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Ecuador_Galapagos Islands_Isla San Cristobal_Puerto Baquerizo Moreno_Parque Nacional Galapagos Interpretation CentreEcuador_Galapagos Islands_Isla Santa Cruz_Charles Darwin Research Station in Puerto Ayora

 

09 May 2014

 

The Galapagos Islands, Ecuador. Where a human being can learn with certainty that there are other animal-beings that only fear the human animal because, over time, many humans have chosen to create a fear of our species in those other beings.

 

Sea Lions that frolic in the ocean waters alongside humans. Giant Tortoises that saunter about an often rocky-landscape as human beings observe them in their natural habitat. Marine Iguanas that look on, seemingly carelessly, at the humans standing next to them. Penguins that swim by while various of us humans are snorkelling. Pelicans and Sea Lions that see the town fish market as a place to hang out with humans while they look for a chance meal. Sea Turtles lazily-swimming within easy eye-sight of our lancha.

 

The beauty of life as lived in The Galapagos: there for an eye to behold and any open-spirit to soak-in, contemplate, and appreciate.

 

When in February 1535 the Spanish ship that Bishop Fray Tomás de Berlanga was on found itself without wind and so moving from Panama on the drifting Pacific Ocean currents, come March of that same year he and the ship’s crew came across what he later called The Galapagos Islands; so named by him for the “galapago” (an ancient Spanish word for “saddle”) looking shell of the Giant Tortoises he encountered on the islands. In the Bishop’s follow-up letter to Charles V, in which he advised the Spanish Crown of his island discoveries, this first written account about the Galapagos Islands notes: “…many sea lions, turtles, iguanas, tortoises, many birds like from Spain, but so silly that they didn’t know how to flee, and many were caught by hand…” (as quoted at: Interpretation Centre, Parque Nacional Galápagos, Isla San Cristóbal, Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, Ecuador). Thus, from their earliest days of encountering humans, those early Galapagos Island inhabitants – none of which were human – were considered by their human compatriots as being “silly” for not possessing fear. If only we humans, then and now, could understand the deepest learnings in this situation: that fear itself (whether for animals or humans) may well and simply be a socialised phenomenon.

 

The Sufi tradition has a well-known teaching it borrows from the ancient Persian Sufi and Poet, Sa’di, which imparts that: “Each leaf of a tree becomes a book of revelation to the one who sees. And he reads the whole of nature as a book.” (http://wahiduddin.net/saki/saki_date.php?m=5&d=8). By reading the book of nature as written by our animal friends on the Galapagos Islands, we can be reminded of the famed Franklin Delano Roosevelt quote (as he voiced in his first inauguration speech) that: “the only thing we have to fear is…fear itself”, and so learn that there may well be nothing to initially fear in life…. until, that is, fear is given a form and even a name; such as human being or pain.

 

Joan Chittister, O.S.B., has identified that: “…the ancients of every tradition have been telling us over and over again for eons, ‘God is in me and I am of God and so I and everything are one…’ ” (Illuminated Life. 2000. Orbis Books: Maryknoll, NY. P134). Chittister’s insight speaks to an ancient awareness about an inherent interconnectivity of all life; such as the modern scientific fields of biodiversity, systems thinking, cosmology, and quantum physics and others are now also pointing to.

 

If we humans could only understand the importance of seeing our sense of self in all others, whether those others are human or non-human beings, then with certainty we could begin to move beyond the fear we seem to deeply hold within us that itself helps root us humans in our more-common, fear-based relationships with others. The book of nature that is read in The Galapagos Islands clearly shows us that a cautiously-fearless life is indeed fully possible for us humans – and between us humans and our animal friends – and is itself not a life of fantasy. Actually, such a cautiously-fearless life may well be inherent to aspects of our life-being. That same book of Galapagos nature may actually be showing us humans an uncomfortable truth: that being that the fantasy we may actually live is the one of a fear of life that we humans have unconsciously created and often live for our own selves.

 

This is not to say that any one human being should immediately go out and hug an African lion as found on Safari… or hug a stranger’s Pit-bull Terrier for that matter.. Socialisations that have taken root in a being do exist and so have life. This is simply to comment that if fear is a learned socialisation, such as seems to be suggested by animal life that is encountered on the Galapagos Islands, then fear is also a socialisation that can be diminished and even unlearned by us humans and also by those other animal-beings we interact with.

 

Questions that arise for me after my time enjoyed on The Galapagos Islands include:

1) Might it be that other life, including other human life, fears us humans simply because human animals have created the conditions of fear in those others…? and;

2) Can it be that humanity’s own (albeit, now likely more-unconscious) Freudian Projection of fear is itself what helps give life to our very human fears?

 

After my experiences in The Galapagos, I wrote a poem about the connectivity of life, which can be found at: http://sustainabilityspirit.wordpress.com/2014/05/09/looking-at-me/

 

As Julian of Norwich so famously worded in the late 1300’s: “All shall be well, and all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well.” We humans simply need to believe this to make it true. Imagine how different human lives would be, as well as those lives of other beings, if we humans consciously and intentionally rooted our lives in a hopeful optimism – such as, “all shall be well” – over any sense of fear. A type of hopeful-optimism – a cautiously-fearless life – as seen in the book of nature as read on The Galapagos islands; one where we would inherently have a cautious trust in and not fear of another. In that case heaven, then, might well return to earth…:)

 

As Charles Darwin, who made famous the Galapagos Islands and from his time spent on them came to propose his Theory of Evolution, himself said: “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is most adaptable to change.” (as quoted in: Charles Darwin Research Station, Galápagos Islands, Isla Santa Cruz, Puerto Ayora, Ecuador). Might a next, even desired if not essential, step in the evolution and so survival of the human being be our adaptation and change to a life of a more-optimistically cautious trust, such as we can learn from the book of nature as read in the life of animal friends found living on The Galapagos…?

 

Your comments and reflexions on this blog are always welcomed.

 

Tom

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Posted by: Thomas C. Esakin | October 25, 2013

BUILDING To collapse

BUILDING To collapse

(Un)sustainability
is like a
House of Cards:
one card,
just too many,
and then…
Fwoosh!
All tumbles down.

Centuries ago,
a known wise-one
spoke: about houses
built on
sand or stone.
We humans;
so
reluctant to learn.

27 August 2013

I just returned from a visit to the Selva Lacandona (Lacandon Jungle), which is located in south-east Chiapas, México. It was truly “hermoso” (stunningly beautiful), as a local Lacandon guide referred to it, with its pristine tropical forests, gracefully-flowing streams and rivers, and evident abundance of flora, fauna (and insects!) While there I was often reminded of the Coastal Temperate Rainforest of my native home of British Columbia, with the primary differences being that the Lacandon Jungle is tropical (and so its flora and fauna were then obviously tropical) and its frequent rains were warmer. The Lacandon Jungle is itself the last bastion in North America of the Scarlet Macaw, a beautifully-majestic bird that once (and no more) inhabited from the State of Tamaulipas in north-east México right down southward to the tip of Brasil.

Lacandon Jungle

Lacandon Jungle

The hum of a natural forest (its sounds and smells) feel so attuned to the natural rhythm of life.

Lacandon Jungle: Cascada Ya Toch Kusam

Lacandon Jungle: Cascada Ya Toch Kusam

 

When at Las Guacamayas, a refuge area for the Scarlet Macaw, one can look across the Rio Lacantun to the pristine forest of the Montes Azules Biosphere Reserve and see to the eye how that mostly pristine jungle interconnects amongst itself and its surroundings. Gosh, what an evident difference between the aliveness of an untouched jungle:

Rio Lacantun looking across to Montes Azules Biosphere Reserve.

Rio Lacantun looking across to Montes Azules Biosphere Reserve.

 

and the near deserts of land that can be found located at places on the other side of the river from the Biosphere Reserve, much of which has been cleared of jungle to make way for cattle pasture.

Cattle pasture with Montes Azules Biosphere Reserve in background.

Cattle pasture with Montes Azules Biosphere Reserve in background.

 

It truly struck me how the untouched side of the Lacantun River is so fantastically alive when compared to the cleared sides of the river that are more akin to a desert wasteland.

Lacandon Selva: Las Guacamayas looking west on the Rio Lacantun.

Lacandon Selva: Las Guacamayas looking west on the Rio Lacantun.

 

Humans seem to be missing something in this evident dichotomy. We so obviously kill boundless life when we clear jungle to create pastureland that only sustains a mere fraction of its former jungle life by being reduced to mostly grasses, a handful of shade-trees, and cattle. In what almost seems as a current zero-sum game between nature and humans, the needs of primarily one species, human beings, are clearly valued at the expense of almost all other species that would otherwise inhabit an alive and diverse natural ecosystem.

We humans and thriving jungle would seem to have more to achieve together than we do apart. A jungle (like any forest) naturally rejuvenates and so can provide a seeming eternity of its natural riches for use by humans and near-countless other species that inhabit it. Cleared land for pasture serves almost none but humans, pasture grasses, and the short-life of the cattle this land is intended to support.

The following are not rhetorical questions:
• What makes we humans think that our species and its needs are more important than those of, say, the Scarlet Macaw?
• When will we humans learn to live in peace with other species instead of seeming to be in a perpetual war with other life forms?

Biodiversity (and quantum physics and cosmology, amongst other scientific disciplines) are pointing us humans to what may be an uncomfortable truth: that all life is interconnected, mostly in unknown ways. When humans willingly destroy forest or jungle along with its abundance of life forms, we lose for ourselves something much deeper in value and of importance to our species than our intellect can ever grasp. Simply being in a jungle or forest one can intimately feel its inherent worth and value. It is like a deep inner knowing that is realised beyond words or thought. And that deep knowing also understands that we humans are merely (and maybe very slowly) killing ourselves when we choose to perpetuate death and destruction on diverse yet interconnected ecosystems.

Honestly: how can we humans ever truly say that we value life when our species is willing to perpetuate so much death around us? Isn’t to value life to mean that we do just that, value life: all life?

Your thoughts and opinions are always welcomed.

Tom Esakin

Posted by: Thomas C. Esakin | July 22, 2013

Human life is not Life Itself

This past week I read an opinion piece in The Globe and Mail, Canada’s national newspaper, which spoke to the recent floods in Alberta and Toronto, and on the connexion of those floods to Climate Change (http://www.theglobeandmail.com/commentary/canadas-new-normal-weather-adds-heat-to-climate-politics/article13296077/ ).  That opinion piece is the motivation for this blog-spot.  And as is evident to any of this blog’s readers, I am an infrequent blogger as I attempt to offer fewer words that might, if touched by fortune, be of some minor intellectual value to a reader over adhering to today’s more common habit of gurgling a near endless well-spring of words devoid of mental nourishment. So here’s hoping that fortune has touched the following words.

The noted opinion piece made linkages to Climate Change’s impacts on “human” life.  And exactly at that intersection was where the piece immediately struck me as missing the mark.

When we use a scientific lens, Earth can be understood as a single planetary home that has given birth to a variety of “life”.  When examined from afar, Earth is seen as one small globe of light – even a mere speck of brightness, when an eye is moved far enough away from the planet – that, when looked at a little more closely, can be understood to contain “life”.  When Earth’s life is looked at even more closely, we only then see that this “life” is actually comprised of a variety of life “forms”.  Each of these seemingly countless individual life forms on Earth themselves all join together to form Earth’s life.  All of Earth’s life has been created together in Earth, on Earth, from Earth, and with Earth.  To single out any one species of life on Earth as being more valuable than another is in many ways a foolhardy effort as it suggests that any one species of life on Earth can independently exist from other of Earth’s life; which is already implicitly understood by us to be an impossibility as try living on your own without your having been given birth by parents, or your having been fed, clothed, and sheltered by Earth’s generous bounty.

Earth as seen from afar in the cosmos is One, and her variety of life survive and thrive together as an interconnected whole.  Yet Earth when looked at from below – that is, when seen at ground-level here on Earth – is commonly seen by us humans as inhabiting diverse, seemingly countless, and even competing life forms.

Even though our eyes have already been opened by science to the interconnexions of life (e.g. through the sciences of biodiversity, anthropology, geography, cosmology, even history and increasingly quantum physics, plus many other disciplines), we humans often continue to choose to look at Earth’s life from below and pretend that our species is separate from all other life on Earth. However, haven’t we already advanced our thinking to at least the level of the wisdom of the ancients, including many of Canada’s original First Nations, whereby we can now look at Earth’s life from above to realise it is one and interconnected whole, where all species of life on Earth support one another and in turn are supported by One Earth? Truly, there is no longer any tangible benefit to us humans in perpetuating the falsity that one species of life on Earth is more important than any other: except, that is, if by our doing so it feeds our hubris and arrogance; two human traits that have historically been root causes of the fall of human societies (remember Homer’s writings…?!).

So simply stated:

Climate Change affects life: all life forms on Earth.

And all life forms on Earth have evolved and developed together as Life on Earth.

When looking at Climate Change issues, for humans to only focus on the wellness of human life forms is to not see the proverbial forest through the trees as human life on Earth itself depends on all other life on Earth.

When we consider Climate Change issues, we humans are helped if we strive to examine these issues through the lens of the whole health of the planet instead of through the eyes of only one life form on Earth (that is, instead of only looking at Climate Change issues through “human” eyes).

When an individual human acquires an illness, a doctor commonly aims to treat the health of the whole patient and not just the health of their constituent parts.  For there is little point in a doctor making sure that our index fingers on our hands are healthy when it is our failing heart that is impacting our whole body and calling for immediate medical treatment.  Similarly, with Climate Change, the patient is Earth and not simply one of her very many diverse life forms.

Human life is not Life Itself.  All life on Earth is supported by and supports one another.  Climate Change affects all life on Earth.  We humans miss the mark entirely if we think that we only need to reduce or mitigate Climate Change for human beings while ignoring its impacts on all of Earth’s other life forms whose very health and well-being provide the basis for the health and well-being of the human species itself.

Anthropocentric.  That is the name commonly given to those human beings who look only at their own species to the exclusion of all life on Earth.  When it comes to addressing matters connected to Climate Change, human well-being will depend less on anthropocentricism and more on the inclusivity of Earth’s life.

Your thoughts and comments on these blog-spots are always welcomed.

Tom

Posted by: Thomas C. Esakin | February 4, 2013

Silence of sustainability

Silence of sustainability.

 

In a world of chatter,

Silence speaks volumes

when reflected in action:

including for sustainability.

Posted by: Thomas C. Esakin | April 16, 2012

Technological Revolution: The New God

18/04/12 (update)

From last weekend’s Globe and Mail newspaper in Toronto, Canada (14 April 2012), I read this column speaking to David Suzuki and environmentalism:

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/opinions/margaret-wente/the-agony-of-david-suzuki/article2401816/

The columnist’s perspective immediately reminded me of the ancient Mayan civilisation, which was certain all would be well for them through building technology and prayers to their gods such as Chaac. Yet, despite all their good-intentions, the Mayan civilisation collapsed: with modern science now attributing this collapse to unsustainable living practices of the ancient Maya.  There are also the later Aztecs, who felt that sacrificing humans would save their skins (excuse the double entendre).  Yet the Aztecs too were overtaken, themselves by better technology possessed by the Spanish conquistadors.  The early Rapanui (Polynesian) inhabitants of Easter Island had their own god-like images: their Moai statues, which also did little to avoid (and whose development even actually contributed to) the collapse of society on that island. (Jared Diamond’s book: “Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fall or Succeed” offers a thorough account of the historical social happenings on Easter Island that lead to ecological collapse on that island).

Now in today’s world – at least according to this Globe columnist and in spite of ample scientific evidence of the increasing negative impacts to Earth of unsustainable human living – our species can be again saved by a god, this time by one named “technological revolution”.

An excellent, online (and free), movie that subtly speaks through a “Systems Thinking” lens to some of the direct consequences that technology has had on Earth’s environment is:

Home, 2009.  Film.  Directed by Yann ARTHUS-BERTRAND. France: EuropaCorp and Elzevir Films:   [online].  Available from: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jqxENMKaeCU.  [Accessed: 18 April 2012].

“When will we ever learn”, sang Pete Seeger. “When… will… we… ever…, learn.”

Tom

Albert Einstein and Thomas Berry on Sustainability:

The Interconnectivity of us all.

November 2009

I am back!  That is, after a couple of month’s absence from blogging.

 I had come to think that I was simply blogging for myself. Yet one friend has been consistent in her encouragement of me that I blog (and for her preference, I would blog on a weekly basis).  While another friend recently reminded me that if I stop blogging, then people will stop visiting my web-site for new ideas on Sustainable Development / Sustainability.  So I have returned…

 Earlier this year, the man I would call the “soul” of the international Sustainability movement died of old age.  That wise sage was Thomas Berry, a cultural historian and Catholic priest of the Passionate order, who wrote about Sustainability-related subjects as if he were a cosmologist.  Berry’s thoughtful, even profound, writings have become required reading for many people in the international environmental and Sustainability fields.

 As for Albert Einstein, he generally needs no introduction.

 While they likely never met, Einstein and Berry both shared a similar understanding related to human consciousness and its place fully within, amongst and intertwined with the full cosmos.  Yet, as would be expected, the Nobel Prize winning physicist and the cultural historian priest explained their shared idea in words reflective of their different backgrounds.

 Through his own words, Einstein stated the common understanding in this way:

“A human being is part of a whole, called by us ‘universe,’ a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings, as something separated from the rest – a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. The striving to free oneself from this delusion is the one issue of true religion. Not to nourish the delusion but to try to overcome it is the way to reach the attainable measure of peace of mind.” – Albert Einstein (February 12, 1950)

(Source: Einstein, Albert (1950).  Personal letter written to Dr. Robert S. Narcus [online]. Available from: http://blog.speakingoffaith.org/post/241572419/einstein-sleuthing-nancy-rosenbaum-associate [Accessed: 23 November 2009]. 

 Fr. Thomas Berry stated their common perspective in these words:

“After Darwin…a sudden shift in the mode of consciousness took place.  The scientists suddenly became aware that… [s]cience was ultimately not the objective grasping of some reality extrinsic to ourselves. It was rather a moment of subjective communion in which the human was seen as that being in whom the universe in its evolutionary dimension became conscious of itself.”

Berry, Thomas. 1988. The Dream of the Earth.  San Francisco, CA, USA: Sierra Club Books (Page 128).

Do you see the intersection of Berry’s and Einstein’s thought?

The Big Bang (Expanding Universe) is now a well-known scientific theory.  That being, all that exists in the cosmos came from the same much-less-than-a-pin-prick point which singularly exploded in to our still-expanding universe. 

In their own words, Berry and Einstein are reminding human beings that the human species and all other life in the universe are not separated from the shared universe we inhabit: we are all intrinsically in the universe, of it and intertwined with the universe’s very existence.  It is only human delusion in consciousness that results in our seeing separations in a universe where in actuality no separation exists at all.  Yet now through the scientific method, the human species has had the seeds of understanding planted that human consciousness is, at its deepest level, the universe looking back inward on itself.

When this understanding becomes fully internalised by human beings, maybe then our species will begin to take full responsibility for all of our actions toward all life we encounter.  For embedded in this awareness as shared by both Einstein and Berry is the deeper understanding that, for any human to hurt any other life form is in and of itself simply an act of harm toward our own self.

Sustainability may not directly speak to this awareness, but the internalisation of this understanding will be an inevitable outcome of our shared journey toward Sustainable Development.

Your thoughts and observations are always welcome.

Tom

A false dichotomy for Sustainable Development:

A choice between economics or the environment.

This month’s blog-spot offers a context, poses a question for our collective contemplation, and then ends with an encouragement.

In the past Saturday July 25th, 2009 edition of The Globe and Mail (a newspaper broadsheet which calls itself Canada’s National Newspaper), there was a feature, front-page, news article about the current state of the economy in Fresno County, California (see: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/world/how-green-was-my-valley-californias-drought/article1230646/ ).

In this news article, Fresno County was identified as facing serious economic challenges during the current global economic downturn. (Thereby joining a near countless number of other communities – both large and small – across Earth that are also experiencing the same reality).  Yet unlike many other global communities whose current economic challenges are related to the international financial crisis, Fresno County (which the feature article claims “ranks as the world’s largest agricultural area”) is said to be economically challenged due to recent USA court decisions that have benefitted Earth’s environment and some of its non-human species. (Specifically, USA court decisions benefitting a fish: the Delta smelt.)

The Delta smelt is identified as a “bellwether” species.  A bellwether or “indicator” species are those whose ill-being warns of environmental damage and ecosystem change (see:  http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_km4449/is_200510/ai_n16261268/ ).  So in actuality, the threatened survival of the Delta smelt is understood as a sign that the broader eco-system inhabited by this one species of fish is itself under threat.

This Globe and Mail news article outlines how, in an effort to protect the Delta smelt, recent USA court decisions have deeply restricted the imported water that Fresno County has, until now, quite easily accessed from other parts of California.  This “imported” water is what has enabled Fresno County farmers to actively engage in agriculture on what may otherwise be mostly non-farmable land. 

While it likely need not be said, I remind that the California agricultural sector, with its well-documented over-use of fast-dwindling water resources in the state and region, is easily and even appropriately a poster-child for (un)sustainability.

Within this Globe and Mail news article, the overall tone I perceived is captured in a quote provided from a Fresno farmer: “It’s fish versus jobs and communities.”

And this tone and quote succinctly capture one of the biggest challenges faced by practitioners of Sustainable Development.  That being, that the vast complexities of this field of Sustainability – touching, as it does, on almost every facet of human life – are so often reduced to the simplistic, even childlike, argument that humans must make a choice between either of the economy or the environment.

That is the false dichotomy.

For any one person who is honest with themselves must at least quietly acknowledge that there is no such thing as humans needing to make such a choice.

Clearly, Earth can exist without a human economy.  But let’s try and construct a human economy without Earth and its shared environment.

Human beings are on Earth, of Earth, and from the Earth.  And human economic systems flow from our species’ initial grounding in Earth.

Humans are completely reliant on Earth for our life, our well-being and our very existence.  And yet, most positively, if humans sustainably use Earth’s resources, then our human economies can also benefit for generations to come.

The question I pose for our collective contemplation is: at what point in time did human beings – or at least Westernised humans – become so disconnected from any real awareness that human lives are a part of and dependent on Earth?  This is a question worthy of serious over general exploration.

The encouragement I offer is that this situation of some humans being deluded from the reality of their dependence on Earth reminds me of the old fairy tale about the Emperor and his new suit of clothes crafted by a professed magical tailor.  The abbreviated version of the fairy tale is that the Emperor was told by the tailor that the suit he had just made for him was invisible.  The Emperor put on his newly tailored, yet supposedly invisible, suit and was most impressed by it. So impressed, in fact, that he soon went out of his palace on parade, all so that he could show his loyal subjects his new suit of invisible clothing.  All his subjects bowed as the Emperor passed them by in his complete nakedness.  For it so happened in reality that the tailor had only duped the Emperor into believing that he was wearing an invisible suit of clothes.  In actuality, the Emperor was walking about his domain completely in the nude. Some of the Emperor’s subjects, too embarrassed to speak the truth, even “ooh’d” and “ahh’d” in mock impressiveness as their Emperor walked by.  Yet, eventually, it was one lone, honest, child who had the integrity to shout out: “The Emperor has no clothes!”  To which the Emperor grasped the truth of his naked reality and ran back to his palace in shame.  Yet soon later, the Emperor had the inner fortitude to publicly thank the lone young child for her integrity in speaking the truth: especially so when all other subjects would not.

The Sustainability conversation is not about a choice between fish and jobs.  It is not a choice between the environment and economics.  And, as much and as often as some people try to so desperately frame the Sustainability conversation in this false way, we practitioners of Sustainable Development must be willing to say: 

The Emperor has no clothes!

The simple and unmistakable truth is that there can be no human economy without Earth and its environment.

And later, when this reality is again grasped by those people who had been duped by the magical arguments of economics, these same people – just like the Emperor in the fairy tale – will also offer public thanks to those now lone voices of integrity who chose to speak the truth when others would not. 

Your thoughts and reflections on this blog are always welcomed and encouraged.

Thomas

Posted by: Thomas C. Esakin | June 28, 2009

Sustainable Development and Interconnexions

Sustainable Development and Interconnexions

Albert Einstein said:

A human being is part of a whole, called by us the “Universe”, a part limited in time and space.  He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings, as something separated from the rest – a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness.  This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest us.  Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison…to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.  (1954 cited Rinpoche, Sogyal 1994. The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying. San Francisco, USA:  HarperCollinsPublishers, Inc., p. 103.)

I recently facilitated a workshop on Leading for Sustainability, one held for interested faculty and administrative staff of a large post-secondary College in Ontario. 

A key part of this particular workshop I occasionally give is to explain in some detail how Sustainability directly impacts the thinking patterns of human beings.  For SD is akin to creating a revolution in thought, as it requires humans to try and understand a variety of interconnexions affecting human and other life that, heretofore, we humans have not been required to make.  In another sense SD offers mental gymnastics for our minds, for it causes us to stretch our minds from the familiarly known to new places unknown and even unimagined.

Does this sound like Gobbledygook to you?  If so….Good!  Then we are already stretching your mind for Sustainable Development.

As you know by now if you are a follower of my blog, SD requires humans to make interconnexions between social, economic and environmental segments of human and other life on Earth.  Why? For “Hishuk ish tsawalk”, or Everything is one and all is interconnected”, as goes an age-old expression of the Nuu-chuh-nulth First Nations, who have inhabited the west coast of Vancouver Island, Canada since time immemorial.  (You can explore the history and rich culture of the Nuu-chah-nulth Peoples through their cultural web-site, available at:  http://www.nuuchahnulth.org/ ).

SD calls on human beings to (re)-learn to make interconnexions, because we have now taught ourselves to see a surface separation on Earth instead of realising Earth’s hidden connectivity.  This separation that humans perceive on Earth – whether between the economic or environmental or social, or between things such as the political or sciences or cities or countries or nations or continents or colour or species, etcetera– is generally understood by SD to be a surface perception of a much deeper reality.  For in actuality —– now let’s collectively S-T-R-E-T-C-H our minds here —– there is only One – one Earth:  a single planet that solely unites diverse life forms and various eco-systems all within a solitary shared home. 

With the advent of SD, we human beings ourselves have purposely chosen to only separate Earth’s one connectedness in to a mere three separate parts called the social, environmental, and economic.  So with thanks to Sustainable Development and its three equal separations, humans are now much nearer to seeing Earth’s connected oneness: closer than we were before the recent time when SD materialised as a new scientific concept (but one based on borrowed ancient wisdom, such as that of the Nuu-chah-nulth People’s).

So does SD with its interconnexions now sound simpler to you?

It should.  However, when trying to put it in to practice, SD has been anything but simple.  This has been due in large measure to how human minds, at least in so-called Western cultures, have been increasingly trained to separate out life instead of making common connexions within our world.  For from kindergarten upward through the highest levels of post-secondary education, we people of Western cultures are taught to narrow our views and interests through something called specialisation.  And through this process of specialisation – especially beneficial, as it is, to our current free-market economic model (note that interconnexion!)- we Westerners have willingly yet unconsciously put on mental blinders that only serve to generally narrow our vision to our chosen specialties and then to little else. 

Thus, our formal systems of education in the West have become a part of our problem in trying to achieve Sustainability.  For while our formal education systems might “theorise” about Sustainable Development, the means that these same systems use to educate us humans do then themselves, in “practice”, move human minds in the opposite direction from seeing the holistic interconnexions called for by SD. Specialisation has seemed to cause human minds to limit their vision of focus toward a narrow depth, instead of expanding our minds to see the broader interconnexions realised by SD.

As one of the participants at my recent workshop said to me after it had finished: it is difficult enough to get academics to agree to work together in general, let alone to have them more specifically work together in the pursuit of Sustainability.  And why?  The specialisations that academics often become help blind them to (and then bind them from) seeing the broader picture of life.

Donnella Meadows speaks to the underpinnings of this effect in her last book, “Thinking in Systems”, which was published posthumously:

Once you start listing the elements of a system, there is almost no end to the process.  You can divide elements into sub-elements and then sub-sub-elements.  Pretty soon you lose sight of the system.  As the saying goes, you can’t see the forest for the trees.  Before going too far in that direction, it’s a good idea to stop dissecting out elements and to start looking for the interconnections, the relationships that hold the elements together. (2008, White River Junction, VT, USA:  Chelsea Green Publishing Company; p.13).

This common practice of human minds “separating” things may explain why economists and business persons continue to operate under an antiquated economic model premised on a belief in an unlimited growth; a belief which the scientific school of physics and its related laws say is impossible.  Or why scientists working for prominent multi-national corporations can play with the genetic code of flora that has naturally-evolved over millennia (such as maize), all the while also truly believing that that they do so in both isolation and without possible consequences to the broader environment.  Or how since the Industrial Revolution humans have continued to pump and dump pollutants in to Earth’s one common environment and believe they can do so without impunity. And almost, ad nauseam, you can make your own various interconnexions to add to this list. 

So Sustainable Development encourages us human beings to search out obvious and non-obvious interconnexions between each of SD’s three separations.  By our doing so, we can then make the connexions needed to better help humanity and other life on Earth both survive and thrive.  This would include our finally connecting physics (the environment) to economics and society, so humans can then be in a better position to develop a new economic model that reflects the breadth and depth of current scientific understandings. 

Interconnexions are available for each of us to make at most countless moments throughout our daily lives.  Making interconnexions can actually become a fun thing to do, once you get the easy hang of it.  For example: you might connect your considered mood at the time when you wake up in the morning to later personal behavior you exhibit during the same day.  Or connect humans’ ongoing (usually unconscious) thought processes to our later actions and words.  Or connecting many of the things we buy as consumers to the social influences that can subtly (or not-so subtly) encourage us to buy any given item.  You might wonder if there is a connexion between a daily newspaper’s focus on “negative news” and how humans today have come to perceive the idea of news.  Or maybe connect the increasingly lower turnout of voters in many Western countries to various aspects of the democratic political system that may have become dated and, thus, unrepresentative of the political needs of our current time (or otherwise stated, connecting the effects of time on the efficacy or appropriateness of our current political systems).  Possibly your reason for not bicycling or taking public transit to work (and thereby your doing a greater part to help the environment) is connected to social stigmas related to modes of transportation.  Or maybe you can easily connect trees and bushes to both fresher air in your neighbourhood and also to a greater abundance of local birdlife.  Etcetera.

Interconnexions impact us and our lives in so many ways, most of which we don’t even know about and so we don’t even take the time to reflect upon them.  Sustainable Development calls on each of us to consciously reflect on any of those near countless interconnexions humans encounter throughout their days, but as perceived through each of an environmental, social and economic lens.  By our doing so, we can quickly become surprised at what we discover.  And our surprise might motivate us to want to learn about how we can become more aware of interconnexions on a continual basis. This way, we can then place ourselves in a stronger position of personal understanding.  Then, in turn, this will help us humans make better decisions for ourselves and other life on Earth.

As always, your thoughts are welcome on this blog-spot or any other matter related to Sustainable Development.

Thomas

Posted by: Thomas C. Esakin | May 30, 2009

Sustainable Development: Earth Nationalism

Sustainable Development: Earth Nationalism

This month of May annually commemorates Cinco de Mayo, a nationalistic holiday in México which marks the Mexican military victory at the Battle of Puebla. This battle, which occurred on May 5th, 1862 near the Mexican city of Puebla, resulted in México’s army defeating the French occupying forces of Napoleon III.  In today’s México, on each Cinco de Mayo (May 5th), Mexicans continue to celebrate their historic defeat of what was originally seen as a strong foreign invasionary force.

As I recently reflected on this Mexican national celebration, I also remembered how, with little fanfare, Earth Day had just passed on April 22nd.  This then had me thinking about Canada Day (formerly Dominion Day), my birth-country’s national holiday that has increasingly become a grander annual celebration on each July 1st. And then I also considered Independence Day, which is proudly celebrated by our Norte Americano USA neighbours on each July 4th.  The Three Amigo NAFTA partners each have their own unique days to celebrate their perceived national greatness, with all of these special days seeming to exceed in importance that otherwise obscure annual day called Earth Day.

If you were in a spaceship looking down upon Earth, human eyes do not see any clearly defined countries and their related border lines on a map.  This is because such things as countries and borders are in actuality mere constructs of human thought.  All human eyes see when looking downward upon Earth from space is an image such as this:

  Earth

For from space, our human eyes simply see one, small, finite, shared, and fragile planetary home.  Our eyes look down upon a planetary sphere for which we humans have constructed the more modern name of Earth: a single entity which itself is an individual miracle of life and which collectively holds countless miracles of life.

Yet with this rather paradoxical sight of a shared single fragility now having been amongst humans for nearing 40 decades through photographs, it makes me wonder aloud what continues to encourage humanity to so loudly celebrate the artificial: that is, those constructs we call countries and their perceived moments of heroic greatness.  And yet humans do so all the while continuing to choose to ignore the real: that is, our one shared planetary home on whose own health and well-being relies humanity’s very survival. 

Nationalism unchecked has near always been the cause of many travesties committed in both its name and for its supposed higher good.  No country or culture has been immune from the negative consequences of nationalism, for nationalism’s downside is often a sense of superiority felt by the “in” nationalist group at the expense of any perceived “out” group.  Thus unthinkably horrendous atrocities, such as holocausts and genocides, have become living realities through the guise of nationalism. 

At this juncture in humanity’s existence, any nationalism narrowly rooted in the false idea of the superiority of any one country or culture only represents a truly archaic thought system.  Such dated forms of nationalism ignore the reality that while the cultural and other mental constructs of humans may differ – or otherwise stated, that while humans’ thoughts related to our sense of selves may differ between and amongst humans – at the core of our very being all humans remain one and the same species. Thus, arising from this sense of a united humanity, a Human Nationalism might superficially make greater sense.  But in actuality, even a human nationalism would be no better and no less limiting than arcane nationalisms.  That is because a human nationalism would also be restricting humans to celebrating the greatness of one identified “in group” at the expense of the many “out groups”: or specifically stated, it would result in humans misguidedly trying to celebrate the perceived greatness of that one limited species known as homo sapiens sapiens and doing so at the expense of all other life.

Science is increasingly revealing that all life on Earth is interconnected and interdependent in ways human minds cannot begin to fathom, let alone comprehend.  This dynamic reflects this variant of the old Chaos Theory example, one where a butterfly flapping its wings in Asia can lead to a hurricane in the Caribbean. The science of Climate Change has been increasingly clear that 100’s of years of industrial pollution spewed in to Earth’s atmosphere by Western Industrialised economies – countries who are now joined by new emerging economies who themselves are increasing their atmospheric pollution in their efforts to quickly “catch-up economically” to the West – is resulting in climatic changes on Earth that have the potential to harm all current existence on our shared planetary home.

With a growing body of science speaking to interconnexions within and between all life on Earth, is not the time ripe for humans to practice an Earth Nationalism?  Yet not an Earth Nationalism rooted in the negativeness (exclusiveness) of nationalisms of old: one that would be along the lines of where humans would simply morph into becoming “Earth First” nationalists and so become a people who start to both think and feel that Earth itself IS the best planet in the universe. 

A new Earth Nationalism would be one grounded in a positiveness (inclusiveness).  It would arise from a place of deep inner understanding that ALL life – whether each and every life form on Earth, or even any other life that might exist elsewhere in the universe – has intrinsic value and so is to be respected in and of itself. 

This new Earth Nationalism would arise to celebrate ALL life, no matter its variety, form or potential geographic location in the universe.

Then Earth Day, as celebrated in the future, can be the primary global day on Earth for humans to be nationalistic.  Earth Day would be that day for humans to celebrate their Earth Nationalism: a nationalism which would be purposely redirected away from the negative exclusion of any and instead intentionally rooted in the positive inclusion of all of the miracle of life. 

Your thoughts are always welcome, whether on this blog-spot or any other matter related to Sustainable Development.

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