” that are forcing us to reconsider our outdated concepts of leadership.  My summation of these challenges follows:

1. We need to look at things from a global perspective, instead of the typical local or national perspective.  We need to act according to the reality that our actions have far-reaching consequences.  
2. We need to acknowledge and live within the limits of our ecosystem and acknowledge we are part of the ecosystem and it is the ecosystem that sustains us.
3. We need to move from lives driven by information, and instead strive for guidance from wisdom.    
4.  We need ethics that will keep our science and technologies from destroying our ecosystems and us.   
5.  We need to adapt our social ecology – our families, communities, institutions, economies and cultures – to be in harmony with our natural ecosystems.

Finding better ways to face these challenges is the call for all leaders in our world today.  So what will your practice for the day be?

Friday, April 1, 2011

Ditched IV - Going Back


The neighborhood has changed a lot since I moved away. It was eventually bought up by a developer, the houses were moved away, or bulldozed over and burned. The swamps were filled and storm sewers were put in place where life used to flourish in the ditches. A strip mall containing a mass merchandise retail store, a large grocery store, and even a McDonalds were built where woods, wildlife, swamps, homes, children, and ditches used to coexist. The water that runs off the roofs and parking lots of these stores is quickly drained away through inlets located strategically along the pavement — dumping the once life giving water into storm sewers that seem to carry it magically away. 

Ditches may in many ways serve the same purpose as the storm sewers, but the life in the buried concrete pipes is not quite as inviting or as accessible as the life of the open ditch. The impervious parking lots and buildings made the clay sod that had covered our yard seem like a sponge in comparison. The old ditches required close attention to what was dumped in them, for if overloading of pollutants occurred, the odors generated were a quick reminder that changes in management practices were needed. The out of sight, out of mind nature of the buried storm sewer likely resulted in more unknowns being dumped ultimately into the Flambeau River watershed that drained and sustained the community.

It was around the time that my old neighborhood was paved over that Kennecott Mining Company built an open pit copper mine just downstream from where the stormwater from my old stomping grounds reached the Flambeau River. I wonder what Aldo Leopold would have written had he known about Kennecott borrowing the rivers name for the Flambeau Copper Mine they operated in the 1990’s in the downstream Town of Grant. At one time the company had even proposed diverting the river through what was essentially a large constructed ditch to allow them easier access to the copper and gold ore that lay below the existing river bed. Fortunately those diversion plans were never approved, but the mine was dug and the hole it created was eventually backfilled. 


In the late 1960’s I recall being told that the influx of airplanes that filled the sky over my old neighborhood was because of the copper rush that had come to town. The airplanes were using geological sensors to search for copper buried deep in the ground. I never imagined back then that someday a copper mine would come to town. From a child’s perspective, the probability of a mine being built in Rusk County seemed about as likely as a McDonalds being built in our neighborhood, but the outcome for both overcame my na├»ve ability to predict the future.

Ditches might be making a comeback in our world. As we become more aware of the impacts of our developments on our waters, we look for new ways to manage the stormwater runoff that flows from our land. As pavement and roofs cover more and more of our land, the resulting increase in stormwater flow flushes more pollutants into our rivers and lakes. A new technology for dealing with this runoff is actually a going back to the old ways of dealing with stormwater. This technology is often referred to as low impact development. 


Some of the more effective and low cost low impact development techniques are actually just new names for our old ditches and gravel roads. Examples of these new names include rain gardens, vegetative swales, and permeable pavements. These practices revolve around designing our developments to take advantage of natural systems that utilize the stormwater. Landscaping practices can allow stormwater to once again nourish aquatic plants and animals, and recharge groundwater rather then running off site. As is so often the case in our world, the answers to so many of our problems can be found in our past.

Going back to simpler more in-tune ways of living, rather then attempts at paving over or piping away our problems, is a sustainable solution. We will always need places to live and create the things we need, and roads and pathways to connect us with our communities. But we need to be aware that we impact the life around us — the life that sustains us. Life in our ditches can remind us of what is important, if we allow it to. 


A lifetime of hanging around in ditches has helped me to find new meaning in them — they are a source of life. They have helped me to understand that I am simply a part of the world around me, not the pinnacle of life. The simple ditch is a reminder of the importance of keeping life simple. Spending time in our ditches may just be the way to ensure our sustained future. To ensure our future, it may not be so important to be able to predict our future, as it is to remember and learn from our past. And through this remembrance, there comes hope that we will make sure that there will always be wild places for our children and their children to roam. 

The End or Is It?