The Human-nature Relationship Revisited

We have traveled through time on an evolutionary journey of humanities’ relationship with the natural world and have become aware of the events, both natural and human, that have shaped that relationship from one of relative harmony and connectedness to one of disconnection and alienation. We have delved into the specific reasons for our dysfunctional behaviors and have concluded that the majority of human difficulties have manifested themselves in misperceptions regarding our nature, purpose, meaning and destiny in relationship to the natural world. These perceptions have become the precipitants of human philosophy and behavior and over time, have become programmed and automatic, thus inhibiting new ways of thinking about the development and progression of the human-nature relationship.

It appears we have begun to wake up to the reality that we are an integral part of nature and that our future success as an evolutionary organism will depend on what kind of relationship we will continue to foster with our environment. If we learn to live in harmony with it, we will have an opportunity to realize our final destiny. If we choose the misguided path of self-interest, discordance and alienation, we will determine our fate with predicted ecosystem collapse and the extinction of the human race.

Time is running out. It is time that we recognize the gift we have been given as participants in this remarkable evolutionary journey and declare ourselves initiated in the most profound event in history: the creation and evolution of the universe.

Closing Remarks

I hope that the information presented in this treatise has been informative and useful on a personal as well as on a global level. I realize that it may have been difficult to digest the scope of information I have been able to assemble to make a case for humanity re-evaluating where it has come from, where it is presently and where it is going. I have taken on this project to point to what we are capable of and what opportunities await us if we embrace our destiny with courage, thoughtfulness and a passion for the journey as well as its destination.

Commitment and Concerted Action in the World: Uniting Humanity to a Global Environmental Purpose

We cannot resolve the environmental problems we have caused by simply becoming aware of what we have done and attaching a diagnosis to it. What is needed now is a disposition of urgency to create a comprehensive plan on which to act with full commitment and conviction. We are now at the place where we have knowledge of specific interventions that must be initiated and how to go about them. What is missing is the global political will to carry out our mission and create a positive outcome.

Many people are still not convinced that the planet is in a state of crisis or have too much personal investment in procuring material wealth and power as a primary goal for themselves. Others are not sure how to proceed or do not have the resources to be effective players in the environmental movement and need coaching and encouragement to become fully engaged. Everyone must make a genuine commitment to go green in every aspect of his and her lives and encourage others to do likewise. We must demand that our governing bodies take up this challenge as well, and create a global effort to support environmentally responsible behavior throughout the world. Every act of environmental preservation counts and empowers the process of returning the Earth to its rightful, untainted disposition.

Predicting Our Ecological Future

Our biosphere is a very complicated system of interrelationships. These relationships include the interactions between microorganisms, soil, water, rocks, the atmosphere, the global chemistry and all flora and fauna. Any breakdown or imbalance in the relationship between any of these components is very significant and can lead to extensive ecosystem damage. In fact, the simpler life forms have a greater effect on global changes than the more complex organisms. The higher up on the food chain an organism is, the more fragile it is and the more likely not to succeed. Interestingly, if humans were removed from this equation, the Earth would not experience any particular detrimental impact and in fact, would be better off. In other words, the presence of human beings is not essential to the balance of the Earth’s ecosystems.

We, as yet, have not developed a science or technology that is so sophisticated that we can understand and predict the interactions between many of the Earth’s systems and its complex web of relationships. Thus, we cannot accurately predict the outcomes of our impact on the planet when we disrupt ecosystems and exploit the planet beyond its’ carrying capacity. This lack of knowledge, experience and wisdom is currently hurling us into the unknown and could result in disastrous consequences for the environment and humanity. 

Quick technological fixes will not correct our environmental mistakes. We must view the planet as an organism of utmost sophistication, complexity and diversity. Our lifestyles must take-into account the larger picture of our relationship with the biosphere and its prerequisites as a sustainable organism. We must respect this wonder of creation and forge ahead with humility, and a conscience to do what is appropriate for our habitat, and humanity will be well served in this process as well.

References:

From Naked Ape to Superspecies, David Suzuki and Holly Dressel, Stoddart Publishing Co, 1999, Bugs Are Us, pp. 13-14. Accessed 6 July 2020.

From Naked Ape to Supersecies, David Suzuki and Holly Dressel, Stoddart Publishing Co,1999, Introduction, p. 4. Accessed 6 July 2020.

Is It Too Late?

I previously stated that I believe immediate and ongoing action to restore the health of the planet would likely result in positive outcomes, thus we should proceed with the full intention of creating a sustainable future for ourselves and for future generations to come. I also believe that if we discover that we have rendered irreversible damage to the biosphere, we should continue our efforts to minimize or halt further damage as opposed to allowing further deterioration and ending our tenure in resignation. I say this because the Earth is home, not only to ourselves but to all other living creatures and we have no moral right to deny their existence and evolutionary process. Even if the planet should revert to a primitive state of simple-celled organisms due to our ineptitude, life would continue to evolve and new species would surely inhabit the Earth. 

Does the Universe Have a Purpose?

The question should be asked if humanity has a right to exploit the environment for its own purposes, knowing that such intentional behavior will eventually destroy the Earth?  I would reply that we do not have the right to make such a selfish decision in that the Earth is a living organism that has by our own conception of morality, a right to exist and follow its own destiny. Given the essence of the universe in all its complexity, beauty and unfathomable mysteries, it is hard to justify, in any way and for any reason, the destruction of such an entity by one of its own inhabitants.

There are many laymen, religious leaders, scientists and professionals from a variety of disciplines that speculate that the universe may well have a purpose and meaning that is well beyond the limits of our ability to comprehend such a concept. Our purpose and meaning may also be integrally tied to the destiny of the universe as well. Given our present knowledge and understanding of the cosmos is limited, it would appear that further rigorous investigation into this mystery is both prudent and ethical and will necessitate time and patience for us to arrive at a viable conclusion. The Earth has been our home for thousands of years and has provided everything we have needed to evolve and discover ourselves. It is time we look beyond ourselves to discover and embrace the larger story of creation.

Reference:

Waking up in Time, Peter Russell, Origin Press Inc., 1122 Grant Ave., Suite C, Novato, CA  94945, Copyright 1992 by Peter Russell, Knowing—A Conscious Universe, pp. 181-184. Accessed 1 July2020.

Bioregionalism/Living in Place

Bioregionalism is the formal or scientific term for the practice of living in a particular geographical region in a symbiotic manner. Ideologically, it is predicated on an awareness of the ecology, culture and economy of a particular area and a conscious effort to live in harmony and sustainably with it. Practically, it concerns itself with understanding all the aspects of a locality and living in a manner that enhances it and the human experience simultaneously. Thus, bioregionalism is a practical, conscious and spiritual endeavor. Another important construct is that all entities of a place are attributed equal value and intrinsic worth. All human affairs are conducted in a manner that supports the health and viability of that habitat and there is a deep feeling of connection to one’s surroundings.

Bioregionalism was formulated to address the exploitive nature of our current societies and the fact that we are now in danger of extinction as a species in the near future. It also believes that we have no right to destroy the Earth and must respect the rights of all the entities on this planet, both living and non-living. The three main objectives of bioregionalism include: restoration and maintenance of local ecosystems, practicing sustainable ways of living with nature and restoring natural habitats to their pristine state as much as possible.

Bioregions are defined by geographical and environmental features such as; watershed boundaries, terrain characteristics, soil types, flora and fauna, distinct seasons, climatic conditions and human settlement. Bioregions may contain various biomes and or ecosystems within its geographic parameters as well.

Bioregions differ in that they are not delineated to be in sync with political boundaries that we are accustomed to using to define the parameters of countries, provinces and states. Instead, bioregions could replace political boundaries and create naturally designated areas for the purpose of organizing human settlement.

Peter Berg (activist) and Raymond Dasmann (ecologist) formulated the concepts of bioregionalism and are considered the prominent figures in introducing this model to the environmental movement. Kirkpatrick Sale, an American environmental writer, is another influential proponent of bioregional principles who has written a number of books and articles portraying the unfortunate effects of human settlement on nature and how society can learn to live sustainably.

Two important terms that will be used in this discussion are biomes and ecosystems. A critical knowledge of their unique characteristics and functioning will be essential to learn if we are to live sustainably within them.

A biome is a large geographical region comprised of similar fauna, flora, earth elements and microorganisms. The world’s major biomes include: saltwater and freshwater bodies and their respective islands, mountain ranges, polar ice caps, ice sheets and glaciers, arctic and alpine tundra, montane grasslands and shrublands, Mediterranean chaparral, deserts and subtropical deserts, boreal forests, temperate forests, tropical forests, temperate grasslands, savannas and shrublands, tropical and subtropical grasslands, savannas and shrublands and flooded grasslands and shrublands.

An ecosystem is a smaller area than that of a biome that can range from the size of a small pool of water to a large forested area, mountainous region, desert, or water body or watershed. Ecosystems can be thought of as a community of living organisms that interact with the fundamental elements of the earth: (nonliving entities such as the air, soil, minerals and water) in a systemic manner. Ecosystems include environments such as canyons, valleys, wetlands, rivers, lakes, marine environments, islands, mountains, forests, grasslands, deserts, tundra, meadows, and other places that share similar inhabitants and natural features. Boundaries between ecosystems and biomes are not necessarily rigid and can overlap or even meld into each other.

Rationale for Bioregionalism

Problem solving at the bioregional level (in smaller communities) is more effective than trying to establish generalized interventions at a global level. Communities living in a particular region can collaboratively address adaptive issues and resolve specific problems more effectively as they are more familiar with the characteristics of their habitat.

Thinking from a bioregional perspective allows for a more comprehensive and creative approach toward ecological concerns in which nature and human needs are considered.

Important aspects of settlement can be discerned in regards to natural resources available, transportation issues, trade opportunities, communication networks, cultural and societal issues, recreational pursuits, economics, government formulation and ecosystem characteristics.

Residing in a bioregion provides an educational component in regards to the functioning of the natural world, thus helping humans learn and adapt harmoniously to their environment.

Smaller scale communities will attract people that desire similar values and lifestyles thus enhancing a sense of community, cooperation and problem solving.

Designing living principles based on ecology will result in lifestyles that are more harmonious, eclectic, and life sustaining.

A bioregion can connect humans with their surroundings in relation to how that habitat provides physical nutrition and spiritual sustenance and how this interaction helps one in an understanding of the self.

A bioregion can be respected and “allowed to be” such that plants and animals are considered in whatever decisions are made regarding development, preservation and sustainability. Caring for a specific habitat excludes exploitation and domination.

Bioregions can encourage indigenous cultures to continue their traditional practices without interference from mainstream trends and norms.

A variety of economic and political systems are likely to arise that will better support varied lifestyles and cultural differences.

Each bioregion may require unique living practices in order to ensure sustainability and symbiosis between people and the elements. This condition encourages respect and feelings of affinity for a particular habitat.

Knowledge gained in planning settlement in one type of bioregion can be used to enlarge knowledge about planning for other types of settlements in either similar or different contexts thus expanding overall understanding of issues and solutions for different ecological scenarios.

Since bioregions are not politically or economically derived, making decisions regarding how to live within them is more likely to be ecologically oriented.

Reconnecting with nature can encourage increased symbiotic behavior, less aggression and competition and overall enhanced mental health.

Appreciating the spirit of a place can be manifest in many ways that could include expressions from a diversity of social, religious and spiritual contexts.

Bioregions as the basis for human settlement will promote respect and love of the Earth’s creatures and elements and the universe at large.

The Great Turning

The “Great Turning” refers to the transition and transformation from the ideologies of the industrial age to the new perspectives of respect for the planet, sustainability of the biosphere, and a sense of participation and connectedness with our habitat. This new philosophy is manifested in three main areas of focus including interventions to slow the pace of environmental degradation, “analysis of the structural causes and creation of structural alternatives and a fundamental shift in worldview and values.” (Joanna R. Macy and Molly Young Brown, p. 17). Many people are currently involved in these endeavors and global consciousness is steadily increasing as to the urgency of environmental concerns as well as needed action on a wide-scale basis.

Holding Actions are the tangible interventions that are action oriented such as blockades, boycotts, civil disobedience and any other interventions that go against unfriendly environmental practices. 

Examples of holding actions include:

Being aware of and documenting the effects of industry and technology with regards to nuclear power and its waste products, weaponry manufacture, mining of heavy metals, fossil fuels production and usage, incinerators and toxic landfills, pesticides, factory farms, food additives and preservatives and clear cutting for agriculture and development.

Political action to initiate legislation to curb pollution, poverty and the loss of natural habitats, limit arms buildup and stop nuclear weapons testing, limit greenhouse gasses, eradicate all weapons programs, and raise the minimum wage to a viable level.

Creating legislation that oversees and enforces environmental and social regulations and initiatives that would include public oversight and monitoring.

Illuminating illegal and unethical practices by businesses and corporations.

Boycotting business entities that pollute the environment or exploit their employees either by low wages or unsafe working conditions.

Lobbying against trade agreements that have negative environmental impact or have negative ramifications related to economic and social injustice.

Demonstrations, blockades, vigils and civil disobedience to illuminate and educate society about injustices of any kind, either toward people or any other living and non-living entities.

Helping the poor and homeless with basic necessities.

Activism is empowering, difficult and frustrating work, but due to its visibility, can be instrumental in enrolling others to join a cause and create a critical mass that can have significant positive outcomes. As much as activism reduces negative effects, saves species, saves human lives and buys time, as we continue to invent new and better interventions, it alone, is not enough to halt the environmental crisis.

In order to emancipate ourselves from the negative effects of the Industrial Growth Society, we must be able to comprehend its principles and manifestations.  Why must material wealth be unequally distributed in favor of the wealthy and powerful and how has this dynamic developed? How have we come to exploit and pollute the Earth in the selfish fashion that has gone almost unexamined for many generations? 

As we come to understand how our thinking and actions have led us to the brink of disaster, we can also start to take responsibility for the misconceptions and practices of others, however misguided and even unethical, which have left us with a major crisis to resolve. Many of those responsible for our present dilemma acted from their own need fulfillment without adequate knowledge of the repercussions of their philosophies and behaviors on future generations while others knew their actions would cause suffering and misery but were too invested in their wellbeing and happiness to consider and include the plight of others.

Personalism and the Social Context

Personalism, a school of philosophy, usually idealist, asserts that the real is the personal, i.e., that the basic features of personality, consciousness, free self-determination, directedness toward ends, self-identity through time and value retentiveness make it the pattern of all reality.

The ecological perspective related to personalism asserts that humans are part and parcel to the natural world and to the cosmos at large and thus, the inherent nature of the individual is in fact the inherent nature of the universe. With this idea in mind, we must examine the social and political structures we have created to run our societies to see whether they actually fulfill the needs of the person. It appears to me that those structures often compromise the needs of the person for the needs of the institutions that bind us to unnecessary regulation and management. This perceived need to control individuals to achieve normative behavior and avoid chaos made its appearance in early religious and social philosophies fueled by the notion that humanity was inherently oriented toward self-gratification, greed and competition. Unfortunately, this negative view of humanity has prevailed throughout our more recent history and can be seen as both a cause and effect of our current ecological crisis.

The person is the context or consciousness through which all values, intuitions, thoughts, and creations evolve be they mental or physical manifestations. These attributes are the culmination of evolution’s creativity in allowing our species to achieve such incredible capabilities and evolve to where we are today. This process is ongoing and should continue if we allow it and manage to maintain our presence on this planet and fulfill our evolutionary destiny. The ecological crisis before us could change all this and end our tenure in extinction as well.

What is called for in the name of personalism is a reclaiming of our personhood and a reinvention of our species as a loyal and sustainable organism on this planet. We must reinvent our social and political institutions so our progress as a species begins at the personal level and attends to all of our individual and social needs. Such a new system must transcend the patriarchal values that have enslaved us and create equality among all peoples, regardless of individual differences, lifestyles and philosophies. To accomplish such a project will take considerable thinking, communicating and collaborating on what our institutions should actually do and how they will accomplish their goals. The person should be the architect and manager of all social and political structures and not allow the structures to do the directing of human affairs. This seems to be a major problem with most of our current institutions today.

Another challenge will be to anticipate the needs of our evolving global culture and make necessary adjustments to our lifestyles and philosophies as needed. Nationalism will have to be replaced by global cooperation among all nations and conflict will need to be addressed at a global level as well. We can no longer live as isolationists concerned only with what is in front of us. We now live in a world community that is interconnected and interrelated, just as we are to the natural world.

Reference:

Person/Planet: The Creative Disintegration of Industrial Society by Theodore Roszak, Anchor Books/Anchor Press, Doubleday, Garden City, New York, 1979, pp. 318-321. Accessed 26 June 2020.

The Minority Tradition and Direct Action as a Departure from the Technocratic-industrial Ideology

The minority tradition refers to a societal structure that is self-regulating and lacking in a centralized authority that employs large forces of police or military to regulate and control unwanted behavior. Many primal cultures operated in this manner and proved to be successful in meeting the social and psychological needs of its people as evidenced in anthropological studies of indigenous cultures throughout history. Examples of this today include small communities engaging in collective activities such as communal farming, childcare, education, spiritual practices, bargaining for goods and services, sharing of possessions such as autos, tools and dwellings, reducing the size of institutions and working on selective projects that benefit all members of the community.

Personal Concerted Action

In order to address the current environmental crisis effectively, individual action is vitally necessary and can be directed towards increasing ecological consciousness, taking-action within the political arena or working directly with environmental and other organizations that promote the sustainable use of natural resources and the preservation of habitats for fauna and flora. An evaluation of one’s personal lifestyle is a good place to begin by asking some fundamental questions. 

1. Do my possessions or purchases encourage an active and productive lifestyle, self-reliance and social involvement or do they result in my being dependent and passive?

2. Are the things that I consume useful and satisfying or do I consume things that I don’t really need?

3. Is my present career and lifestyle fraught with debt, maintenance and repair costs and expectations from those around me or from the values of society?

4. Do I think about how my use of the world’s resources affects others and the planet?  

Some of the primary forms of personal direct action include: working in political contexts; forming coalitions, protesting, being involved in the women’s movement which encourages feminine values such as (love, compassion, receptivity, caring, cooperation, listening, patience, nurturing, deep feeling, affirmation), working with religious organizations, questioning technology and its practices, working in green politics and taking part in global action. There are numerous resources to guide one in choosing a course of involvement and action that are easily attainable in most communities and especially through environmental agencies. Detailed information about this process is outside the scope of this discourse so I have not attempted to delve into this matter.

In conclusion, humanity is responsible for our current environmental problems, thus we are obliged to take the necessary steps to ensure we are changing our ideologies and lifestyles such that we incorporate ecological thinking and action in everything we do. In turn, our habitat will be more likely to sustain and nurture us and allow us to continue to achieve our evolutionary destiny as well as that of the Earth’s. 

Reference:

Deep Ecology: Living as if Nature Mattered by Bill Devall and George Sessions, 1985 by Gibbs M. Smith, Inc. The Minority Tradition and Direct Action, pp. 17-39. Accessed 26 June 2020.

Transitioning to an Ecological Context and Ideology

There is a growing consensus that the attitudes, values, perceptions and basic worldview humanity has created and perpetuated is the root cause of our current ecological catastrophe and that a dramatic shift in consciousness, ideologies and behavior is our only hope of restoring harmony and balance with the Earth.

If we are to change our relationship with our habitat, we need to create a new context from which to come and operate from. This would include changes in ideology from our previous industrial mindset to one of ecological consideration and practice. All human disciplines would have the challenge of re-examining fundamental questions and organizing principles and reformulating them to include ecological consciousness as well as the needs of humanity. Eco-philosopher and theologian, Thomas Berry, has stated that it is time to “re-invent the human at the species level.” This statement points to the reality that our current problems cannot be solved at the level they were created at, and need to be resolved by drawing on the “evolutionary wisdom of the human species in its interrelationships with all other species and ecosystems.” (Thomas Berry) Humanity, through its dysfunctional means of adaptation to the natural world historically, has called into question, its viability as an evolving species.

It has been acknowledged that our current attitudes and values in conjunction with our economic and technological lifestyles have resulted in the extreme exploitation and degradation of our habitat. This worldview was proposed by the scientific revolution of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

Western society is currently undergoing a transformation from the industrial era towards the electronic or information era. This will undoubtedly cause a change in technology with resulting effects on our economy, culture and human relationships, but without a change in underlying values and attitudes, no significant paradigm shift can be anticipated.

Some critics say we are transitioning from the “modern age of rationalism and positivism that began in the eighteenth century into a postmodern age of deconstructionist relativism.” (Ralph Metzner, p.173) The deconstructionist view claims that all theories and models of reality are the result of social and historical phenomenon and thus have no preference over each other in regards to value or credibility.

What we need to do now is to create a constructive ecological or systems postmodern context in which emerging features of the new worldview that contribute to sustainability, preservation and restoration of all living life-forms and ecosystems are recognized and employed as ongoing human strategies and specific interventions.

I will briefly mention some of the newer perceptions that are gaining acceptance and consideration. The mechanistic model of the universe is being replaced by the organismic model that views the cosmos as a process of evolutionary events. The Earth as lifeless matter is now perceived as a super-organism in the Gaia theory proposed by James Lovelock and Lynn Margulis. Quantum physics has all but replaced the older deterministic and reductionistic notion of a mechanistic cosmos. Chaos and nonlinear systems theories have found acceptance over linear causality. Chaos theory has embraced orderliness within chaotic structures and processes. Evolution perceived as a process of random events is now being seen from a more holistic perspective that points to interrelatedness and interconnectedness.

The former view of epistemology was tied to logical positivism that attributed meaning to only perceptual observations. Corresponding with logical positivism was the doctrine of operationalism that stated that the meaning of variables was tied to experimental operations. These perceptions have receded and have been replaced by more open-ended approaches that recognize that all hypothesis and models are invented by the human mind (constructivism) and have no independent reality of their own. In essence, the new sciences are not influenced so much by data collection, observation and the ability to replicate results but by the inclusion of ancient wisdom, of intuition, a sense of mathematical elegance, emotional sensibilities and the deep connection with the universe that is inherent in human nature.

The role of humanity in the emerging ecological worldview will call for a substantial shift from the attitude of domination and exploitation to one of sustainability and symbiosis. Our past history on the planet has been oriented toward the primary consideration of human needs and the perception that the Earth had been given to us by God to allow us to thrive and multiply without any particular concern or responsibility for the state of the biosphere. Our continued behavior in this manner has steadily led us to the brink of our ecological crisis as well as a re-awakening, a re-evaluation and a new understanding of our place in the story of creation. Many of us have committed to initiating a change in purpose and lifestyle while others have continued to plunder the Earth for what they mistakenly perceive is the key to their happiness and fulfillment.

The new paradigm of co-evolution and symbiosis has led us to an awareness of the importance of protecting our ecosystems and preserving species diversity. Deep ecology teaches bio centric or eco centric values, in which humanity is viewed as a part of and a participant in the wonders of nature instead of an enemy of it. This perspective includes every facet of the environment from the natural elements to all living flora and fauna.

Ecotopian Thinking to Re-invent the Course of Human History and Evolution

Utopian thought has been an active component of many societies throughout history. It has conjured up notions of a preferred future and the creation of an idyllic world that can be viewed as a goal worthy of attainment or unrealistic and futile in recognition of the human condition historically. From an ecological perspective, utopianism is the calling forth of a new vision for humanity to embrace and flourish in.

Exploring, developing and implementing ecotopian models to apply to human development and progress are vitally important processes to pursue if we are to remain a viable species on planet Earth. The rationale for doing this is considerable and includes the following. It can aid us in creating and clarifying important goals that represent a vision that may never fully come to fruition but will empower focus and commitment to those goals or ideals such that human improvement will always be sought. It will allow us to compare our personal and political actions with our vision for congruence and warn us when we are straying from our desired intentions. Eco-utopian visions illuminate the differences between where we currently are and where we think we should be. Existing models of society can also be evaluated and reformed towards utopian concepts and practices. Many people struggle with the idea of utopian concepts being viable at all, thus, continued dialogue about ecotopian models will help those who are undecided or unengaged develop an ecological consciousness that may serve to enroll them in ecological thinking and action.

Inspiration for ecotopian concepts can be derived from studying hunter-gatherers, small-scale agricultural communities and other primal and contemporary societies. Our educational system could be a primary source for the exploration and understanding of such models that fit both human and planetary needs and the means for teaching appropriate knowledge and skills.

In order to create and develop ecotopian concepts and practice, some fundamental questions should be considered such as:

How can individuals become more self-actualized and mature in the context of their connection with the natural world?

How can individuals be more able to integrate the body-mind-spirit connection?

What types of social entities are more likely to facilitate individual self-realization and the more encompassing societal self-realization?

What types of social entities are actually sustainable?

What types of technologies are congruent with the principles of deep ecology?

How do individuals and larger groups of people relate to eco friendly technologies?

How can vital-human-needs be identified and defined?

How can human-needs be accommodated with minimal impact to the biosphere?

What is the function of emotions in human beings, how do those emotions impact on human behavior as a species and what is the end result of human emotions and behavior in relation to the environment?

What types of cosmology, religion and education are most viable when considering the principles of deep ecology?

Does the Earth and its creatures, landscapes and elements have intrinsic value, therefore having a right to evolve and actualize as we think we do?

Does the universe have a purpose and is our human evolution tied to that of the universe such that we also have a purpose and destiny to fulfill?     

There are a number of proposed utopian scenarios that have been formulated by thinkers such as Loren Eiseley, Baker Brownell, Aldous Huxley, Gary Snyder and Paul Shepard. Their ideas differ in how to fulfill human needs without resorting to exploitation and domination of the Earth but they all agree that our current ideologies and technologies are not viable at ensuring the sustainability of the biosphere and thus the human species. I would like to highlight the proposed ecotopian model of Gary Snyder as an example of a possible alternative to our current technological-industrial notion of society. Synder’s vision is derived from Zen Buddhism, Native American religion, lifestyles of primal cultures on various continents and insights from contemporary ecology.

Humans belong to nature and are participants in the scheme of existence. Given their significant capacities as sentient beings, they have a responsibility to respect all other entities and acknowledge the intrinsic worth of the biosphere. Using other entities for vital human needs appears justified as predation is a symbiotic reality of nature but we must also foster the wellbeing and self-actualization of those entities as well.  The Earth is over-populated and this development needs to be changed to sustainable levels at about half the present population. Natural resources have also been exploited to unsustainable levels and this practice must be reconfigured to the carrying capacity of the planet.

Our industrial-technological and consumptive lifestyles mainly foster the acquisition of material wealth and power and do not adequately address the primary human needs of individual interests and purpose, healthy interpersonal relationships and spiritual endeavors. People should learn to live with fewer creature comforts and promote and ensure an equal distribution of goods and services among its populous. Economics must be viewed in the context of supporting humanities goals of self-actualization and promoting ecological lifestyles.

Humanity is capable of significant and extensive social and ecological reform that would transform our species into one that is eco friendly, sustainable, reverent, harmonious and grateful to be a loyal inhabitant of this planet. We must begin this transformation immediately or forfeit our chances of further evolutionary adventure. Our current social systems and technologies must all be converted to eco friendly entities that allow our habitat to remain in its natural state and continue to evolve unfettered by human encroachment. We should look to our primal ancestors for the wisdom they knew that allowed them to live in harmony with Gaia. We should also utilize the advanced knowledge gained through the hard sciences and technology to forward our maturation in relationship to the natural world, always considering its needs and purpose.

I will now give a brief summary of what I think might prove to be a workable framework given our current disposition and state of the world that is strikingly similar to Snyder’s. The specific interventions to achieve the proposed context would be predicated upon our current knowledge base, implemented technologies and lifestyles.  

It is obvious that our basic philosophy and ideologies must undergo a radical change or transformation to one that acknowledges our place and purpose in the scheme of evolutionary processes at both the planetary and universal levels and that attributes intrinsic value to the biosphere and everything within it. Given this context, our lifestyles must incorporate the practices of conservation, preservation, sustainability and reverence for each other and the biosphere, and all human developments and advancements must be thoughtful and ethical. Current technologies and other human endeavors must be converted to eco friendly practices, and our populations must be adjusted to the carrying capacity of the Earth (reduced significantly). Pollution of the planet must be minimized or halted as much as possible and restoring damaged ecosystems to healthy conditions is paramount. Issues relating to human morality and how we function, as a social species, will need to be addressed as human difficulties have a decided impact on the degradation of our habitat. We must also create an ongoing process for evaluating our progress in light of all the factors mentioned. I do not imply that this is an easy task or that we will not continue to make mistakes along the way, but it is our responsibility as a participating species to make necessary adjustments or we will, at some point in time, render ourselves unsuitable for participation in the family of life on this planet.

As we continue to learn and advance, we will hopefully increase our capacity to face the new challenges that lurk ahead and continue our evolutionary process. The lack of a united global political will is probably our most significant obstacle to success unless excessive destruction to the environment has already been rendered.

Although, many people advocate for the return to a primal or minimalist lifestyle, given our present population and social, psychological and spiritual needs, this would not be very practical, prudent or successful. Many modern scientists and professionals from other disciplines agree that evolution is a prescription for the developmental progress of our species and all other entities and that we simply must utilize our growing intellect and propensity to solve problems to facilitate the necessary adaptations to survive and evolve. Turning back the pages of progress is not a satisfactory answer and may well result in the failure and collapse of modern civilizations altogether. If we look at the universe over the last 13.73 billion years, evolution has brought us to where we are now and at an ever-increasing pace. It is doubtful that this process will slow down or reverse itself. The universe is evolving toward some unknown fulfillment and I think we should want to be there to discover and participate in it.

Personal Survival in a Chaotic World

Our ancestors possessed a fund of instinctual knowledge about how to survive and thrive in the habitats in which they lived. They knew how to hunt game, harvest plants and prepare the food they gathered to feed their tribes. They were aware of the local weather, natural disasters and how to interact with their surroundings in a way that sustained the environment and fulfilled their survival needs without a need to exploit the bounty of the Earth. They respected the sacredness of the biosphere and felt connected to it in a very personal way. This interconnectedness manifested itself in all aspects of their daily lives from religious rituals to social mores and created a context for healthy behavior that sustained their cultures for thousands of years. Assimilation with more modern cultures has often had a detrimental effect in which the erosion of primordial values has become visible.

Our modern societies also interact with the Earth but in a fundamentally different way and from a different perspective. We have lost intimate instinctual knowledge that was part of our evolutionary programming. This has occurred because we have opted to live primarily in protected dwellings in towns and cities, far from the natural rhythms of the natural processes of our habitat. Modern humans spend much less time interacting with their environment than their predecessors. Over time, this exclusion from the intimacies of nature has rendered us ecologically incompetent. As much as it is easier to live in our modern configurations, it has taken a toll on our ability to connect and appreciate the natural world and has resulted in behavioral problems that are quite diverse and concerning. All creatures evolved from natural surroundings and need a dose of wildness in their daily lives. The absence of this wildness has been, in part, responsible for our many addictions, obsessions and the longing for that something that we can no longer define; the covenant of our relationship with nature that was embedded in our psyche at birth and which now longs to express itself.

Although it is no longer viable for us to be hunters and gatherers and live in the remote regions of nature given our large numbers, it is still possible to regain much of our ecological competence and return to a more balanced lifestyle that will incorporate modern technology and primordial cultural influences into a fusion of healthy and sustainable living practices.

 A way to begin this process is to take some time each day to reconnect with our habitat through meditation, visualization, taking walks in natural places, engaging in outdoor recreational activities that are non-motorized and surrounding our lives with natural products and services. We can choose careers that are green and sustainable. A desire to connect and be a part of our habitat is essential and we must recognize when we are out of balance with nature. This process does take some intention and practice but can become a natural part of our daily lifestyles.

We must not mistake conquering and bravado behaviors as connecting with nature or bringing intrusive technology into the wild. We must come as students, seeking to learn and discover our habitat and our place within it. Only in this way will we connect with our true nature and know where we belong.

A change in values and lifestyle to a philosophy of sustainability and a mandate for life to be a journey of discovery and fulfillment would alter all aspects of our culture. The economic struggles and preoccupation with materialism and procuring power and wealth would then become meaningless.

On a personal level, what I am saying above is painfully evident in my life as well. I have been forced to work at careers that have not always been nurturing and meaningful to me. When I have tried to engage in alternative careers, it has been almost impossible to make ends meet. One would think that given the variety of career paths and needs in the world, one could easily find a satisfying occupation but this is not necessarily so. Large corporations monopolize markets and discourage competition. The small family owned business has to compete with limited funds and resources. Cutthroat competition is rampant in the business world and precludes success for many entrepreneurs and discourages creative enterprises and new types of business ventures. Much of what is produced is not necessarily what people want or need and is mainly profit driven.

Everyone should be able to choose a lifestyle and means to make a living that empower personal values and life goals without having to resort to survival tactics and compromising one’s integrity to succeed. Our present economic and technological society is not configured to accomplish this end and seems oriented more towards sustaining those who are driven by the need to accumulate power and wealth. It is time that we re-look at what we have created and re-evaluate it in the context of what is needed to fulfill the authentic needs of our modern societies. How to go about this in a practical manner is discussed in the following chapters.

Eco-activism

Our ecological crisis has created urgency for many of the worlds’ populous for radical reform and a change in values and practice. Activism to address our ecological crisis signifies a commitment to rectify un-ecological behavior and lifestyles but it can also be seen as anthropocentric as it can also be predicated on the survival and continuance of society and its practical and flamboyant needs as a species as well. Thus, activism in its fundamental premise is ethical and viable when employed with the philosophy of reverence for all entities in the biosphere and not just for human considerations.

It appears our current notions of activism often resemble self-interest at best and may be even related to our deep fear of mortality. Evolution is a process that is inclusive of all entities and this process begins with birth and ends with death. However, death also translates into new and different relationships that allow other lifeforms to exist as well. So, a deeper understanding of life and death and their respective roles in evolution is a topic worthy of more consideration and acceptance. Activism should also focus on rectifying the pollution already rendered on the planet and restoring nature to its original state as much as possible.

Another way to look at activism is to allow nature to instruct us in how to live. This can be accomplished by employing our sensory faculties, intuition, learning, respect, reverence and our human institutions such as the humanities and sciences in the pursuit of connection with our habitat.

Ecological Resisting

Ecological resisting is the deep ecology term for non-violent direct action. Direct action means being in touch with and communicating about environmental concerns, educating ourselves regarding local and global ecological issues, being involved in eco-related initiatives and enrolling others to become involved as well. Resisting may include trespassing and other illegal activities such as blocking the entrance to a place, rendering machines and equipment non-functional, interfering directly with unwanted activities, demonstrations, protests, political rallies, and may even result in being arrested. Resisting needs to be a committed action that is well thought out and designed to stop or bring attention to an issue under protest. It needs to be enacted from a context of caring and love for all the planet’s living creatures, plants and elements.

Ecological resisting is predicated on the belief that the environment has intrinsic value, has the right to exist and evolve and that the human community is a participant in the whole process of creation and evolution. We are not the masters of the universe nor are we superior in any way to the diversity of life on Earth or its physical features. Although ecological resisting is a serious undertaking, it also exudes a sense of joy and fascination with deep engagement in the process of living.

The notion of preserving, conserving and saving applies not only to the Earth but to humankind as well. There is no separation between the Earth and ourselves. Everything is interconnected and interdependent.  Ecological resisting is an affirmation of our relationship and love of our habitat.

Reference:

Deep Ecology: Living as if Nature Mattered by Bill Devall and George Sessions, 1985 by Gibbs M. Smith, Inc. Ecological Resisting, pp. 193-205.Accessed 15 June 2020.

Reformism

Resource Conservation and Development 

The new conservation stance calls for a re-evaluation of the use of the Earth’s bounty and the acknowledgement that all living creatures and inert matter are valuable, have the right to exist and thrive and should be treated with respect. Resources that are taken for human consumption should be done so predicated on the grounds of thoughtfulness and reverence for what they give to humanity and without a motive for exploitation and domination. A shift from anthropocentric to eco-centric values is urgently needed in all human endeavors and a new worldview should be articulated to empower the new ecological perspective.

Animals should have rights to respect and benevolent treatment by humans and should not be subjugated to sport hunting, captivity in zoos and circuses. They should also not be used for scientific experiments that are painful or psychologically harmful or to test products designed for people. Wild animals that are not biologically suitable for domestication should not be utilized as pets for humans and should not be “broken” or treated in such a manner that domestication be forced upon them. Science should also not attempt to genetically alter wild animal characteristics to make them suitable for domestication.

The planet’s geography including its landscapes, soil, air, water and minerals should be appreciated for their inherent value and utilized conservatively with sustainability in mind. The fact that the planet has as one of its aspects, immeasurable beauty, is another reason to respect and care for this wonder of creation.

People should be treated with respect and allowed to live a life based on individual meaning, purpose, ideology and lifestyle without interference except when questions of ethics arise. Humanity should not be perceived as a resource to be controlled and exploited for the benefit of either other individuals or for the benefit of society as a whole.

Reference:

Deep Ecology: Living as if Nature Mattered by Bill Devall and George Sessions, 1985 by Gibbs M. Smith, Inc. The Reformist Response, pp. 51-61.

The Perceived Role of Humanity as Managers and Stewards of the Earth

According to James Lovelock, humanity has the faulty impression that it can extend its population and lifespan indefinitely or to certain desired levels through the practice of planetary management and that there is no particular limit to the Earth’s carrying capacity. All living creatures have a finite lifespan as a function of the way living systems work, and as much as we might desire immortality, this is not a viable or tenable goal given what we now understand about our biosphere. The planet cannot support infinite human expansion and resource depletion either. At some point, a critical amount of degradation will be reached and ecosystem collapse will ultimately and logically follow suit. Such an event could end the existence of humanity as a viable species but evolution would continue on at its own pace and promote other life forms that would live within acceptable parameters.

Lovelock has a drastically different take on our self-perception as stewards of the Earth. He suggests that we be advocates for the various entities on the planet, be aware of their needs and comply with them, but he staunchly insists that we do not take on the role as caretakers of the Earth. His reason for this is quite rational and persuasive. Do we really want to be responsible for the workings of the planet? Do we want the responsibility of managing the weather, the composition of the atmosphere, the physical and chemical geography of the landscapes and the health and wellbeing of all the living creatures on the planet? I think this would be a hopeless and frustrating task of eminent proportions. That was the gift of Gaia until we began to dismantle the self-regulating systems that constituted the great wisdom of creation.

Reference:

Gaia, The Practical Science of Planetary Medicine by James Lovelock. Oxford University Press, © 1991, 2000, Conclusion, Living with Gaia. pp. 175 and 186. Accessed 12 June 2020.

Deep Ecology

Deep Ecology is a branch of ecological philosophy that views humanity as interconnected and interdependent with its environment. It proposes that all entities of nature have an equal right to survive and evolve without interference from other entities. Deep Ecology is concerned with creating environmental ethics that help establish principles by which the human community should live by.

Deep Ecology can be considered radically conservative in that it draws its basic principles from established religious beliefs and philosophies of Western Europe, North America and the Orient and incorporates many shared insights and intuitions of primal cultures and Native American Indians. These values and beliefs can also be considered a remembering of previously known and practiced wisdom. The wisdom derived from deep ecology principles is concerned with the connection to natural surroundings and the natural processes that are fundamental to life.

Understanding Deep Ecology                      

Arne Naess created the term Deep Ecology in his 1973 article, “The Shallow and the Deep, Long Range Ecology Movements.” The heart of deep ecology lies in the deep questioning regarding human life, civilization and wild nature primarily by means of dialogue as opposed to the structured and rational demeanor of traditional science. Deep ecology goes beyond conventional thinking about environmental dilemmas to include a more articulate worldview that includes religious and philosophical considerations. Also, included in this inquiry is the engagement in intuition, being in touch with ourselves and our experience of nature. These processes constitute an access point to ecological consciousness.

Deep Ecology asks what it means to be a unique human being, how one can maintain an individual identity while also being connected and inseparable to the biosphere and how to perceive oneself without a dividing line between the self and all other entities.

Ecological consciousness and deep ecology are distinctly different from the prevailing worldview of industrial societies which portray humanity as isolated and separate from nature, superior to and entitled to dominate and exploit the riches of the Earth for their own benefit. P 65. The notion of dominance and control over nature has also transferred to the dominance of men over women, the affluent and powerful over the poor, and the dominance of Western over non-western cultures.

Another important facet in ecological consciousness is the fusion of the physical and spiritual realms as being equally important and essential for a balanced perspective and lifestyle. Beliefs that include intuition and creativity are equally at home with scientific perspectives that affirm theories based on more objective evidence.

Warwick Fox, an Australian philosopher, has articulated the fundamental theme of deep ecology by saying that there is no division between living and non-living entities regarding the importance of their existence and any perceived discrepancy between these realms illuminates a lack of ecological consciousness.

The insight just mentioned has prompted the development of two norms or intuitions articulated by Arne Naess. These norms are not derivable from other principles or intuitions. Their acquisition is by the process of deep questioning and illuminates the significance of transcending to the philosophical and religious levels of wisdom. They cannot be validated scientifically as the framework of science is mechanistic and narrow in its definition of data. These norms are called self-realization and biocentric equality.

Self-realization is not only the identification with one’s identity and that of humanity but also includes the world of non-human existence and its inherent importance and value. This is quite different from the traditional view of the self typically defined as an “isolated ego striving primarily for hedonistic gratification or for a narrow sense of individual salvation in this life or the next.” (Bill Devall and George Sessions, p. 67).

Biocentric equality is the realization and understanding that everything that constitutes the biosphere has an equal right to live, thrive and evolve to their own unique destinies within the larger self-realization. It follows that this acknowledges equal and intrinsic worth to all organisms and entities. Naess further implies that biocentric equality is true in principle despite the fact that all species utilize each other to fulfill the necessities of food, shelter and other survival needs. Theologians have understandably had a difficult time resolving the issue of mutual predation and its religious implications.

Humans as individuals and as communities also have other needs beyond subsistence that include loving relationships, play, recreation, creativity, spiritual and psychological growth and a propensity to relate to their habitat in a reverent manner. Material needs are actually a lot less important than we would suppose given our more familiar orientation to materialism and consumerism perpetuated by modern industrial societies.

Many individuals, whether they support the radical stance of deep ecology, recognize that people need a healthy environment in which to thrive. Most would support ecological perspectives and interventions such as conservation, preservation, sustainability and an effort to limit degradation of the Earth’s living and non-living systems. The following table summarizes the contrasting aspects between the dominant worldview and that of deep ecology.

The Relationship Between the Individual, Society and Nature

Civilization and nature are integrally connected. Humans have a covenant with the biosphere that influences our understanding and behavior and our relationship to the natural world. That relationship has been conventionally framed as individuals being separate and superior to the natural world and thus entitled to exploit it. This perception has spawned the ecological crisis we are experiencing today. Much of our thinking and behavior has been promoted by the perceived need to dominate and control each other and that notion has been projected out into nature as well.

Parallel to this notion, individuals and civilization are also intertwined in a relationship that supports the evolution of our species but also seems to spawn incongruences as well. It seems as though the needs of the individual and that of society cannot be accommodated adequately and that there will always be interests that cannot be satisfied. This condition exists only because the needs of the individual have been often subordinated to the needs of the establishment, usually because the power holders desire it to be this way to ensure their interests are met. If a transformation of the system is to be realized in which equality is the preferred norm, some drastic changes are in order.

Three areas that need critical attention are the relationship between humans and the biosphere, the relationship between individuals and the relationship of the individual to herself or himself.

The human-nature relationship would emulate a state of kinship, respect and reverence in which all aspects of the universe would be considered important for their intrinsic worth. This would include all living and non-living entities as they are instrumental in providing the conditions in which life can be initiated and sustained. Humans would be aware of nature’s operating conditions and restraints or the fact that it is a closed system and live within Gaia’s parameters. This does not mean being subservient and fearful to the forces of nature nor does it mean feeling superior or entitled to it. It implies an acceptance of the covenant we have with the natural world and embracing that wisdom, even if we dislike some of its implications such as mutual predation.

The relationship between individuals globally needs to be transformed into that of a friendship but at a significantly deeper level than we normally would think of. Such a depth relationship would include: peaceful coexistence, involvement with others, learning from others, being helpful to others, being open to dialogue and new ideas, understanding at deeper levels and mutual respect.

The transformation of the relationship to the self would necessitate a deep knowing of the self in regard to understanding one’s own nature, an awareness of personal desires and needs and the restraining of desires and demands that are not reasonably attainable without diminishing the lives of others.

Society is the larger context or extension of the family system. It actually endorses the concept of a global community that is ultimately working toward the same collective human goals and objectives. In order for society to be effective, it must adhere to a philosophy of equality and justice for all and must eliminate impediments to achieving this function. Society must put aside prejudice, racism, nationalism, colonialism and other obstacles that promote disharmony and conflict so individuals can attain their individual visions and goals in life without interference and opposition due to ideological differences. Society as a whole will not succeed until everyone on the planet has the potential for actualization and fulfillment and can have the experience that their lives have made a difference in making the world a better place in which to live.

Progressing Towards Cultural Maturity

Paul Shepard, in Nature and Madness, claims that we do not need to uproot all our social institutions, return to our initial state as hunters and gatherers, or revolt against modernism. Those philosophies, practices and lifestyles that do not meet the needs of a modern evolving society will slowly dissipate on their own, due to their ineffectiveness and limitations and without the need of an all-out global revolution. 

What Shepard is saying is that if we relinquish the role of the educational system, the “mass media and the propaganda of egotistical cultural heroes”, (Bill Devall and George Sessions, p. 187) as a necessity for promoting human maturation, we can turn towards and promote the processes that will naturally bring individuals through the progression of stages to maturity, as have been discussed throughout this treatise. In this way, we might be able to forego a major cultural upheaval and still achieve the desired outcome of progressive cultural change and individual maturation and actualization. An initial step to support this process would be for individuals to assess their significant needs and truly understand that these needs are universal and must be accomplished by all other beings and entities.

Hunter and Gatherer lifestyles have been attributed as being the most effective in promoting a sense of community and encouraging and realizing viable psychological growth among its members. Although this model is not particularly applicable to modern societies, the minority tradition has many suggestions and practices for accomplishing the same goals. Smaller communities, living in harmony with nature, can comprehend and support the vital needs of the bioregion in which they live and their own needs simultaneously and solve human problems without degrading their natural surroundings.

Some attitudes that can empower this notion include: taking care of a specific place, being mind-full of one’s recreational pursuits and responses to the environment while engaging in such activities, being open to possibilities that are outside of one’s usual perceptions and participating in recreational activities without the dominant influence of our technological-industrial worldview. Letting nature be can encourage a participatory attitude without the need to dominate and exploit. Cultivating a sense of joy, appreciation, celebration and affection for one’s environment could replace the compulsion to need to have fun all the time, which has become a chronic addiction in our modern societies. Lastly, the use of rituals, celebrations and outdoor sports to express our affinity with nature increases our awareness and connectedness with the natural world and encourages ecological consciousness. Suggested activities include dancing, poetry, expressive writing, songwriting, singing, composing music, painting, photography, hiking, camping, mountaineering, climbing, sailing, canoeing, kayaking, animal watching, surfing, sun-bathing, skiing, hang gliding, cycling, bird watching and even hunting and fishing if done with respect and reverence.

Some other ways of encouraging ecological consciousness are suggested by Dolores La Chapelle. She prescribes specific interventions for helping develop a natural curiosity and affinity for nature during each stage of the physical life cycle.

The first stage would be to expose children to natural untainted landscapes for a majority of the time during the first phase of their lives. Activities to promote connection would include swinging, touching, watching, exploring and playing.

As children aged to around nine years, they would be introduced to the larger scheme of the environment: to play in lakes, rivers, streams, oceans, forests and mountainous areas. These experiences in the second stage would allow for risk-taking, time to be alone to ponder and comprehend and time to interact with other peers. Rituals would accompany play, socialization and natural learning experiences and promote maturity.

The third stage involves teaching responsibility in respect to being helpful and caring towards one’s family, friends, the local community, the world community and the biosphere of living creatures and non-living elements.

The fourth stage introduces the concept and advantages of mortality as an acceptance of the laws of nature and evolution. Mortality allows for the continual emergence of new life and other forms of being. A sense of connectedness ensues that one will continue to exist but in other forms and in different relationships.

Reference:

Deep Ecology: Living as if Nature Mattered by Bill Devall and George Sessions, 1985 by Gibbs M. Smith, Inc. Character and Culture, pp. 187-190.

Creating a New Vision and a Desired Future for Humanity and the Biosphere

What we desperately need today is a comprehensive vision and mission statement with appropriate goals and objectives to guide us in our efforts to restore the Earth to its original state of purity. Such a proclamation would help to empower our commitment and give us a plan of action with which to bring our vision to fruition. I will illuminate this process with an actual vision and mission statement with major goals and objectives included as an example of what such a plan might resemble.

Vision Statement: the desired or preferred future

Humanity envisions the Earth as a remarkable living organism that should remain in a pristine state and be able to fulfill its evolutionary purpose. The Earth must be restored to its original state of purity and remain that way forever and not be despoiled by the endeavors of humanity. Humanity pledges to honor and love the Earth as our mother and source of life and sustenance.

Mission Statement: what we will do to empower the vision and make it a reality

Humanity has declared itself the stewards of the Earth. We promise to live lives of sustainability, to use Earth’s resources with consideration and to care for the environment so it will remain in a pristine state forever. We will treat all of Earth’s flora and fauna with respect and not exploit the planet’s natural resources. We will not despoil the beautiful landscapes, water bodies and vegetation and will promote ethical conduct for all human beings as inhabitants of this planet.

Strategic Plan: projection of the desired outcomes or goals

Humanity will recognize the intrinsic and inherent value of the natural world

Humanity will lead ethical and purposeful lifestyles

Humanity will learn how to live sustainable lifestyles

Humanity will learn how to utilize natural resources without exploiting them

Humanity will learn the science of conservation and preservation

Humanity will learn and utilize only technology that is eco friendly

Humanity will understand what practices cause pollution and refrain from using such practices

Humanity will live in harmony with the flora and fauna of the Earth

Humanity will not mistreat flora or fauna in any way

Humanity will stop polluting the planet and attempt to reverse the negative effects already rendered

Humanity will use science and technology to understand their habitat in order to promote eco- friendly behaviors and actions

Once all the goals and objectives are spelled out, then interventions can be initiated to ensure their implementation.

A vision and mission statement along with goals and objectives help keep the process on purpose and progressing and allow for the evaluation of attempted interventions and corrections as needed. This process is commonly used in many of our profit and non-profit organizations throughout the world today.

Proposed Political Models to Address the Ecological Crisis

There are two main political/social approaches being articulated in relation to our ecological crisis. They are the reformist and systemic models and within them comprise centralist and decentralist strategies.

The reformist model operates within the current capitalist market economy and political paradigm and seeks to change those aspects that are problematic without changing the actual structure or philosophy of the system itself.

The systemic model attempts to identify the root causes of the problem and focuses on changing the political and economic structure of the system to address the crisis.

Let’s look at the reformist model first. Some proposed strategies would include: employing green technologies, reducing consumption, replacing fossil fuels with renewable energy sources, converting agricultural practices from intensive to more sustainable methods of food production, limiting the shipment of products over long distances, reducing air transportation of people and products, promoting mass transit and less use of privately-owned cars. Other more global interventions would include reducing the growth rate in all countries including overall population growth and not trying to enhance or increase current standards of living.

These suggestions might work in developed nations but would be unacceptable to undeveloped nations with sub-standard living and working conditions. Another concerning issue is that the growth economy of developed countries relies on the workforce of undeveloped nations for cheap labor so it is more advantageous for underdeveloped nations to remain impoverished. The inequality of wealth and resources in the world is one of the most difficult problems we have yet to face and resolve.

Our present lifestyles counter the logic of living sustainably and being satisfied with less and the market economy continues to seduce us to continue our trend of endless consumption. People want or demand creature comforts and have difficulty limiting personal wants and needs. Our current economic and political structures are built on the premise that economic growth is mandatory for societies to flourish. So, it appears that the notion of a capitalism that is eco friendly may be theoretically possible but untenable in application due to our ingrained ideologies and current lifestyles.

The systemic model examines the premises on which an application is based, helps eliminate those options that are contraindicated and focuses on those that appear to be plausible for consideration. The systemic method questions fundamental premises for validity and applicability. Interventions are then trialed and assessed for viability and modified as needed. This means of assessment can be applied within large or small systems with viable results.

The centralist approach within the systemic model includes concepts of socialism, ecosocialism, eco Marxist and participatory economics philosophies. The end goal is to produce a sustainable growth economy that is regulated and maintained by socialist or democratic planning: by the producers of products and services, the workforce and consumers.

The decentralist approach proposes that all planning and regulation be done at the local level such as in local communities, eco villages and eco cities with populations of 25 to 30 thousand people within an inclusive democracy framework. It is thought that those living in a particular region will understand and be better equipped to address local ecological issues than a large organization or bureaucracy located in a distant city.

However, just reducing the size of cities to villages will not bring about change unless the values of the political and economic systems change as well. Thus, the growth economy needs to be replaced by non-growth entities where all power and control is de-centralized, equal and is governed by the democratic process.

Inclusive Democracy

The Inclusive Democracy model is a departure from the traditional views of democracy and socialism. It attempts to combine viable concepts from both contexts and also includes new ideas from the ecology, ecofeminism, identity movements and other constructs that might apply. The primary considerations proposed are radical decentralization and self-reliance in local settlements, eliminating the concentration of power institutions at all levels and converting the goal of production from growth as a goal in itself to supplying products and services that fulfill essential human needs and those that enhance the quality of life. The ultimate goal then is to unite society and nature in a relationship that is symbiotic. This implies equal power and wealth, a disposition of collaboration and cooperation among all people in the world and a respect for nature and its bounties. Conditions needed to insure an Inclusive Democracy include:

*All people must have an equal distribution of economic power.

*An Inclusive Democracy must recognize and incorporate the needs of the workplace, the household, the education system, and any other institution that is related to the workings of society and that requires self-management.    

*An ecological democracy will be practiced so nature will be free of human domination and allowed to evolve to its own destiny.

It is thought that decentralizing society, creating smaller settlements and using participatory democracy and economics will link individuals closely with their habitat. This will presumably make them more aware of local ecosystem needs and how to live within them sustainably. This context should foster a sense of belonging and commitment to a particular region and its natural resources and beauty. This notion coupled with collaboration and cooperation could create the ingredients for a new societal ethic that fulfills the needs of humanity and the biosphere.

The Inclusive Democracy model would work only if the values and practices of our modern growth economy undergo radical change. As much as this model presents seemingly workable alternatives and a likelihood of success, there is no guarantee that humanity would choose to move in this direction or that such interventions would be ultimately successful. However, its framework does address the ecological crisis in a manner that seems most likely to realize positive outcomes and a context for a new and better human society to manifest.

In light of the fact that our current philosophies and lifestyles have been acknowledged to be unsustainable, humanity will have to choose between a continuance of its present philosophies and behaviors or an awakening to other possibilities that might enhance our capabilities as a species and allow us the opportunity for grander evolutionary exploits.

Reference:

“Fotopoulos, Takis. “Inclusive Democracy as a political project for a new libertarian synthesis: rationale, proposed social structure and transition.”The International Journal of Inclusive Democracy, volume 6, no. 2/3, (Spring/Summer 2010) Barcelona, CNT century conference (April 10, 2010), inclusivedemocracy.org/journal/vol6/vol6_no2_takis_CNT_Barcelona_2010.htm. Accessed 31 May 2020.

Government and Political Will

Governing bodies are vital entities that can have a substantial influence on the outcomes of the environmental crisis. Given governments have political power, financial, technical and human resources and the ability to organize and mobilize agendas, they are often able to do what smaller communities or groups of people cannot do and in a timely manner. They can also pool resources with other countries’ governments to address mutual global concerns.

Given the environmental crisis is a global concern; it needs the attention and action of all the world’s governing bodies as a collective commitment. Differences in ideologies and practices should be put aside in order to create coordinated and cooperative efforts and results that are comprehensive and remedy the identified problems in the most effective manner possible. Organizations, such as the United Nations, could bring nations together to discuss mutual concerns and create and initiate interventions as deemed necessary. 

AL Gore has suggested using the prior successful Marshall Plan as a model for creating a new Marshall Plan to unite the world’s nations to a common purpose in addressing global problems and the environmental crisis and to establish protocols for ethical behavior and the settlement of disputes and other issues of conflict.

A world government might also be considered although this concept has had considerable resistance considering the administrative difficulties and inefficiency of such a large system, the chaotic state of some of the world’s governments and the fear that such an institution would have unintended side effects and complications that might interfere with its intended goals and objectives.

Reference:

Earth in the BalanceEcology and the Human Spirit by AL Gore, 1992, Rodale Inc., A New Common Purpose, pp. 269-294. Earth in the Balance: Ecology and the Human Spirit by AL Gore, 1992, Rodale Inc., A Global Marshall Plan, pp. 301-302.

Economics, Capitalism and Consumerism

“Economics is usually defined as the “social science concerned chiefly with description and analysis of the production, distribution, and consumption of goods and services.” (Economics: Definition of Economics by Merriam Webster), English economist Lionel Robbins defines economics as “the science which studies human behavior as a relationship between ends and scarce means which have alternative uses.” (definition of economics.” Wikipedia, last edited 26 June 2020 at 12:03 (UTC)). Alfred Marshall claims “economics is the study of humans, in relation to the ordinary business of life. It studies that portion of the personal and social activities, which are closely related to the attainment of material resources, related to welfare and its utilization.” (“Marshall Definition of Economics.” Exam Notes, 16 June 2017).

These definitions are limited in that they do not address human behavior, ethics or sustainability. They simply look at the attainment of the material needs of society and how to obtain them most efficiently. A more inclusive definition of economics would consider the attainment of material goods as well as the equal distribution of those commodities within a context of social justice, ethics and sustainability. It appears that our current economic philosophy is amoral and solely anthropocentric.

John Ikerd claims that our current notion of economics is out of date. He feels that our current economic model is based on antiquated ideas that don’t apply to our modern societies and that human and ethical considerations have been largely ignored in place of economic efficiency. It appears that self-interest in business has created a primary goal of maximizing profits instead of supplying the material needs of society in a just manner that would include economic success for everyone, the equitable attainment of wealth and material goods and a work environment that would encompass personal fulfillment. It appears that another agenda has become more prominent; an economic system that is focused on monetary-gain and power as a goal in itself.

This agenda has been largely unchallenged by the general public but the injustice rendered by it has been widely felt. The powerful and elite who control the economy make every effort to keep reform from occurring so they will not have to share the riches of the planet. It is time we begin to re-create an economic system that will fulfill human needs in an equitable manner and include a context of ethics and sustainability.

Self-interest in itself is healthy as long as it does not exclude the interests of others as well. The term, enlightened self-interest, has emerged as a new way to describe the relationship between the interests of the self in relation to others and speaks to a context of cooperation, collaboration and a desire for all to succeed. Such a model would support the equal distribution of resources among the world’s populations and discourage the practice of colonialism, thus negating the common rationale for war and economic conflict. Greed and selfishness can be regarded as living in a condition of scarcity, thereby driving the need to acquire and consume more of the Earth’s bounties.

People actually have an affinity toward cooperation or symbiosis as a defining characteristic of their genetic makeup and there has been much current research on this topic. The notion that humans are inherently selfish or unethical is culturally derived and not logical or scientifically verifiable. What needs to be considered is the balance between, self-interests, the interests of society, and what it means to live as an ethical, sentient being.

No one has configured an economic system that works adequately yet but it is time to seriously deliberate on this matter. We must look at models that have had merit historically, incorporate new thinking that includes ecology and ethics and begin experimenting with new models before our current economic systems fail completely.

I would like to introduce some ideas of Herbert Marcuse related to economic philosophy that I derived from an article by Douglas Kellner. Marcuse wrote an essay, “Ecology and the Critique of Modern Society,” in which he articulated the importance of ecology as a basis for a fruitful human-nature relationship. He believed that societal transformation and the preservation of nature from capitalism and other economic systems that damaged the environment were an essential part of human development. He also stated that human aggression and violence were instrumental in the continued destruction of the natural world and that until humanity resolved its inner conflicts, nature would continue to be exploited. 

Marcuse believed that people were integral with nature and that the economic systems that had been created functioned in a way that inhibited a sense of connectedness and wellbeing. He felt that capitalism thwarted the multi–dimensional aspects of human behavior and funneled them into specialized and limited functions that diminished the human spirit. He goes on to say that capitalism creates a framework in which our lifestyles are organized by work and by the production of goods and services for the primary goal of profit. Capitalism fails to adequately address individual growth and development and does not typically promote healthy social and cooperative relationships.

Capitalism also operates as a contradiction in that in order to promote material wellbeing for humanity, nature must be damaged or decimated. Therefore, a destructive and even aggressive context constitutes the primary nature of capitalism. This changes the function of people into tools of labor and into conduits of destruction. This context doesn’t meet the needs of the individual or society and instead tends to foster greed, competition and anti-social behavior. These concepts were the basis for Marcuse’s vision of a radical ecology.

It is apparent that our current economic system does not support humanity’s wellbeing as it is based primarily on the motive of profit and the accumulation of material wealth and power. Unfortunately, that power and wealth is in the hands of the elite few who have been able to manipulate the economy to their advantage while knowing that their actions will cause considerable misfortune for a large portion of the global population.

What is needed is a new vision of economics that will foster a reasonable standard of living for all members of society with wealth being distributed as equally as possible. This would constitute a transformation of the present values of self-interest to enlightened self-interest and a genuine desire for all humanity to accomplish their highest visions, aspirations and goals in an economy that would promote cooperation, success and sustainable outcomes.

A system that would accomplish this objective has yet to be formulated and established but core principles of communism and socialism could be attempted if we gave up our primitive and immature values of competition and needing to win at the expense of another. There may be other models to emulate from indigenous cultures as well and new models that might emerge as we continue to study human behavior in the context of social systems. As in many other aspects of human behavior, values and attitudes ultimately make or break any type of governing body or institution, regardless of its configuration or intended purpose.

Consumption and Our Current Standard of Living

When attempting to define what a standard of living is, we find that this concept is rather subjective and hard to quantify in any objective terms. Economic philosophy seems to have avoided this subject altogether. There have been many ideas related to what a standard of living is or what it should be throughout history. These have ranged from a very simple lifestyle such as those lived by hunters and gatherers, basically, a subsistence lifestyle, all the way to a lifestyle of extreme luxury and affluence with no limits on consumption whatsoever. We also have the notion that people deserve certain things and should be able to have all of their needs met and gratifications fulfilled. There are those that advocate for a lifestyle of simplicity such as found in monastic life and there is the belief that wealth and abundance is tied to spiritual and social grace with God.

There has been much talk about what type of standard of living is appropriate and ethical and what is not, but there has been very little agreement on establishing any real standard in the real world. Today we see a world of extremely poor people, a small number of extremely wealthy people and a vanishing middle class. Throughout history, poverty has often resulted in disharmony, conflict and eventually war.

Given the level of consumption that we are experiencing today, we must create a standard of living that will address the needs of the world’s populous without exploiting the biosphere and destroying our habitat. Some new thinking is definitely in order. I would like to deliberate on some alternative thoughts that are surfacing in the ecology movement.

First of all, we must address subsistence needs but this must be done in a way that is ecologically sustainable. Once these needs are met, we can entertain non-subsistence needs that would make life more comfortable. There are other things that support the quality of our lives such as hobbies, sports, the arts, and other recreational pursuits including vacations and quality time. All these needs are valid but must be addressed in the context of our relationship with nature. We also may not always be able to produce what we want when we want it due to insufficient technologies and information. We must employ science and technology to produce only sustainable outcomes. Living with less may also be necessary in order to have some semblance of equality in the world.

One notable idea proposes shared ownership of many of the things we use and own currently such as vehicles of transportation, tools, creature comforts, clothes, toys, hobbies, games, housing, workspaces, businesses, land, and many publicly and privately owned and managed facilities. Many of these could be mutually owned and cared for. The notion of private land, clubs and private exclusive organizations would be less important given a context of shared commodities and services. Granted, there would need to be adjustments made in the way we think and act about privately owned entities, but this change in perception may be necessary for our future survival.

Another proposed change would be in the amount of time we spend in our work lives. Personal growth and development have been demoted as being less important than our career activities and supporting our capitalistic system and consumer economy. We could work half the time we do and still fulfill the needs of society and lead happier and more productive lives in the process. The attainment of power and wealth in itself is not a sustainable practice beyond what we actually want and need. We must also want each other to succeed and prosper and have equality in our standards of living no matter where we live on this planet.

References:

“Definition of economics.” Economics: Definition of Economics by Merriam Webster, last edited merriam-webster.com/dictionary/economics. Accessed 30 June 2020.

“Lionel Robbins, Theories and influences, Robbins is famous for his definition of economics.” Wikipedia, last edited 26 June 2020 at 12:03 (UTC), en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lionel_Robbins. Accessed 30 June 2020.

“Marshall Definition of Economics.” Exam Notes, 16 June 2017, allexamnotes.com/2017/06/economics-marshall-definition/. 31 May 2020.

Ikerd, John. “Rethinking the Economics of Self-Interests.” Presented at a seminar sponsored by the Organization for Competitive Markets, University of Missouri, Omaha, NE, September 1999, web.missouri.edu/ikerdj/papers/Rethinking.html. Accessed 31 May 2020.

Kellner, Douglas. “Herbert Marcuse.” Illuminations, uta.edu/huma/illuminations/kell12.htm. Accessed 31 May 2020.

The Voice of the Earth; An Exploration of Eco-psychology, Theodore Roszak, Phanes Press, 2001, The Neon Telephone, The Moral Equivalent of Wretched Excess. pp. 247-262. Accessed 31 May 2020.

Predicting Our Ecological Future Via Computer Scenarios

Authors Donella Meadows, Jorgen Randers and Dennis Meadows created a sophisticated computer model of ecological scenarios of the world called World 3. In these scenarios, they depicted various human interactions with the environment based on a number of assumptions related to sustainability and ran the models to obtain a forecast of possible results. These models were understood to be somewhat variable and not objective in an absolute sense but could point towards trends of what would be likely to occur given a known input. After running thousands of scenarios, the researchers found that the majority of the experiments resulted in overshoot and collapse. Overshoot is defined here as exploiting natural resources beyond sustainable levels. It is currently thought that humanity is 20% or more in overshoot presently and that we have little time left to correct our exploitive endeavors before substantial societal collapse is inevitable. I will give a brief synopsis of the six primary scenarios.

Scenario one. This first scenario is a reference point. It asserts that things will continue to go on as they have in the past and that overshoot and collapse will inevitably result. Accessing non-renewable resources will become increasingly more expensive and dealing with increasing pollution will be very difficult. Thus, industrial output and food production will peak in a few years and will be in substantial decline by 2030. Population growth will also follow this peak and decline pattern closely

Scenario two. Optimistic assumptions: non-renewable resources including fossil fuels will somehow double quickly. Technology will be able to cope with the cost of diminishing resources as they do occur. The population and economic production will continue to increase exponentially such that global pollution of soil, air and water peak at a level five times the level indicated in scenario one. At this time, there will develop substantial disruptions in the food supply and health issues will become critical. Industrial output and population growth will both reach a peak in the year 2040 and collapse will predominate from then on.

Scenario three. Humanity takes sustainability seriously and commits to reducing pollution at a 4% decrease per year for many decades. (This figure is well beyond what is being considered currently as a viable reduction percentage). Society still overshoots and collapses.

Collapse occurs because of the amount of money needed to address intense pollution and to provide enough food for the quickly growing population. Massive soil erosion and depletion exceeds the ability of the industrial base to procure adequate capital to rectify this condition. Again, a peak is realized at about the year 2040 and then declines rapidly thereafter.

Scenario four. This scenario adds yet another positive attribute to scenarios two and three. Humanity is now able to procure an adequate food supply via technological breakthroughs in increasing food yields per acre thus countering one of the biggest problems of sustainability. Despite these helpful developments, the model still overshoots and collapses. The intensified agricultural process causes increased soil erosion and degradation and more land is needed for settlement due to the ever-increasing population growth. Eventually it becomes too expensive to provide enough food and other diminishing natural resources also deplete remaining capital. A collapse of eminent proportions is realized by 2100.

Scenarios five-through-eight. These scenarios attempt to add more optimistic assumptions into the equation but the model invariably overshoots and collapses. What can be derived from these models is that humanity has to deal with a whole series of limitations (soil, water, air, climate, renewable and non-renewable resources) and because all systems are connected, it is hard to predict just how our actions will impact on our habitat.

Humanity has not learned how to or has not attempted to seriously address the issues of economic and population growth. Continuing to use the Earth’s natural resources at our current rate without the understanding that the Earth is a closed system will inevitably lead to overshoot and the collapse of all human societies.

Reliance on free markets and technology alone will not provide for a sustainable future. They are certainly a part of the solution but they are simply not enough. Our insatiable desire for unlimited growth will ultimately lead to societal failure.

Scenario nine: sustainability. In this model are included the assumptions that would result in a sustainable society. The assumptions are as follows:

1. Population growth worldwide would recede to the average replacement level of 2.1 children per couple and remain there, allowing the population to further increase to 8 billion and then stabilize at that level. 

2. All global economic activity would be thoughtfully planned by governments, leaders and individual business owners to produce an economy with a no-growth or decline rate.

3. Renewable resources are used at a sustainable level or at a rate no greater than they can be replaced. This includes every aspect of the biosphere (all flora, fauna, water, soil, air, and climate).

4. Nonrenewable resources are utilized at a rate no greater than they are being replaced by renewable alternatives (fossil fuels will not be used faster than alternative energy sources can be developed and activated to replace them).

5.  Pollutants are emitted at a rate no greater than the rate at which the Earth’s sinks including the forests, soils, oceans, atmosphere, etc., can absorb the pollutants and render them harmless.

Note that all of these assumptions must be working simultaneously for a society to become sustainable and flourish. The Earth is a closed system and we must learn to live within its acceptable parameters. It is also notable that this model did not include wars, major natural disasters, epidemic diseases, ethnic strife, corruption, or nuclear accidents. Thus, it could be viewed as quite optimistic. If this model were implemented in a delayed mode of say 20 years, collapse would inevitably occur. We no longer have the luxury of mulling over what we should do and when to start. We are already way behind schedule to act and the clock is ticking.

Reference:

A Global Vision: General Principles for a Sustainable Planet.Jim Sloman, 2008, Oceanblue Publishing, 40 Fourth Street, Petaluma, CA  94952, pp. 133-136. Accessed 10 June 2020.

Evolution, Learning, Information and the Acceleration of Change

Information is one of the most powerful tools known to humanity. It has allowed humans to advance from primitive beasts to one of the most intelligent creatures on Earth. This transition has not been smooth and has had many growing pains along the way. Despite our problems, dysfunctional behaviors and other setbacks, we have evolved in a process of continual growth and development that is both expanding and accelerating at an exponential rate and shows no signs of slowing down. This fact is both positive and negative. Expanding knowledge, coupled with science and technology, can forward societies’ vision of being able to eventually understand the mysteries of the cosmos and humanities’ place and purpose within it. We may eventually be able to travel to other galaxies and interact with other celestial beings. Knowledge can bring limitless possibilities if we employ it thoughtfully and ethically. Our current challenge is to continue to use this information wisely to advance civilization in a positive direction and to continue to learn from our mistakes and to make necessary changes as they are called for. 

The biggest current problem is the issue of information overload. Being bombarded with so much information, we have difficulty disseminating all of the new discoveries and facts and knowing exactly what to do with them. Any single individual could not possibly keep up with the new developments in any one field today. This was not the case in the recent past but has changed the way we must cope with the new reality of constant and accelerating change. Things will continue to change, to grow in complexity and to accelerate whether we like it or not. This fact will likely bring new challenges to humanity that are at this time unimaginable and possibly frightening but the process of evolution will continue until it has come to its natural conclusion or may continue indefinitely.

I think the best advice for humankind at this time is to go with the flow, be open to the new paradigms that will make themselves known and continue to cultivate a learner’s mind: one that is open and accepting of change and possibility.

Reference:

Waking up in Time, Peter Russell, Origin Press Inc., 1122 Grant Ave., Suite C, Novato, CA  94945, 1992, Acceleration–The Quickening Pace, pp. 3-5 and Compression—The Collapse of Time, pp. 153-158.

Technology

As I have previously stated, technology, when used appropriately, can be a tool of great importance and value in forwarding the advancement of civilization and humanities’ destiny. 

Technology should be used to accommodate humanities material and other needs and allow for a productive and pleasurable lifestyle without resorting to practices that damage the Earth’s ecosystems. This will require a re-thinking regarding what we need as opposed to what we want and how we can create a technology that is ethical and responsible as well as practical. Material needs are certainly necessary but we have surpassed the point of need to that of addiction. Our present obsession with material goods to make us content has promoted destructive industrial processes that allow us to continually increase the production, variety and quantity of manufactured goods and reap incredible profits in the marketplace. We must reevaluate the whole concept of consumerism so that societies’ needs are realized in a sustainable fashion without creating a cycle of production for the sole purpose of consumption and profitability.

Technology must not be utilized for the purposes of colonialism, war or to intimidate other nations with the prospect of attack, regardless of the justification. All human problems must be resolved through negotiation and good will.

Currently, about 20% of the world’s population utilizes about 80% of the world’s natural resources. This imbalance in the distribution of needed resources has been the cause of much suffering and ill will towards the richer nations. This problem must be rectified via helping poorer nations raise their standards of living such that subsistence needs are accommodated and are similar to that of the developed nations. This could be accomplished if developed nations agreed to share technology and information that aides in the development of viable infrastructures to promote growth and stability. It might also mean developed nations would have to lower their standards of living somewhat given the overconsumption that is already taking place.

A world government might also be considered to help pool needed resources, disseminate information, promote communication and discussion of global concerns and encourage peaceful settlement of conflicts through mediation in a neutral setting.

Science

Science has historically promoted the perspective that discovering the mysteries of the universe are attainable only through the application of logic and the scientific method. It has not included other forms of knowledge (non-Western) that are mystical, spiritual, or experiential and has tended to discouraged attempts to integrate them into its scientific framework. It has also not always included ethical considerations and ramifications in the context of human employment of its findings. It is self-evident that science is a vital component of civilizations’ ability to adapt, advance and mature in order to ensure its evolutionary process. It must, however, do this in a manner that is conducive to the interests of both humanity and the Earth, without sacrificing one for the other. 

J. Baird Callicott’s Earth Insights

J. Baird Callicott is one of the leading authors in the field of environmental ethics. He has examined both what he calls postmodern science that is based on relativity, physics and ecology and non-western attitudes towards nature held by many eastern and indigenous cultures and concludes that we could synthesize these various worldviews into one expanded scientific paradigm. The inclusion of symbols, images, metaphors, similes, analogies, stories and myths would contribute a wealth of understanding to our current scientific model and help it embrace a more comprehensive environmental ethic. This multi-cultural approach is based on the conception that humanity is unified as a species and diversified in relation to culture.

An application of the above conceptualization could start with an appeal to cosmological narratives that could help unify the diversity of belief systems without involving science. Given that science is simply the extrapolation of local knowledge and belief systems to universal applications, we could incorporate a storied existence in conjunction with science. Some stories are better than others when examined for their validity to be conducive to adaptive living. We can then ask whether particular human-nature relationships produce favorable outcomes for humanity and the environment and which ones we should choose to live by.

Expanding the Focus and Methods of Scientific Inquiry

Expanding the focus of science towards a holistic framework depends on the ability of philosophers and scientists to look beyond the current categories of arranging and interpreting information to including new forms of experience and knowledge. But first, we must re-evaluate the goals of science and ask ourselves important questions regarding how we go about acquiring and interpreting the data we seek. Is our focus on describing or predicting and at what level of this do we intend to do? Does acquired scientific knowledge have to be organized in a specific manner? What methods are useful in exploring new data and theories? How is scientifically derived information to be integrated with non-scientific observations and intuitions?

The notion of absolutism in science is beginning to dissolve in light of the current questioning of the doctrines of Western science. Science must look at and re-invent itself regarding many of its basic assumptions. The prejudice it has conferred on non-scientific information and experiences must be re-evaluated for its inclusion in scientific investigation. It must admit that there are vast areas of knowledge that are beyond the grasp of our current scientific methods and practices and that new approaches are needed to advance our current science beyond its restricted boundaries of logic, reductionism and the accumulation of verifiable data.

Western science has more recently begun to recognize and include knowledge and insights from non-Western cultures realizing that our current science cannot provide all the answers we seek and that looking outside the box could be a viable means of increasing and expanding scientific progress. However, for many steeped in traditional scientific ideology, this change in perspective may not be embraced with open arms. Giving up the notion that science and technology are the primary, if not the only means to scientific progress and absolute knowledge, might need to be tempered with the idea of science becoming more inclusive. Instead of restricting theories to the explanation of pre-selected phenomena, they could be oriented towards more general explanations and data that are less specific and more diverse in application.

Tribal knowledge is now being included as a valid contribution to previously held objective facts and theories. The reason this is occurring now is because the reductionist methods of science have become limited in scope and practice and new avenues of investigation are desperately being sought.

The reason science has taken so long to consider more holistic views as being valid is because the ideologies of indigenous cultures have been considered primitive in their explanation of the mysteries of the universe coupled with the fact that they have not attempted to control nature as our industrial societies have done. This has also been interpreted as an inability to perceive abstract concepts and principles, think in terms of objective thought and an overall inherent lack of intelligence.

Tribal peoples are not in fact ignorant or inferior intellectually. They tend to employ data that is derived from different sources that is not typically directed towards determining the mechanical nature and functioning of things.

The Western Sioux Indians believed that ethics was the most important aspect of life and that all knowledge should be directed toward leading a moral existence. They did not feel that knowledge was separate from human endeavors and should be sought exclusively. Abstract constructs were not thought to reveal the mysteries of the world. It was apparent to them that knowledge was arrived at from individual and social experiences, through observation of their surroundings and from interpretive messages that they were able to obtain from visions, dreams, and spirits during ceremonies and rituals.

The Indians’ worldview was compiled from the culmination of all life experiences and from tradition. They also believed that what they didn’t understand and hadn’t experienced yet would be revealed to them during their lifetime.

If we compare the Sioux method of obtaining knowledge with Western science, we find that what the Sioux sought was that which science excludes, as it is not based on clearly stated constructs and the scientific method of observation and replication. Emotional experiences have never been accepted as valid within the scientific framework.

Science also works only with information that belongs to a specific context. That context is accepted as valid if it has data that can be evaluated and appears to be solvable. Other issues or problems that do not have appropriate data or means to inquire into them are often dismissed as unsolvable, appropriated to other disciplines for examination or simply rejected as not being worthy of inquiry.

Since the scientific framework appears to be so limited in scope, how can it be useful to us in solving the significant inquiries of our time. How can it give us a reliable understanding of the workings of our universe and why are its proponents so insistent in asserting its value and reluctant to embrace other known methods of obtaining knowledge?

Another concern is the issue of internal politics. Scientists can influence the acceptance or rejection of new theories based on their own preferences or to embellish their professional careers and status. The coveting of other’s theories has also been a frequent occurrence and continues to occur in the scientific community today. The ethical use of science and how it might benefit or harm society is also a significant and ongoing concern for the masses as they are often not informed adequately of long-range consequences or are unable to comprehend the presented theories and applications thoroughly enough to make well-informed decisions.

Since science has refuted the underpinnings of many indigenous cultures’ worldviews based on their perceived deficit in logic, practices and fundamental knowledge, how did the Indians, for example, come to formulate their knowledge base given they did not see the need to engage in the process of developing interpretive frames of reference, employing anomalies, creating theories and proposing explanations? 

Indians believed that all human experiences were valuable and were instructive in certain aspects of life. They also thought that incidents could not be experienced inaccurately but only misinterpreted. New experiences were to be savored and contemplated before attaching labels and meaning. The world was thought to be constantly creating itself, given its state of being alive, and was also making choices that would determine the future. Thus, there could be no anomalies in this type of context. Some things needed to be accepted due to the value they represented in their inability to be explained and understood.

In the Indian system, all information should be considered; therefore, the objective would be to find the proper pattern of interpretation for the variety of ordinary and extraordinary experiences one would encounter. Also, it was thought that there were no coincidences in life and that all experiences mattered. The varied experiences would also need to be synthesized into one coherent and comprehensive account. This account would involve either human behavior or be related to behavior of a higher power, would have a purpose and would guide one towards future growth and development. As one aged with wisdom, a time for reflection would arise as well as the revelation of unknown relationships that would become conscious and thus understood.

In summary, the Sioux pursued a moral directive in life, searched for their role and function in nature, and sought a comprehension of the physical workings of all entities. The two viewpoints; Western scientific objectivity and Sioux subjectivity in obtaining knowledge represent extreme opposite positions that point towards a place where discrepancies could be worked out and a more inclusive method of inquiry could be achieved. Whatever conclusions might prevail from this process of integration would seem to lead to the consideration of ethical principles playing a vital role in the evolutionary process.

This conclusion is a nightmare for most scientists who fear that the admission of this perspective would result in a re-emergence of the church versus state dilemma and would significantly impede scientific endeavors and restrict the acquisition of scientific knowledge as has been the case in past history. Thus, giving credence to purpose and morality implies the existence of a higher power that can become a source of worship and a resultant precipitant of ongoing social conflict.

Interestingly, the Indians did not deify a specific anthropomorphic personality or figure who demanded worship as most religions have done. Instead, they perceived and experienced personality in all aspects of the cosmos and named this entity “Woniya” or spirit and used it as a guiding force in all human activity. Even as the elements and creatures of the Earth were honored, they were not assumed any elevated position over each other such as in Pantheistic religions. Most tribes tended to qualify their descriptions of these entities with a simple affirmation of the existence of Spirit.

In contrast to James Lovelock’s Gaia theory that does consider the Earth as an organism in that it supports life by the regulation of its many systems such as its geography, climate and atmosphere; Indians would interpret the Earth as a living being in an all-encompassing way, attributing the mountains as her bones, the rivers as her veins, the water as her blood, the rain as her tears, the trees and grasses as her hair, the wind as her breath and the various species as her organs. These entities were considered a complete person or being but were also considered a functioning part of the collective whole as well. Therefore, organic and inorganic entities could be interrelated and interconnected creating a life support system such that the evolvement of dynamic organisms could occur. In regard to our ecological crisis, the Sioux would perceive pollution as a condition of human moral negligence.

Population Growth

It is generally accepted by the scientific community that the planet can only accommodate a finite number of human beings. Overpopulation would eventually result in mass starvation and a significant depletion of natural resources such that ecosystem collapse would be inevitable. This would also disrupt the balance of all living things, cause the extinction of a multitude of species of flora and fauna, if not all species, and likely return evolution to a much more primitive state of being.

Such a catastrophic event can be avoided if we take responsibility to limit our population to sustainable numbers and limit and monitor our use of the planet’s natural resources so we will always maintain an adequate reserve of plants, animals, and minerals. We would have to greatly reduce and eventually eliminate the use of fossil fuels and utilize renewable energy sources to meet the needs of society and continue to develop technologies that do not pollute the biosphere. We would also have to reverse the pollution we have already rendered and find new ways to dispose of human waste products. All weaponry should be destroyed or rendered harmless and our nuclear waste must be dealt with to avoid more contamination of our water, air and soil.

We must also eliminate conflict, aggression and resolve humanities’ difficulties through understanding, negotiation and compromise. The challenges are arduous, urgent and need the full attention and commitment of all Earth’s citizens. Everything we do must be considered in the context of our relationship with our habitat if we want to continue our residency on this planet.

Psychoactive Plant Medicines, Minerals, Rituals and their Application in Inducing Altered States of Consciousness to Connect with the Natural World

Indigenous cultures have utilized plants, minerals and rituals such as dancing and drumming to connect with the mysteries of nature throughout history. It has been recognized that certain plant essences can affect parts of the brain that induce altered states of consciousness. Feelings of connectivity, affiliation, empathy, heightened sensory perception and expanded states of consciousness are some of the experienced reactions that can have a positive effect on personal awareness, interpersonal relationships and the relationship between human beings and their environment.

Indigenous cultures have learned to use plant remedies to worship their creator, to cure physical ailments, to resolve personal and collective psychological problems and to explore expanded states of consciousness to better understand their world and their place within the realm of creation. When studied by ethnologists, the employment of psychoactive substances within the context of rituals has been reported to be religious, medicinal and psychotherapeutic in nature.

In contrast to this, medicine, psychology and religion of western societies are distinctly separated by significant frames of reference that seem to have no common ground. These professions assessed the use of psychedelic drugs but were dismayed by the changes in perception and worldview that emerged when people were under their influence. In lieu of this fear, further scientific research and public usage was formally prohibited and all three disciplines made no attempt to explore the potential of psychedelics or to delve into their former benefits derived by indigenous cultures. The professional community apparently decided that individuals were not capable of making informed choices about their wellbeing and how to go about treating their aliments and in doing this, denied the individual the right to choose his or her own desired interventions.

Unfortunately, the contemporary use of mind-altering drugs, either from natural sources or synthetic substitutes, has been primarily re-directed towards recreational purposes without regard for its original intended usage. Although recreational use in itself is certainly not objectionable and has also been used in this way by indigenous cultures, drug use to escape from emotional problems and responsibilities typically leads to addiction and misuse resulting in a variety of unwanted and dysfunctional behaviors that have become a serious problem in most modern societies. This fact has led to the regulation and prohibition of these substances except for some accepted medical and psychological situations for those with chronic pain and terminal conditions. Government control of mind-altering substances has also resulted in the birth and establishment of the illegal drug industry as well as the resultant criminal element created by such prohibition that has become a problem of global proportions.

Many plants were traditionally used in rituals in an appropriate manner such as coffee as a stimulus for long nights of prayer or meditation and tobacco as a power source but these substances are now used extensively either for recreation to relax or for a stimulant to help us maintain enough energy to function instead of employing good eating and sleeping habits. These practices have resulted in serious health problems for a large number of individuals thus incurring increased medical attention and financial expenditures.

Our materialistic society has come to promote the use of a variety of natural and synthetic substances for the quick high, to forget our problems and to dissociate from our psychic pain. The modern discoverers and proponents of synthetic psychoactive substances, (Albert Hofmann, Alexander Shulgin; philosophers Aldous Huxley, Alan Watts and Huston Smith; and psychologists ustin SmithTimothy Leary and Richard Alpert) advocated for their appropriate utilization in medicine, psychotherapy and for personal wellbeing but were unsuccessful at stopping the conversion of psychoactive drug use from the sacred to the profane. Paradoxically, what had become a sacred and healthy practice to indigenous cultures for centuries has more recently become regarded as a social evil and a criminal offense in modern Western societies.

The proper use of psychoactive drugs, both in their natural and synthetic forms, could be allowed and treated in the same manner as we do with alcohol abuse by applying appropriate consequences for misuse and resulting negative and anti-social behaviors. This would allow indigenous cultures to continue their historically healthy practices and allow our modern societies to benefit from their knowledge and experience in the use of psychoactive medicines to expand human consciousness and to develop a healthier relationship with the Earth.

Ralph Metzner, Ph.D, author of Green Psychology, has done extensive research on psychoactive substances and their role as gnostic catalysts in expanding human consciousness. He feels that psychoactive substances such as LSD and other psychedelics can be used as an evolutionary instrument in expanding our understanding of our evolutionary process and destiny. He also asserts that the evolution of consciousness is a transformational process that is directed towards accumulating insight and comprehension and can be accessed and accelerated at deeper levels with the use of various natural substances.

It is apparent that the use of plants, minerals and a variety of rituals have been employed by indigenous cultures throughout history with documented viable results in curing illnesses, healing emotional problems, improving interpersonal relationships, and allowing an expansion of consciousness to explore human evolution, purpose and meaning outside the confines of normal sensory and cognitive perceptions. The traditional use of these practices did not produce any remarkable deleterious effects on society like the kind we have witnessed today, due to their appropriate applications. Thus, it would be advantageous to re-integrate some of these practices into our current scientific and social context as another viable source of wisdom and a catalyst for the discovery of new states of consciousness to promote our evolutionary destiny.

Reference:

Green Psychology by Ralph Metzner, Ph.D. copyright, 1999, Park Street Press, Rochester Vermont. The Role of Psychoactive Plant Medicines, pp. 66-79.

Experiencing Wilderness and Wild Places

People have an inherent thirst for wild places for a variety of reasons. They are instrumental in satisfying both basic and sophisticated psychological needs, help us with the process of maturation and connects us to the habitats of other living creatures and the elements of the Earth. This connectedness and interrelatedness assist us in understanding our place in the scheme of evolutionary processes and grounds us as participants in the wonders and purpose of creation. Wilderness is not simply a place to go to recreate but a paradigm in which we come to know our world and ourselves more deeply and comprehensively.

Indigenous peoples living intimately with their habitats, connected to the fauna, flora and natural elements, experienced a deep sense of place and their covenant with nature. Modern primal cultures tend to continue this way of living and seem to be content without many of the conveniences of our technological society.

Today, people around the globe are becoming more aware of environmental issues and the importance of cultivating a healthy human-nature relationship. It is also apparent that people are spending more time recreating and connecting with their habitat in a personal way that adds meaning and purpose to their lives. This development is resulting in increased personal actualization and maturity and a change in values and attitudes that consider the intrinsic value of the biosphere and its living and elemental inhabitants.

Reference:

Deep Ecology: Living as if Nature Mattered by Bill Devall and George Sessions, 1985 by Gibbs M. Smith, Inc. Why Wilderness in the Nuclear Age? pp. 109-129.

Ecological Perception

Laura Seawall explains that our five senses, especially sight, are a fundamental bridge in connecting with our environment. Given our tendency to value cognitive processes as more important than the characteristics of our physical nature, learning to fully utilize our perceptual capabilities could help us to better integrate the mind-body split that has plagued humanity throughout history and provide us with another avenue of connection with our habitat. Animals have heightened perception of their environment as a basic disposition of their survival. Human beings could incorporate certain aspects of animal perception and behavior as a further identification with their evolutionary makeup and ability to perceive in an enhanced manner.

Scientific research has shown that shifts in perception alter consciousness that, in turn can result in changes in behavior as well. Such behavioral changes, if predicated on connecting with the world around us, could develop into positive eco friendly values, attitudes and behaviors. Seawall discusses five perceptual practices along with insights into how we can learn to use each of them more extensively than we typically due in everyday life. The five practices include: 1. visual attentiveness and mindfulness, 2. perceiving relationships, contexts and interfaces, 3. developing perceptual flexibility, 4. perceiving depth and 5. employing imagination with intention.

Visual Attending

Attending is the enrichment of sensory information that has been chosen to focus on. Attention that is focused and intentional produces sensory input that is lavish in information. There are two types of attending, endogenous and exogenous. Endogenous attending can be thought of as an unconscious condition of perceptual inclination that is directed at internal desires, needs and priorities. It selects particular information or affirms expectations from what we are seeing in the moment and helps us find what we are searching for. It also can help us focus on familiar or novel stimuli and create distinctions between them as well. An example of this process might be the discovery of the difference between two different species of related animals such that now we are more aware of the other species than we were before and can now readily identify it upon observation. Having no experience with certain visual elements can cause an opposite effect or an inability to perceive or identify sensory data as well. In summary, endogenous attention is oriented at selecting or filtering sensory input related to our familiarity and expectations of our environment and with our internal needs and wants as well. 

This process of filtering the visual world in conjunction with our previous experiences perpetuates our worldview. This can be both advantageous or quite the opposite depending on the context or content in question. By choosing information that is only consistent with our expectations and knowledge, this input may reinforce habitual thinking and perceptions as well as preferences and things we dislike or are in denial about. If, however, we attend intentionally without pre-considerations, we will be interpreting the world as it really is or as objectively as we possibly can. Thus, if we desire to see nature as it is, we must be receptive to perceiving its many physical characteristics such as its form, texture, color, shape, size and beauty from an aesthetic sensibility that provokes and appeals to our senses. From this disposition of awe and appreciation, a state of interconnectedness with our habitat may ensue.

Exogenous attention differs in that it refers to the way in which we are attracted to novelty or change via our visual field. This capability is oriented towards the evolutionary function of locating potentially advantageous or dangerous situations. Development of this ability requires receptivity and sensitivity to spatial and temporal changes in the environment or being able to see beyond the framework from which we tend to interpret the world.

In summary, our internal and external focus of attention both influences and creates subjective reality by enabling the discernment of selected objects, relations, and events to the omission of others. Although perception is quite subjective, it strongly influences our behavioral repertoire. Relating to our environmental predicament, attending is an important if not vital tool that can be employed to address environmental problems and foster appropriate eco friendly behaviors.

Both forms of attention, internal and external, are very dynamic, fluid and flexible processes. Due to the fact that some degree of attention-oriented focusing is automatic, it is easy to take this function for granted, however, research in perceptual psychology has ascertained that: 1.the ability to attend is a learned skill but also requires some effort; 2. attending contains beneficial influences related to processing visual information and 3.how we place our focus of attention influences or determines our subjective reality. Thus, attending processes have a significant role in the manner in which we receive and interpret the natural world. Another possibility is that the attention process creates patterns that may change neural routing in the brain creating more affinity toward preferred sensory input.

Ecofeminism: An Ecofeminist Vision of Humanity

Eco-feminism is a transformational endeavor or movement that critically examines the historical relationship between the subjugation and denigration of women and the natural world. Furthermore, it explores the roots of patriarchy and the consequent philosophies that sanctioned the exploitation of nature and women for the seemingly sole benefit of the male species. Other conditions of oppression studied include racism, classism, imperialism, age discrimination, and heterosexism.

The term Eco-feminism, was initiated by French author, Francoise d’Eaubonne, in 1977. Her vision was to have women start an ecological movement to save the biosphere and liberate women from male oppression and dominance as a joint intervention, given both entities were being oppressed for similar reasons.

Eco-feminism is not based on women’s equality with men as in women’s liberation but is directed at liberating women as a goal in itself. Essential concerns are restoring value to women’s contributions to society that include: childbirth, nurturing behaviors, deep connection with nature, aesthetic sensibilities and including the more playful, emotional and irrational elements in the context of living.

Historically, women have been attributed to have a closer relationship to nature than men and nature has been metaphorically attributed feminine characteristics. Given women are the givers of life and follow lunar cycles in their menstrual cycles, they are viewed as embedded in natures rhythms. Unfortunately, women’s emotional responses to these cycles has been attributed a disposition of irrationality and instability psychologically and thus a perceived justification for control by the male species.  Eco-feminism is concerned with men’s negative perceptions toward women historically and how those notions have resulted in women being devalued and dominated.

Remember that early human cultures valued and admired women for their significant contributions to the partnership relationships that flourished at that time. The advent of patriarchy changed the former egalitarian bond to one of domination and subjugation and forever changed the male-female relationship.

Patriarchy is not just a critique of men but also the acknowledgement of a context of thinking that can oppress men, women and wild nature simultaneously and disrupt evolutionary development of the entire biosphere and even destroy all entities on this planet.

There also arises the question of whether men and women perceive their relationships with nature and each other differently as a function of differentiated genetics and psychological development. As this notion might seem tempting to accept given our current state of functioning as a species and recent historical evidence, we still must look to the hunter-gatherer and Neolithic cultures that thrived in a harmonious human partnership and non-exploitative existence with wild nature far longer than the modern Western world has existed.

Cultural developments and misconceptions about our relationship with nature appear to be the causes of our current malaise. The shift towards aggression and domination only came into being about 10,000 years ago and progressed as humans became more industrial, technological and distanced themselves from their covenant with the biosphere. The shift from hunter-gatherer to agriculture also caused a disconnection from nature as was discussed in the early chapters in this treatise.

In summary, many factors created change in the course of human perception and behavior and their exact effects are hard to quantify in any specific way. However, our current state of alienation with nature is a relatively new development and is certainly not representative of our entire history with our habitat.

Most ecofeminists argue that men can have the same connection with nature that women have if they are open to being more vulnerable and authentic and can let go of the need to control and dominate. If you study the environmental literature, you will note the abundance of male authors and activists who are taking a stand against patriarchy and a return to partnership values.

Important Eco-Feminist Perspectives

The oppression of women and nature are related concepts and actualities: both must be resolved to restore nature to an entity of intrinsic worth and liberate women to their status as valuable sentient beings.

The way we interact with the natural world and each other are related. When we exploit nature, that philosophy transfers into exploitative relationships with other people as well. Patriarchy comprises dualism and hierarchy, the chief components of the oppression of humans and natural systems. From patriarchy derive colonialism, racism, fascism, the disparity between rich and poor and all other social injustices.

The edifice of science and formal logic or reductionism has resulted in values and attitudes that promote environmental degradation and the control and management of humanity, particularly women who are perceived to be irrational and in need of supervision by men.

Science has been almost entirely based on objective observation and facts and has rejected subjective input such as intuition, random occurrences, mythology and religious perspectives.

Eco-feminism must remain open to a continuing conversation about the workings of the universe and of human evolution in order to nurture the male-female connection and ensure respect and appreciation of wild nature.

Despite the fact that patriarchy has been a significant devastating development in human culture for about 10,000 years or more, it does not imply that all men act oppressively towards women or that all women are being oppressed. It also does not deny the fact that women can also act in this manner and subjugate men as well. Women and men must come together to create the type of society that will serve humanity and nature in a healthy fashion as an ongoing evolutionary endeavor.

The Eco-feminist movement includes information from many sources such as indigenous revelations, experiential knowledge and from new discoveries to formulate direction and purpose of its fundamental ideas and principles.

Vandana Shiva summarized the goal of Eco-feminism as the goal of creating “a democracy of all life”.

The Ingredients of an Ecofeminist Society

All entities, including organic and inorganic have intrinsic worth.

Democracy is a deciding factor for all of Earth’s creatures.

Diversity in the biosphere and in human societies should be promoted.

Predation is a symbiotic reality in nature.

Bioregionalism should be practiced versus using political boundaries to define nations, countries, states and provinces.

Local economies should derive subsistence needs directly from the immediate environment as much as possible and not tend to rely on a global market economy.

Humanity will democratically use knowledge and power to influence actions that will affect their viability as a species.

Society will encourage the autonomy of all entities including beliefs, attitudes and behavior as long as these differences are symbiotic.

Peace, care and compassion will be promoted globally as a way of life.

The sacredness of life will be honored and respected universally.

Feminist psychology offers the environmental movement a vision of a preferred future; a vision of what human experience could become if we gave up the need to dominate and control. This future would include an appreciation and respect for the diversity of life, an attitude and practice of sustainability and a striving to live in harmony with the biosphere. Feminine attitudes and qualities that might guide us in this pursuit might include openness to new experiences, playfulness, being more aware of sensuality, embracing the absurd and the irrational, relying more on intuition and feeling, being more connected to our bodies, spontaneity, embracing the pleasurable moments in our daily lives and perceiving nature as an extension of ourselves.

Eco-feminists view science as limiting and only one framework from which to understand the world. Indigenous cultures and women are drawn to perceiving the world through participatory, subjective-experiential and embodied knowing versus the objective context of formal science.

We would also have to come to grips with nature on its own terms. This would include becoming familiar with and accepting the chaotic, strange and frightening aspects of the world along with what we already know, appreciate and are comfortable with. 

Another important aspect of feminine influence is in the bioregional movement that suggests that we reconfigure social structures to coincide with nature’s natural ecosystems. An example of this would be to use natural systems to define political boundaries instead of for social or economic reasons. 

Also relevant is the fact that the feminine represents beauty and the laws of attraction. Without this dynamic, life would have little pleasure or meaning and organisms would not be so inclined to procreate and evolve. It is perplexing that the physical, which is the basis for life, has been regarded as a lower form of being, and has been demoted by religion, philosophy, psychology and science throughout history. We must begin to discard this past erroneous programming regarding the negative value of the physical world (the feminine) and allow ourselves to embrace and experience her as the essence of our being.

References:

Colle, Marijke. “Feminism and ecology: the same struggle? – The Shaping of ecofeminism.” Committee for the Abolition of Illegitimate Debt, 13 May 2019, cadtm.org/Feminism-and-ecology-the-same-struggle-The-shaping-of-ecofeminism. Accessed 31 May 2020.

“What is Ecofeminism?” Women and Life on Earth, Updated January 2018, wloe.org/what-is-ecofeminism.76.0.html. Accessed 31 May 2020.

Miles, Kathryn. “Ecofeminism: Sociology and Environmentalism.” Britannica, britannica.com/topic/ecofeminism. Accessed 31 May 2020.

Harris, Adrian. “Ecofeminism.” The Green Fuse/Topics, thegreenfuse.org/ecofem.htm. Accessed 31 May 2020.

Holden, Madronna. “Ecofeminism: An Outline.” Our Earth/Ourselves, copyright 2008, holdenma.wordpress.com/ecofeminism/Ecofeminism. Accessed 31 May 2020.

Ecopsychology: Restoring the Earth Healing the Mind, Sierra Club Books,1995, edited by Theodore Roszak, Mary E. Gomes, Allen D. Kanner. Accessed 31 May 2020.

The Rape of the Well-Maidens: Feminist Psychology and the Environmental Crisis by Mary E. Gomes and Allen D. Kanner, pp. 118-121. Accessed 31 May 2020.

Eco-Psychology

Principles of Eco-psychology by Theodore Roszak

Theodore Roszak, in The Voice of the Earth, has formulated a number of principles that define the new psychological constructs that Eco-psychology is based on. Eco-psychology includes human interactions and connectedness with its habitat in its study of human behavior and does not view humanity as separate from or superior to wild nature.

         1. The ecological unconscious is the essence of mind. The repression of this state of consciousness, which is the essence of our covenant with nature, is the basis for the dysfunctional values and behaviors of our modern industrial societies.

         2. The ecological unconscious can be seen as the living record of cosmic evolution from the beginning of time. Evolution allowed for the development of life and mind through the organic and non-organic processes related to physics, biology, mental and cultural systems of which the cosmos is comprised. The experience of this consciousness in a personal way is one of the goals of eco-psychology.

         3. The discovery of our reciprocal relationship with our habitat is a desired outcome of eco-psychology. Another important goal is to reduce and eliminate the disposition of separation and disconnection that has developed between humans and nature.

         4. Eco-psychology views the early stages of development of the child as being extremely important in the formation of a healthy relationship with the biosphere. It also attempts to foster animistic qualities of perception and experience in grownups by employing strategies of the minority tradition, nature mysticism and the direct experience of wild places and insights of the deep ecology movement.

         5.  Maturation of the ecological ego translates into ethical attitudes and behavior towards the biosphere and the human condition including social relations and political considerations.

         6. Eco-psychology explores and evaluates patriarchy that perpetuates dominating and controlling behaviors towards women and nature and attempts to disentangle the stereotypical attitudes males and females have toward each other.

         7. Eco-psychology questions the efficacy of our technological-industrial culture and points us toward other possible orientations without advocating for regressive interventions such as forsaking science and technology.  

         8. Eco-psychology supports the theological philosophy that the health of the biosphere and humanity are mutually inclusive.

Reference:

The Voice of the Earth; An Exploration of Eco-psychology, Theodore Roszak, Phanes Press, 2001, Ecopsychology—The Principles, pp. 319-320.

Psychology

Psychology has promoted a multitude of theories, diagnosis and interventions for nearly every cognitive and emotional problem humanity has ever encountered in the history of our species. Unfortunately, it has not often considered human ailments in terms of environmental factors (only psychological ones related to internal thoughts and emotions as they relate to the self and others) and has depended on purely scientific principles to understand behavior and prescribe treatment protocols. This explains why psychology has not been interested in the tendency for humans to distance from their habitat.

Psychology needs to explore and understand the intricate relationship between humans and nature before it can adequately address the complex problems humanity faces. Many behavioral theories are antiquated and have no relevance to modern society. Others are limited to internal emotional and cognitive concerns and how these play out in interpersonal relationships. The tendency to diagnose individuals with elaborate disorders or illnesses, removes to varying degrees, the individual from the responsibility of owning their dysfunctions and being responsible for attending to them. Labeling also frames the context of a person’s behavior that exudes a sense of permanence and rigidity, thereby, making necessary changes harder to attain by having defined the person’s behavior as content (typically an unchangeable state) instead of a context (a state of possibility).

In the chapter on psychology, I described a number of diagnostic metaphors that could explain the impetus for humans to distance from and lay waste to their habitat. These behavioral manifestations should be studied extensively for their validity and those that are found to be relevant should be remedied before humankind destroys itself or renders irreparable damage to the biosphere.

The study of psychology, including eco-psychology, green psychology and eco-feminism, should be basic components of educational curricula that should be taught at all age levels at increasing levels of sophistication. This strategy would promote: healthy-self-esteem, the capability of attending to the activities of daily living and resolving conflicts and difficulties successfully, the ability to interact effectively with other people and the attainment of a healthy relationship with the natural world.

Psychology can be an important instrument in helping resolve individual problems and conflict with others if applied within the larger context of systems theory that includes the human-nature relationship as the basis for understanding and resolving human and global concerns.

Eco-psychology, deep ecology or green psychology as they are now referred to, comprise an extension of psychology that gives much needed attention to the human-nature relationship that includes all facets of nature and society that are interrelated. By applying the concepts of this more integrated approach, we can create a new paradigm from which to understand and resolve many of our current problems and be enabled to anticipate significant issues that will influence our future.

Philosophy

Philosophy, somewhat like religion, has been interested in understanding the nature of the universe and humanities’ place within it. In its early inception, it had many overlapping areas of investigation and discourse with that of religious inquiry.  Eventually, philosophy started to focus more on ontology, metaphysics and other scientific issues and left morality primarily with the church to deal with.

Philosophy, in attempting to promote new ideas and theories, often became a mechanism of indoctrination and coercive tactics that led to different degrees of elitism, prejudice, colonialism, nationalism and even the motives for many wars and conflict with other cultures. Philosophy was also destined to elevate humanity to a superior status and to demote nature and its animal offspring to a subservient role on the planet. 

Having read a variety of philosophical works over the years, I have concluded that the majority of philosophers were sincere and ethical in their inquiries and proclamations, despite that some of their ideas caused disastrous ideological shifts in perception that led to significant negative outcomes as I have described in the section on philosophy. Also, many of their ideas were expediently re-interpreted for the justification of self-interests that were often directed at the acquisition of power and wealth.

Any discipline that concerns itself with beliefs, attitudes and values is bound to have a plethora of ideas and opinions that take time to get sorted out as to which are viable as opposed to which are not. During this process of evaluation and trial and error, many true and false interpretations are likely to emerge that can lead to problems in the execution of its new premises. This becomes either a blessing or a curse depending on the eventual outcomes.

I think that philosophy is a very important aspect of inquiry into the affairs of humankind and should continue to be employed for the betterment of society; however, caution should be taken in introducing new concepts such that they are well explained so that anyone can understand their premises and conclusions. Philosophical linguistics can be very user unfriendly, especially for those not accustomed to the jargon and rigorous mental energy needed to engage in many of these types of dialogues. Personal responsibility should also be taken when teaching or implementing philosophical ideas so the outcomes are productive and ethical. Also, philosophy, having taken on such an important role in furthering the plight of humanity, should make every effort to adhere to the highest ethical standards in its discipline and practice.

Religion

Religion, attempting to help humankind understand the mysteries of creation and our place within the cosmos, issued theological statements about our origin and how we should live. These proclamations varied greatly with the accumulated knowledge of the day and with the motivation and intentions of its leadership. Many of these mandates were not concocted for the benefit of society but for the pursuit of self-interests including the attainment of power and wealth and control of the populations’ behaviors. Some of this deception resulted in disastrous and unethical outcomes such as the denunciation of Paganism and other beliefs that were not mainstream ideas and were subject to scrutiny by religious authorities. Nevertheless, religions’ struggle to win the hearts and minds of humanity initiated a theology that also denigrated the Earth and ultimately promoted its destruction by elevating humanity as a superior being, deserving to be master of the Earth. This doctrine gave humans the right to do whatever they pleased with their habitat and in good conscience. The negative consequences from this ideology cannot be overstated!

What we need to do now is to re-examine the religious treatise of history critically and re-interpret what they should signify given our present knowledge base about the cosmos and our evolutionary development. From this, we need to create a new religious theology that takes-into-account our interconnection and relatedness with the natural world and operate from this new perspective. Religious values that are already viable and being practiced should be included as well.

Religions should also acknowledge the past mistakes and wrong doings they have made and help their congregations’ transition to more appropriate ethical values and attitudes. It would also benefit society if religions acknowledged and appreciated the diversity of religious beliefs and practices that exist, without prejudice and the need to demonize or disapprove of other religions’ belief systems, despite how unorthodox they might be.

Religion should continue to focus on helping humanity understand purpose and meaning in life and in addressing ethical considerations. It should not however, control societies’ behaviors using manipulative tactics such as sin, guilt, shame and the indoctrination of their preferred belief systems in a coercive manner as it has frequently done in the past.

Returning to Our Initial State as Hunters and Gatherers

There are those who advocate that we abandon our modern way of life and return to our initial state as hunters and gatherers and forsake all the technological advances that we have made in order to partake in a simpler and more basic lifestyle. This idea might sound rather appealing, given our current circumstances, but it would be wise to consider the ramifications of such a decision.

A hunter-gatherer society could only feed an absolute maximum of about 100 million people, thereby necessitating a reduction of over 7 billion people out of a total population of about 7.4 billion. This would require a mass volunteer suicide agreement from almost all of the current population. An obvious obstacle would be deciding who would be delegated to live and die. As populations continued to grow, periodic die-offs would be needed to ensure a no-growth-rate, therefore, we would have the same problem of having to choose who lives and dies as an ongoing strategy. I think we could foresee major problems with this concept and serious moral implications arising as well.

Technology in and of itself is not wrong, evil or any other negative stereotype we have rendered upon it; it is amoral. The way we use technology determines its human value and justification. Technology creates a more productive, secure and pleasurable lifestyle and allows humans to participate in other important endeavors besides just subsistence activities. Progress has been able to address many of society’s challenges such as finding ways to eliminate or reduce hunger, disease, poverty and pollution, to anticipate future problems and to improve communication and connectedness between individuals and governing bodies on a global level. It has also increased the wealth and diversity of information and knowledge needed to promote societies’ continued advancement and sustainability.

Capitalism, that places profitability above all other values, is a philosophy that must be re-evaluated and converted into a technology and economic system that is based on cooperation and mutual benefit as opposed to competition and winning at the expense of another. This undoubtedly will necessitate a shift towards socialism or some other kind of economic system that is not based primarily on capital gain but on the collective needs of the human race.

If mismanagement of our planet eventually resulted in a catastrophic collapse and much of the population died, the dysfunctional values that caused the breakdown would likely re-emerge later on and the same cycle would repeat itself. Therefore, the way to a transformed relationship with nature is to transform our relationship with ourselves and with each other. Then we could live with or without technology and still maintain a harmonious relationship with the biosphere.

The Primitivist Argument for the Need to Return to the Hunter-Gatherer Lifestyle

One of the most convincing arguments for returning to a simple state of existence with very limited technology is the notion of a resource crisis that would result in the extinction of civilization. The primary resource of concern would be oil given that almost everything we produce is based on it and 40% of the world’s energy is derived from oil derivatives. The theory states that at a certain time in the future, oil reserves will be depleted, technology will come to a halt and millions of people will begin to die, which will result in a return to our initial primitive state anyway so we might as well prepare for this inevitable outcome and embrace it now. If we analyze this theory critically, we will discover that it is not rigorously thought out, and other important factors are also relevant. Let’s delve into this in some detail.

When oil does become scarce, technologies will gear up, however reluctantly, to make profits from developing alternative energies as well as continuing to find ways to extract fossil fuels by using more destructive methods that will inevitably be harmful to the environment. In other words, profits will motivate technology to find a way to succeed no matter what, despite the detrimental effects on humanity. As resources become more limited, the rich and powerful will hoard resources to ensure their survival and allow prices to rise, thus creating more poverty in the world. The poor will likely suffer the brunt of capitalisms’ self-interests and be subjected to mass die-offs, extreme poverty, hunger and starvation. Capitalism does not care about the misery that can ensue when it is used greedily and it also has a tendency to promote consumerism as an end in itself as opposed to creating what people really need.

Technology and capitalism have always been able to survive destructive crisis. During World War II, many of Europe’s major cities were destroyed and their industries devastated. Millions of European workers died in the war, but capitalism thrived due to the increase in starvation that allowed wages to be reduced so profits could be enhanced.

Destruction can also serve to regenerate capitalism and boost profits. Consider the war in Iraq in which the destruction of the Iraqi infrastructure had become a nightmare for the native people but greatly benefited certain US companies that had opened facilities there. The presence of our large businesses in the Middle East put us in reach of much needed oil reserves and gave us additional political clout and influence in Middle Eastern affairs.

Technology is the primary strategy we have developed to fulfill the needs of society. Even if we turned the clock back, it would soon start ticking again. Our current challenge is to go beyond maintaining everyone’s standard of living to raising everyone’s standard of living in a way that is reasonably sustainable. Continued development of technology aimed at the benefit of all humanity appears to be the only way we can survive and advance as an intelligent evolving species. 

It is interesting to note that some anarchists prefer to focus on primitivism as a primary or sole strategy instead of applying critical thinking about other viable solutions to our current predicament. Others feel humans are unsustainable and must vacate the Earth in order for it to heal. Both strategies are rift with social and ethical dilemmas that seem unlikely to succeed.

Capitalism in its present form is aimed at production and consumption with little regard for ecological impact on the environment. It may only move toward sustainable practices if forced to by a lack of natural resources or by other natural or human factors that might enter the equation. Ultimately, a continuation of our present system without extensive reform will result in the demise of society and the biosphere.

Nevertheless, we cannot look back in time at our ancient ancestors and attempt a return to their lifestyles that worked with such a small population and few damaging technologies. We must embrace the issues that now confront us by designing a new technology, economy and governing body that is eco-friendly, reverses past pollution problems and creates an enlightened lifestyle that serves the needs of society and the planet.

Reference:

“Primitivism, anarcho-primitivism and anti-civilisationism – criticism.” Libcom.org, posted by libcom 12 October 2006, libcom.org/thought/anarcho-primitivism-anti-civilisation-criticism. Accessed 1 June 2020.

Part Two: Considerations and Corrective Thinking and Action to Address the Troubled Human-Nature Relationship and Reconnect with the Natural World

Given the multitude of difficulties that have defined the human-nature relationship since Homo erectus evolved to a state of sophistication on this planet, it is apparent that we, as a species, have perceptual and behavioral problems that appear to be highly significant and maybe even insurmountable. I have not meant to paint humanity in a pejorative light, but to illuminate the perceptions, values and behaviors that have brought us to the brink of disaster.

Many previous decisions and actions that were injurious to the natural world were made with insufficient knowledge or plain ignorance and without any intention of malaise. Others were made willfully with the knowledge that negative outcomes might or would prevail and were primarily tied to the accumulation of power and wealth with little regard for ethical considerations. Despite the fact that the majority of the populous had no intention to despoil nature and may not have been responsible for the damage already done, it is now time that we, collectively, take a stand and rectify the values and actions that are laying waste to our only home; not only for our sake, but for that of future generations and for all the living creatures of the Earth.

It is time to examine what is at stake and how we can take corrective thought and action to remedy the mistakes that have been made. The focus of this next section will be to introduce new thought structures and a framework that could pave the way for the initiation of viable solutions and interventions in order that humanity may continue its remarkable evolutionary journey and reach its ultimate destiny. I think it is obvious that all of humanity will have to be committed, involved and cooperative in implementing the necessary measures that will ensure success and the continuation of this urgent and transformational process. 

               

A Summary of Human Interactions with the Environment

An excerpt from the Passionate Earth: The Evolution of Our Relationship with the Natural World by John Del Signore. I will be posting new articles to this site on a regular basis.

Many of us have come to perceive that we are separate and independent from the biosphere. We often fail to see the natural world as the place and context from which society has evolved. Furthermore, we also feel entitled to the resources of our habitat without maintaining a balanced relationship with it. Living sustainably has not been adopted overall as a viable way of living in harmony with the Earth. A large number of people have also exercised an exploitive relationship with their environment without regard for its intrinsic worth. These perceptions are at the roots of our ecological crisis.

With regard to lifestyle, societies have increasingly utilized the environment for human benefit without regard for the effects rendered on the biomes and ecosystems of the planet. They have polluted the air, water and soil with the chemicals of industry, defoliated great expanses of land for agriculture, destroyed animal habitats and driven many species to extinction, destroyed plant habitats around the globe, caused soil erosion via poor farming practices, introduced animal and plant species to habitats unsuitable for their survival or which destroyed ecosystems and have experimented with genetic mutations on plant and animal species with some very unfavorable results. Societies have become addicted to the use of fossil fuels as energy sources and global temperatures have soared to record highs. Consumption of the bounties of the planet have happened much faster than they have been replenished. Our population has recently increased to well over seven billion people. This phenomenon is predicted to be unsustainable in the closed system we live in.

The scale of our current ecological crisis is severe and we have not fully recognized the urgency of our dilemma. If we fail to act in a timely manner, the likelihood of reversing the negative effects we have rendered will be immeasurably diminished. We must learn to recognize what degradation is tolerable and that which is not and act responsibly to maintain a balance between preservation and consumption. The survival of our species depends on that wisdom. Many past civilizations failed to endure, as they were unable to anticipate ecological problems until it was too late. With the extensive array of problems confronting us from past unecological thinking and behavior in addition to our current unsustainable lifestyles, it is difficult to ascertain whether modern societies will succeed or perish.

Chronology of the History of Human Discordance with Nature with Significant Contributing Events and Developments Illuminated

Humans began to see themselves as separate from the natural world as abstract thinking developed via evolutionary processes thousands of years ago. The continued development of the brain allowed abstract thinking to develop which included symbolism and the development of linguistics.

Humans began to read meaning into the natural disasters in nature. Insecurity and fear became more intense as humanity didn’t have the capacity to understand the workings of nature at that time. These emotional responses to nature’s catastrophes resulted in the first PTSD symptoms and reactions and a psychology of winning the battle of survival with nature began.

Human reaction to PTSD also led to the notion that taking care of oneself was of primary importance and egocentrism began to appear in human thinking and behavior.

The transition from hunter-gatherer to agriculturalist as a primary source of procuring nutrition from the environment enabled large numbers of people to live communally and collectively prosper with less negative impact from the natural world. Permanent living situations allowed for greater safety, security and the development of increasingly sophisticated societies that promoted specialization, leadership, learning and collaboration. Along with these positive developments came many social political, economic and philosophical problems that still define modern society.

As communal living became more prolific and dwellings became the prominent place in which babies were born and raised, this disposition of being more removed from nature caused a feeling of disconnection coined as Ontogenetic Crippling by Paul Shepard. He proposed that the end result of being born indoors away from the sensuality of nature caused emotional delay in development that persisted into adulthood and impacted the maturation process significantly.

Agriculture and raising livestock gave the impression that the work put into these endeavors was worth something and the notion of possessing things and ownership began.

Those who did not have enough commodities of living, either motivated through greed or because resources became scarce, began to pilfer to gain subsistence needs. This development started the practice of colonialism; procuring subsistence needs through war and intimidation. Armies became a component of many cultures and fear and insecurity increased exponentially and has continued to this day.

Patriarchy developed which included several attitude shifts. Men began to perceive themselves as superior beings and more important than women due to their physical strength and their notion that women were overly emotional and less rational. Men felt that the environment was theirs to exploit with impunity and tied this notion to either religious beliefs that sanctioned men to be the rulers of the Earth and/or that man was a superior being entitled to manage the biosphere due to his intelligence and diverse attributes. These ideas translated into dominator behavior towards women and the exploitation of the environment. Anger and aggression also became a characteristic behavior of many men that resulted in conflict, competition and hostility toward other people regardless of sex. The propensity to resolve problems and ideological differences through violence and warfare also became prominent.

Societies continued to develop and prosper and more specialization and sophistication of roles developed among the populous, thus separating people into specific roles and creating more social and psychological distance between them.

A penal system developed to keep behavior normative and punishment became a primary motivator to change or modify behavior.

Trades developed to address lifestyle needs, subsistence and commodities and consumerism increased significantly.

Social institutions began to develop such as religion and philosophy and social mores developed to help humans understand their world and promote normative behavior.

The two polarized views of an objective or subjective reality were born and created a philosophical upheaval over which view was correct or more advantageous to employ.

Science, technology and economic systems began to develop. Their reductionistic orientations created a larger split between man and nature, having defined nature as a machine, something that could be studied and reduced to simpler parts or relationships. This notion fostered the diminishment of the intrinsic value of nature and redefined the Earth’s bounty as a collection of resources that could be exploited with impunity.

Religions of the day felt that belief in multi-deities was an unworkable concept, would create chaos, and thus become an obstacle to creating normative behavior in society. Thus, pantheistic and other unorthodox religions were discouraged and untold numbers of their followers were annihilated by virtue of religious institutions, the most hideous event being the Inquisition of 1484 initiated by the Catholic Church.

Many religions denigrated nature metaphorically to the unruly facets of human behavior, especially sexual desires and sensuality as these facets of human nature were difficult to understand and due to their powerful manifestations, caused people to fear them. Religion also bestowed the female metaphor to nature and denigrated the female sex to an inferior status compared to her male counterpart that forever changed the male-female relationship dynamics. This has manifested itself in much of the discordance found between men and women today and the violence towards women by men in the hideous act of rape and psychological and physical dominance.

Some early religious leaders saw the advantages of promoting science and technology to procure wealth and power and so they expediently reinterpreted the scriptures to allow and encourage humans to do whatever they pleased with nature and in good conscience and consider themselves the crowning glory of creation. Note that religious theology never intended this reinterpretation of its dogma and in fact saw nature as one with God in its early manifestations. St Francis of Assisi was considered the first deep ecologist who purported this eco-theology.

Ignorance of the natural world and its processes and the desire to be comfortable in their habitat fostered a technology and economics of destruction and exploitation of the Earth that increased with intensity and rapidity over time.

Gradually, most other social institutions became anthropocentric and humanity continued to progress towards a disposition of alienation and disconnection with its environment.

As social structures became more sophisticated and took people away from their instinctual and biological roots and covenant with nature, human behavior became more dysfunctional and addictive and patterns of behavior developed that were destructive to the human psyche. Humanity started to perceive that the accumulation of material goods, wealth and power were an important part of human development and the primary means of achieving happiness. This new concept competed with other priorities such as forming meaningful relationships, engaging in purposeful careers and spending time enjoying hobbies, creative interests and other personal endeavors.

A plethora of psychological disorders developed from humanities discordance with nature. Some of these include PTSD, seasonal affective disorder, anxiety disorders, depression, anger, denial, suppression, autism, guilt, addictions, dissociation, narcissism, etc. These behavioral manifestations and their implications have impacted on humanities’ ability to understand their universe and live in harmony with it and with each other.

Our denial of our covenant with nature is our chief problem of misperception today. What is needed now is the creation of a new story and context from which to understand our relationship with the natural world and with each other.

Reference:

A Green History of the World by Clive Ponting, 1991, St Martin’s Press, NY. The Shadows of the Past, pp. 406-407.

Is It Too Late?

An excerpt from the Passionate Earth: The Evolution of Our Relationship with the Natural World by John Del Signore. I will be posting new articles to this site on a regular basis.

There are many scientists, environmentalists and other professionals who believe the environmental crisis is solvable if we assume responsibility for what we have done and address this challenge with commitment and concerted action. Al Gore is certainly a staunch proponent of this stand and asserts that we have the technology to succeed if our political will is strong enough and if we take decisive action immediately.

Unfortunately, the human addiction to money, material wealth and power and our current, comfortable and even decadent lifestyles are starkly opposed to such a commitment and could present an arduous challenge. Also, those who feel it is indeed too late to halt global catastrophe might argue that we might as well just enjoy what we have left until it is gone. Despite these possible scenarios, many people are well informed, are aware of the eminent danger of the continuance of our destructive behaviors, and would support an environmental revolution to save the planet.

The human race has progressed to the point that we now have some knowledge and capacity to maintain the wellbeing of society, but we also have the facility to impact our environment in such a manner that will ultimately lead to eco-catastrophe and the extinction of all Earth’s creatures. This fact is alarming in that we have evolved to this state of peril in such a relatively short time; have either been unable to recognize our dysfunctional perceptions and behaviors that have led to this reality or we have been aware of this fact and other priorities such as the accumulation of power and wealth have taken precedent. In either case, we, as a civilization have reached a critical point in our evolutionary history in that our current decisions on how to proceed will determine whether our species prevails or destroys itself in the relatively near future. Humanity will have to make a conscious choice about its destiny and act in a manner that is consistent with that decision without further hesitation before it becomes too late. 

My personal opinion is that we should go ahead and act as if the Earth is sustainable and do whatever we can to make that a reality even if we discover that too much damage has already been done. At least we could attempt to minimize the negative effects of our renderings to some degree so that evolution is not reverted to a primitive state that would take eons to re-evolve from.

The reason I propose this strategy is because I believe that we have no right to destroy our habitat in the first place and we certainly have no right to kill off the magnificent flora and fauna that have evolved so painstakingly over the eons of time, not to mention the beautiful landscapes of the Earth as well. They have as much right to exist as we do. The same can be said for future generations, who also have a right to participate in the wonders of creation and evolution.

The notion that humans are the epitome of creation is simply self-serving and not supportable religiously, scientifically or philosophically. If one were to employ a religious context to this thinking, it would be hard to imagine a deity who would approve of the annihilation of his or her own creation. Scientifically speaking, it would be illogical to destroy one’s habitat when it would result in the extinction of all living species. Philosophically, it would be irrational to destroy living organisms and halt the process of understanding: who we are, why we are here and what might be in store for us as evolving organisms. We also don’t know whether evolution has a specific or greater purpose that is beyond our understanding or that might have further implications for the future of our planet and its continued development.

Reference:

Earth in the Balance, Ecology and the Human Spirit by AL Gore © by al Gore 1992, Rodale Inc., A New Common Purpose, pp. 269-270.

Does the Universe Have a Purpose?

An excerpt from the Passionate Earth: The Evolution of Our Relationship with the Natural World by John Del Signore. I will be posting new articles to this site on a regular basis.

The origin of the universe is uncertain but we know that at one time, it existed as very condensed, hot energy that resulted in the Big Bang. The chemical reactions that occurred after the initial explosion or expansion, as some describe it, started the process of the elements combining to form the basic structural matter of the universe. This process took billions of years and is still continuing to evolve and will probably continue until the universe comes to some kind of conclusion that could even result in another Big Bang and a repeat performance of the formation of the cosmos. This theory proposes that gravity will eventually overcome the expansive forces and will result in contraction until the universe collapses, becomes extremely hot due to compression, explodes again and starts the whole process anew. The other possibilities are that the universe will continue to expand until it literally tears apart or may simply continue to expand indefinitely. No one ultimately knows what outcome may prevail and continued research may provide more hypothesis as well.

What is so amazing about the formation of the cosmos is its precise configuration of the right elements and in the right proportions to initiate the development of life forms and the process of evolution. Minor variations in the creation of elemental compounds and in different proportions would not have allowed for the establishment of life at all.

This raises the question of whether the universe was created by an external force such as a deity, or does the universe have its own intelligence and consciousness as part of its intrinsic nature or is its remarkable existence simply coincidental?

This question has had considerable attention throughout history and is still largely unanswered for many or tied to religious beliefs for others. Science has made its own attempt to resolve this matter in what is known as the Anthropic Principle. The Anthropic Principle claims that the universe has to contain humans such that they can observe it and know it exists.

There is also a Weak Anthropic Principle that is purely scientific and negates the viability of intelligent design or of a super-intelligent creator or a supreme being. It states; the existence of humans determines the type of universe we can see. These factors are not coincidental but must be the way they are. Other types of universes could not be known because humans would not be in existence to see them.

This view is also thought by some to include the existence of other universes that may have existed before ours, some that exist presently and others that may exist in the future but may be unknowable. The question then arises: does a universe that is unknowable exist or not? This proposition has been a matter of controversy in philosophy and is still so today. 

To resolve this problem and other coincidences in the Weak Anthropic Principle, cosmologists such as Fred Hoyle and John Wheeler have created a third version of the latter two principles called the Strong Anthropic Principle. They reason that there can be no reality of anything without an observer so a universe would have to be stable, exist long enough for life to form and that life would have to evolve intelligent entities with the ability of consciousness and observation of the universes’ existence.

I have already mentioned in the first chapter that there is a plethora of evidence that the universe created itself and is a conscious entity. This might help to explain why the conditions of the universe have evolved the way they have and why this universe supports the emergence of living organisms. What has evolved on other celestial bodies is anybody’s guess.

I think it is self-evident that the universe is extremely complex and well beyond our meager comprehension; therefore, we should respect its extraordinary essence and treat it with respect and appreciation in that it has allowed us to emerge, evolve and participate in its ongoing maturation.

George Wald also brings to light the fact that the universe has evolved in such a manner that it is eminently conducive to creating life. He points out the fact that the elementary particles are such that they enable matter to exist and the electric charges are just such that they balance each other out. Out of the 92 elements that exist, only four are responsible for life. These are hydrogen, carbon, nitrogen and oxygen, the basic organic molecules of living systems. The nuclei of these same elements interact to generate the light of its star. The organisms on our planet have thus come to rely on starlight to exist.

Water is the strangest molecule as it is the only one that expands and floats when it is cooled to freezing. All other molecules contract when they cool. If water did likewise, it would become increasingly dense as it cooled and would sink to the bottom and begin to freeze from the bottom up and eventually turn all the water to ice. This property would not support the development of life on earth. Large masses of ice melt rather slowly but the thin layers of ice that develop on the land and seas in winter months melt quickly in the warmth of spring sunlight and organisms can survive this amount of frozen water.

What Wald is trying to illuminate is the extraordinary complexity of cosmic ingredients that have developed, and in the exact proportions, that have made life possible. It is estimated that (10 to the 18th power) other heavenly bodies could support life throughout our universe.

Following this information is the cosmic principle. The universe is directed by two opposing forces, the force of expansion produced by the Big Bang and the force of contraction produced by gravity. If expansion had overcome gravity, the universe would have stretched until it literally tore itself apart. If gravity had prevailed, the universe would have slowed its expansion until it stopped expanding and would have collapsed, eventually contracting into a minute mass of dense, compressed energy that would have resulted in another Big Bang event. Either development would not have allowed for enough time or for the necessary elements to combine, to allow life to emerge and evolve.

This leads us to consider the fact that our universe has the inherent capacity and propensity to breed life and somehow manages to configure its architecture to overcome any obstacles to that end. It is as if there is an intention for the universe to create life as a conscious choice. This notion leads us through the Anthropic Principle, as I have related above, and on to the question; if the universe is designed to create life intentionally, how does it know its purpose and how to carry out this function? The question is still unanswered and stands as the major philosophical project of humanity. 

Humans are said to be conscious beings, aware of themselves and their environment and able to use their mind to reason and comprehend their surroundings. Consciousness is not anything that is located anywhere such as in our brains and is not a physical entity either. It is an abstract quality that allows us to define ourselves, and to be aware of our place within the universe.

If we carry this thought structure forward, we can attribute a state of consciousness to the cosmos itself and that this consciousness is the source of everything, namely reality. Thus, a conscious universe creates the necessary ingredients for its creations such as matter and energy or the physics of the universe. Therefore, the notion that matter and energy came first is now in question. Relating to humans then, mind might have always been at the forefront of our evolution and not a later development as our traditional thinking has told us. In fact, a more recent notion is that the mind directs or creates reality as opposed to being a passive recipient of it. Mind and matter then can be viewed as complementary aspects of all reality. This ideology is prevalently held by many eastern religions and is becoming more widely accepted in scientific disciplines as well.

The implication of this discourse then is that the universe might have a purpose and meaning that is integrally tied to our own. Thus, to destroy and defile the Earth goes against our inherent nature and ultimate purpose.

References:

Waking up in Time, Peter Russell, Origin Press Inc., 1122 Grant Ave., Suite C, Novato, CA, 94945, Peter Russell, Purpose—A Design to Creation? pp. 175-180.

“The Anthropic Principle.” The Anthropic Principle: SFSU Physics and Astronomy,physics.sfsu.edu/~lwilliam/sota/anth/anthropic_principle_index.html. Accessed 1 June 2020.

New Metaphysical Foundations of Modern Science. Edited by Willis Harman with Jane Clark, @1994 by the Institute of Noetic Sciences, The Cosmology of Life and Mind, George Wald, pp. 123-130.

The Acceleration of Evolutionary Change

An excerpt from the Passionate Earth: The Evolution of Our Relationship with the Natural World by John Del Signore. I will be posting new articles to this site on a regular basis.

Since the beginning of the cosmos, everything has continued to evolve but the pace of evolutionary change has speeded up and has continued to do so at an exponential rate. Although the universe has existed for 13.73 billion years, modern humanity has only inhabited the planet for about 2000 years; yet, the rate of change that has occurred related to human endeavors is mind-boggling. It appears as though the peculiar aspects of human beings: having a well-developed brain, the capacity to reason, make decisions and act upon them, the ability to communicate with each other and the possession of consciousness have, over time, propelled the evolutionary development of humanity forward towards full throttle.

The reason for this rapid increase in change lies in the principle that as systems become more advanced and accumulate knowledge, that added knowledge allows for more change to occur and at an accelerated rate. This process will continue theoretically until there is no actual time-lapse between change events and will ultimately result in a change towards infinity called a singularity. In other words, events may eventually happen so close together that time may break down and have no practical meaning. We don’t know if this will actually ever happen or how it would manifest itself but the implications are clear. Things are going to continue to accelerate and we need to embrace this aspect of evolution and learn how to adapt to it. The adaptation part is the bigger problem. How will humanity cope with this, and will we be able to develop the intellectual and emotional tools necessary to succeed?  Does the human organism need to undergo other dramatic changes of consciousness that we are yet unaware of? As it has been predicted that this infinite change condition will occur within the next century or less, these questions are becoming critically relevant to ponder and engage in.

Reference:

Waking up in Time, Peter Russell, Origin Press Inc., 1122 Grant Ave., Suite C, Novato, CA,  94945 Copyright, 1992 by Peter Russell, Acceleration: The Quickening Pace, pp. 3-10.

Recreational Pursuits

An excerpt from the Passionate Earth: The Evolution of Our Relationship with the Natural World by John Del Signore. I will be posting new articles to this site on a regular basis.

In primal cultures, recreational pursuits were carried out in local villages and in surrounding environments. Rituals and ceremonies were an important aspect of connecting with each other socially and emotionally and with their habitat. Being in nature, walking and exploring the local landscapes, was a primary activity that helped with the overall process of growth and maturation. Recreational activities were tied to what the biosphere naturally offered.

Today recreational pursuits often take on a very different flavor. Although hiking, camping, backpacking, climbing, paddling, cycling and other outdoor sports can be enjoyed at a low-tech level, many of our recreational activities are heavily influenced by technological devices that are either motorized or electronically oriented. We have invented numerous kinds of motorized vehicles and watercraft for entering wilderness areas and portable music systems and electronic games to accompany us on our daily outings. Many people are using cell phones while engaging in pleasurable activities, listening to music or playing hand-held video games and are not totally attending to what they are doing.

The modern worldview of domination and exploitation often rears its ugly head during recreational activities in the form of aggressive and egotistical fun, challenging the environment, being loud and boisterous, daring one another in risky behaviors, employing alcohol and drugs to heighten experiences and an overall focus on self-indulgence and self-gratification. The function of recreation as a source of enjoyment, either alone or with others to satisfy psychological needs, has been routinely replaced by pathological behaviors that interfere with obtaining critical emotional needs and that inhibit healthy growth and development.

Reference:

Deep Ecology: Living as if Nature Mattered by Bill Devall and George Sessions, 1985 by Gibbs M. Smith, Inc. Character and Culture, pp. 185-186.

Global Warming

An excerpt from the Passionate Earth: The Evolution of Our Relationship with the Natural World by John Del Signore. I will be posting new articles to this site on a regular basis.

The issue of global warming has been an ongoing concern for many years. Study after study have been examined. Scientists from around the globe have consulted with each other and the current conclusion is that it is a reality and needs no more deliberation. However, the general public has not been so inclined to believe the scientific community overwhelmingly and religious and other beliefs have eroded the urgency of the matter. Industries and businesses that are contributing to the warming often balk at current research and try to attribute other causes to the problem. Many people are still in denial or are dissociative and feel powerless to do anything about it. For whatever the reasons may be, global warming is not being addressed aggressively and is not considered urgent by enough citizens to force changes in our lifestyles that would reverse the warming trend. Perception of a difficulty drives commitment and action and often it is too little and too late.

Beyond the reality that warming is upon us, the rate at which temperatures are rising is alarming. Most of our predictions have been quite inaccurate and in the direction of less warming than anticipated. The rising temperatures in our oceans and the disappearance of glaciers are prime examples.     

Let’s look at what actually causes warming that is humanly derived and not a characteristic of natural events. We can readily accept the fact that industrial processes, fuel run vehicles, airplanes, rockets, spacecraft, electrical and fuel driven machines, heating systems, cook stoves and fire cause warming but how about anything that causes friction such as tires rolling on the road, gears turning, parts that rub or spin against each other as well as outdoor campfires, chemicals that produce heat, cigarettes, fireworks, explosives, guns, bombs, weaponry and our own warm bodies, over seven billion of us! I’m sure this is only a partial list but nevertheless, it is something we probably don’t spend much time thinking about.

We witness the increasing power and destructiveness of natural events and wonder why this is happening. We notice that animal migration behavior is changing and many species are entering new habitats. Other creatures and plant life are struggling to survive the thermal changes they are experiencing.

Global warming is tricky in that some places will become hotter and others will become cooler. Why this is so, is very complicated and includes many environmental factors such as atmospheric conditions, wind currents, ocean currents, mountain and valley air circulation, the changing conditions at the poles, how flora interact with the atmosphere and other factors we may not be aware of. The Earth is a closed system that acts within its own set of parameters that maintain a state of balance. When we interrupt this homeostasis, what will result may be complicated, perplexing and possibly even terrifying!

Reference:

Kluger, J. “Earth at the Tipping Point: Global Warming Heats Up,” Time Magazine, 26 March 2006, Accessed 31 May, 2020.

Fossil Fuels

An excerpt from the Passionate Earth: The Evolution of Our Relationship with the Natural World by John Del Signore. I will be posting new articles to this site on a regular basis.

Fossil fuels have been one of the most important natural resources we have extracted from our environment. Petroleum derived goods, in particular, are used in almost every aspect of our lives. Oil is responsible for a multitude of fuels, and the basis for the manufacture of most of the commodities we use in our everyday lives. These include everything from lubricants to various solvents, paints and stains, cleaning solutions, insulating materials, packaging materials, fertilizers to grow crops, various building materials, plastics and other related items such as fiberglass, medical supplies, cables that carry electricity and information, hygiene necessities and even some of our food products. When we think of transportation, oil is at the heart of everything from cars and trucks to trains, aircraft, spacecraft and even our weaponry systems. It appears that almost everything we have created and manufactured is oil derived at the front end of production. Oil has become the primary vehicle that fuels our technological society and provides all the material things that people need and want.

Unfortunately, petroleum-based goods are highly toxic and very polluting to our environment. Even mining and the production of petroleum products causes high levels of pollution and the effects of degradation to our environment are obvious and disturbing. Water, soil, air pollution and global warming have become catastrophic problems for our modern societies. We have known that oil and all its byproducts are harmful to our environment but we have continued to use them because of the benefits that have been rendered from them.

Today, our increased use of fossil fuels is resulting in a significant reduction of these natural resources and is causing us to use methods of extraction that are even more harmful and dangerous to our environment. At some point, procurement will become too costly and difficult and will no longer be a viable resource to utilize. This will cause a major upheaval in the way we produce the goods we have come to rely on over the centuries and will force us to look for other replacements for oil. If we do not discover alternatives to fossil fuels, our infrastructure will literally collapse because we will not have the raw materials to produce the goods that we need to sustain our current societies.

Given we have not spent the necessary energy and thought to replace fossil fuels yet, we may well run out of these resources before we develop alternatives that are workable and this could cause major problems for all of humanity. The obvious first difficulty would be the lack of ability to grow enough food to feed the global population and the resultant starvation that would occur from this fact. Also, manufacturing would come to a halt, as there would be no fuel to run our machines, transportation systems and power grid. Only those who were fortunate enough to hoard reserves of oil would be able to function adequately for a least a short period of time, but eventually they too would run out of this precious commodity and be in jeopardy as well. Paradoxically, running out of fossil fuels will force us to find other solutions for running our societies that will have to be sustainable and affordable.

What we need now is a commitment to explore alternatives to fossil fuels and developed those technologies so they are viable before we run out of our last reserves. This will be a significant challenge for science and technology and will require a great deal of cooperation and collaboration if we are to be successful in meeting this challenge. The good news in all of this is that these new technologies will create new jobs and probably whole new industries that will help keep people employed and prosperous. So maybe our fossil fuel scarcity problem is really an opportunity to create a green and sustainable future for our societies and our planet.

Polluting the Environment

An excerpt from the Passionate Earth: The Evolution of Our Relationship with the Natural World by John Del Signore. I will be posting new articles to this site on a regular basis.

The history of pollution is very long. Dealing with human waste has been a significant problem for all societies. Initially, the most pressing issue revolved around sanitation and keeping water supplies uncontaminated. As societies became more sophisticated and technology became more pronounced, chemical pollution entered the equation. At first, pollution was on a small scale and localized, but as populations increased, pollution became widespread, eventually global, and more detrimental effects on society and the environment ensued. Today, contamination of our planet has reached well beyond controllable measures and our comprehension of it tends to arrive long after the difficulties have become significant or extreme. We no longer have sufficient technology to control it effectively and our willingness to address it appears to be lame.

There are a variety of reasons for not acting urgently regarding the environmental troubles we now face. Some of these include thinking and feeling overwhelmed, underestimating the magnitude of the difficulties, not having a viable plan to address current mishaps, cosmetic or short term goals versus solutions aimed at the sources of the problems, bureaucracy, lack of authority by agencies delegated to address dilemmas, lack of responsibility by citizens and organizations, lack of cooperation and team work, and an overall lack of commitment to bettering the human condition and protecting the biosphere. Historically, humanity has maintained a very poor track record addressing environmental concerns.     

Reference:

A Green History of the World by Clive Ponting, 1991, St Martin’s Press, NY. Polluting the World, p. 346.

Pillaging the Planet

An excerpt from the Passionate Earth: The Evolution of Our Relationship with the Natural World by John Del Signore. I will be posting new articles to this site on a regular basis.

Early hunters and gatherers utilized nature’s bounty in a pragmatic manner. They gathered and hunted enough food to sustain their nutritional needs but did not take from their surroundings more than they needed to survive. As civilizations developed after agriculture took precedent as the primary means of providing food and other resources, humans began to exploit the environment not only to sustain nutritional needs but for economic gain as well. As economies developed, humans began to look for ways to prosper economically and the abundant resources of the planet became their primary target.

The abundant flora, fauna and other natural resources on every continent and in the oceans provided a perceived inexhaustible supply of riches that could be converted to food, clothing, housing, fuel and industrial materials for manufacturing all sorts of commodities for human existence and pleasure. Humans began to hunt, fish, mine and harvest the resources of the planet at an increasingly faster rate that eventually led to the extinction of thousands of species of flora and fauna and the depletion of other natural resources such as minerals and fossil fuels.

Many practices of exploitation have been unwarranted such as the slaughter of animals solely for the manufacture of clothing, cosmetics, jewelry and other creature comforts. The killing of animals has often been overtly cruel and painful and rendered without respect for their rights as creatures of the Earth. Hunting for sport is another overt disrespect to animals that has found considerable favor historically.

Animals have also been perceived as being dangerous or annoying and that removal from the environment would benefit society. This ideology resulted in the mass killings of many species of animals over the centuries and is still an issue of great concern today.

Humans have also introduced their preferred flora and fauna to foreign ecosystems as they changed habitats that resulted in detrimental changes in ecosystem balance in the new ecosystems and the extinction of many species of plants and animals or the proliferation of some unwanted species as well. Some introductions of new species were accidental such as rats being transported on boats unintentionally and flourishing in new habitats.

In summary, humanity has become overly greedy in its use of the Earth’s natural resources and has exploited them beyond what is conceivably sustainable. This practice has put the environment in danger of ecosystem collapse, the countless flora and fauna in danger of extinction and the defilement of the beauty of the whole planet. There is lastly the issue of ethics. The Earth is a living organism and has the right to live and evolve just as we do. Our denial of this right is a serious misconception that may determine our future success or failure as a viable species.

Reference:

A Green History of the World by Clive Ponting, 1991, St Martin’s Press, NY. The Rape of the World, pp. 161-193.

The Influence of Governing Bodies

An excerpt from the Passionate Earth: The Evolution of Our Relationship with the Natural World by John Del Signore. I will be posting new articles to this site on a regular basis.

Governments have been both a help and hindrance in regards to the environmental crisis we currently face. Apathy, Isolationism and self-interests have often impeded governments from acting appropriately, as well as special interest groups that favor policies that are often not in the best interests of the populous.  Dictatorships with specific ideologies, such as colonialism or the suppression of individuals for political power and material gain are a few examples of the misuse of political systems. Governments have often been run by leaders with unethical principles and agendas that have caused extreme poverty, starvation, enslavement and extermination of societies throughout history: these conditions are still prevalent in many countries today.

Corruption, both within governing bodies and in the private sector is also an issue of utmost concern today. The increase in corruption has steadily grown throughout the world and is impacting the ability of governments and societies to address the most basic needs of humanity. The loss of funding needed for societal and humanitarian initiatives has been staggering at the hands of political and corporate leaders who have found ways to pilfer money from their governments and the general public for their own self-interests.

Corporations also act unethically when they initiate practices that are primarily focused on profits but despoil the environment as well as create hazards and dangerous conditions for the average citizen. Examples of this include unsafe working conditions, toxic waste that is disposed into the environment and a multitude of other environmentally unfriendly practices. Corporations also influence government policy by bribing government officials with monetary and material rewards for supporting their private interests.

Individual rights are another issue of great concern. It appears that the rights of the individual have super-ceded the rights of the community or the whole of humanity and this more recent ideology has greatly impeded the solution of a variety of social and global problems. A sense of obligation to others and to society as a whole is less apparent in human interactions today and more aligned with self-interests. This attitude of separateness from community is clearly related to our feelings of separateness from the Earth.

Reference:

Earth in the Balance. Ecology and the Human Spirit by AL Gore, Rodale Inc., A New Common Purpose, pp. 269-294.

The Age of Information

An excerpt from the Passionate Earth: The Evolution of Our Relationship with the Natural World by John Del Signore. I will be posting new articles to this site on a regular basis.

Humanity has progressed from small-scale hunter-gatherer societies to larger settlements based on agriculture to the endorsement of science and technology in complex societal structures that have propelled us into the age of information. This development has drastically altered the way we live and interact with each other and has created new challenges for humanity. The primary problem with information is the rate of its accumulation and the decisions we have to make regarding all this new input. Scientific verities have a much shorter lifespan today than in the past, given the amount of scientific investigation being carried out. It is also nearly impossible to gain complete expertise in any one field, as one could not spend enough time learning all the newest data that is constantly being discovered, invented or accumulated. Also, the overall complexity of society and its diversity of problems and challenges put a huge strain on the problem-solving capabilities of humanity.

The factors just mentioned have greatly impacted on the decisions we have made about our advancement and how we employ nature to meet our ever-increasing demands. Unfortunately, many of our attempted strategies and solutions have not been eco-friendly. We now face serious problems that may have been unknowable and unpredictable in the past, due to limited knowledge, but have become illuminated with more current information and presently threaten the very survival of humanity and all living creatures. However, if the information age is wisely applied at solving environmental problems, positive outcomes are likely to be realized.

Information Dissemination About the State of the World     

People rely on the media, television, radio, their governments and the scientific disciplines to inform them of important information regarding both local and global issues. Unfortunately, much of the pertinent information is not made public due to the covert practice of not alarming people into panic reactions or covering up issues that are being obscured due to other interests usually involving capital gain, power plays and or corruption. Propaganda is a frequently employed tactic that disempowers the public in critical decision-making. Nationalism is also appealed to in order to sway public support for various endeavors. When the populous is not properly informed, they cannot act in their best interests or support appropriate legislation and this consequence is a large contributor to our ecological crisis.

For example, at the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, one of the largest environmental gatherings of all time, sustainability was the primary agreed upon strategy to be adopted by all nations present but only weeks later when the seven nations met again in Munich, not a mention of environmental issues was heard as global economic concerns had taken precedent.

A few months after the Earth Summit, a document called the “World Scientists Warning to Humanity” was released to the world. It was signed by 1600 or more senior scientists from around the globe, over half of whom were Nobel Prize winners. It concluded that humanity’s behaviors and actions would put society at a serious risk for failure in the very near future if immediate action were not taken to rectify the environmental damage that had already been done. Also stated was that the initiation of sustainable strategies was imperative for the ongoing survival of our species.

Despite the seriousness of this statement, no North American newspaper or television network aired this declaration and the two prestigious American newspapers, the New York Times and the Washington Post claimed the warning was not newsworthy.

It is obvious that pertinent information about global issues should be available as undistorted fact, regardless of its content and disposition, so individuals can make appropriate decisions and actions regarding its effects on their lives. The media should not have the right to decide what information the public should be privy to and for what reasons.

Reference:

From Naked Ape to Superspecies, David Suzuki and Holly Dressel, Stoddart Publishing Co, 1999, Sez Who, pp. 68-69.

Influence of the Dominant Worldview on the Educational System

An excerpt from the Passionate Earth: The Evolution of Our Relationship with the Natural World by John Del Signore. I will be posting new articles to this site on a regular basis.

         Given the education system is steeped in our current technological-industrial framework, it tends to perpetuate the misdirected perceptions, values and attitudes that have led to our present ecological crisis. The specialization of curriculum in the scientific and technological fields has taken precedent over the liberal arts and the role of the educational system today appears to be oriented more towards career planning than towards the accumulation and utilization of a wide range of knowledge encompassing many disciplines. Furthermore, the trend in education is to teach that values and maybe even facts are primarily subjective and relative and that the natural world is nothing but a collection of resources to be utilized and pleasured. The study of nature is largely presented as data to be studied for the purpose of conservation for human consumption. It is also assumed that science and technology can solve all human problems, no matter how difficult they may seem and that human progress is of utmost importance. Education itself is now being seen as a commodity and students as consumers. The pervasiveness of these developments has infiltrated into the heart of our educational system and is promoting human endeavors that are contributing to the continued exploitation and domination of the planet. Thus, the institution that was designed to educate and advance our species is now paradoxically hurling us toward an environmental crisis of monumental proportions. 

Reference:

Deep Ecology: Living as if Nature Mattered by Bill Devall and George Sessions,1985 by Gibbs M. Smith, Inc. Character and Culture, pp. 179-190.

Consumerism, Computers and the Internet

An excerpt from the Passionate Earth: The Evolution of Our Relationship with the Natural World by John Del Signore. I will be posting new articles to this site on a regular basis.

Before the advent of the Internet, the acquisition of most material goods and services was done more at a local level, usually close to home and often with people one was familiar with. Goods and services that were more specialized were ordered or were procured by traveling to the places where they were available.

Today, this scenario has changed dramatically. The Internet and the sophistication of the computer and other devices that utilize the Internet have given us a new way to access what we need that is easy, quick, and can be done from the comfort of our homes or anyplace we happen to be. We also have access to an almost limitless variety of services and goods that spans all seven continents and countries. What we have today is a global market and a global consumerism. The positive result of this new technology is that we can literally have anything we want that has been produced in the world and it can be shipped to our homes in a relatively short period of time. We also have access to more creature comforts and recreational items than ever and this has produced a more enjoyable lifestyle.

The down side of this development is that shopping, being so easy and accessible, encourages a significant increase in consumerism that includes buying necessities as well as impulse buying. This in turn, promotes an increase in the manufacture of goods and the development of services that tax the planet’s natural resources beyond a state of sustainability. We are using the planets resources at such an accelerated rate, that we are now at 20% to 30% or better overshoot and will be soon depleting many of the natural resources we need to run our modern societies. Fossil fuels are a prime example of this problem and growing enough food to feed our increasing populations will also be an arduous challenge.

We need to ask ourselves what do we really need to function adequately while respecting the needs of our environment. What things could we do without and how much variety of products and services do we really need? We also need to look at the distinction between what we need and what we want and how to negotiate between the two.

The Internet also encourages spending lots of time browsing, playing video games, watching video clips, chatting, E-mailing and texting that takes away from time we could be spending on our psychological, social, and spiritual needs.

The Influence of the Elite and Wealthy Power Holders

An excerpt from the Passionate Earth: The Evolution of Our Relationship with the Natural World by John Del Signore. I will be posting new articles to this site on a regular basis.

There are a group of powerful and wealthy people who have decided on the goal of controlling the populous politically and economically and exploiting the bounty of this planet for themselves. They believe that the ordinary individual is unable to think rationally and behave in a normative manner that would constitute a civil society. They seem to believe that fundamentally people are lazy, stupid and motivated only towards self-interest and thus need to be managed for their own good. This notion stems from their own arrogance, feelings of entitlement and perception of being superior to others. There are various psychological reasons for their resultant ideologies, behaviors and actions that might well fit some of the categories proposed in the chapter on psychology, but the bottom line is that they want to control and dominate the Earth and will do almost anything to achieve that end.

It is important to take this portrayal seriously and not dismiss it as a conspiracy theory or the utterings of paranoid and psychologically unbalanced individuals. It is real and it is affecting everything we do in our daily lives. It is the cause of much suffering at a personal level in that their intentions are to keep us operating at a subsistence level, just trying to make ends meet financially instead of being able to focus on our deepest desires and life goals as well as realizing that we are being manipulated and controlled. It is the reason for the inequality of goods and services, food and shelter, and the rights and freedoms that compromise most of the worlds’ peoples. It is the reason that enemies are invented for us to fear and attack and to keep the war machine in motion. It is the horrendous misperception counter to that which recognizes people are basically social beings that seek harmony, interconnectedness and a sense of belonging as a species.

To reclaim our power, we must educate ourselves regarding their behaviors and actions and avoid association and involvement with anything that supports their intentions and power base. This means boycotting many of their products and services and not supporting political, social and religious agendas that promote their goals. This is not an easy task and will take considerable effort and a consequent change in lifestyle, but the benefits will be considerable: the freedom of expressing and living a personal ideology, lifestyle and purpose.

Economics and the Market Economy

An excerpt from the Passionate Earth: The Evolution of Our Relationship with the Natural World by John Del Signore. I will be posting new articles to this site on a regular basis.

“Economics is usually defined as the “social science concerned with analyzing and describing the production, distribution, and consumption of wealth”. English economist Lionel Robbins defines economics as “the science that describes human behavior as a relationship between (given) ends and scarce means which have alternative uses.” Alfred Marshall claims economics “examines that part of individual and social action which is most closely associated with the attainment and with the use of the material requisites of wellbeing.”

These definitions are limited in that they do not address human behavior, ethics or sustainability. They simply look at the attainment of the material needs of society and how to obtain them most efficiently. A more inclusive definition of economics would consider the attainment of material goods as well as the equal distribution of those commodities within a context of social justice, ethics and sustainability. It appears that our current economic philosophy is amoral and solely anthropocentric.

The philosophy of economics that has been prevalent in the world has many inherent flaws: it is chiefly oriented towards production, marketing and profit and does not consider environmental concerns adequately. A new philosophy and model are desperately needed to run our modern economies.

Our economic system appears to have been elevated to the status of infallibility by economists and has been largely accepted by the general public as well. Any attempt at change or reform that interferes with economic progress is seen as creating economic ineffectiveness and is decidedly discouraged even if it makes sense. Economic initiatives deemed to be overly expensive to address the ecological crisis are a prime example. Economic progress has come to be equated with human progress and is vigorously endorsed by a majority of counties but especially by those in wealthy developed Western nations.

The origin of economics dates back to the 17th century economic philosophy of Adams Smith who wrote a book called The Wealth of Nations. The main treatise of this work translates into the notion that individual self-interest would encourage people to behave in ways that would be mutually beneficial so all parties would benefit from selling and purchasing goods and services. Adams maintained that individuals are predominantly sympathetic for others and will moderate their behaviors to create harmony in social and business-oriented relationships. As much as this idea sounds unusual and maybe even suspicious of only self-interest, Adams actually had an optimistic view of humanity and also wrote a book on ethics entitled, The Theory of Moral Sentiments based on social psychology. Adams has been misinterpreted as endorsing economic greed by those who misunderstood his theoretical ideas about human nature.

When industry began, primarily small businesses existed, mainly farming and some light industry, and the power structure was vertical and limited to local ownership and management. There were no large corporations that had the ability to control and monopolize the market either. Although, some working conditions were poor and wages were not always adequate, there was no particular formal work ethics articulated until industry became more prominent and organized. Serious concerns about how employees were being managed and treated did become a critical concern as industries became much larger and profit motives superseded human rights issues.

Adams also was aware of the impact of larger business entities, monopolies and corruption that might result from concentrated power and hierarchical management as well. He also mentioned the ethical aspects of business and how abuse of employees would produce poverty and inequality and significant social problems. It appears his warnings were not taken very seriously or overlooked in favor of the benefits a market economy could provide to those in positions of power and influence.

Today, we see a global economy comprised of many huge corporate entities that fix and control prices, manipulate government regulations to their benefit, manage employees in a patriarchal manner and pay wages that maintain the highest profit possible. The workplace considers its employees too often as resources than as partners. Small family businesses struggle to survive and often have short life expectancies. The marketplace endorses a philosophy of cutthroat competition and controlling and manipulating all known aspects that interfere with maximizing profits.

Supplying what consumers need and want is no longer a priority. Businesses invent and decide what is to be marketed and how to sell their wares through aggressive promotion and advertising. Consumerism has become an independent goal in itself. It is even considered unpatriotic to limit personal consumption and to live with less.

Work is a substantial part of our lives and should be realized in an environment in which professional and personal fulfillment can be realized. Most people want to enjoy their work and feel that they contribute to the greater good of society by what they do. These goals are not a chief concern of the market economy and the psychological needs of people are often underplayed or ignored altogether.

Overconsumption is not sustainable and humanity is using the planet’s resources too quickly as well as too much altogether. Many economic practices are despoiling the environment as well.

Consumers do not often know adequate information about the origin and or way products are made or what environmental problems may exist. Products are also not always labeled adequately about specific dangers or problems. The consumer is basically at the mercy of many conditions they have little information about. Industries sometimes misinform the public to conceal problems with products and services. Ethical business practices are easily put on the back burner in favor of increased profit margins.

So, economics has a tremendous impact on the human condition and society at large. It is not just about the distribution of goods and services; it affects every aspect of our lives in significant ways.

It appears that economics is fundamentally concerned with short-term self-interests and does not promote the needs of society or the individual in its basic philosophy. We must ask ourselves if this economic model makes sense to an organism that is continuing to evolve to a higher purpose than merely subsistence living.

Traditional industry, technology and businesses tend to consume resources in an unsustainable manner, utilize manufacturing or other processes that pollute the local environment and treat staff as resources to be managed for the sake of the company. Human needs are often neglected, such as a safe working place, career and personal fulfillment and adequate compensation in favor of higher profit margins for the corporation, upper management and stockholders. These entities often try to hide or deny deleterious outcomes from their operations as well as shirking governmental or state regulations. Politicians are often bribed or persuaded to vote on measures that favor corporate agendas. In an enlightened economy, the above issues just mentioned must be eradicated. Human and environmental needs must take precedent over power, control and profit.

Technology

An excerpt from the Passionate Earth: The Evolution of Our Relationship with the Natural World by John Del Signore. I will be posting new articles to this site on a regular basis.

Science has been the backbone of technology since its inception and has contributed to the invention and production of a wide range of products and services that have forwarded the development of society and have allowed us to live increasingly more comfortable lifestyles. However, the extensive use of creature comforts has also removed us further from direct contact with our natural surroundings.

The industrial revolution introduced the power of machines to the human race, which in turn, enabled the production of great quantities of products that added comfort to our lifestyles and gave us more time to engage in other personal pursuits. But the lure of profit resulted in factories with dangerous equipment, poor working conditions and low wages that primarily benefited the owners and stockholders. This scenario is still prevalent today and even worse in poor developing nations.  Many inventions did improve our lifestyles but many more were not evaluated for their negative effects on the environment or on society in general. This fact is as true today as it was back then.

We have come to rely more on machines and specialized tools to do work that we formerly did by hand. This has caused us to become more sedentary, as much of our modern forms of work and recreation occur indoors and are highly automated. Most of us do not get enough physical exercise and incur poor health over time as well as many medical and psychological disorders.

Our recreational pursuits are extensively based on mechanized vehicles in which we have become passive observers of our experiences. Spectator sports are a good example of increased passive engagement, especially via the television, the media and the computer. A wide array of electronic devices gives us another avenue of passive activity that can be utilized almost anywhere on the planet.

A moderate use of these commodities is certainly advantageous to our modern lifestyles but these activities have become more of an addiction than a convenience or a necessity and interfere with the fulfillment of other important human needs. 

The manufacture of many products has also contributed to the pollution of the planet and its natural resources. We have continued to utilize processes that are harmful to our air, water and soil and have not put enough effort into finding environmentally friendly alternatives, mostly because of cost and profit motives. 

Technology is also the beginning of the chain of events from which marketing, sales and consumerism flow and create a feedback loop that demands the constant selling and consuming of products to support the businesses and corporations of society. New products are constantly created and introduced to the public to ensure the repetition of this cycle so wealth can be obtained and accumulated, despite the actual wants and needs of the consumer.

An alternate feedback loop of great concern is the prevalent one that leads to the addiction of seeking power and wealth as an end in itself that also typically fosters a cycle of corruption and crime.  

Again, as in many other human endeavors, our dualistic and reductionistic philosophies promote a technology that is value free and does not answer to the higher call of ethics or environmental and social responsibility.

Reference:

Ecopsychology: Restoring the Earth Healing the Mind, Sierra Club Books,1995, edited by Theodore Roszak, Mary E. Gomes, Allen D. Kanner. The all-consuming Self by Mary E. Gomes and Allen D. Kanner, pp. 77-91.

Science

An excerpt from the Passionate Earth: The Evolution of Our Relationship with the Natural World by John Del Signore. I will be posting new articles to this site on a regular basis.

“Science is the study of the intellectual and practical activity encompassing the systematic study of the structure and behavior of the physical and natural world through observation and experimentation.” (Definition of Science, The Oxford College Dictionary, 2007). Science came into being as a result of philosophical inquiry regarding the understanding of the purpose and meaning of human existence and that of the universe.

As science became more formulated, it asserted that human subjectivity would impair one’s ability to see things objectively and would result in scientific falsehoods and a misunderstanding of the cosmos. The notion of subjectivity was aimed at the human characteristics of imagination, creativity, intuition, spontaneity, emotions, feelings, dreams, mysticism, mythology and attraction to that which is elegant or beautiful. Science proclaimed the universe was mathematical, logical, and orderly and was subject to laws that governed its inner workings. Adequate formal study and observance would eventually lead to an understanding of all its complicated underpinnings. The idea of intelligent design or a deity being the creator of the universe was negated and discouraged as well.

Its more formal conception came in the 17th century when Francis Bacon and Rene Descartes defined the world in mechanistic terms and birthed the essential foundations of the scientific method. The viewpoint at that time was that the world was objective, mechanical, logical and predictable and that its mysteries could be discovered via observation and experimentation. This also re-defined the world as an inanimate object and thus demoted it from its previous disposition as a living organism. The importance of this new perception and its manifestations was a definitive turning point in our relationship with the environment. The new worldview of science manifested itself in other important changes in perception as well. I will present these beginning with a treatise by John Fowles and his idea of the Green Man in the Tree. 

The Idea of the Green Man in The Tree by John Fowles

John Fowles uses the term “Green Man” to represent the archetype of human oneness with nature. He feels that science and to some degree, art have attempted to explain nature almost entirely through reductionism and claims that nature is both a science and an art, beyond just knowledge and feeling. Fowles also believes that the real and significant aspects of nature are private and hidden and that there is an intrinsic human requirement for internal and external disorder and wildness.

Mr. Fowles asserts that modern societies have brainwashed its constituents into believing that acquiring knowledge is more important than having knowledge or using it intelligently. He dates this attitude back to Victorian science that valued the accumulation of knowledge as an ultimate goal in itself. The environment, at that time, was seen as a kind of opponent or entity to be tamed, outwitted and conquered for the benefit of humanity. The short-term advantages of understanding and utilizing the riches of nature were not thoroughly assessed for their sustainability and over time, led to undesired consequences.

Science inadvertently created more detachment between humans and their surroundings and promoted increased anthropocentrism. Science also became so specialized that it discouraged laymen from making any viable inquiries for themselves, as the experts seemed to have taken over the role of discovery of the most important current facts and figures. Another perception arose that asserted much of nature was, in fact, useless and that the survival of humanity was of utmost importance. Fowles also felt that science can only teach us how and what to look for in nature but fails to question its own ontology.

The Demotion of Animals

William Johnson provides insight into the plight of animals and how their status as a living organism was relegated to that of a mechanism or as Johnson puts it,” dumb brutes”. Humanity, attempting to deny its evolutionary covenant with nature, often in the guise of social etiquette and fashion, resorted to immature and primitive ways to enhance its self-esteem by demoting its former ancestral relatives to the status of inferior beings. This included denying animals any possession of intelligence, conscious thought, free will or a soul.

Darwin’s theory of evolution, initiated during the Victorian era, sent a shockwave throughout English society with its proclamation that humans had descended from primates. The church took up the perceived humiliation with predicted outrage, not understanding that science was not trying to undermine the divine status of humanity but only to discover the true origin of Homo sapiens. Unfortunately, Darwin’s brilliant theory was soon to be expediently reinterpreted as survival of the slickest, a term that put emphasis on competition rather than in a symbiotic relationship between species. Consequently, this slant on “survival of the fittest” appeared to generate a justification for all kinds of social injustice.

When science subjected the creatures of the world to its new dictum of reductionisim, animals became formally defined as automatons or mechanisms driven by instincts, were regarded as incapable of conscious thought, feelings or free will and were denied any rights to proper care or affection. This new proclamation gave humanity the exclusive right to dominate the animal kingdom for purely utilitarian reasons. Furthermore, this attitude attributed to the painful testing of products on animals, experimental surgeries and vivisection, cruel animal slaughter methods at animal farms, subjugating animals to circus life and zoos and the savage killing of animals at sporting events.

The application of science in understanding the biosphere and its natural resources has led to an unprecedented explosion of knowledge and technological development that has decidedly shaped humanities’ ideologies, cultures and lifestyles. Unfortunately, its misperceptions about our relationship with the natural world have resulted in many poor decisions regarding how we use the planet’s bounty and for what purpose.

References:

“Definition of Science,” The Oxford College Dictionary, 2007, Oxford University Press. Accessed 29 May 2020.

“The Tree by John Fowles.” bliisbooks, WordPress.com, 10 April 2017, biisbooks.wordpress.com/2017/04/10/the-tree-by-john-fowles/. Accessed 26 May 2020.

Johnson, William M. “The Rose – Tinted Menagerie: A History of Animals in Entertainment, from Ancient Rome to the 20th Century.” Iridescent Publishing, iridescent publishing.com/rtm/rtm_home.htm. Accessed 26 May 2020.

Population Growth

An excerpt from the Passionate Earth: The Evolution of Our Relationship with the Natural World by John Del Signore. I will be posting new articles to this site on a regular basis.

The environmental movement has advocated for conservation and preservation of our habitat to ensure that both humanity and the planet will be sustainable. As much as this philosophy makes sense and has ethical implications as well, we must also look at some misconceptions that have been perpetuated by the development community and the preservation movement that threaten to undermine their own ideologies and purpose.

Both entities just mentioned tend to think that human intervention in nature somehow suspends the laws of nature whereas preservation efforts allow nature full reign to evolve naturally. We cannot alter the way nature operates although we seem to act as if we can. We can manipulate nature’s results to some degree and maybe even delay disastrous outcomes but we cannot ultimately eliminate them from occurring.

Society and our policies of preservation and conservation are human inventions. The borders we have placed between them are of human origin and are not acknowledged by nature. Consequently, neither society nor environmentalism operates in the way we perceive they should. The biosphere operates in its own evolutionary manner, and as such, will always triumph when conflicted with human interventions. Thus, if humanity did manage to cause what we refer to as a total ecosystem collapse, much of the planet’s life forms might ultimately die-off but evolution would resume its usual course, even if all that was left were primitive organisms or elements.

In light of our attitudes about nature, we also seem to be obsessed with our own mortality. We have not accepted the fact that life and death are the natural processes of evolution. Much of what we do in the name of sustainability is really directed at our own continuance, despite recognizing that if we destroy nature, we destroy ourselves as well. Certainly, self-interest, as well as enlightened self-interest or symbiosis, is a fundamental and logical aspect of evolutionary development of all species but the human ego seems to have directed its focus mainly towards its own survival and prosperity.

What is needed is a change in consciousness that recognizes our participation in the evolution of the cosmos as opposed to our psychology of superiority, uniqueness and privilege. We need to stop thinking of the universe as something outside ourselves that is separate and alien. This disposition of disconnection is at the heart of our imbalanced relationship with nature and our resultant human-ecological crisis. According to William Ashworth, the author of The Left Hand of Eden, the careful use of natural resources within a context of “use with reverence”, is the only viable way of ensuring the ethic of true preservation.

Reference:

The Left Hand of Eden, William Ashworth, Oregon State University Press, 1999, Prologue, pp. x-xl and A Death at Sunset, pp. 3-8.

Conservation and the Laws of Nature

An excerpt from the Passionate Earth: The Evolution of Our Relationship with the Natural World by John Del Signore

The environmental movement has advocated for conservation and preservation of our habitat to ensure that both humanity and the planet will be sustainable. As much as this philosophy makes sense and has ethical implications as well, we must also look at some misconceptions that have been perpetuated by the development community and the preservation movement that threaten to undermine their own ideologies and purpose.

Both entities just mentioned tend to think that human intervention in nature somehow suspends the laws of nature whereas preservation efforts allow nature full reign to evolve naturally. We cannot alter the way nature operates although we seem to act as if we can. We can manipulate nature’s results to some degree and maybe even delay disastrous outcomes but we cannot ultimately eliminate them from occurring.

Society and our policies of preservation and conservation are human inventions. The borders we have placed between them are of human origin and are not acknowledged by nature. Consequently, neither society nor environmentalism operates in the way we perceive they should. The biosphere operates in its own evolutionary manner, and as such, will always triumph when conflicted with human interventions. Thus, if humanity did manage to cause what we refer to as a total ecosystem collapse, much of the planet’s life forms might ultimately die-off but evolution would resume its usual course, even if all that was left were primitive organisms or elements.

In light of our attitudes about nature, we also seem to be obsessed with our own mortality. We have not accepted the fact that life and death are the natural processes of evolution. Much of what we do in the name of sustainability is really directed at our own continuance, despite recognizing that if we destroy nature, we destroy ourselves as well. Certainly, self-interest, as well as enlightened self-interest or symbiosis, is a fundamental and logical aspect of evolutionary development of all species but the human ego seems to have directed its focus mainly towards its own survival and prosperity.

What is needed is a change in consciousness that recognizes our participation in the evolution of the cosmos as opposed to our psychology of superiority, uniqueness and privilege. We need to stop thinking of the universe as something outside ourselves that is separate and alien. This disposition of disconnection is at the heart of our imbalanced relationship with nature and our resultant human-ecological crisis. According to William Ashworth, the author of The Left Hand of Eden, the careful use of natural resources within a context of “use with reverence”, is the only viable way of ensuring the ethic of true preservation.

Reference:

The Left Hand of Eden, William Ashworth, Oregon State University Press, 1999, Prologue, pp. x-xl and A Death at Sunset, pp. 3-8.

Reformism

An excerpt from the Passionate Earth: The Evolution of Our Relationship with the Natural World by John Del Signore

Philosophical Reformism

Philosophically, reformism frames progress as the cultural development of humanity from the primitive nature of superstitious religious hunters and gatherers through philosophy and metaphysics, to the current scientific, industrial and technologically based paradigm we have come to know. Reformism also includes the notion that progress is a distinguishing characteristic of modern humans and that humans are superior to other living creatures and entities, especially with respect to life on Earth. Also, philosophy seems to have lost its power to critique the endeavors of humanity including its relationship with nature or to have influence in questioning a cultural perspective that does not include ecological considerations.

Resource Conservation and Development          

Resource Conservation and Development is a perspective that views nature as a collection of natural resources which humans are entitled to utilize for the benefit of society. Ultimately, this means that as natural resources become scarce due to exploitation, the environment will be managed with increasing intensiveness and sophistication. It is also thought that advanced scientific methods and technological advances will keep us from totally depleting our dwindling supply of resources and that we will always somehow be able to procure enough from the Earth to satisfy human ambitions and needs. This philosophy also frames animals, plants and inert matter as having no intrinsic value in and of themselves, thereby justifying our continued exploitation. Therefore, it can be implied that the resource conservation and development movement is primarily anthropocentric.

Geography and the Elements

The conquering of the planet’s landscapes for human habitation and recreation is also another form of exploitation and domination that the conservation movement fails to perceive as problematic. For example, the high peaks of the Himalayas have been ravaged by exploration as well as many other impressive landscapes and humans have continued to populate regions that are clearly unfit for habitation without rendering extensive ecosystem degradation. The primary elements including soil, minerals, water and atmosphere have also been exploited with little regard for their relation to all the living systems of the Earth.

The Rights and Liberation of Animals

Animals that are considered more highly developed and that experience pain and suffering have been awarded some rights for benevolent treatment but the less advanced creatures have been given no status deserving of such rights. The practice of domesticating wild animals, subjecting animals to sport hunting, captivity in zoos and circuses, their use in scientific experiments that are painful and to test products is clearly directed at human needs. Plants have also been considered valuable but again mainly in anthropocentric terms. Animals and plants have not been valued for their intrinsic worth as creatures of the Earth.

Population Growth

Population growth is another issue of contention as some believe humans are a most valuable or ultimate resource and should be allowed to increase and prosper as much as they desire. Others believe that the planet has a definite carrying capacity and that continued population growth will eventually result in ecosystem collapse due to the exhaustion of natural resources and the extinction of humanity and many if not all of Earth’s creatures.

Politics

Reform in the political arena has been slow and unremarkable. John Livingston defined conservation as the caring and preservation of natural resources so they will be available for human consumption for all time. John Passmore defined it as saving the Earth’s bounty for future utilization. Gifford Pinchot influenced Teddy Roosevelt to share the notion that science and technology would guide the use of natural resources in a wise manner for the benefit of humanity and that exploitive practices would end and social justice would prevail.

The establishment of the “resource expert” or scientific manager of nature developed quickly throughout the world in colleges and universities to equip society with experts to deal with every aspect of the environment. This ideology created the framework from which to treat all of nature as a resource to be managed by humanity. This notion of our role as manager isolates us from our fellow inhabitants with whom we should be sharing a symbiotic relationship. 

Not only was the environment slated to be forever under the domination of humans but humanity itself became a target for this type of thinking as well. Humans began to be increasingly perceived as a resource to be managed for the benefit of society to further human progress technologically and socially.

Reference:

Deep Ecology: Living as if Nature Mattered by Bill Devall and George Sessions, 1985 by Gibbs M. Smith, Inc. The Reformist Response, pp. 51-6.1

Human Psychology and Nature-part five

An excerpt from the Passionate Earth: The Evolution of Our Relationship with the Natural World by John Del Signore

Perspectives Related to the Human Psyche and Consciousness

Indigenous cultures appeared to understand the roots of their existence and were in touch with the fact that human evolution was an integrated process with that of creation. Despite the fact that their understanding of these concepts was limited, they still felt a sense of wonder for their environment, the universe and of their place within it. Given the ecological crisis we are experiencing today, we look back in time and even to prehistoric history to search for the roots of our disconnection from the natural world.

In the study of psychology throughout history, there has been a lot of investigation and speculation regarding the workings and purpose of our psyche, the thinking and motivations that determine our behaviors and how our essence might be linked to the natural world. Early psychology focused on the id, ego, and superego and unconscious to explain the nature of desires, motivations and behavior. The focus was on the human entity perceived as separate from the natural world. It did not include the notion that our essence was integrally tied to our habitat, to the process of evolution, and to the universe at large. Human philosophy, psychology and sociology were largely aimed at understanding the intra-psychic processes of human and interpersonal relationships but did not equate them to the roots of our existence.

Remember our first psychology courses and all the discussion about the underpinnings of our motivations, desires and behaviors that were more or less described as being gratification oriented. The reductionistic philosophies of science promoted the idea that humans were basically selfish and had desires that needed to be controlled and managed for their own good, especially the sexual drives. This psychology encouraged the use of normative values to control the populous. It stated that our instinctual drives are dysfunctional, antisocial and detrimental to healthy functioning and would impact negatively on the positive functioning of others as well. Thus, sin, guilt and shame were concocted to control those instinctual drives and resultant behaviors to keep behavior in check in most societies.

Psychology and theology must now come to terms with the concept of sin and free humanity from its pathological clutches. The idea that madness and original sin exist naturally points to a previous state in which humans were ethical and lived in harmony with Gaia. Since we have evidence that primary cultures did live harmoniously with nature, how is it that modern cultures have become so detached from it?

We have created a psychological framework that represents humanity as innately competitive and primarily invested in its own self-interests. We certainly have practical evidence throughout history that people have acted in this manner, but we cannot say unilaterally that the majority of people on the planet have acted dysfunctional, selfishly, or competitively. If so, then it is doubtful that societies would ever have succeeded in the first place. Totally chaotic human behavior would not have supported the growth and continuance of societies and in fact would have led to the extinction of humanity. No bureaucratic system or police force, no matter how large or powerful could possibly have controlled all negative human behavior successfully. We must ask where this generalization of human behavior came from? Is it a misunderstanding of the psychology of behavior itself or does it have other motivations such as the need for behavior control and management conjured up to promote a fear of how humans might behave if not managed or controlled by others?

From systems theory, we know that evolution is a non-linear process. Nothing remains in any one state for long and never will. That is so with the human species as well. We have developed into creatures of great intellect and consciousness, probably our greatest gift being consciousness and these attributes are responsible for the fact that we have now created a global culture for the first time in history. Our development and sophistication have gone far beyond the survival that the evolutionary process requires. We delve into the highest abstractions of thought, ideas of unlimited creativity, art, music, religion, philosophy, science, technology, information and most recently, our technological age.

These fanciful endeavors however have a potentially dark side as well. We now have a greater probability to become unbalanced as an organism as well. We have choice and free will and we can do whatever we like even if we are aware that our choices may not result in positive outcomes. Our present urban-industrial lifestyles have removed us from the intimate contact with nature we once knew and our desire to be physically comfortable through materialism has changed our disposition to one of an exploitive species. Changing our worldview to one that is harmonious with that of Gaia will have to start at the level of the individual and will likely fail if left up to the needs and goals of our social and political institutions.

Our habitat, the Earth, is the manifestation of the history and evolution of cosmic forces that have shaped our universe and our special place within it. The Earth is our home, our place of origin and it has given us everything we have needed to develop and prosper. Nature has stirred in us a sense of wonder and appreciation. It is beyond anything we could conjure up in our imagination. It represents that which we can worship and adore. Instead of attempting to manage and control it, could we not seek to establish a relationship that is respectful and reverent and allows us to flow and grow within it as we continue our evolutionary journey into the future?

Our physical bodies are the bond by which we are connected between nature and human nature. Instead of resisting our covenant with the natural world, we could embrace our biological roots and employ all of their attributes as we progress towards a human ecology. And in doing so, we would arrive at a human-nature relationship that is harmonious and encourages a sense of interconnectedness and belonging.

The collective unconscious is responsible for the development and maturation of our ecological intelligence. It is the source from which culture is articulated and manifest as a reflection of nature’s ontology. Nature’s self-adjusting and intelligently guided system has been responsible for the development and survival of all life on this planet including its propensity to promote increasing sophistication in its evolutionary processes. Our amazing journey started with the Big Bang, the primal force that created the elements, and the evolutionary processes that would allow our lives to unfold into the natural world. We must fully engage our whole psychology and covenant with the biosphere if we wish to continue this voyage and embrace the reality we are meant to discover and come to understand.

Ken Wilber believes that humanity is evolving through eight evolutionary stages of which we are currently in the fourth. He defines the first stage as archaic-uruboric that occurred tens of thousands of years ago. Humans at that time were primarily instinctual in nature and could be described as animal-like and totally connected and harmonious with the natural world.

The second stage that he calls the magical-typhonic spawned when humanity drew a distinction between itself and wild nature. This stage initiated emotional instability and gave rise to the death anxiety that has increasingly plagued humanity throughout history.

Stage three is called mythic-membership, an important stage brought forth by the advent of agriculture and the development of settlement in cities and the gradual departure from hunting and gathering. The defining event in stage three was the development of articulate language. Language allowed for a sense of time that included the past, present and future, thus expanding what was possible for humans to perceive as their life and what accomplishments could be realized. This was not possible in the hunter-gatherer lifestyle as only the present was a reality. In stage three, humans became increasingly individualized and more aware of their mortality as a fact of life. In order to cope with this fear of mortality, humans employed language to procure the future (a sense of ongoing time) such that they could project themselves into it and prolong their perceived future psychologically, feeling this would ensure their survival as a species.

Stage three also birthed the cult of the Great Mother, the benevolent and also devouring Mother who represented fertility. It was perceived that she had to be appeased by blood sacrifice to gain favorable treatment. Blood was viewed in relation to birth and death and the female menstrual flow ceasing at conception was thought to be the source or matter from which babies were created. Thus, the practice of sacrificing humans and spreading their blood on their farmlands was believed to appease the Great Mother, ensuring the blessing of fertile soil and a fruitful harvest.

The Great Mother to some degree was also viewed to be synonymous with the forces of nature as well as a powerful mother figure. Detachment from her in the maturation process was also understood as a natural process but also fostered a sense of guilt. As separateness increased with maturation, it also enhanced individuation and the death anxiety became much more pronounced as well. The disposition of growing separateness from the world resulted in a psychology of vulnerability that in turn fostered a fear of eradication. Early civilizations sacrificed their leaders to appease the Great Mother just as they sacrificed the commoners but eventually, this practice was resisted and terminated by the leading classes. They reasoned that their important leadership role was a consequence of their favored position by the Great Mother and thus their sacrifice was unnecessary. This change in consciousness (Wilber refers to it as solar consciousness) marks the transition from stage three to stage four: the unfolding into the mental-egoic consciousness (his terminology for the fourth stage) viewed as our current modern paradigm.

Wilber concludes that the death anxiety of the Western World is far more pronounced than that of Eastern cultures and that the mental-egoic consciousness is oriented towards differentiation between ego-consciousness and the body and also dissociation from the body. Thus, the human body becomes a reminder of dependence, mortality and death. To cope with this unresolvable dilemma, humans dominate and hold on to the body as well as that of Mother Earth attempting to gain a grip on immortality even though this is ultimately impossible to achieve.

The result of this mental-egoic consciousness was an assertion of independence that included a transcendence of the Great Mother at one level that was healthy but also a repression of her that was highly dysfunctional. Thus, humanity set out to conquer the universe and exploit nature to obtain fulfillment and a sense of solidarity but instead destroyed the previous inherent disposition of interconnectedness and harmony.

“For Wilber, then, human consciousness is a dimension in the process through which the Divine regains the self-consciousness that It lost, when billions of years ago, it underwent the process of “involution,” the emptying of Itself into matter-energy.” (Michael E. Zimmerman, Deep Ecology, Ecoactivism, and Human Evolution). Wilber also asserts that humanity is capable of evolving to the last stages of consciousness and at that time, separation will be transcended and a state of unity will be achieved.

The Self-In-Relation Model

In opposition to the formerly held position of man as a dominator and controller is the alternative theory of the “self-in-relation” model proposed by psychologists at the Stone Center at Wellesley College. The model suggests that as we mature, we progress toward greater complexity in relationships as opposed to defining healthy relationships with increased autonomy. It thus points to interconnection as a primary developmental strategy.

An important factor that determines the success of interconnection includes connections that are empowering and foster growth and creativity. Relationships founded on competition and hierarchy, erode vitality and reduce power to everyone, even to those who appear to be succeeding in the struggle to become fully independent. Given that complete autonomy is impossible to attain, hyper-individuality results in a relationship that denies and frequently destroys the larger context, be this a friendship, a work partner, a family or an ecosystem. The destruction of these systems ultimately affects everyone, even the instigator of the collapse.

This process is becoming increasingly evident today in that humans are obsessed with trying to conquer the planet. Physical evidence of this is notable in the increase in illnesses, such as cancer, immune system and mental health disorders to name a few. The breakdown of ecosystems is the obvious cause. This, in turn, results in more human suffering, increased need for medical and long-term care, the added expense of funding health care facilities, insurance payments and other related expenditures. From a psychological perspective, many serious mental illnesses, especially depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, personality disorders and substance abuse are on the rise as a consequence of our dysfunctional lifestyles and the inability of our environment to sustain us given the damage we have inflicted upon it.

The “self in relation model” is primarily focused on human relationships but could be expanded to include an eco-psychological perspective that would include the Earth’s ecosystems as a human-nature relationship of supportive interconnections. 

Wilderness as a Cure for the Ailing Psyche

Psychology is usually practiced in an office setting that is accessed via traveling on roads, through cities and towns and is conducted in a fifty-minute session. The client is defined as having a psychological disorder and will be receiving advice from an expert who has an extensive knowledge of human nature and the necessary skills to create behavior change. Therapy is also defined with a definite beginning and end at which time the client should be considered cured.

In stark contrast to this notion is the fact that the early healers of humanity practiced in the natural environment and many indigenous cultures still operate in this fashion today. Spending time traveling and conversing in natural surroundings with the inclusion of rituals was a powerful dynamic in the healing process. Attending to nature and its mysteries was a primary means of instilling sanity to the troubled mind. Wilderness programs have more recently emerged in modern society to address a variety of problems inherent in profit and non-profit institutions and many positive outcomes have prevailed from these experiential endeavors.

Humans came from wilderness as an evolutionary process and have wildness as an intrinsic part of their nature. The denial of this wildness and the covenant that goes with it are the chief causes of great emotional distress and mental illness throughout the world but more so in Western societies.

The Longing for Wilderness

It is much harder to access wilderness today than it was before humanity sprawled its population over the entire planet. When the world’s population was sparsely distributed, wilderness areas were abundant and within easy reach and people spent more time enjoying the wonders of nature. But today it is quite different; wilderness is decidedly limited and not easily accessed unless one lives in close proximity or has access to it via modern transportation. Much of our population today lives in urban areas far from the solitude of the mountains, water bodies and forests. Most of our time is spent indoors working or seeking pleasurable social pursuits. We leave ourselves little time to engage in the abundant pleasures of the natural world.

References:

Ecopsychology: Restoring the Earth Healing the Mind, Sierra Club Books,1995, edited by Theodore Roszak, Mary E. Gomes, Allen D. Kanner. The Rape of the Well-Maidens: Feminist Psychology and the Environmental Crisis by Mary E. Gomes and Allen D. Kanner, pp. 117-121.

Zimmerman, Michael E. “Deep Ecology, Ecoactivism, and Human Evolution,” Publication: ReVision[13 (3): 122–28 Winter, 1991,xxpt.ynjgy.com/resource/data/0703/U/05192/OcwWeb/Urban-Studies-and-Planning/11-601Fall-2005/pdf/zimmerman.pdf. Accessed 24 May 2020.

Ecopsychology: Restoring the Earth Healing the Mind, Sierra Club Books,1995, edited by Theodore Roszak, Mary E. Gomes, Allen D. Kanner. The Way of Wilderness by Steven Harper, pp. 183-185.

Human Psychology and Nature-part four

A Critique of Deep Ecology

Al Gore points out that some deep ecologists frame the human relationship with nature using the metaphor of disease. This portrays humans playing the role of a pathogen: a virus attacking the Earth and threatening the planet’s fabric of life. One example is that humans are likened to an HIV virus, inflicting aids upon the biosphere, thus compromising the environment’s ability to resist and maintain immunity to our destructive acts. Another example depicts us in the role of a global cancer that spreads uncontrollably and consumes resources the planet needs to survive. A parasitic relationship comes to mind except that if we do succeed in destroying the Earth, we will forfeit our own existence too, as there will be no other host to attack and thrive upon.

Gore criticizes this metaphor as problematic as it defines humanity as inherently selfish and destructive. It also does not raise the question of whether humans are intrinsically this way or if they are acting out of ignorance and if better informed would make more constructive choices. Should this hypothesis prove to be accurate however, then, the only solution to this dilemma would be to voluntarily rid the planet of our species altogether. Earth First, (a radical grass roots environmental organization), has proposed such an intervention as well as others who hold this pessimistic view of humanity.

Ralph Metzner, on the other hand, feels that the disease metaphor is not predicated on the removal of humanity from the Earth but on other viable solutions. These include a change in consumption, lifestyle, attitude, self-concept and imagery and point to a more optimistic view that we can learn from our mistakes and make corrections that will matter.

Another criticism Mr. Gore makes of deep ecology is that human beings are often referred to as an alien presence and as having a predominately physical relationship with the planet that is more a function of instinct as if we are playing out a script that we have no control over. Unfortunately, human actions often appear this way and tend to derive negative connotations from those who analyze their behaviors. If we contrast deep ecology and Cartesian philosophies, we find an interesting dichotomy. Deep ecologists tend to see human beings as having a primarily physical relationship with the cosmos based on instinctual behavior while Cartesian proponents view humans as intellectually disconnected and superior to the biosphere. Both views ultimately result in the same predicted outcomes: disconnection from the wholeness of life and resultant dysfunctional behaviors. We can conclude from this that what is needed is a balanced relationship with the Earth that includes both physical and mental connection and appreciation.

Al Gore further believes that the Cartesian approach promotes a feeling of separateness from the natural world and perceives the bounty of nature as merely a collection of resources to be exploited for human benefit exclusively. From this notion, has come the framework of thought and behavior that has brought forth our current ecological predicament.

The Mind-Body Relationship

The Cartesian model refers to Descartes’ view of the world as mechanistic, reductionistic and governed by the laws of nature that can be discovered and understood through careful observation and experimentation as defined by logic and the scientific method. This view portrays the natural world as an inanimate object as opposed to a living organism. There are implications that stem from this view that are important to consider and misperceptions we have regarding the mind-body relationship.

The primary connection between mind and body are feelings. Our society, having put emphasis on thinking over feelings, has tended to encourage the cerebral and discourage experiencing feelings and emotions. Cultural mores also reinforce the mind-body separation and the negation of emotions and feelings.

The brain is responsible for intellectual and all bodily functions that allow us to survive, thrive, and mature. We cannot function properly with only the cerebral part of our brain working so to promote the notion that intellectual functioning is superior is neither accurate nor rational. Evolutionary processes evolved the brain to embrace the multi-faceted needs of the human organism. These include thought, abstract thinking, intuition, creativity, instincts, feelings, emotions, sensations, awareness of our bodies and nature. Without interconnectedness and harmony between these functions, we could not have evolved to be the conscious beings that we are. When we try to operate as if we have separate entities within the body and rely primarily on mental processes, we lose the experience of living in our bodies as fully integrated mental and physical beings. This loss is experienced as psychic pain that can manifest in dysfunctional behavior and a variety of psychological disorders. It is not surprising that so many of us seek therapy of some kind to address problems that have as their root cause, a separation between the body, mind, intellect and nature.

The Dichotomy Between the Psyche and Reality

Psychology is the study of human behavior and is primarily focused on internal motivations: deep needs, hidden yearnings and driving ideals. It also tries to understand the dichotomies between what people say they want and what they really want. When considering the relationship humanity has fostered with the Earth, it is perplexing why humanity would choose to behave in an exploitive manner and actively destroy its own habitat.

In psychological parlance, we often think of the mind as inside of us and reality as outside of us, inherently separated from each other. This metaphor has been the subject of great speculation as to how and where these two realms meet and of their philosophical, psychological and political importance in human psychology.

This premise was the invention of society and not derived from the workings of nature. It was introduced by European scientists and philosophers in the 17th century, who were looking for a pragmatic way to explain the workings of the universe. To their thinking, the complexity of nature was so confounding that they sought a means of comprehension that could be objectified and simplified. Personal experience and emotion, being subjective in nature, were believed to be an unreliable means of attaining truth. Thus, the scientific method was initiated and relied heavily, if not exclusively, on reductionism as the primary tool of scientific research.

There is another way to frame the concept that personal experience and emotion are subjective and unreliable. Human nature, including our physical bodies and our mind, evolved from the physical universe, therefore there must be awareness and understanding of our nature in relation to the ontology of the cosmos. Our insistence on the supremacy of the neo-cortex has overshadowed the importance of our physical faculties and has reinforced the philosophy that relegates preference to chiefly intellectual pursuits. From this standpoint, it is understandable why we have such a limited understanding of our world and how we fit within it.

The manner in which we chose to understand the cosmos resulted in a self-imposed disconnection from it and from the covenant we once shared with it. The diversity of dysfunctional behaviors that followed became the manifestations of our belief that we are ultimately separate, superior and entitled to conquer the natural world and utilize its bounty for our sole benefit. All of our major institutions eventually adopted and propagated this philosophy and over time, it developed into an integral part of human thinking and behavior.

Our True Nature

Theodore Roszak deliberates on how modern civilization has distanced from the natural world via the nature of our modern lifestyles. One of the main differences is the development of urban life and the number of people that now live in cities as opposed to in rural areas. Besides the perceived benefits of the centralization of services and commodities and people living in close proximity with each other, there is also the tendency of distancing from the environment to be more comfortable and to avoid discomfort from the harsh aspects of nature as well. Cities also seem to represent human progress and promote the industrial/technological way of life. This in turn takes humans away from their former natural way of living in the environment as hunters and gatherers and changes their focus towards primarily human endeavors. This change in our lifestyles has promoted the attitude that nature exists mainly for human benefit and can be exploited in good conscience for the betterment of society as a whole. This philosophy has led us to becoming an exploitive species that is now in danger of extinction and destroying the fabric of life on Earth. It appears we have become detached from the covenant we once had with wild nature and the new direction we have chosen to go in has resulted in prevalent pathological behavior and a philosophy that is decidedly anthropocentric.

A reappraisal of our current attitudes and behavior is in order. Primitive cultures, for the most part, lived in harmony with their habitat and did not exploit or destroy the environment to any magnitude such as we are doing today. Granted, they did not have the science or the technology to do so at that time, but their principle attitudes included respect for their environment and a sense of ethics as well. Cooperation and collaboration were important concepts for early humans. The idea that the world existed only for humanity was not a conscious thought structure. There was also no particular concept that humans were bad or sinful or that behavior was predominately gratification based. The idea that humans were unworthy and sinful developed much later as a means of control and dominance over the populous by leaders, other authoritarians and religious institutions. 

Prince Peter Kropotkin was a widely acknowledged founder of modern ecology. He was responsible for the discovery of intra-species cooperation and also forwarded the concept of ecosystem along with others who were developing this conceptual framework. He also developed a psychological theory deduced from his studies that puts him in the category of one of the first eco-psychologists. His theory proposed that the symbiosis observed in all living species was not just an altruistic characteristic or virtue. He felt it had deeper origins. That deeper origin was instinctual, spontaneous, and embedded in the foundations of animal consciousness: a part of the process of evolution itself. Thus, Kropotkin concluded that human nature was ethically oriented: the unconscious having its foundation in conscience and the moral disposition of the personality firmly embedded in the psyche.

The notion of an innate conscience considers the human community woven together by caring and a sense of ethics as opposed to just as a social contract. He went further with this saying that humanity should be able to manage itself without the need for governance or bureaucratic entities. This would include the many social institutions that promote normative and ethical behavior.

But modern societies do have institutions to control behavior. Why is this necessary then? Unfortunately, no one has been able to answer this question adequately so far. Neither has anyone been able to explain the origin of original sin or the whole concept that humans seem to be inadequate to manage their own behaviors. Nevertheless, it seems clear that if an ethical unconscious did not exist, modern societies would never be able to exist and sustain themselves regardless of how much bureaucracy and police force could be maintained. Humans naturally take on the structures of family, clan, band, tribe, guild, village or town. Why can we not then live according to the nature that we have been endowed with as an evolutionary species and how can our instinctual social traits be utilized to solve our modern ethical dilemmas? 

Gestalt psychology, started in the 1920’s as an alternative approach to the psychology of perception, proposed that sensory organs can create meaningful patterns even when confronted with chaotic information and that the mind makes meaning even with a lack of it in its environment. In fact, the mind tends to create meaning even when there isn’t any at all. Can this function be inclusive of our whole organism including mind, body, spirit; our relationship to each other and to nature? Gestalt assumes an organism is oriented towards innate healthy functioning. If functioning deviates from healthy, the proper question to ask then is what is in the way, not what is wrong with the organism. Thus, optimism is a concept woven into this eco-psychology that abandons the notion that humans are inherently bad or evil by nature. Human beings then do not need a deity or some outside authority or force to compel them to act responsibly or ethically. Control and domination occur only when certain individuals teach us that the body, psyche, society and nature are unreliable, incompetent and hostile, thus compelling us to doubt our perceptions regarding our self-worth and innate goodness.

Gestalt psychology then can be viewed as a progressive and positive approach to resolving social and environmental problems and leading humanity to a more enlightened disposition. Indigenous peoples’ ideas and lifestyles could also be incorporated into our present worldview and a new expanded paradigm for modern philosophy and behavior could be initiated. 

References:

Earth in the Balance. Ecology and the Human Spirit by AL Gore, 1992, Rodale Inc., Dysfunctional Civilization, pp. 216-219.

The Voice of the Earth; An Exploration of Ecopsychology Theodore Roszak, Phanes Press, 2001, In-Here/Out-There, pp. 39-44.

The Voice of the Earth; An Exploration of Eco-psychology, Theodore Roszak, Phanes Press, 2001, City Pox and the Patriarchal Ego, pp. 215-246.

The Voice of the Earth; An Exploration of Eco-psychology, Theodore Roszak, Phanes Press, 2001, Toward an Ecological Ego, pp. 282-305 and Attending the Planet, pp. 306-317.

Green Psychology by Ralph Metzner, Ph.D. copyright, 1999, Park Street Press, Rochester Vermont, Psychopathology of the Human-Nature Relationship, pp. 90-91.

Green Psychology by Ralph Metzner, Ph.D. copyright, 1999, Park Street Press, Rochester, Vermont Psychopathology of the Human-Nature Relationship, pp. 81-82.

Human Psychology and Nature-part three

An excerpt from the Passionate Earth: The Evolution of Our Relationship with the Natural World by John Del Signore

The Fear of Scarcity

The fear of scarcity is a very significant problem in the human condition. When we don’t have enough of something, not only are we aware of this fact but we have feelings about it as well. Those feelings result in fear and anxiety and result in patterns of thinking and reacting that actually reinforce the condition of scarcity we are experiencing. Thus, we actually create the manifestation of scarcity in our lives that results in not having the things we want and need. These wants and needs can be material things, friendships, love, meaning and purpose in life, spiritual needs, meaningful work, recreational pursuits and personal time. The context of scarcity can also manifest itself in unethical behavior to procure those needs and wants such as stealing from others, manipulating others to get what we need, and devising ways of getting what we need that are hurtful to others even to the extreme of physical harm.

An example of this on a larger scale would be the practice of colonialism by many of our wealthier nations as they sought to gain control of natural resources on the planet. Great Britain, Spain and France and other nations come to mind as they sent their ships throughout the world to procure resources from other continents. As they encountered indigenous cultures on these foreign soils, they often manipulated and deceived to obtain the resources they desired without respect for the inhabitants’ needs and lifestyles and many indigenous cultures were annihilated to procure wealth as well. The American Indians’ fate in the United States is another striking example of this practice and the injustice done has never been rectified to this day.

Fear is often a common tool the media uses to manipulate the populous to act or think in a certain way. The maneuverings that go on in the political arena are a stunning example of this practice and was quite evident in the Bush-Gore election battle in the United States. Fear also distracts our attention away from the important things we should be noticing and attending to, especially corruption and unethical practices in our society. When we are preoccupied with fear, we cannot think creatively and critically and can easily be led down the wrong pathways or we will simply not be able to come up with needed solutions and answers to our most important dilemmas. Fear and anxiety also endanger our overall physical and mental wellbeing and drain our energies and disempower us from accomplishing what we really need to do in our lives.

What is necessary is to come from a context of abundance and then figure out how to get what we need by being attentive and pro-active. We can learn from others that are successful and look at problems as opportunities to create breakthroughs. Making mistakes is all right as long as you learn something that is valuable in the process and don’t continue down the same unproductive road when that problem arises again. Many entrepreneurs have been unsuccessful in their initial attempts to accomplish a goal, but because they were tenacious, eventually succeeded in the end. Life is a never-ending learning curve and one must be aware of this fact and be persistent.

The fact that we as a species are in danger of extinction should certainly invoke a sense of fear and dread but this fear can also be the mechanism that will keep us from acting and thinking appropriately. Operating from a framework of gloom and doom will not solve our ecological crisis. Commitment, enlightened thinking and concerted action will ultimately put us in the solution mode and produce viable results.

The Pursuit of Happiness

Everyone wants to be happy or to avoid pain and suffering and to attain a state of joy, peace, satisfaction, fulfillment, bliss, contentment and wellbeing. This is a natural and logical goal that can be achieved, if we know what we want as opposed to what we think we want. Modern society has been increasingly promoting materialism and consumerism as the ultimate means of fulfillment for both physical and emotional desires, rationalizing that the possession of material wealth is the key to true happiness. The motive for this strategy is obviously oriented towards capital gain; not in simply supplying the fundamental and desired needs of society.

Unfortunately, the extravagant use of resources to supply this ever-growing need for goods and the manner in which we manufacture those products has had a devastating effect on the environment. Pollution of our air, water and soil is at an all-time high and there is no end in sight. As our population continues to grow and material needs increase, how are we to balance our progress with the ongoing evolutionary needs of the planet?

We must ask ourselves if the pursuit of happiness is going to be inevitably in conflict with the needs of the biosphere or can we attain the happiness we seek by pursuing lifestyles that fulfill both human and planetary necessities?

Psychological evidence has ascertained that materialism actually does not in itself increase our state of happiness but often has an adverse effect. It appears that no matter how much one has, it never seems to be enough and this notion fuels the quest for more things to fulfill our needs and ultimately make us happy. The goal of happiness seems to have become an addiction in itself. Michael Argyle, an Oxford University psychologist, concluded that the primary conditions that influence the attainment of happiness are social relations, work and leisure.    Interestingly, materialism and consumerism, by their inherent nature, prescribe the abandonment of many of those activities that have been defined as healthy and desirable.

Loss of time spent with family and friends, decreased time for recreation and cultural activities and a scarcity of time to be alone and pursue personal interests has become a chronic problem for all the inhabitants of the developed nations and is quickly making its way to its underdeveloped counterparts as well.

We have become obsessed with technology, gadgets, food, drugs, entertainment, attaining altered states of consciousness with drugs and alcohol and needing to be busy and productive most of the time. Being idle is often considered a negative disposition and is highly discouraged. We have a frequent if not pervasive need to be submersed in conversation or music and hardly notice the natural sounds of the world around us. We are working more hours than ever before and trying to fulfill our psychological and spiritual needs in the little time we have left at the end of the workweek. We read about the increase in mental disorders, physical illness, violence, criminal behavior and suicides and wonder about the cause of such concerning developments.

These issues point to the fact that we have become out of touch with our true nature and as we continue to look outward for inner fulfillment, we will continue to be frustrated and unable to comprehend what we have lost or what to do about it.

Progress, Immortality and the Fear of Death

Among the many factors that have contributed to the acceleration and rise of progress in the world, such as the reduction of poverty and pain and the human need to create, Doug Soderstrom has concluded that the chief impetus for progress is the fear of death. Soderstrom supports his notion in that humanity has put tremendous effort into making life as comfortable as possible and at avoiding pain and discomfort by ravaging the fruits of the Earth to fulfill the insatiable desire for power, wealth and material goods. We have done this, however without considering the potential consequences: that the planet may not be able to sustain such intrusions and may ultimately put an end to humanities encroachment in the form of catastrophic ecosystem collapse. Thus, we will have designed and implemented the means of our own destruction.

The question that belies us then, is whether humanities’ progress or values is at the root of the dilemma or could a different scenario produce better outcomes. The greed issue becomes paramount here, as humans have an obsession with self-interest and being happy at the expense of others despite the fact that cooperative relationships could provide the same positive benefits and probably with added efficiency as well. Humans have never been particularly successful at respecting each other’s rights, values and ambitions without some form of interference, sabotage or competitive act to derive benefit for themselves and this attitude has been the cause of failed endeavors throughout history. This attitude of self-interest has also been applied to the environment at great costs to humankind.

Soderstrom suggests that we learn to live with less and be satisfied with less. He asserts that all the achievements and discoveries we might make and how affluent we might become will matter for nothing if we destroy the Earth. He then speculates what historians might say about a society that was able to destroy its own habitat and if progress was such a wonderful idea after all. He concludes that a shorter lifespan with fewer creature comforts would be an equitable exchange for a more pristine habitat and a life well lived.

Psychological Factors That Inhibit Healthy Cognition and Behavior

I would like to illuminate some particular behavioral aspects and conditions that impact on our ability to attend to environmental and social problems.

Apathy

Apathy is a major contributor to the present ecological crisis we are experiencing. Despite the fact that we are aware of the perils that exist and know if we don’t act expediently, we are sure to face a catastrophic ecosystem collapse, we fail to act in an appropriate manner. Why is this so and what obstacles impede our attention and concerted action?

It appears that the immensity of the ecological crisis is so pervasive and frightening that instead of turning our full commitment to its resolution, we try to forget it exists and distract ourselves with other concerns, especially materialism. We also shirk responsibility and hope others who are experts in these matters will rise to the occasion and save us all. Given the current level of damage already done, it is painfully obvious that humanity will not be saved by a small number of dedicated environmentalists and experts from other related fields, regardless of their vision, commitment and professional skills. We must all take on the task of figuring out what to do and acting appropriately.

Pain

Our modern society is overflowing with problems of immense significance that could steadily lead us to peril. We are aware of these issues but we do not often allow ourselves to experience the real pain and thoughts we have about our current predicament. We also don’t tend to share our suffering with others or share support and create partnerships to attend to these sufferings.

Suffering is part of the process of growth and development, and though uncomfortable, is natural and even necessary. Evolution did not bring us to our present state of being without many ups and downs, as we can readily see if we study the history of the evolution of life on this planet. If we can accept that we are participants in the wonders of creation and the process of evolution, we must begin to accept our evolutionary heritage and the covenant that comes with it. We may not like some of our evolutionary makeup, but it is what we are until new changes make their appearance. Our biggest problem then is not our pain for the world but our repression of it.

Repression

If pain and suffering are natural and we realize we are growing, evolving beings that can learn from our mistakes and continue to correct our course as we go, why do we, as a species, repress our pain and suffering so extensively?

Repression limits our energy, sensitivity and capacity to experience the dynamic range of our emotional experiences. As we learn to deaden the pain, we also inadvertently learn to deaden the desired experiences of joy and pleasure. This response is called psychic numbing. Psychic numbing works both on an individual level and on a collective level and manifests itself in an extensive list of cultural ailments that include: fragmentation and alienation, escapist activities, addictions, violence, being politically apathetic, blaming and scapegoating, suppression of critical information, cognitive impairment, and disempowerment and burnout. These effects build on each other and intensify our emotional and behavioral reactions in a circular fashion. Cause becomes effect and effect becomes cause. The more we try to avoid suffering, the more we tend to suffer.

Joanna Macy and Molly Brown brought attention to the issue of pain for the world and attributed it to psychological causes. Due to the acceleration of our industrial society, additional factors have now entered the equation. The corporate global economy, by its growth and influence over communications and information dissemination, has exerted increased pressures on humanity, thereby making it more difficult for citizens to respond appropriately to present-day issues and for their concerns to be heard and acted upon.

Joanna and Molly have researched and deliberated on 10 sources of repression and 12 sources of socioeconomic sources of repression. Given their expertise on these two important topics, I refer you to read their published work: Coming Back to Life; Practices to Reconnect Our Lives, Our World, by Joanna R. Macy and Molly Young Brown.

References:

Ecopsychology: Restoring the Earth Healing the Mind, Sierra Club Books,1995, edited by Theodore Roszak, Mary E. Gomes, Allen D. Kanner. Are We Happy Yet? by Alan Thein Durning, pp. 68-76.

From Naked Ape to Superspecies, David Suzuki and Holly Dressel, Stoddart Publishing Co, 1999. Sez Who? Dying for Attention, pp.  82-83.

Soderstrom, Doug. “Progress: Man’s Greatest Mistake.” Op Ed News.com, December 2006.

Coming Back to Life; Practices to Reconnect Our Lives, Our World, Joanna R. Macy and Molly Young Brown, New Society Publishers, 1998, chapter two, The Greatest Danger: Apatheia, The Deadening of Mind and Heart, pp. 25-37.

Human Psychology and Nature-part two

Autism

Thomas Berry, a theologian, presented the idea that the human species has become autistic in relation to its environment. He reasoned this disposition originated in Descartes’s view of the world as being mechanistic. As humans began to perceive the world as a mechanism (as it was referred to by the scientists and philosophers of the day), the perception and experience of nature’s vibrant manifestations became blunted, unrecognized and unappreciated. The American Psychiatric Association describes autism as: a “pervasive developmental disorder characterized by qualitative impairment in reciprocal social interaction qualitative impairment in verbal and non-verbal communication and in imaginative activity (such as role playing and fantasy) … and markedly restricted repertoire of activities and interests.” (Ralph Metzner, p. 59). These behaviors are readily seen in autistic children and in adults that live in industrial societies as compared to those raised in non-industrial or alternative oriented cultures. Should Berry’s diagnosis of our relationship with Mother Earth turn out to be correct; (a cultural form of autism that will persist due to our current lifestyles and ideologies), the prospects for our future will indeed be grim.

Collective Amnesia

Another theory of interest is that we, as a species, are suffering from a collective amnesia, a forgotten understanding of something possibly our ancestors once knew and practiced. This might include certain kinds of attitudes, beliefs, perceptions, an affinity for the environment, respect for life, humility, a sense of awe in the wonders of creation or a feeling of connectivity, etc. It is possible that specific evolutionary events influenced our thinking and lifestyles and channeled us in a different direction.

Some possibilities include trauma reactions from cosmic events such as bombardment from meteors and near collisions with other celestial bodies, natural disasters on Earth such as volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, tsunamis and severe weather patterns. These events could have produced a traumatic amnesia that changed the way we perceive our environment including forgetting older patterns that might have been beneficial.

Should this theory be accurate, a psychological resolution of this condition should be attainable since we are more likely to regain the memory of something we already knew as opposed to changing a long-standing and consolidated pattern of behavior.

Addiction and Distraction

Delores La Chapelle, a Deep Ecologist and mountaineer, was one of the first to pioneer the diagnosis of addiction. In her book, Sacred Land, Sacred Sex, she draws attention to the relationship between the quest for addictive substances such as gold, silver, money, sugar, narcotics, alcohol and the proliferation of capitalistic society from the sixteenth century to the present. More modern-day addictions include our reliance on fossil fuels, other natural resources and machines to produce more goods and technology to satiate our appetite for material wealth.

Al Gore suggests the notion that we, as a species, are addicted to the consumption of the planet itself, besides our insatiable appetite for its specific resources of value.

Addiction and distraction are related behaviors in the sense that to distract ourselves from our unhappiness or discontent with our lives, we rely on distractions to reduce or eliminate our psychic pain. These distractions over time and through repetition become addictions that are difficult to recognize or curb. When these attempted solutions do not produce their intended results, we engage in more and more distractive and addictive behaviors thinking that attainment at a certain level of pleasure will eventually fix the problem but instead, it manifests itself in cyclical behavior that will never achieve its intended purpose. Never enough seems to be an adage of human desire.

The increase in information and expanded entertainment venues, have created an obsession with television, movies and the media. The media is also obsessed with presenting traumatizing stimuli by creating content that is characterized by dysfunctional relationships, extremely violent acts toward fellow humans and the most unethical overall behaviors imaginable. It seems as though human beings have an implicit desire for violence, inappropriate sexual behavior, suicide and a preoccupation with pathology, fear and doom.

Computers lure us to spend hours surfing the net for information, to shop and sell, to communicate with others, to search for relationships and to play violent video games. Shopping has become a new and engrossing recreational activity. Our large corporations appear to be oriented more towards the accumulation of wealth to line the pockets of their investors than they are at producing viable products of good quality and creating work environments in which the human needs of growth and accomplishment can be attained.

I am not implying that some of these activities in reasonable amounts, and with the right motives, would be injurious, but we are far beyond that point, and these pursuits, also being vegetative and occurring indoors, keep us from fulfilling other important human needs.

Denial

Denial psychology is a “defense mechanism in which confrontation with a personal problem or with reality is avoided by denying the existence of the problem or reality.” (Mary Elizabeth Dean, Better Help, 29 April 2020). It is employed, as a behavioral strategy, by anyone who wishes to believe that they can continue their addicted lives without the consequence of negative outcomes for themselves or others.

When denial is directed towards environmental issues, it negates the reality that human decisions and actions are damaging the planet, thus allowing the process of destruction to continue. We have seen this dynamic emerge on the issue of global warming, where despite scientific agreement on its existence and effects, many still argue that it is a natural process and don’t believe any human interventions are necessary. Interestingly, those who argue in this way typically have an investment in industries and businesses that pollute the biosphere and add to the increase in global warming. Others are aware of the current ecological problems but claim the solutions are unattainable, too expensive or that it is too late to change the damage we have already done. This lack of urgency and commitment is, in itself, a serious aspect of the denial process.

Dissociation

The next theory to be discussed is the concept of dissociation, which is a normal and natural cognitive function. Dissociation helps us to focus on external or internal stimuli exclusively to avoid being distracted or it can be much less exclusive such as when attention to two different realms are needed simultaneously. When we concentrate on a particular task, some form of dissociation is useful so we are not paying attention to all the other sensory information going on around us.

Relating this concept to our relationship with nature, we are conscious of what we do to the environment that is detrimental but we do not always respond appropriately. We might also say that we feel unable to respond aptly because our political, economic and educational institutions have already incorporated this dissociation as an integral core philosophy from which they operate. Dissociation alienation has been a feature of Western Civilization for centuries and maybe longer.

Another dissociative anomaly is the split between spirit and nature. We tend to think of our spiritual nature to be the opposite of our physical nature and view the spiritual self as being on the order of the divine while our physical self of bodily sensations, urges, passions and feelings are deemed to be of lower value or even of negative or of evil disposition. This view has been perpetuated by many religions in an effort to control behavior and to set precedence for what is proper and what is not.

It is interesting to note that both psychological and religious formulations of dissociation have arrived at the same conclusion: humans are perceived to have two selves; a natural self, which is associated with being earthly and sensual, and a spiritual or mental self, which is viewed to be airy and ethereal.

The consequence of this dissociative split in Western humans is painfully evident: If we feel mentally and spiritually separate from our own nature, then this feeling of separation will be projected outward so we will think of ourselves as separate from the whole realm of nature as well. p. 66   Thus, if we desire to improve our spiritual self, we will have to turn against our natural self and this antagonism and control will, in turn, be projected outward in a disposition of conquest of the natural world.

The belief that the spiritual and the natural world are in opposition to one another or that spirituality is held as a higher level of being is derived from culture and is not an intrinsic human condition. It also has no relevance to non-monotheistic religions or traditional societies that see humans and nature as equal entities. Indigenous cultures regard Mother Earth as sacred or spiritual. This context fosters an attitude of respect, a desire to maintain balanced relationships and foresight to be aware of the needs of future generations and live sustainably.

Desensitization                    

When one experiences pain, such as chronic back pain or arthritis, over time, the body becomes accustom to this symptom and lowers its distress signal to the brain that something is wrong. We could also say that we get use to the discomfort. When we become aware of or are confronted directly with environmental issues and problems that persist, eventually, we become desensitized to their potency and impact on our lives. Denial, dissociation and distraction can combine with desensitization to effectively make us incapable of perceiving danger and acting appropriately. This dynamic can be seen readily in our modern societies that go about their business as usual, oblivious to the ecological crisis at hand.

The media is partly responsible for this problem since they either don’t keep us well informed for a variety of reasons including not to alarm us into a state of panic or because it is not in the best interests of the polluters and creators of the problem. The media and government also water down issues or distort the truth due to being bribed and threatened by large corporations that have an investment in not acting environmentally responsible. Concerned citizens often find it difficult to obtain accurate information from the primary sources of information or are dissuaded from attempting to discover the truth from the array of conflicting opinions available.

Laura Sewall claims that besides dissociation, humans employ defense mechanisms or psychic numbing to avoid dealing with the world’s pain. This is what David Abrams refers to as our “collective myopia.” Being aware of planetary problems such as global warming, ozone depletion, increasing pollution, toxicity, poverty, illness, over-population, increases in criminal behavior and the loss of species all become unbearable realities we must deny or distract ourselves from in order to avoid deep depression, despair and madness. This myopia blinds us to the severity and urgency of our environmental issues and results in a continuation of destructive and habitual behaviors. The need to change and re-evaluate our intentions and priorities is denied and perpetuates the collective myopia such that it becomes both a cause and effect of the environmental crisis.

Narcissism       

“Narcissism is a personality disorder characterized by an inflated and grandiose self-image as well as feelings of entitlement that mask deep-seated feelings of unworthiness and emptiness.” (Ralph Metzner, p.90).

Philip Cushman, a psychologist, has identified a connection between narcissism and consumerism. He claims that the pursuit of material goods is an attempt to satisfy the part of the self that feels entitled even though the insecure and empty inner self remains anxious and wounded. The empty inner self must then continue to engage in consuming even more to cover up the inner emptiness. Thus, the empty self continues to seek gratification through the consumption of goods, services, heightened experiences, drugs, alcohol, food, sex, relationships and supportive therapists to fend off a growing disposition of alienation.

Allen Kanner and Mary Gomes have expanded this theme pointing out that since the narcissistic consumer feels inwardly inadequate and is being saturated with advertising to increase his or her spending to appease their perceived unworthiness, a suggestion to live green and consume less might be negated by their feelings of entitlement and fear. Also, being criticized for their materialistic tendencies might provoke a sense of failure, rather than influencing a change towards sustainable living. Should this theory of mass narcissism prove to be viable, it would present an arduous challenge to environmentalists.

References:

Roszak, Theodore. The Voice of the Earth; An Exploration of Eco-psychology: Toward an Ecological Ego, pp. 282-305. Phanes Press, 2001.

Ecopsychology: Restoring the Earth Healing the Mind, Sierra Club Books,1995, edited by Theodore Roszak, Mary E. Gomes, Allen D. Kanner. The Ecopsychology of Child Development by Anita Barrows, pp. 101-110.

Dean, Mary Elizabeth. “What is Denial Psychology and How to Address It,” Better Help, 29 April 2020, betterhelp.com/advice/general/what-is-denial-psychology-how-to-address-it/. Accessed 24 May 2020.

Earth in the Balance: Ecology and the Human Spirit by AL Gore.© by al Gore, 1992, Rodale Inc., Dysfunctional Civilization, pp. 226-237.

Ecopsychology: Restoring the Earth Healing the Mind, Sierra Club Books,1995, edited by Theodore Roszak, Mary E. Gomes, Allen D. Kanner. Ralph Metzner, The Psychopathology of the Human-Nature Relationship, pp.60-62 and 63-67.

Human Psychology and Nature-part one

An excerpt from the Passionate Earth: The Evolution of Our Relationship with the Natural World by John Del Signore

The Psychology-Nature Relationship

A perplexing aspect of psychology is that the study of humans and their mental aliments have been predominately aimed at identifying and understanding internal emotions, thoughts, values and behavior and has not considered these in the context of environmental parameters. Focusing on psychological issues in the absence of their interrelatedness to the larger context of humanity and the environment reinforces a sense of isolation and detachment, thereby limiting understanding and the possibility of more positive outcomes.

There has been little interest in comprehending human actions in relation to the pollution of our planet and why we might engage in such self-destructive behaviors. Psychology has more often depicted nature as indifferent and unloving to the struggling individual who has been traumatized by the wild, irrational demeanor of the natural world. Only seasonal affective disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder acknowledge the reality of environmental influence and interaction.

However, some of the more modern counseling theories and methods do incorporate a systemic approach and attempt to look at the many interrelated aspects of one’s psychology. Eco-psychology is one of the newest additions to the growing expansion of the field that is making significant contributions to understanding humanity and its relationship with the Earth.

What is so disturbing about the human condition today is that we have evolved to such an extent that we actually have the capacity to undermine our own existence as a species. No other creature can do this and despite the trauma the Earth has experienced in its history including a number of mass extinctions, the Earth has been able to continue its evolutionary journey and evolve new life in its intricate web of relationships. The consequences of our current ecological crisis will not permanently destroy the biosphere but may well end the continuance of our presence on this planet.

We must ask ourselves how we came to be so inept ecologically and what is it about human nature that would result in such dysfunctional thought and behavior. Are we unable to perceive when we are acting irrationally? Can we not use the knowledge we have gained from our study of human behavior in resolving personal, social and global problems?

Ralph Metzner is one of the eminent theorists of “green psychology”. He has critiqued a number of proposed causes of our alienation from the natural world and has identified them by psychological categories. These categories can be used as diagnostic metaphors to explain humanities’ tendency to distance from its habitat historically. I will give a brief summary of these and their implications. I have also included some other diagnosis from other sources as well. It is interesting to note that none of the diagnosis presented have been made by psychologists, but by experts from other scientific disciplines. For more detailed information, Ralph Metzner’s book, “Green Psychology”, is a definitive resource on this subject.

The Human Superiority Complex

The human superiority complex can be described as the perception that human beings are the pinnacle of creation, are superior to all other life forms and thus have the right to dominate, manipulate and utilize the natural resources of their environment for the primary benefit of humanity. All creatures on the planet have a vested and natural self-interest in survival but the superiority mandate goes far beyond survival issues. It includes all activities that allow for humans to thrive, be comfortable and to attain happiness at the expense of everything else and even precludes ethical considerations.

This attitude, perception or philosophy has developed for many reasons that stem from religious, philosophical and scientific ideologies that have evolved throughout humanity’s tenure on this planet. Some of the main contributing perceptions have already been addressed in the previous chapters on religion and philosophy but will continue to make their appearance throughout this treatise. In summary, the chief reason humans have adopted this position is because of the value they have placed on their extensive intellectual development. Consequently, nature, having been defined as a non–thinking and non-conscious entity, has been expediently relegated to an inferior status.

The Arrogance of Humanity

George Carlin in his comedy routine, “Saving the Planet” makes an astute observation. He asserts that we have become so arrogant that we think we can save the planet from human intrusion. He also states that we can hardly take care of ourselves or care for each other so it is highly unlikely we can protect the Earth either.

Human beings have been on the earth only a few hundred years as a technological society and already we have exploited the globe beyond its’ carrying capacity. The earth has existed for 4.543 billion years and has managed to maintain a balanced existence. Many species have come and gone but the natural world and its intricate connection of relationships has remained intact as a functioning organism.

I think we have something to learn from this fact. The earth is a self-regulating system and is certainly not going to be managed or controlled by one of its species. We know from biological research and observation that the higher developed a species is, the more fragile it is and the less likely it is to succeed. We certainly fit into this category and if we continue to live out our present lifestyles of exploitation, our time for extinction will come soon and probably within the next 10 years. James Lovelock stated that the Earth actually doesn’t need us to function properly but we cannot function and thrive without the intricate systems the biosphere has provided us. What we can do is to learn how to live sustainably and ecologically and relate to the Earth as one of its inhabitants; not as a privileged or elite entity that thinks it is superior to the natural world.

Philosophy and Nature

An excerpt from the Passionate Earth: The Evolution of Our Relationship with the Natural World by John Del Signore

Philosophy was created to aide humanity in finding purpose and meaning in life. It was also used to understand our origins and ontology and in the process of doing this, redefined the human-nature relationship in many different ways, depending on the thought structure of the day. Abstract concepts such as scientific constructs, beliefs, values and ethics were considered to be of the mind and were seen to have no particular connection to the physical world. The cerebral tone of philosophy and its dialectical methods created an overly academic venue that was more accessible to those with considerable intellect and who had gained the power and authority to influence the minds of men and women in a significant way. Philosophical ideas continued to grow and change with society and some views remain unresolved and still in progress to this day. Philosophy had a great deal to say about the relationship between humans and their environment. I will illuminate some of the most noted viewpoints in chronological order.

Early Hunters and Gatherers

Paleolithic hunter-gatherers are said to have lived in harmony with nature. During this time period, food and other needed resources for survival were readily available and this style of living worked adequately. Humans saw themselves as part of the habitat in which they lived and had respect for the elements, plants and animals.

The advent of agriculture to enable settlement created a change in perspective. The ability to control the food supply resulted in the impression that the environment was created and designed for human benefit. Land that was deficit in certain desired resources could be manipulated to make it useful. This included necessities like irrigation, farming, and raising animals. So, agriculture created the first significant shift in perception regarding the relationship between humans and their habitat to one of separation and more independence from nature.

Mediterranean Ideology

Mediterranean people became aggressive and proficient at anthropomorphizing their local geography especially with respect to farming and grazing. They also became aware of their distinctiveness from and dependence on nature. This dichotomy resulted in their rationalizing their dominance and separateness from the environment through abstract and complicated concepts. Inability to control their habitat was attributed to conditions and events beyond their control. The overriding feeling was that the land was divine and intended for human habitation, manipulation and domination.  

Greek Philosophy and Judaism

The worldview just described in the Mediterranean influence became the basis for Greek philosophy and Judaism although their resultant premises differed. Greek rationalism stopped employing folklore and substituted theory and definitive language. Judaism turned to metaphysics and used metaphors, allegories and symbolism to define its new paradigm. Over time, Greek rationalism and Judaism combined their beliefs into what became Christianity. Platonism emerged from the Christian framework and its platform has had a decisive influence over the Western World until modern times and still does.

Greek Rationalism and Christianity

Greek rationalism and Christianity asserted the notion that nature had no intrinsic worth until it was humanized thus proclaiming human superiority over the biosphere. Anthropocentrism and the linear conception of time emerged as part of this framework as well. Thus, history was thought to be going in one direction and to some final goal or objective. This concept became known as the Judeo-Christian tradition and has been attributed, by many scholars, scientists and laymen alike, to be the philosophy that is at the source of our ecological crisis. Others feel religion was less instrumental in fostering the destruction of our habitat than claimed and that the birth of capitalism and the industrial revolution empowered by science and technology, is the more likely the culprit. Despite these differences of opinion, religions did promote the special place humans held in the story of creation and this alone contributed to feelings of superiority and privilege.

Pre-Renaissance Philosophy

Pre-Renaissance philosophy was monistic. The Cosmos was viewed as a whole in which humans were participants. The Middle Age asserted that the world was a divine organism. Everything had a God given place on the “Chain of Being,” a hierarchy with God at the top and the elements of earth, air, water and fire following respectively. God was considered the source of life and all entities in the universe were believed to be interconnected and interdependent. Mother Earth was the metaphor for this philosophy that endured until the beginning of modernism.

Renaissance Philosophy

The Renaissance viewed nature as a book made up of a system of signs. These signs needed to be read carefully in order to understand the cosmos and the importance and destiny of humanity. The collective interest in understanding the world, led to the emergence of the Scientific Revolution. Discovering the secrets of the universe prompted the formulation of the heliocentric cosmos, Kepler’s laws of the orbits of the planets and eventually Newton’s laws of gravity. The 17th century scientists began to utilize the newly emerging paradigm, the scientific method, to uncover the mysteries of the cosmos in order to understand the “book of nature”, and ultimately, the mind of God. It was also thought that theological knowledge could be obtained from this new science as well.

Religion Is Initiated

An excerpt from the Passionate Earth: The Evolution of Our Relationship with the Natural World by John Del Signore

Religion was early humans’ first venture at understanding the cosmos and their place in its unfathomable mysteries. The first religions worshiped the elements of nature, especially cosmic entities, animals and the diverse land forms of the Earth and the Goddess. They respected all that flourished but were equally terrified by the powerful and destructive forces they had to contend with. These initial attempts to understand the environment were simple, yet not very comprehensive and hard to validate.

Many religions continued to develop and encompassed a wide array of beliefs and rituals. Paganism and its offshoots became prolific and attracted many followers. At this time, all religions were pluralistic and their deities possessed both positive and negative qualities, often human in nature, but no notion of evil was equated with them. Deities were seen as being either helpful or hurtful towards humans and also were thought to need much appeasement in the form of sacrifices of goods, possessions, food and even human blood sacrifice to gain favor and grace. 

The ruling elite, early theologians and religious leaders noted the proliferation of the new religions and practices and concluded that this development would create an obstacle to maintaining order and morality in the growing populations so a religious doctrine that could unite the public and negate belief in multi-deities was sought. The notion of a single deity to be called God was concocted and introduced to simplify the story of creation and to appeal to the perceived intellectual capacity of the masses. To assure a condition of adequate power and control, the concept of good and evil was also introduced. Good was compared to ethical or normative behavior and the hurtful pagan deities were synthesized into one evil entity slated to be satinic who would forever be a temptation to mankind. God being equated with the good, and Satan being attributed with evil were introduced so there were now only two paths to choose from behaviorally; that of the establishment and God or that of an evildoer or Satan. God was also attributed to be of the male gender to demote women so men could dominate them. The Pagan religions were then dismantled through the persecution and annihilation of their followers by the ruling classes and the newly formed Christian religious institutions. This strategy was intended to create only one acceptable worldview and to discourage others from forming and acquiring new followers.

The newly emerging thought structure contended that a creator of great power and intelligence must have been the source of everything; thus, religion, philosophy and science all headed up the challenge to explain the origins of the universe and discover purpose and meaning within its essence. The need to infer a single and separate deity to account for the unanswered questions about creation changed our close-knit relationship with nature from nature as a deity or deities to nature as an inanimate object.

Another issue of significance was that religion also began to take on the role of acting as a behavioral gatekeeper: to teach and control behavior to ensure safety and well-being and to utilize the deity concept as a deterrent for anti-social or unethical behavior. Unwanted behaviors took on the definition of sin punishable in the afterlife and a whole new religious psychology was born. Guilt and shame, sins’ by-product, became a powerful emotional state that haunted the human psyche with increased intensity. Behavior could then be redirected or controlled by anyone in a position of religious or civil authority who could persuade one of his or her wrongdoings. Punishment for undesirable behavior became a focus of attention and a comprehensive system of law and order began to develop and became a component of all cultures over time. 

Human emotions also underwent a change in perception. The sexual desires and intense feelings like anger and passion were misunderstood as well as feared, and became the target of suppression and were likened to the unruly facets of nature metaphorically. Again, the elements took on another negative connotation and the human-nature gap widened. The environment had now been demoted from its sacred ground to that of an enemy, something to be reckoned with.

Religion eventually made its way into civil matters that complicated allegiances between religious and civic beliefs. Religious beliefs often conflicted with scientific and philosophical treatise as knowledge increased and more complicated issues continued to come into play. 

To this day, religious, philosophical and scientific formulations are frequently at great controversy with each other and the negative effects on our relationship with the environment derived from these differences have persisted as well.

The Religion-Nature Relationship

Many ecologists and professionals from other disciplines attribute the root cause of our ecological crisis to the Judeo-Christian philosophy that states humans are separate and superior to the natural world. However, this concept is not found in any of the scriptures of the world’s major religions including Christianity. In fact, most religions have acknowledged the sanctity of nature and God’s gift in providing nature as a suitable home for his beloved creations: humans, fauna, flora and the elements of the Earth. Also, there are references that include respect and stewardship for the Earth and all its creatures as well. Saint Francis of Assisi asserted a holistic theology with nature and is credited with being the first deep ecologist. So how did these notions change to those attributing our supremacy over our habitat?

Expedient re-interpretation of the scriptures to promote people as having the right to dominion over the Earth came from influential theologians who saw the advantages and riches that could be obtained from the natural world if exploitation, domination and control were encouraged and in good conscience. The new religious mandate that emerged implied that humans were special, separate and superior to all other entities and that God had created the Earth for the exclusive pleasure and benefit of humanity. Over time, this new philosophy spread throughout the religious community and became the dominant thought structure that has prevailed, in large measure, in many, if not most of our religious institutions throughout history.

There are some biblical statements in Genesis that imply that man has the right to dominion over the Earth and there has been much controversy on the literal interpretation of this notion. Some theologians take this idea literally and others feel that God wanted humans simply to be good stewards and respect the Earth as well as use its bounties for human endeavors. 

Regardless of the differing opinions on this matter, enough emphasis was placed on human supremacy to alter the perception of the planet’s intrinsic worth to that of a collection of natural resources that could be exploited with impunity. This way of thinking can be seen as a significant contributor to the development of our current environmental crisis.

Religious theologians continued to endorse more anthropocentric dogma; the intellect was declared an elevating status for humans and emotions were deemed subordinate to rational thought. The variable, uncontrollable and seemingly irrational forces of nature were likened to human emotions metaphorically and given an evil connotation. Animals were demoted to a soulless status as well as all the elements of the Earth and nature became increasingly seen as an evil entity to discredit Pagan beliefs. The concept of good versus evil was initiated into the human psyche with increased emphasis to manage behavior. Spirituality became divorced from matter, Earth from heaven and God from humanity and equated with the realm of metaphysics.

As these new concepts took hold, they undermined Pagan religions that believed in the sanctity of Mother Earth and gave justification for the slaughter of its occult followers in the inquisition of 1484, sanctioned primarily by the Catholic Church. A very large but unknown number of peasants, witches of whom a majority were women and animals known as familiars, were slaughtered in an attempt to wipe out all Pagan beliefs and superstitions. It also had the effect of discouraging other unorthodox belief systems from evolving or continuing as well.

Religious beliefs often became the justification for the suppression or annihilation of those who held differing belief systems and many political ideologies became subject to religious disdain as well.

The human need to simplify the questions of existence resulted in polarized thinking and the creation of simplified explanations and hypothesis by employing the process of reductionism and fragmentation. Psychologically, it appears that the human intellect attempts to reduce complexity into simpler concepts and parts to attain understanding and often resists or foregoes looking at those concepts in a holistic manner. This process of constructing reality is at the heart of our misconceptions about our relationship with nature and the underpinnings of our ecological crisis.

Despite the damage done by past religious theology, doctrine and practice, some modern religions are recognizing the importance of our interdependence with the Earth, are promoting stewardship in their congregations and are also trying to undo the deep rooted and prevailing prejudice against the Pagan culture and its beliefs and insights.

Reference:

Johnson, William M. “The Rose-Tinted Menagerie, 1The Blood-Red Menagerie,1.2 In God’s Image.” Rays of a New Aeon, 8 February 2016, aeolusathene.simplesite.com/425047539/3517289/posting/text. Accessed 31 May 2020.

Consciousness and its Relationship to Biological Evolution

An excerpt from the Passionate Earth: The Evolution of Our Relationship with the Natural World by John Del Signore

Consciousness is defined as the state of being awake and aware of one’s surroundings; the awareness or perception of something by a person; the fact of awareness by the mind of itself and the world.

All creatures appear to be conscious but at varying degrees. Some believe even inorganic compounds and matter and energy is conscious as well. Animals are believed to be conscious at a level that is not quite as developed as ours. They are aware of their immediate environment and what applies to their survival but they are probably not aware of the past and future, the state of the world or of their own differentiation as a species.

Consciousness is not an easy concept to prove scientifically but given the way humans function and perceive their world, it is apparent that a very complex and profound process is at work here that has defined our species as being one of the more evolved on this planet. Since all creatures are aware at some level, we can conclude that consciousness is a component of creation and did not develop at any particular time in history as has been previously thought. In fact, it may be at the cutting edge of evolution, the source of all creation. What have come into being throughout the history of evolution are the different characteristics and dimensions of what we refer to as conscious experience or the ingredients of consciousness.

The Relationship Between Language and Consciousness

Humans developed somewhat differently than other creatures.  A significant difference is the fact that we have been endowed with a sophisticated voice box. At about one year, it develops in a way that allows us to make the complex repertoire of sounds necessary for speech.

Speech permits us to share experiences and learn from each other. Thus, we have the ability to share information that becomes a collective body of knowledge that can be passed from one generation to another. This fosters the growth and continuation of societal development.

Due to this new attribute, our consciousness has been able to expand in several ways. We can learn of events outside of our immediate environment without experiencing them directly and we can look into the past and learn about the events that took place before our time. In essence, we have expanded our perception of space and time. We can use words to think to ourselves. This is probably the most significant development that has come from linguistics.

Thinking permits us to make inferences to past and present experiences. Thinking about a mountain, brings the image of the mountain to our mind. At any time, we can think of anything in the past or in the present no matter where we are and no matter what we are doing. This ability is not commonly shared by our animal friends or by other living entities on the planet as far as we know.

Thinking also expands our grasp of the future. We can conjecture about what may or may not happen in the future and make plans and decisions accordingly. Thus, a freedom to choose our future allows us to have a significant influence on the course of our lives.

Thinking with words allows us to reason and to ask questions. We can develop beliefs and hypotheses about the world in which we live and create purpose and meaning in our lives.

Finally, we can think about our own conscious experience and come to understand ourselves. We can become aware of the many aspects and qualities of our consciousness and also of the faculty of consciousness itself. We actually become aware of our own awareness or conscious of the fact that we actually are conscious. Consciousness can reflect upon the world it experiences and on the nature of consciousness itself. Thus, we have the emergence of a self-reflective consciousness in the human organism.

Self-consciousness

Self-consciousness predicates the existence of one who experiences, an entity that is having experiences, making decisions and thinking thoughts. So, we must ask ourselves, what is the self, and what is its nature?

Given, the notion that a sense of self seems elusive and difficult to articulate, we look elsewhere for a sense of identity. We try to identify with our bodies, our looks, our presentation, and how others perceive us. We look to what we do in life; our accomplishments, careers, social status, academic qualifications, where we choose to reside and what social contacts we have made with others. We also draw on our thoughts, hypotheses and beliefs, and our personality and character in order to attain some sense of who we are. None of these explanations seem adequate and are frustratingly limiting as well.

A sense of self that is predicated on the events happening in the world puts us at the effect of them in the sense that we are controlled and manipulated by them. We lose our power to choose and to be accountable for what happens to us. Threats to our well-being typically result in a fear response that leads to a decreased ability to think rationally and to make good decisions. This also may make us feel less capable or inept. This leads to a loss of self-esteem and fosters negative feelings about the self. It can also lead us to feel that we are more like a thing or a content then a context or possibility. 

Once, we perceive ourselves as unable to affect change in our lives, negative emotions can predominate and a downward spiral is likely to begin. When our negative feelings take the place of rational thought, we are less able to produce the results we desire and deeper feelings such as depression and despair may prevail. Often, addictions and other destructive behaviors are likely to follow including total resignation and finally suicide. Our physical bodies break down and become ill and we develop all types of medical and psychological disorders.

Stress is a common companion in modern day society. We are aware of all the problems that society has to address and our awareness of this is painful. We worry about everything both large and small. We lose sight of our purpose on this planet and with each other. When we are preoccupied with all these issues, we forfeit the gift of experiencing our lives and the world around us. What we really want is peace of mind. We need to be aware of the world and of what is happening around us but we also need to feel viable regarding ourselves and place in this world. Although humans have developed a deep sense of consciousness at certain levels, our present dimension of consciousness is not yet developed enough to allow us to experience a sense of self that is viably aware, awake, concerned, committed and peaceful simultaneously. We are still vulnerable entities evolving along with all the other creatures and elements of the Earth.

Interestingly, our animal friends in the wild do not share many of our human vulnerabilities. They concern themselves with the present and experience the present. They do not worry the way we do and do not share many of our psychological addictions and disorders. It is true that we are putting more stress on their living environments due to human encroachment and this is changing the way they interact with us. However, their true nature is one of being in the moment and living their lives in that paradigm even if they are unaware of it.

I think we can agree that language is an extremely useful tool that allows us to think, share knowledge, make plans, make decisions, and experience our world. However, it also presents a limiting aspect as well. Being cerebral much of the time can inhibit us from being in touch with all the sensual aspects of the natural world and of each other. Thinking and doing tends to fill much of our time and leaves little room for pure experience and non-thinking. There is no law that says we have to be busy all the time thinking and doing.

The Development of the Intellect

An excerpt from the Passionate Earth: The Evolution of Our Relationship with the Natural World by John Del Signore

Intelligence is the ability to acquire and apply knowledge and skills. All living things have intelligence as a mechanism to survive and prosper. Humans and animals functioned similarly in this sense until the intellect developed. Intellectual development has been estimated between 20,000 to 40,000 years to establish itself as a distinct function in human beings. Intellect is defined as the faculty of reasoning and understanding objectively, especially, with regard to abstract or academic matters. This refers to the understanding or mental powers of a particular person.

Intellect was a crucial turning point for humans as it allowed for the creation of symbolism in the mind to communicate past, present and future events. No other creatures have developed this ability to the extent that humans have. This new frame of reference was also the beginning of our awareness of being a separate entity from the natural world.

Bruce Barbour, author of “In Our Wildest Dream”, asserts that the separation between intellect and intelligence is related to the feeling of belonging and connectedness. He goes on to say, “I believe that the intellect takes credit for all things great and small, simply by discovering, harnessing, manipulating, and marketing the nature of the universe. What the rest of the living world accepts as the whole of life, the human intellect dissects into ever-smaller parts. The intellect, having separated itself from the body, continues the process of separating itself from the universe by dissecting the universe into lifeless parts”.

On the positive side, the intellect is also responsible for the great achievements of humanity such as art, music, architecture, philosophy, religion, science, technology, etc. Without the intellect, we could not have advanced our knowledge to create the world we know today and might still be living primitive lifestyles like our ancient ancestors.

However, as we continued to see ourselves more as distinct and separate, our feeling of connection and belonging to the Earth continued to dissipate and led to a whole range of attitude and value changes that have influenced our relationship with the planet to this day.

Reference:

Barbour, Bruce. In Our Wildest Dream, 2001, Xlibris Corporation, pp. 118-121.

The Development of Speech and Language

An excerpt from the Passionate Earth: The Evolution of Our Relationship with the Natural World by John Del Signore

The development of language and the vocal capacity for speech has been attributed as the most significant development of any creature on the planet. Language provided a means of communication that allowed complex interactions between individuals or groups of individuals and the capacity to reason and solve problems, understand relationships between things and events and to think about the past and plan for the future. Since information began to be transmitted from generation to generation, humans did not need to learn everything they needed to know from the beginning but could benefit from the ongoing fund of knowledge that was continually accumulating with each new generation. Language also allowed for access to emotions, feelings, creativity, abstract thought and consciousness. Being aware of the world and oneself became a new paradigm that altered the way humans perceived themselves and their relationships with nature. Humans were no longer limited to stimulus-response reactions but to intentional thought, concerted action and highly sophisticated social behavior. A significant sense of separation from the environment was to develop later when the concept of subject and object was introduced into language from philosophy. This issue will be covered soon in the section on philosophy.

Reference:

Russell, Peter. Waking up in Time, Dawn of Thought, pp. 17-20. Origin Press Inc.,1122 Grant Ave., Suite C, Novato, CA  94945, Copyright 1992 by Peter Russell.

A Change in Perspective in the Human-nature Relationship

An excerpt from the Passionate Earth: The Evolution of Our Relationship with the Natural World by John Del Signore

As civilizations evolved and became more sophisticated, human beings continued to discover and utilize the resources of their domain to assure their advancement and security. At first, the abundance of natural reserves seemed endless but as populations grew and human needs increased, the impact on the environment became increasingly critical and resulted in many forms of pollution and resource depletion. Attitudes about the Earth and the place of humanity within it also evolved and affected the way humans interacted with their surroundings.

Some professionals, who have studied ancient cultures, disagree with the notion that humans simply did what was necessary to survive and reason that early humans probably did have respect for nature and its bounties initially and lived in relative harmony with their world. However, over time and due to survival and other issues, that relationship changed from a respect for and participation in the wholeness of creation, towards one of detachment, avoidance and a focus on the self as a separate entity. From this altered perspective came a trend that has carried forth to this day: the desire, need and perceived right to manage, control and dominate the environment to suit purely human endeavors.

Why did this human-nature relationship change so dramatically and what were the principal causes? The evolution of culture and its subsequent developments holds the key to an understanding of the change in our relationship with the natural world and why we are in such a state of peril today.

Many of these factors developed over a long period of time and are difficult to put in any precise chronological order as some of the events and developments occurred simultaneously or in close proximity to each other. I have presented these factors in their relative order to establish a sense of continuity and comprehensibility. Agriculture was the initial precipitant for cultural development and started the accelerated process of human evolution with its environment.

The Advent of Agriculture and the Beginning of Settlement

An excerpt from the Passionate Earth: The Evolution of Our Relationship with the Natural World by John Del Signore

As hominids evolved and gained more knowledge and experience with their habitat, they began to experiment with growing their own food and agriculture was initiated. (P. 22, Russell) The first indication of agricultural practices dates back more than 20,000 years. It has been previously thought that agriculture was only about 10,000 years old but more recent archeological finds indicate evidence of farming at over 20,000 years ago and evidence of advanced settlements with large permanent structures, sophisticated tools and art. The first attempts to increase their food supply was to encourage increased output of desired plants in the wild by pruning, clearing competing plants away, some primitive forms of irrigation when needed, burning foliage to encourage new growth by enriching the soil and other forms of cultivation.

Farming did not occur as a conscious choice as there was no farming in nature to imitate. It was much more experimental in nature and developed through observation of how plants grew and replicated themselves. Some early humans did not desire to employ farming and remained hunters and gatherers but did some trading with farming tribes to supplement their food supply. Others experimented and traded seeds and methods, which helped spread the practice of agriculture across the continents. Over a long period of time involving thousands of years, agriculture eventually became the primary way of obtaining nutrition from the environment.

The shift to farming and domesticating animals that followed agriculture has been described as a piecemeal set of circumstances. Some theorists suggest climate changes and other factors made foraging more difficult. Some animals were hunted to extinction and certain flora, were also over utilized such that gathering became more difficult. In some regions, however, flora became more prolific and encouraged a shift towards a fruit, grain and vegetable-oriented diet. Agriculture and hunting and gathering became competing sources of food procurement that shifted back and forth as different types of food sources became more available. Thus, there was no clear or definitive pattern for the change from foraging to farming but as natural food resources became depleted due to population growth and increased nutritional intake, the shift towards agriculture became more apparent and eventually superseded hunting and gathering.

Other factors apply as well. Nomadic life had its own set of problems such as the ability to find suitable shelter, water, food and other resources as well as safety issues from animals and environmental conditions. Constantly moving large numbers of individuals presented arduous logistical tasks as well. The ability to cultivate plants reduced the need to migrate to hunt and gather and more permanent settlement became possible. Also, more food could be obtained by farming than by hunting and farmed products could be stored for future use as well.

It is commonly thought that hunter-gatherers were children of the earth, were connected to its ebb and flow, had respect for the totality of life and considered the Earth to be their home. This portrayal is predicated on the fact that early humans have left evidence that they did conserve resources, tended to hunt and gather for food as needed, utilized available resources pragmatically and valued leisure time to devote to family, ceremonies and religious rituals. This notion has also been exaggerated to some extent to rebuke the destruction of nature by modern man and to give preference to their lifestyle as an example of where we went wrong.

Many scientists and historians however, think that early humans did what was necessary to survive, without either a motive for conquest or adequate knowledge of safe environmental practices.

Given their small initial populations, it is unlikely that extensive deterioration of the environment could have been caused by mere agriculture and grazing, although it is suspected that some such damage was indeed rendered, especially with the use of fire to clear land for farming. Despite a lack of concrete historical evidence, I believe that a mixture of survival needs and connection with their habitat provided the impetus for their decisions and actions. I feel strongly about this because numerous primitive indigenous cultures that still exist today tend to maintain a healthy relationship with their surroundings and have been noted to employ sustainable living as a practice of their culture. Eastern societies have also been historically more oriented towards environmentally responsible practices and feeling connected with the Earth.

Agriculture was a significant advancement as populations could now search for more suitable or preferred habitats and create permanent settlements. This arrangement allowed for the designing and construction of more sophisticated and safer shelters that could accommodate large populations in a communal setting. This, in turn, led to increased interaction, communication and the learning and sharing of information that speeded up cultural development. This process continued and eventually resulted in the formation of more and more complex societies that comprised governing bodies, armies, social structures, religions and simple economic systems. This encouraged communication, learning, education, the development of societal norms and mores, religion, art, philosophy, science, psychology, medicine, technology and economics. As learning and knowledge continued to increase, all the mentioned factors advanced the standards of living and more time could be devoted to family and cultural endeavors as well.

Agriculture, thus initiated the practice of utilizing the environment to maintain an adequate food supply for growing populations. This resulted in an incremental increase in environmental degradation that became proportional to the rise in population and consequent agricultural activities. Slash and burn techniques caused deforestation, erosion of valuable topsoil and the vanishing of available land for farming. Eventually, the practice of repeatedly using the same plots of land was employed but keeping the soil replenished was difficult without modern fertilizers and domesticated animals did not provide enough manure to provide adequate fertilization either.

Agriculture also introduced a new concept: ownership of the land, food and animals by individuals and their respective tribes, societies and organizations. The act of tending to crops and herding animals gave humans the impression that their efforts and labor entitled them to take possession of the Earth’s resources for their own interests. This attitude led to land ownership disputes and much conflict as fertile farming land became scarce due to the amount of food needed by a given group of people. Intense battles over land acquisition became prevalent and the need for a developed military system to procure land and resources became a new pattern of behavior. This change, utilizing aggression to acquire natural resources, has led to the rise and fall of many cultures, large and small, throughout history and is still a prevalent practice of modern societies.

Specialization also began to occur with some of the population engaging in religion, government, the manufacture of tools and weapons and the establishment of military bodies. These developments resulted in an ever-increasing negative impact on local ecosystems. In addition to what has just been mentioned, a change in attitudes ensued, from one of dependence on nature to one of significantly more independence and the impression that the environment could be managed and manipulated primarily for the proliferation of the human species without regard for degradation to their habitat.

When settlements became significantly large, farming, the building of living structures, the use of fire for cooking, and heating and making tools and weapons depleted the local forests. The damaged forests allowed erosion to occur and the valuable topsoil eroded or blew away. This also affected the water table and caused the land to become arid. So, overshoot and using natural resources without adequate knowledge of how local ecosystems function led to significant environmental degradation. All these factors eventually caused the failure of almost all civilizations throughout history and this phenomenon is still a looming danger to our modern societies as well. 

In summary, agriculture had a profound effect upon the way humanity developed into complex civilizations as well as being instrumental in determining their lifestyles, politics, economics, ideologies and their interactions with their environment. Unfortunately, the means humans employed to feed themselves has resulted in significant habitat degradation throughout history and continues to be one of the most difficult problems modern societies face today.

References:

Russell, Peter. Waking up in Time, Levers for the Mind, p. 22. Origin Press Inc., 1122 Grant Ave., Suite C, Novato, CA  94945, Copyright 1992 by Peter Russell.

Gore, Al. Earth in the Balance, Ecology and the Human Spirit, Seeds of Privation, pp.126-127. © by al Gore 1992, Rodale Inc.

Diamond, Jared. Guns, Germs and Steel, To Farm or Not to Farm, pp. 104-113. W. W. Norton and Company, NY and London, 1997.

Oosthoek, K. Jan. “Environmental History – Between Science and Philosophy.” Environmental History Resources, dlc.dlib.indiana.edu/dlc/bitstream/handle/10535/6328/philosophy.html?sequence=1&isAllowed=y. Accessed 31 May 2020.

Devall, Bill and Sessions, George. Deep Ecology: Living as if Nature Mattered, The Minority Tradition and Direct Action, p. 21.1985 by Gibbs M. Smith, Inc.

Ponting, Clive. A Green History of the World, Ninety-nine Per Cent of Human History, pp. 19-20, 53-54, 68-69. 1991, St Martin’s Press, NY.