“Much more than a simple ecology, ecosophy is a wisdom-spirituality of the earth. The new balance is not so much between man and the Earth, but between matter and spirit, between spatio-temporality and consciousness. Ecosophy is not simply a science of the earth (ecology) and even wisdom on earth, but the wisdom of the earth itself that occurs when a man knows how to listen with love.”–Raimon Pannikar
In ancient Greece, the word cosmos designated nature’s grand universe; the organizational pattern of the universe as our greatest context as well as the organizational pattern inherent in human society. This relatedness of nature and society in harmony with each other also held for the human mind or psyche that is preoccupied with them, so all three – universal nature, human society, and individual psyche/mind – were seen as embedded levels of our complete world, and all three were based on the same organizational principles and laws of operation or conduct.
In this truly cosmic model, the Greeks believed that if we knew how the greater cosmos was organized, we would know how to organize our smaller human cosmos, the world of the polis or Plato’s Republic, for the microcosm reflects the macrocosm. The greater cosmos came out of chaos, which was not seen as the disorder conjured up by that word, but as the unpatterned no-thing-ness of the universal source, the infinite potential (more as in today’s chaos theory) within which all arises. Thus, the matter of how cosmos-as-order arose and functions was of supreme importance for the Greeks.
To create a harmonious human cosmos within nature’s greater cosmos, the Greeks believed that the human mind and emotions would have to be trained to function by the principles of harmonious cosmic organization. Epic poems, ancient Greek drama, and eventually even logic and metaphysics were all teaching tools. Dramas about terrible tragedies wove together the levels of cosmos in order to teach people democracy – what difficult or horrific situations could befall people, what decisions had to be made, what consequences must be dealt with when bad decisions were made individually or collectively, how cosmic influences moved between levels. Comedy taught similar lessons by spoofing how people actually behaved in order to promote better behavior, as in Aristophanes’ plays Lysistrata wherein women scheme to make peace when men fail to do so.
Another familiar ancient Greek word, philosophy, etymologically meant love of wisdom (philo = love; sophia = wisdom) and was used to designate the pursuit of wisdom by studying the natural world for guidance in human affairs. This was especially true for the pre-Socratics who at times are called the cosmologists, before Socrates began the searching for wisdom interiorly within the human conscience and initiated ethics as a branch of philosophy. The cosmologists assumed that the study of nature would reveal patterns of relationships applicable to human society – patterns that would help people organize and conduct their own lives, the lives of their families and their society wisely. There was destiny in the stars, hence the importance of astrology. Thus, philosophy, from the outset, encompassed what later was designated as natural science, the term ‘science’ coming into use only in the Middle Ages.
The Greeks were aware that understanding nature, including our own human nature, would help us live on Earth more intelligently and peacefully. To know one’s nature is to know how to live in harmony. Sadly, science abandoned that mission when philosophy became an independent field of knowledge while the systematic study of nature became ‘science,’ from the Latin scientia, a word implying knowledge, and the analytical separation or division of things into parts to understand them. The dichotomy began in the 17th century with Francis Bacon and signals the arrival of the modern sensibility, or perhaps a better term would be “insensibility” toward nature, which to put it mildly is nothing short than that of a rapist toward a woman whom he wants to control and exploit.
With the arrival of such a dichotomy, wisdom, which was part of the original understanding of science disappears or is relegated to philosophy understood esoterically as a very broad pursuit in its own right, based on thinking instead of experimentation or other formal scientific research. Meanwhile, within science the Greek notion that studying nature can bring wisdom in the running of human affairs was simply neglected and even lost.
Enter Ecosophy, often called deep ecology, which usually presents itself as something brand new, a new philosophy, a new Renaissance spurred by the ecological crisis of our times and able to save human-kind from its self-destructive tendencies.
Now, given the relationship to nature that the ancient Greeks explored as above argued, the question arises: is ecosophy, this latest modern synthesis of scientific ecology and philosophy, merely a reinventing of the wheel, the wheel already discovered by the ancient Greeks? The answer, I am afraid, has to be both yes and no, which may sound like an evasion or a paradox. But let me explain. The answer is yes in the sense of what we in modern times have regretfully forgotten about our cultural origins; as in so many other fields of knowledge disproportionately influenced by modern deterministic-mechanistic science, we, especially those of us committed to a positivistic approach to the apprehension of reality, continue to conclude that ancient philosophy too is a passé, long superseded anachronism, with some latent cultural-historical value, to be sure, but practically useless to solve our pragmatic ecological problems, the sooner disposed, the better. Within this line of thinking, modern science divorced from philosophy must at all costs have the last word, because it is the latest of human developments; what arrives at the end of a process, evolutionary or otherwise, has to be the best because it is the latest and most modern and most progressive; and progress, after all, is all but inevitable and unstoppable. This of course is positivism with a vengeance, which continues to be taken for granted by so many knowledgeable intelligent persons; but is it reasonable? Let’s briefly explore this assumption. When we do we also find out that the answer is not only yes but also no.
For a while, since Descartes’ rationalistic philosophy came into being announcing modernity in the 17th century, we have assumed that the universe is a great machine. And yet, lately our astronauts, who have seen the Earth from far above it, are speaking of an Earth that feels very much alive to them. From a rather depressing scientific story of a non-living material universe accidentally giving rise to all within it, and devoid of meaning or purpose, those astronauts as well as many notable physicists are beginning to enunciate a brand new more hopeful and visionary story strangely resembling that of the ancient Greeks: that the universe is more like a great thought than a great machine and that we are, in some way, its conscious co-creators, active responsible agents for a living Earth, not mere fatalistic victims of our destiny as consumers of stuff. “In the beginning was the Word” may be just as good, just as reasonable, if not better, than “in the beginning there was a big bang which began the process of entropy and final dissolution.”
I said “a new story” purposefully. In Italian the word “storia” the way a Vico interprets it, has two meanings: it can designate a myth, as well as well as history documented by humans about events effecting their existence. Few would disagree that we humans always have been, from time immemorial, and probably always will be, storytellers. Whether we create our stories from the revelations of religions or the researches of science, or the inspirations of great artists and writers or the experiences of our own very personal lives, we live by the stories we believe and tell to ourselves and others. As Thomas Berry, walking in the footsteps of Giambattista Vico and Teilhard de Chardin, one of the authors of the word ‘ecology,’ said quite cogently: “We cannot tell the human story without telling the Earth’s story.”
Vico, Jung and Campbell discovered that certain archetypes of mythology were held in common by many ancient cultures. Of course the story most often referred to as the quintessential “Hero’s Journey” is that of Ulysses in Homer’s Odyssey. Campbell intimates that such a myth or story is incomplete. What happens to Ithaca after Ulysses’ return and heroic challenge of his wife’s suitors? Does the island, having returned to order and stability, become a sustainable resources’ society thriving in peaceful prosperity? We are not told; we need to fill the gap. It has been noted by some eco-sophists that Darwin’s evolution story is like the youthful adventures of Ulysses which now needs to be replaced by another adventure with the goal of building a mature ecologically stable society. Progress cannot be stopped. And this, of course, is positivistic.
Alas, in our modern positivistic world obsessed with explaining how the universe works but wholly disinterested in its ultimate meaning and destiny, story seems to have lost its vital importance. We have assumed since Descartes, since the empiricists and the positivists, since Darwin, that science alone could lead us to the truth, as story never did or could. We misguidedly thought that myths were mere fairy tale story for children or ignoramuses and then doubled up on that assumption by declaring the story of Jesus of Nazareth and his resurrection just another ethnic Hebrew myth comparable to the myth of Atlas or Thor. We assumed a reality independent of humans – a material-mechanistic (lately morphed into a cybernetic) universe that could be studied objectively without the human interfering in it in any way. In more poetical terms, we banished the gods and we declared the lord of the Universe dead.
When however, physicists discovered that all the universe was composed of energy waves and that every instance of our human reality was a wave function collapsed from sheer probability by a conscious observer, they were slightly surprised and everything began to change. That discovery meant that our world is produced in our consciousness and that language, to put it in Heideggerian terms, is the house of Being; that the Kantian phenomenon includes human consciousness- that realities are not fixed scenarios in which we grope our way about, but ever-changing creations we ourselves ‘bring forth’ both individually and collectively through our beliefs and actions. In other words, a universe more like a great thought than like a great machine appears; one that is more like a storytelling universe we make up as we go than like a stable physical reality in which we grope our way about. A universe more likely to be found in Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel than in Galileo’s scientific astronomy. Of course the hard-nosed positivist will continue to insist that such is the delusion of people unable to bear the brutal reality revealed by a material mechanistic universe.
A few weeks ago I had a conversation with my oculist, who in attempting to explain to me the incredible complexity of the human eye (and non-human animal’s eye too), blurted out the following: only a fool can think that this kind of complexity simply came about by sheer chance. He then agreed with my observation that the ancient Greeks might have well had it on target all along by postulating a nous, or a Cosmic Mind or Cosmic Intelligence behind the purpose (telos) and orderliness exhibited by the cosmos.
Indeed, it takes time for the new scientific stories of a conscious living universe and Earth to percolate. But philosophers of science such at Thomas Kuhn have by now made it clear that science can only give us useful hypotheses, not truths. Even the ever-more-obsolete scientific beliefs and findings told us a story, and a very powerful story at that. It told us we lived in a one-way universe beginning with a Big Bang and running down ever since like a battery depleted in the process of powering all the random collisions that gave us galaxies and our world. Some of those collisions, we were told, brought about certain molecules that sprung rather magically to life, but life – so the (largely Darwinian) story goes – became a struggle for survival in fierce competition before the running-down tide called ‘entropy’ eventually sweeps all life away.
This was a tragically misleading story. We abandoned community, cooperation and solidarity, as proclaimed by great religions of the world, to individualism, social Darwinism and greedy competitive selfishness a la Ayn Rand, and turned our human civilization into a capitalistic, competitive ‘Get what you can, while you can’ globalized shopping mall. Some now call it “globalization” whose main feature is that the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. We have been frantically chopping down, drilling, digging and scraping up Earth’s ‘resources’ as if – or rather, because – we expected no tomorrow. We have literally put ourselves into the Sixth Great Extinction and are the first of Earth’s species to create such disaster. Only Earth’s very first creatures, her most ancient bacteria, came close to our destructiveness, causing both global hunger and global pollution in turn. They found a solution, we have not yet by transforming themselves into cells.
Primeval bacteria, our deep ecologists tell us, had Earth to themselves for almost two billion years – fully half of all biological evolution, and crossed a the tipping point which led to evolving the evolution of the nucleated cell as a giant bacterial cooperative. These cells, being new on Earth, then went through their own competitive youth for a billion years until they crossed point into full fledged maturity by evolving multi-celled creatures, to wit Humanity which in turn crossed another tipping point when tribes built the first cities collectively as centers of worship and trade that we are only now discovering in South America, Africa, Asia and Europe.
These city cooperatives too have been experiencing their own youth as cities became the centers for competitive empire-building over thousands of years up to national and now corporate empires. We have at last reached a new tipping point where enmities are more expensive in all respects than friendly collaboration, where planetary limits of exploiting nature have been reached. Will we have the courage and the wisdom to cross it?
There is cause for optimism in this regard. Just as everything seemed hopeless, we suddenly have a cause for new hope. In such a sense the answer to our initial question continues to be no: what is going on is not a mere imitation or a reinvention of the wheel of ancient Greece; it is only that if we do not know the history of ancient Greece; there is something added, just as the Renaissance was not just a reinvention or imitation of the wheel of ancient Greece, there was an added value which was unknown to the Greeks: Christianity and the good news that this God was immanent within the universe and participates in its history. That changes the meaning of the story. We are slowly discovering that rather than wait for saviors to save us, we may have the power to save ourselves. How are we to do it? By first changing our story. From cogs within the wheels of a mechanized industrialized world, satirized so masterfully by Charlie Chaplin in one of his silent movies, we have developed a technology—the Internet—that is able to give us the capacity for collaboration and genuine communication. Now we can all save ourselves; not one at a time but together as a human species. We seem to have finally intuited that there is something hopelessly immature about the competing and fighting and grabbing going on at the highest levels of human society. Some have called it Capitalism and have added that it is the best economic system ever devised by man. Reality does not bear that out.
But the call to humanity goes on. Community as a concept, finally having lost the taint of its association with communism and its political agenda of world domination, is in wonderful revival as local self-sufficiency and sustainability become very human and very practical goals in an uncertain world. Caring and sharing are replacing competing and grabbing, in no small measure due to the increasing empowerment of women, who have always held these values and are promoting an ethics of care, care for the Earth who is the mother of us all, as St. Francis so wonderfully expressed in Italian literature’s first poem “The Canticle of the Creatures.” Indeed, many see this as a final growing-up and maturity of humanity. We can be thankful for this new Renaissance, so to speak, to the likes of St. Francis of Assisi, Da Vinci (who conceived of no dichotomy between science and art), Vico, de Chardin, Berry, Sparenberg, Capra, Kuhn, Pannikar, not to speak of the various founders of ecosophy such as Ness and Eisler.
That wisdom expressed by those visionaries, is inherent in the nearly four billion years of Earth’s evolution. Species after species, from the most ancient bacteria to us, have gone through a maturation cycle from individuation and fierce competition to mature collaboration and peaceful interdependence. The maturation tipping point in this cycle occurs when species reach the point where it is more energy efficient – thus, less costly and more truly economic – to feed and otherwise collaborate with their enemies than to kill them off. But the process is not inevitable, for if it were, then we would be determined robots devoid of free will.
A final caveat is in order here: we need to be careful not to characterize this positive hopeful trend called ecosophy deterministic and inevitable or we shall fall once again in the trap of the narcissistic, idolatrous worship of “inevitable progress.” Man’s freedom needs to be preserved and protected because it is part of his identity. Without self-knowledge, as Socrates reminded us, no way forward is possible. We shall not know what are the ethical imperative consonant to human nature. The maturity brought about by time and experience is important but there is also decrepitude to consider. To refuse to change in the name of a pseudo-conservatism, deluding oneself that immobility insures order and stability, is to forget that immobility can also be a sign of decay and death. There is a kind of democracy in the cemetery: they are all equally dead and immovable.
Mark Twain tells a story of his 18 years old daughter thinking of him as the most stupid man in the world, but by the time she was 25, she was surprised at how much “the old man” had learned and matured in seven short years. What Twain is driving at is that the one who had changed was not him but his daughter. She had matured, of course, but she had also acquired wisdom or she would have continued to think of her father as the most stupid man in the world, no matter how many years passed. Wisdom can be an eternal idea but as Plato put it, nobody can be a genuine philosopher before the age of 50.
It is to be fervently hoped that human-kind has matured enough to realize that Ecosophy can not only unite our separate categories of economics, ecology, finance, politics and governance, but can also wonderfully unite science and spirituality, secularity and religion, and thus be the harbinger of human values into the entire human enterprise; as such it also represents a new humanism on the horizon. This new humanism cannot even be imagined till we have at least an inkling of the old humanism of the 14th century.
World looks to nature-based solutions for urgent water challenges
As more than 2 billion people lack access to safe drinking water and more than double that number lack access to safe sanitation, the international community is drawing attention to nature-based solutions for the water challenges of the 21st century on this World Water Day.
The theme of this year’s commemoration highlights the unique and fundamental role that nature-based solutions play in regulating the water cycle, keeping freshwater clean and improving the water security of our water cycles.
With the global population continuing to grow rapidly, demand for water is expected to increase by nearly one-third by 2050, while our freshwater ecosystems are degrading at an alarming rate – 64-71% of the natural wetland area worldwide has been lost due to human activity in the last century. Furthermore, water pollution has worsened in almost all rivers in Africa, Asia and Latin America since the 1990’s
“We need to deal with the water paradox,” said Erik Solheim, head of UN Environment, calling attention to the need to work together towards a solution for our water challenge. “Water is the essence of life, but we don’t save it enough. It’s time to change mindsets, it’s not about development versus the environment.”
The 2018 edition of the UN World Water Development Report outlines a range of nature-based solutions for water management, from personal measure that can be applied in the home, to examples of “green” infrastructure that can be applied to rural and urban landscapes – such as planting new forests, restoring wetlands, and constructing green walls and roof gardens.
The report further clarifies that despite recent advances in the application of green infrastructure, a holistic approach to water management is to identify the most appropriate, cost-effective and sustainable balance between grey infrastructure and nature-based solutions.
“Today, more than ever, we must work with nature, instead of against it,” said Audrey Azoulay, Director-General of UNESCO in the foreword of the report. “Demand for water is set to increase in all sectors. The challenge we must all face is meeting this demand in a way that does not exacerbate negative impacts on ecosystems.”
World Water Day is celebrated every year on March 22nd. This year, the commemoration coincides with the World Water Forum, held in Brasilia, Brazil. The Forum is the world’s biggest water-related event, organized by the World Water Council. The Forum brings together water experts from around the world to collaborate on making long-term progress on global water challenges. http://www.worldwaterforum8.org/
Category 5 storms: A norm or exception?
Compared to their larger counterparts, small states are at a higher risk of extreme weather events, which threaten to wipe out their developmental gains, and to some extent, their very existence.
According to the IMF, the economic cost of the average natural disaster during 1950-2014 was nearly 13 percent of GDP for small states, compared to less than 1 percent of GDP for larger states. During that same period, the average natural disaster affected 10 percent of the population in small states, compared to just 1 percent for other countries.
In recent times, the frequency of disasters affecting small states has been far much greater, reflecting small states’ proximity to cyclone and hurricane belts. In addition, there has been a rapid expansion in the number of higher category cyclones. These have left a trail of devastation in their wake, and are estimated to have generated costs in the billions.
In March 2015, category 5 cyclone Pam struck Vanuatu, and in Fiji, category 5 Tropical Cyclone Winston left over 40 percent of the population negatively impacted. A few weeks ago, Tropical Cyclone Gita, the worst storm to hit Tonga in 60 years, caused significant damage to infrastructure and unprecedented disruption to amenities.
As recent as last year, the Caribbean experienced widespread destruction and substantial loss and damage due to category 5 hurricanes Irma and Maria. These hurricanes damaged critical infrastructure in Anguilla and Barbuda, whilst; and the Bahamas suffered remarkable damage to physical structures. Moreover, there were damages to over 80 percent of homes, electricity and telecommunications in Dominica; and the list goes on.
Is this growing frequency of robust and destructive category 5 storms a norm or exception?
Well, there is a growing body of evidence that seems to suggest that the recent increase of these highly destructive storms are indeed linked to climate change. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) model projections, in particular, global warming is expected to cause an intensification of devastating cyclones by the end of the 21st century. I believe that should this projection come to fruition, such weather events will most-likely push small states beyond their coping point, given their already weak adaptive capacities.
The real question is this:
What does all this mean for the economic development and very existence of small states, and can this be solved through increased financing for development?
UN spotlights rainwater recycling, artificial wetlands among ‘green’ solutions to global water crisis
With five billion people at risk of having difficulty accessing adequate water by 2050, finding nature-based solutions, such as China’s rainwater recycling, India’s forest regeneration and Ukraine’s artificial wetlands, is becoming increasingly important, according to a United Nations report released Monday at the world’s largest water-related event in Brazil.
“We need new solutions in managing water resources so as to meet emerging challenges to water security caused by population growth and climate change,” said Audrey Azoulay, head of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), in the foreword of the UN World Water Development Report 2018.
“If we do nothing, some five billion people will be living in areas with poor access to water by 2050,” she added.
Goal 6 of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development adopted by world leaders in 2015 seeks to achieve universal and equitable access to safe and affordable drinking water for all and, also access to adequate and equitable sanitation and hygiene for all by 2030.
The report notes that the global demand for water has been increasing and will continue to grow significantly over the next two decades due to population growth, economic development and changing consumption patterns.
Due to climate change, wetter regions are becoming wetter, and drier regions are becoming even drier. At present, an estimated 3.6 billion people, nearly half the global population, live in areas potentially water-scarce at least one month per year, and this population could increase to some 4.8 billion to 5.7 billion by 2050.
The number of people at risk from floods is projected to rise from 1.2 billion today to around 1.6 billion in 2050, nearly 20 per cent of the world’s population. The population currently affected by land degradation, desertification and drought is estimated at 1.8 billion people, making this the worst natural disaster based on mortality and socio-economic impact relative to gross domestic product (GDP) per capita.
The UNESCO Director-General said the report proposes solutions that are based on nature to manage water better.
The report notes that reservoirs, irrigation canals and water treatment plants are not the only water management instruments at disposal.
So-called ‘green’ infrastructure, as opposed to traditional ‘grey’ infrastructure, focuses on preserving the functions of ecosystems, both natural and built, and environmental engineering rather than civil engineering to improve the management of water resources, the report says.
In 1986, the province of Rajasthan in India experienced one of the worst droughts in its history. Over the following years, a non-governmental organization worked alongside local communities to regenerate soils and forests in the region by setting up water harvesting structures. This led to a 30 per cent increase in forest cover, groundwater levels rose by several metres and cropland productivity improved.
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