“We realize that the one contains the all, the greatest is in the smallest, and each particle of dust contains the whole cosmos. We are learning to love you and our Father more, and to love one another in the light of such insight. We know that this non-dualistic way of seeing things can help us transcend all discrimination, fear, jealousy, hatred, and despair.”- Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hanh, Love Letter to the Planet
(This piece is a collection of ideas and excerpts from my masters thesis and other post-grad developments, infused with some of my latest musings on coming challenges and how to collectively overcome them.)
The steadily deteriorating conditions of our natural and social environments are precipitating widespread realizations- that we are not isolated components inhabiting an infinitely expanding biosphere but are in fact fundamentally dependent on natural processes as well as our ‘more-than-human’ (Villasenor-Galarza, 2013) counterparts, and that the era of industrial man, which has fueled unfettered economic expansion while generating mass destruction in its wake, is no longer tenable. These disastrous phenomena have largely been made possible through dominant anthropocentric world views, reinforced by centuries of ill-conceived notions of man’s superiority relative to the rest of the natural world, and have generated a false dichotomy in the human psyche between the ‘special human self’ and nature as the ‘external other’ (a similar dynamic to racial, ethnic, nationalistic, and gendered antagonisms).
We must now give way to a new ecocentric perspective, one that grants equal consideration to all of life, regardless of color, creed, culture, or species. One crowning theoretical construct of the field of environmental sociology that aims to dismantle the traditional ‘Human Exemptionalism Paradigm’ (HEP) is the ‘New Ecological Paradigm’ (NEP) (Dunlap & Michelson, 2002), which aims to rein Mother Earth’s most errant child back into a relational position within the great web of life, the same “universal evolutionary matrix” held together by intimate reciprocity (Villasenor-Galarza, 2013) that envelops all existence. As the wise teachings of Buddhism surmise, our fundamental task is to reconcile the ‘Earth within’ and the ‘Earth without.’
Below are some ideas that I believe are most beneficial for aiding the development and spread of the ‘New Ecological Paradigm’:
1- Become aware of the social and ecological impacts of the products you buy and of your lifestyle choices overall. During the age of information, now more than ever before a substantial number of us have easy access to a wealth of vital information via the internet. Don’t underestimate its value, for this spectacular tool gives us an invaluable gift: the ability to make wiser, more informed decisions. Use it to learn more about what you’re buying, how many and what sorts of resources are required for its production and distribution, where it is shipped from and under what conditions it is produced, and the like. Whenever and wherever possible, opt for more humane and eco-friendly options. www.greenchoices.org is a good place to start for easy-to-access information on a number of products and companies, as well as some insightful information on production processes. Likewise, www.ethicalconsumer.org offers such conviniences as a list of Palm-oil-free products. If you are in need of a new pair of shoes or a handbag, www.veganchic.com sells elegant and cruelty-free vegan shoes and bags. But ultimately, ask yourself, what is the true cost of what I’m buying? Do I really need this? After some consideration, you’ll find that the answer to the latter is, quite often, ‘no’. True happiness, as us Westerners in particular have gradually begun to realize, does not stem from the frantic and unlimited accumulation of material possessions so that we may ‘keep up with the Joneses’ but rather from the cultivation of meaningful relationships, ample leisure time, unencumbered access to nutritious foods and clean water, and healthy communion with the natural world that is the source of our being.
2- Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Replenish, and Restore! The importance of these precepts cannot be emphasized enough. It is the quintessential failing of modern times that we consume far more than the earth can replenish; what’s more, our modes of production and consumption often leave our natural support systems utterly bereft, severely undermining their capacity to recover (i.e monocultures). Our reigning pro-growth economic paradigm perpetuates a throw-away culture that fetishizes consumption for consumption’s sake. These are dangerously unsustainable maxims, not least because infinite growth on a finite planet is physically impossible. The natural systems within which we subsist are governed by limits, they are cyclical rather than linear, and materials are constantly broken down and reincorporated into new forms; Nothing is wasted. Thus, be mindful not only of what you consume but how much you consume, and this applies especially to us in the industrial north (The average American citizen is responsible for 997 times more carbon dioxide emissions than a citizen of Chad (Ponting, 2007)). Green consumerism may be the lesser of two evils, but it still fails to address the underlying issue of overconsumption. When feasible, walk or ride a bike instead of driving (this way you’ll reduce your ecological footprint while also keeping fit!). Use reusable shopping bags, cups, containers, and the like so as to reduce the gargantuan amounts of non-biodegradable waste discarded annually (billions of takeaway cups are discarded each year in Britain alone, of which less than 5% gets recycled), much of which ultimately ends up making its way from land to our oceans and into the stomachs of our marine kin who often mistake such items as plastic bags for prey. Some brilliant and hope-inspiring examples of change include Scandinavia’s first zero-packaging food store which is set to open this summer, and Bhutan, known as the world’s greenest country (they’re actually carbon negative!), recently planted 108,000 trees in honor of the birth of their prince. Talk about restoration!
3- Help one another. As crucial as socio-structural changes are changes at the ideological level. In addition to working towards dismantling deleterious socioeconomic structures, we must also work to cultivate a culture of inclusion by nurturing cooperation, kindness and empathy, and in effect dissolving archaic conceptions of the external ‘other’. All of us are ultimately kindred spirits inhabiting one single home: Planet Earth. Therefore, we must remain ever cognizant of the wellbeing of others, and keep in mind that our actions generate far-reaching consequences through time and space. Cooperation or ‘mutual aid’, as the brilliant scientist, philosopher, and revolutionary activist Peter Kropotkin denotes in his engaging work, ‘Mutual Aid: A Factor in Evolution’, is a fundamental principle of evolution. It is as essential for the continuity of life, if not more so, than competition (the general rule in nature is peaceful coexistence, not ruthless competition), and for social species like ourselves, it is a leading cause of our success. Help others by showing them the disastrous impacts of their choices and actions. Work with others towards the common goal of reconstructing our present trajectories and building new, more resilient societies. Start a community garden with your neighbors, wherein each can grow different foods that you can then trade with one another. Volunteer some of your spare time with a nonprofit organization (such as your local animal or homeless shelter!). Work on ways to reduce your energy and resource consumption. Lastly and more broadly, if you cannot join them, offer support in any way you can to those who are at the front lines of the fight to create the saner and more resilient future that is a necessity. This includes the protesters, the political and environmental activists, the whistle blowers, the Transition-Towners, the forward-thinking politicians (yes, they are scarce but they do still exist!), and countless others. No one can do everything, but everyone can do something.
As the relative stability of the Holocene becomes supplanted by the unpredictability of the Anthropocene, a world plagued by more frequent and intense storms, species extinctions, food and energy instabilities, climatic perturbations, and mass migrations, let us remember that despite the trials and uncertainties that loom ahead, there will also be ample opportunities to recreate, to rebuild, and to carve out new paths for subsistence. What’s needed is the wholehearted application of our creative, cooperative, and intellectual capacities, as well as the emergence of a new, more inclusive worldview. Indeed, in cooperation with our fellow Earthlings and in widening our circles of compassion and consideration is where our salvation ultimately lies.
Content by Heather Alberro