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.