Monday, March 1, 2010

The nexus of sustainability and the peace movement

I was asked to be one of the speakers at Tucson's annual Peace Fair and Music Festival on February 27, 2010. Here are my prepared remarks.

Good afternoon. My name is Dave Ewoldt. I'm an ecotherapist, systems scientist, and executive director of Natural Systems Solutions, a non-profit whose tagline is "Facilitating Sustainable Lifestyles, Organizations, and Communities." Our work is based in ecopsychology and involves reconnecting with nature for health, healing, and wisdom. If you've seen the movie Avatar, we help you remember how to deeply connect to our own living planet without sensory fibers coming out of the end of your ponytail. We do personal and group counseling, but since you can't counsel an organization (even though they actually need it), we "consult" with them to institute sustainable changes in all levels of business relationships. We also work with communities on sustainable policy development and economic resiliency without the disempowing and costly dependence on growth. It's all about becoming better instead of bigger. To try to sum all that up, I've started calling it Paradigm Shift Coaching.

Today, since this is Tucson's annual Peace Fair, I'm going to talk about the nexus of sustainability and the peace movement, and connect the dots amongst the greatest set of converging crises facing industrial civilization and perhaps life on earth as we've become comfortable with it, which are global warming, peak oil, and corporatism (which I refer to as the Triumvirate of Collapse), but we can't ignore economic growth, material accumulation outrun only by accumulating waste, empire and hegemony, an ever widening wealth gap, environmental toxicity, biodiversity loss, and the paradigm underlying them all--force-based ranking hierarchies of domination and control that depend on fear and a pathological sense of the other, whether that other is the natural world, a different culture, or a different name for god.

And I'm going to let you know that there is something we, together, can do about it all--a readily available, viable, systemic alternative. One that doesn't make us put on hair shirts, return to the cave, and start carrying water. That would improve people's quality of life and start giving ecosystems the opportunity to begin their own healing.

But, that's quite a bit to cover in five minutes, so you're going to have to listen up.

Our modern times are waiting for the terms and expressions to emerge necessary to describe them. Apocalypse is forecast, but never arrives. Unprecedented systemic changes are taking place, and the blue-light specials are still available at K-Mart. From an ecological perspective, apocalypse may well have occurred already. We really have no fucking idea how to even really begin to measure it. And it's started to take on a feeling of normalcy, as it unfalteringly unwinds itself on a daily basis. We've come to expect it, and that in and of itself is probably the greatest violence that's being done to our sense of self and nullifying our potential as a species.

So, we find ourselves with front-row seats to a planet in steady decline; a catastrophe in slow motion.

Whatever shall we do? Do we really want to institute change, or have we become resigned to an eventuality? Do you find yourself thinking that this is just the natural state of things, the only way it could have happened, it's our human nature and couldn't be changed even if we did want to? Perhaps you're among the group that's silently praying that some genius will invent something to allow us to go on livin' large, while simultaneously hoping that a Predator drone didn't just drop a bomb on his wedding party.

I'll tell you one thing. If we have any hope of pulling our collective ass out of this one, it's going to take more than the cosmetic and superficial changes of swapping out squiggly lightbulbs and buying Priuses. In fact, the latter just has to cease post haste. We have to quit wasting our collective dwindling resources and money on making the world more convenient for, and continuing our dependency on, the automobile. We also can't waste our time hoping for things to return to normal, because normal is what got us into our current sorry state.

But we can change, and do so rather quickly should we decide to. I base this assertion on evidence, research, experience, and historical precedence. There is a viable, pragmatic alternative available. Whether or not we can do it in time is an open question. But, there is no inherent reason, no natural law or principle putting roadblocks in our path, only cultural ones--which means it is nothing more than blind adherence to a story that is holding us back.

When activists get together and talk about creating coalitions or hub organizations of some type, they often come to the conclusion that we must organize around our commonalities. I submit that our core commonality is that we all come from the earth, and in an interconnected and interdependent universe, that is fundamentally friendly to life and its evolution, what we do to the earth we do to ourselves. Thus, the one goal that can support all of our individual passions and life's work as change agents is the goal of creating a sustainable future.

To do this we must first realize that sustainability is not a meaningless buzzphrase. It can be defined in a way that is both legally defensible and objectively measurable. We must quit allowing the other side to define our terms and then tell is that it's not possible.

There are three necessary clauses that make up a viable, comprehensive definition of sustainability. They are:

1) The integration of human social and economic lives into the environment in ways that tend to enhance or maintain rather than degrade or destroy the environment; 2) A moral imperative to pass on our natural inheritance, not necessarily unchanged, but undiminished in its ability to meet the needs of future generations; 3) Determining, and staying within, the balance point amongst population, consumption, and waste assimilation so that bioregions, watersheds and ecosystems maintain their ability to recharge, replenish and regenerate.

Transition Pima, which is a regional hub for Transition US, is an organization based on these principles that can provide the framework for a "big tent" type of effort. Generically speaking, the transition movement looks to create a sustainable future through an on-the-ground process known as relocalization. More than just food and energy security, though, transitioning into a sustainable future--which means one based on ecological wisdom, social justice, economic equity, and participatory democracy--requires all the puzzle pieces, including the one labeled "fun," to be in place. We don't get partial credit if any of the people who contribute to quality of life are missing--ecstatic dancers, farmers, caregivers, bookkeepers, cops. Relocalization is not slapping band-aids on the wounds of empire; it is both anathema and antidote to corporate globalization. It's not single issue branch clipping; it's pulling the diseased root of domination and empire all the way out and planting and nurturing something completely different.

At a fundamental level, sustainability is a term that connotes any living system's ability to adhere to the natural systems principles that allow an ecosystem to become and remain healthy, vibrant, and resilient. This also means adherence to ecological carrying capacity (the third clause in the definition of sustainability), which is the point at which most Westerners tend to run screaming in the opposite direction. Sustainability spells the end of the culture of narcissism. It sounds the death knell for dominator hierarchies, centralized control, and economic growth. It forces us to face the addictive substitutes we've come to rely on for the natural fulfillments that are withheld, through various means from schooling to advertising, in a paradigm that focuses almost exclusively on consumption, accumulation, aggressive competition, and hyper-individualism.

Sustainability is not a special interest--it is life. It isn't my way, it is our way if we truly wish to leave a habitable planet to future generations; if we want to learn how to holistically co-exist with the other millions of species that make up the web of life and the food chain on which we depend for our basic sustenance--as well as all higher levels of fulfillment.

Sustainability is foundational to the peace movement. A truly sustainable world will be a world at peace, but the reverse is not necessarily true. We could quite peacefully and "greenly" consume ourselves into extinction. Peace on Earth requires peace with Earth. The exploitation of all of nature must cease. This explicitly means that we must quit providing the legitimacy for the stories, religious and otherwise, that exploit, abuse, and stifle our own inner nature.

According to the thousands of scientists who study catastrophic anthropogenic climate destabilization, we're quickly running out of time. According to geophysicists and biologists, we're running out of natural resources and the biodiversity needed to keep the food chain from collapsing. No food chain, no food. It doesn't get much simpler than that. We have to quit being afraid to say this is exactly what's happening just because it might alarm or upset or challenge deeply cherished worldviews.

I mean, since America already ranks next to last out of 150 countries on the UN's happiness scale, when 50% of the American population requires at least one prescription drug per day, when our lifespans, our incomes and our sovereignty are steadily decreasing, what have we got to lose by being honest with people, with forthright truth telling? We actually are capable of handling it. The myth that insists otherwise does nothing but support the status quo, so be very wary of those who repeat it.

The concept of relocalization, as manifested by transition initiatives, is a path toward sustainability. It's a different way of doing things based on the four natural systems principles of mutual support and reciprocity, no waste, no greed, and increasing diversity, and the values we tend to share that emerge from these principles. These values are perhaps best expressed by the four pillars of the Earth Charter--respect and care for the community of life, ecological integrity, social and economic justice, and democracy, nonviolence and peace. The Earth Charter is an internationally recognized and widely adopted and endorsed soft-law document for sustainable development that has already undergone a decade long vetting process. We don't have to reinvent any wheels, nor are we alone here. In fact, we're actually the majority.

And the thing is, reconnecting and relocalizing, undertaking this Great Turning, this shift in consciousness, can't do any actual harm to anything except a story. Well, and to bankers and insurance companies. But it doesn't require anyone to sacrifice themselves... or their pet goat. Instead of burning energy, renewable or otherwise, for continuous industrial growth, let's shift our focus and priorities toward the development of our human potential and start measuring wealth by the quality and quantity of the mutually supportive relationships one can develop and maintain. Let's fully engage in the entire transition process. Let's rebuild community through safe and healthy neighborhoods that are energy efficient and ecologically benign. Let's create local steady-state living economies that are vibrant and resilient. Let's start to think and act the way nature works. Let's embody peace.

When one truly understands sustainability and all it entails--the interconnectedness of all beings--it makes one more afraid of hating than of dying. And I can't think of a better foundation for an effective and lasting peace movement than that.


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