Mainstream Environment?

I’d guess it was the 1980s when I really became aware of environmental issues, including fossil fuels and the greenhouse effect, including pollution of the air in cities, including degrading of farmland by intensive farming, including the effects of pesticides on the natural world. For so long, those 40 years since, the mainstream media have largely ignored these issues, or reported them as the concern of ‘environmentalists’, neatly compartmentalized away from the mainstream.

So I’ve had a strange sense of cognitive dissonance this past week or so as these issues are being discussed on the mainstream bulletins of the BBC, that bastion of UK establishment thinking. Of course, this is a reaction to the success of Extinction Rebellion in highlighting just how urgent now is the situation on global warming/ climate change and species loss (as well as to the success of Netflix in pinching David Attenborough and allowing him his full environmental voice). It really is a planetary emergency with little time left to effectively act.

The worry is that this is just to fill in the air time left by a government and parliament doing nothing but obsess about Brexit. There is no other legislation, no ‘queen’s speech’. The broadcasters must be sick of reiterating the minutiae of customs union, the withdrawal agreement, the splits in the two main parties and on and on.

But we have to be optimistic and suppose that
(a) something will eventually be sorted on Brexit and then
(b) this time legislators are accepting of the urgency and will eventually set out a programme that will at least partially address the climate/fossil fuel issue, encouraging people and business in the right direction. That is their job.
Difficult for a Conservative government that has spent 4 years rolling back the little environmental progress they allowed the Liberal Democrats to make in the coalition government of 2010.

The big question at the moment: Is Environment Secretary Michael Gove up to the job? He appears to understand the issues, but can he persuade the government to act and explain to the public what they are doing and why, and anyway will he still be there when prime minister Theresa May goes (ie soon)?

My optimism is somewhat subdued!

 

Earth centred learning

Education is of paramount importance in establishing a right relationship with the earth in future generations. In the 50s and 60s I was taught about maths, science, languages and a little bit of history and geography. I had one day out in nature, plus quite a few murderous cross-country runs I was not properly trained for. Luckily I lived on the edge of a city and wandered around the surrounding fields; most children today are not so lucky.

Modern educational thinking and practice is much better than this, but they fight such a materialistic paradigm. Look at the world and its trends; there is way more to do.

Another blog post by Bill Graham has distilled some of the thinking of educator David Orr into seven propositions for earth-centred learning. Let’s hope they become more widely understood and applied. I’ve edited his points for my own understanding

  1. All education is environmental education.
    [Conventional education, for the most part, excludes our dependence on nature.]
  2. Environmental issues are complex and cannot be understood through a single discipline or department.
    [Most institutions are discipline centered.]
  3. The study of place is a fundamental organizing concept for education.
    [Formal education prepares students to reside, not to inhabit. The inhabitant and a place mutually shape each other.]
  4. For inhabitants, education occurs in part as a dialogue with a place and has the characteristic of a good conversation.
    [Good conversation with nature has the purpose of establishing what is here, what nature will permit, and what nature will help us do here.]
  5. Environment education should change the way people live, not just how they talk.
    [Real learning is participatory, experiential, and interdisciplinary, not just didactic. Teachers function best as facilitators, and students are expected to be active agents in defining what is learned and how.]
  6. Experience in the natural world is both an essential part of understanding the environment and conducive to good thinking.
    [Understanding nature demands a disciplined and observant intellect.]
  7. Education that addresses the challenge of building a sustainable society will enhance the learner’s competence with natural systems.

Featured image is of Himalaya rivers and snow, from NASA.

Energy and economy

In her post The Next Financial Crisis is not Far Away Gail Tverberg presents an interesting assessment of where the world economy has been, is and is going. It seems to explain a lot of what we see going on.

Gail makes a number of observations, based on extensive research, that appear to look deeper than most so-called economists.

  • our economy is a self-organised system that seems to grow by itself
  • economies can collapse if circumstances are not right cf USSR
  • oil exporting nations can have problems if prices are too low cf Venezuela, whereas oil importing nations can have problems if prices are too high cf Greece
  • energy consumption correlates with and enables economic growth (see Gail’s chart), so cheap energy means high growth cf recent China, India, but not now

world-gpd-growth-has-followed-changes-in-energy-consumption

  • world growth in energy consumption is now negative
  • these factors explain lack of strong Western growth since 2007/8, and corresponding structural problems such as many low-paying jobs resulting in reducing tax take, which generates pressure on public services and so on
  • Likely symptoms of collapse: political parties cannot agree, debt repayment problems, falling international trade, breakdown of higher layers of organisation cf USSR

The point Gail does not really bring out is that economic growth also tends to correlate with negative environmental impacts, so low growth is actually much better for the environment.

We seem to be in a bind: economic growth and social stability versus environment. It is likely that we will always default to the former until the effects of the latter are so disastrous that action is forced upon us.

In a sensible world, we’d be having a big conference to try to work out a better way of managing human affairs that works with the environment, and perhaps decouples perceived benefits from both energy and growth. Which brings us back to the money/debt system, who controls it and who benefits…

In the real world we will just muddle on. And whether Brexit represents a national suicidal impulse or a prescient reading of the runes will not become clear for some time yet! (Its short term negative impact is becoming increasingly clear.)

 

Costa Rica

So we took a family holiday in Costa Rica, which proved to be a delightful country with mostly friendly people, particularly in the tourist industry,  its biggest industry. Well informed and passionate guides introduced us to the flora and fauna of three major national parks and to Costa Rica itself.

The national parks are prolific in vegetation, with a wide variety of birds and animals – well worth visiting. And you see and understand so much more with an experienced guide.

It was said that over 25% of the land is protected as national parks – which puts most other countries to shame. Yet there are still apparent tensions between conservation and development that are not going to go away.

The biodiversity is incredible. Costa Rica lies at the junction of two continents, resulting in an ingtermingling of species, and the history of volcanic activity ensures great fertility. This is truly precious resource for mankind that we cannot afford to lose. So tourists are actually helping in this process, so long as the tourism is managed sustainably, which appears to be the case today. Loss of tourism could actually jeopardise the whole enterprise.

In US and Europe, particularly UK, the pressure for development too often trumps that for ‘the environment ‘,  so our protected land area is much less, with little wilderness. Our biodiversity is much impoverished and under constant threat. In days of ignorance that may have been OK, now we know that our biodiversity for future generations is at stake – life as we know it, inherited from our forebears.

The effects of global warming are being felt in Costa Rica, as elsewhere, with changes in the seasons. This will put even more pressure on this biodiversity,  but who knows how nature might respond to this challenge?

There is no separate ‘environment’,  just us as an integral part of our earth and cosmos.

Featured map by Peter Fitzgerald, via Wikimedia Commmons

The Environment

The language we use shows what we care about. When we talk about the natural world, notably in the media, there is that psychological distancing by using the term ‘the environment’, as if it were something out there to be exploited and controlled. People who care about the natural world and point to facets of the natural world that are being degraded, polluted, driven to extinction and so on are disparagingly referred to as ‘environmentalists’, as if they were somehow inexplicable activists for some impossible ideal state.

It is only the logical left brain that can act in this way. When right brain is engaged we cannot but help be in connection and empathy with the natural world, so that it really matters, just as much as our human artifacts, jobs, economies and so on.

The Paris climate accord was a left brain agreement which concluded that something must be done to stop the threat posed by global warming to this great left brain civilisation.

Thus, the species extinctions, increasing denatured environments, desertification and pollution are only treated seriously when perceived to be a threat to this left brain world. Otherwise, species and ecological communities can go hang, just like the dodo. Only the right brain grieves.

The need is clear. We are a part of nature, we are nature. We know that when we engage full faculties. There is no separate ‘environment’ – we are the natural world, we are it and slowly, in our technological trance, we are setting about trashing ourselves and our future.

It’s time to wake.

To quote Christopher Fry from a different context:

But will you wake for pity’s sake!

Featured image including dodo by Sir Thomas Herbert (d. 1682), courtesy of Wikimedia Commons