Will This Year’s Advent Season Be an Advent of Change?

cropped-veterans-day-2013-067.jpgToday the final draft of the Paris Climate Agreement (COP 21) was released. While the breakthrough for undeveloped (i.e. more at risk) nations was a 1.5 degree Centigrade limit on global temperature, the current plan would result in a 2.7 degree Centigrade increase by 2050. That would devastate many low lying areas of the world due to sea level rise.

This means that the participating countries will all have to increase their commitments to reduce green house gases over the intervening years until the next summit in 202o. And the differential goals require countries who are or have been the biggest polluters (China and U.S. respectively) to make the biggest commitments.

Right now major negotiations are taking place. These negotiations will spell out the future of humanity on earth, the fates of our children, and all life on earth in its present state. Just writing that sentence is profound.

While no one can guess the future, I at least hold some hope that such a convention as the Paris talks has moved the world closer to accepting climate change as a real threat. Yet, in my own country I despair that is not true. At least one political party is in denial while the other wrangles to get anything substantive accomplished to mitigate changes.

In my own state of Florida it is much more bleak: Governor Scott banned his environmental protection agencies from using the words climate change or global warming. Like a child, he foolishly believes if you can’t say it, it will not be true.

History will show the absolute insanity of many of our current political leaders. And, sadly, there are many more in the wings

Here is the evidence.  Locally, Pensacola has moved from 8b to 9a in Plant Hardiness Zones over the last decade (an average low temperature increase of 10 degrees F). On today, December 12, 2015 it will be 75 degrees Fahrenheit with lows still in the 60s. Of course, we all love it … until you reflect on what it portends.

 

Have we traded for something of lesser value?

Little handsIs an education replete of nature literacy of lesser value than an education which incorporates values and skills that enable a person to live responsibly within nature?

Reflecting on meeting a woman who held a doctoral degree, but who admitted that she was unaware of the annual migration of cranes in her own state, Aldo Leopold questioned whether modern education has “traded for something of lesser value”. He said this in the context of being aware, of paying attention to the goings and comings of wildlife and seasons, and by that, knowing fundamentally where you live and how to live there without destroying it.

David Orr goes further by asking What is Education For?

This is not an argument for ignorance but rather a statement that the worth of education must now be measured against the standards of decency and human survival-the issues now looming so large before us in the twenty-first century. It is not education, but education of a certain kind, that will save us.

Orr points out in this essay that its educated people who are most destructive to the Earth and ecosystems. What went wrong?

What do you think? Should education ensure that all American students will graduate knowing their place within the natural world, and understanding the responsibilities therein? Would you consider that kind of education basic literacy? Higher education? Why or why not?

Other Interesting Reading Along These Lines:

Richard Louv: The Nature Principle

What 20th Century Nature Study Can Teach Us

Pinterest: Nature Journals

A Prophet for All Seasons

This film about Aldo Leopold’s life and the development of his thinking about our relationship with land is a true gem. I could not find when it was created, however, the people interviewed are his biographers and scientists who knew and worked with Leopold. It was shown on Wisconsin Public TV. A special treat is narration by Lorne Greene best remembered as “Pa” on Bonanza.

The film gives viewers an in depth history about Aldo Leopold’s life and how his ideas about The Land Ethic evolved over his lifetime.

WATCH EARLY THIS YEAR TO SET YOUR COMPASS TOWARD TRUE NORTH.

E.F. Schumacher – Why We Need Him Now

E. F. Schmacher, British Economist best known to the U.S. public in the 1970’s with publication of Small is Beautiful and Small is Possible, developed economic models based on scale. His basic idea: past a particular size, true profit declines and true costs rise – thus the title “Small is Beautiful.”

He also clarified that shared ownership of the means of production is key to equitable distribution of wealth and development of healthy communities.

The New Economic Institute (previously the E.F. Schumacher Society) includes several excellent videos and articles by new economics thinkers and teachers. Go to the link and take time to listen or read. These visionaries describe likely scenarios about where our cultures and global community are moving with economic collapse around the world and with climate changes continuing to play havoc with community resiliency.

Profitability as the sole goal of corporate behavior is addressed by Neva Goodwin, Tufts University.  She discusses Walmart’s discovery that being ecologically responsible is profitable. However, her discussion is realistic about the kind of deep change that is necessary and how the likelihood of many people being harmed again by corporate excesses is predictable.  She offers a way to use corporate charters to shape corporate behavior. Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF) is a group she cites that is using a new community led strategy that creates municipal ordinances.  These ban corporate control of land, water, and other natural resources that are critical to life and health.  How can we make money and profits flow to the most responsible companies that protect human and ecological well being? Many examples of new economic structures are described using real companies that ARE making a profit while doing good in society.

Religion’s Role in Caring for the Earth

Religious groups are exploring their role in curbing climate change. One of the Land Ethic Books Clubs that I am facilitating in my community, the Lathram Chapel United Methodist Church in Barrineau Park, FL, is looking deeply into the scriptural directions for caring for the earth.

The Guardian the British news publication and winner of the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for public service is focusing on climate change. The Greatest Story in the World, a podcast on climate change is part of the current efforts to start deeper discussions about institutional and individual roles in solving climate change. This is Episode 9, Religion. Here is the link. 

Faith groups have huge followings and have adopted climate change as a cause for decades. What can the Guardian learn from religion? Can the paper use the language of sacrifice when it doesn’t have the same offer of salvation?

We strongly recommend that you listen to the series from the beginning.

Related resources
Neil Thorns – How will the world react to the Pope’s encyclical on climate change

Suzanne Goldenberg – Climate change denial is immoral says the head of the episcopal church

Damian Carrington – Church of England wields its influence in fight against climate change

~ Guardian Podcast, Episode 9

Through the lens of E.O. Wison

E. O. Wilson (Image: http://natureandculture.org/
E. O. Wilson

E.O. Wilson reigns in my mind as our most important scientist-author of our time. He is University Research Professor Emeritus at Harvard. Wilson has two Putlizer’s under his belt, for On Human Nature (1979) and The Ants with Bert Holldobler (1991).

The adjacent photo is from Nature and Culture International: Board of Directors, one of many organizations E.O. Wilson serves with his visionary gifts.

He has penned dozens more books that have stayed on the New York Times Bestseller lists over decades of his career. He writes for the public as well as scientific community. If you have never read anything by Wilson, I recommend The Diversity of Life as a starting point. While published first in 1992, it is still relevant to understand the diversity of life across the planet, and – most important – the conservation areas that Wilson recommends must be preserved for the healthy functioning of the biosphere.

But, my reason for this post is to review his recent book, The Meaning of Human Existence (2014). Why is it important to read? He is most likely the most erudite scientist writing for the public today. His understanding of who we are as a species and society is informed by his comprehensive grasp of our genetic inheritance, the dynamics of sociobiology – how we function as a group – and the challenges to our existence in the near and distant future. Yes, it IS that significant.

The book calls for the reunification of the humanities with science. Wilson argues that the current separation of these two great ways of knowing our human nature, is at the crux of our possible self-destruction by lack of understanding our roots in nature. He explains the most basic evolutionary path leading to our essential human nature: our dualistic nature, usually ascribed to the humanities to explain.

Wilson shows us how our “selfish” genes and “altruistic” genes evolved, and how they work in a multilevel natural selection. This is relevant in understanding why we do what we do, predicting the kinds of decisions we will probably make, and – once understanding this – how we could use this knowledge to make critical decisions about new technologies that may doom human existence or secure our continued success into the future.

The Threat of Gene Engineering of Human Beings

He is writing about the new potential to design our own genetic endowment – design humans like we want them. This can also be applied to new threats from artificial intelligence (AI), a topic he does not address in this book, but which occurred to me as I read the book during a time when the nation is discussing the challenges inherent in AI development.

If we do not understand, who we are, and know how to understand our behavior, how can we possibly make these new, complex ethical decisions? Wilson writes that religion, which introduces a supernatural being who is in control of humans and the universe, is an outdated way of knowing that currently blocks human society’s ability to understand how the world works and based on that, to make the collective decisions we need to determine to secure that human life on earth will go forward as we know it.

What do you think about that? Does religion prevent us from knowing who we are biologically? How can we bridge the gap between these two powerful ways of knowing our story on Earth? Please comment so that we can discuss this online.

The First American Democracy

“The future is a construct that is shaped in the present, and that is why to be responsible in the present is the only way of taking serious responsibility for the future. What is important is not the fulfillment of all one’s dreams, but the stubborn determination to continue dreaming.”

~ Gioconda Belli, The Country Under My Skin

Nothing can replace the act of seeking knowledge for oneself. I can read about it, have it explained, or live it through another person’s experience, but in each case I see it incompletely, like the blind man holding the elephant’s tail.

For Americans eighteen and older this has never been more relevant.

In 1990 I sought to learn about our nation’s first people by going to them. I left a high profile position at a well known institution, sold or gave away most of my possessions, packed up my pick up, and traveled to a dusty border town trusting my inner compass. There was a man and woman who agreed to take me on as an apprentice and student to help me understand American culture and my own life’s course through an examination of my country’s historical relationship with the First Americans and with the land, water, air, and wildlife of the North American continent.

Why did I do that, you may wonder. I had come to the realization that instead of my nation being a beacon of light in the world, it was in fact an empire to many other nations and peoples whose cultural beliefs and lands were at odds with ours.  How could there be hunger in a land of plenty? Why were democratic rights applied conditionally to members of our own society and in the world – and my culture accept that? How could we destroy the great natural beauty and abundance of our lands even while extolling how much we love it?

It made no sense to me and created a pervading sense of living a lie. I remember the unreality of my life then as I drove to work where architecturally beautiful buildings and the expansive green of a golf course tumbled down to the deep blue of the Pacific ocean. My day was stressful administering programs at a world renown health care facility where patients—banged up in the American market wars and social striving—suffered from heart problems, addiction, or complications from obesity.

One day I sat looking out the picture windows of my corporate office on a singing blue-sky day in southern California. Internally I felt lost and weak.  My eyes settled on a book that had lain unread on my shelves for many years:  Touch the Earth (T.C. McLuhan.) It is a book of Indian values from Indian voices.

At the first reading I experienced a profound sense of sanity return to me. In them I found a direction to pursue the answers to my deepest questions. I became aware of a pulsing hunger at my core for this knowledge, like something precious lost and then vaguely rememberd. Could it be that we have within us the knowledge of past human wisdom buried in our brains at birth? Looking back now, I realize that I had no choice but to make the decisions that led me to seek guidance and leave all I had known before – to clear the decks and make way for something new.

The next three years of living in the daily presence of two American Indian educators (one a Mojave elder, college professor, Korean veteran and social worker; the other an Iroquois artist and musician.) Their guidance changed the way I see myself and the world around me. I still believe the experience made me a better person. But the story of how that evolved is a hard one and definitely not what I had expected. The path to self-understanding is a crucible where falseness is burned away and a tender new skin grown. It requires humility, determination, and humor. It is anything but glamorous.

I hope you will return to my blog for journal entries about my experiences. Until then, here are some links to explore:

The First Democracy: the Haudenosaunee

Basic Call to Consciousness

What Does It Mean?

The Earth Charter