Thursday, 9 August 2012

Visioning the future in a full earth

For some years it has been clear that environmental doom-saying, because it is a poor motivator, is a dead end. However true the prediction of global overheating, climate chaos, resource wars, pollution and disease (with consequent mass death or displacement), it leads most people to despair and denial rather than hope and resilience. Only a spiritual and emotional grounding (a transformation) gives humans the power to change our ways. This not only moral teaching, but sound neuroscience.

The "full earth"(1) invalidates all previous human experience. No longer can we migrate or innovate our way out of the dilemma posed by infinite economic growth on a finite planet. A number of the planetary boundaries have already been breached. The "developed" world of our generation is eating its way through the equivalent of 3 1/2 earths. If pond scum doubles every hour, at the last hour (when we could intervene) the pond still seems half clear. Apparently, not a problem.

And a peculiar limit of the human mind makes it harder to develop an overall vision of future, than to recall an (often imaginary) past Eden. Hard, but not impossible. Some of the worlds' best scientists, eco-activists, ethical thinkers and artists have been doing just that. This is a rough guide to their work.

One slogan should be discarded: "sustainable development", still a staple of United Nations and business thinking. But (as we see in para 2, and in successive reports to UNCSD) its elements are self-contradictory. A necessary compromise in the UN's Our Common Future, the 1992 Rio and subsequent Kyoto treaty, it is now outdated. Infinite growth is not sustainable. Quality of life, climate justice and right sharing are. The much-touted "green economy" of Rio+20 failed because it proposed to build the future on commodifying the Earth's commons; in fact it would finance climate action, and better life for the world's poor, by selling licenses to pollute.

The new watchword is "resilience" (2), the ability of biodiversity to repair the web of life. In time it may become overused and shopworn, but at this point it is a helpful guide.

Eco-economics was invented by Herman Daly (and others) emphasizing that production should serve social need, and human society within the planet. This blog has reported the astonishing variety of eco-economic thought (tagged EE) that has developed in event decades. Much was simply a critique of standard economics -- a critique of which Adbusters and Occupy have now made a protest movement. But some has been positive and transformatory.

Among these are David Korten's "great turning" (3), Vandana Shiva's "earth democracy", Via Campesina's fight for food sovereignty, Blue Planet Project's concept of water as a human right, the knowledge (and rights) of indigenous peoples partially recognized in UNDRIP (4), World Future Council's call for an Ombudsman for future generations. All of these show a significant move toward human inclusiveness -- ecojustice, to use the current term. Desirable, but still incomplete. In the long view, planetary ecojustice involves a spiritual, "cosmic" relationship that is also scientific and natural: the commonwealth of all life.

Key overall visions have begun to emerge in the last decade. Almost all include not only a set of proposals but a human process.
Note to readers: What significant groups, thinkers or visions have we omitted from this list? We apologize in advance, and propose a collaborate process. Please send us your comments and suggestions.

  1. Full earth: not only in the sense of population, but of human (over)use of resources. The concept is Herman Daly's; further developed by Robert Costanza and others. Similar concerns are shown by those speaking of climatic tipping points; the nine planetary boundaries of Johan Rockstrom et al demonstrate that human appropriation is breaking limits of nature's resilience.
  2. Resilience is a term from ecology, applied in the Transition Town movement to human recovery from oil dependency, and Via Campesina's principle of food sovereignty; in both cases, “localization” – local control – assures adaptability. Vandana Shiva's “earth democracy” shares the assumption that local control is scientifically and socially preferable to an uncontrolled world market.
  3. The title of Korten's 2006 book, fundamental to collaboration by Yes! authors And BALLE green capitalists. Other thinkers such as Gus Speth, Paul Hawken, Bill McKibben call for ecosocial transition: see the US site greattransitionstories and NEF The Great Transition (2009).
  4. United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (2007) declares such rights, especially Free, Prior, and Informed Consent (FPIC) to the use of native knowledge or biology; but in many cases national and international respect of these rights is lacking. Indigenous groups have denounced the Rio+20 plan for a “green economy”, REDD, and CBD Nagoya “benefit sharing” which neglected such rights. The Oct 2012 Biodiversity conference in Hyderabad and 2014 World Conference on Indigenous Peoples promise to be flashpoints.

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