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What if knowledge could become action?

What if knowledge could become action?

An alternative vision for tackling biodiversity loss

What if knowledge could become action?

An alternative vision for tackling biodiversity loss

By Rick Meyer, psychotherapist and cultural thinker

In his important book, Climate: A New Story, Charles Eisenstein reimagines the main ecological threats now impacting humanity and this earth. Without diminishing the significance of climate change, he focuses on the larger context of biodiversity decline and destruction. He effectively stresses how our dominant focus on climate change obscures and even distracts our attention from the causes of biodiversity loss, within which climate change decisively resides. He describes this on page 137 as:

“The alternative frame I am proposing, focusing on local ecosystems, nullifies Stoknes’s mechanisms of denial and paralysis. It addresses tangible damage in ways that bring tangible results. People cannot see changes in atmospheric concentration of invisible, odorless gases, nor can they be aware of distant effects on climate, but they can see (or feel the effects of) denuded hillsides, erosion gullies, smog, toxic waste, contaminated water, and so forth. They can also see the return of songbirds, the rising of water tables, the return of fish, and the clearing of air and water pollution where pro-environmental policies are implemented.”

Butterfly on orange flower illustration
'Hallelujah' by Leanne Cadden. Ink and watercolour wash.

A new vision for approaching biodiversity loss

In other writing, my colleague Howard Kirkham and I have elaborated on the absence of an alternative vision for our individual and collective response to the global crisis we now face. Our hope is for a comprehensive, coherent, embraceable, mobilizing, and strategic vision. It would also integrate distinct and viable paths of engagement and transformation, which have been relatively absent to date.

As Eisenstein notes, by nature, human-induced climate change is a somewhat obscure and ubiquitous process and outcome caused by humans. It challenges our ability to recognize tangible ways of tackling it within our current ways of being, especially as we remain embedded within growth economies and the dominant specific knowledge systems, even as we witness their effects. It easily pulls us toward a mandate to “stop” what we are doing. However, we lack an embodied and inspirational answer of what we can plausibly “start” to do, with a comprehensive strategic intention.

In this brief reflection we suggest a move toward systemic ‘aspiration and function’ to help increase human engagement with ecological threats. We anchor this idea in Eisenstein’s focus on biodiversity disruption/loss, via his apt characterization of the nature of biodiversity as a complexity of differentiated biomes residing uniquely and discretely (while interdependently), locally and/or regionally, rather than globally. We suggest the prioritization of a comprehensive partnership between individual and collective endeavors, a reciprocity between federal governments, Indigenous nations, corporations, and local/regional governments and communities. This would be informed by a translation of the science of biodiversity and the age-old wisdom of Indigenous peoples, into implemented interventions and practices within discreet biomes. We acknowledge the paradox of this necessity, born of dominant culture departures from and via oppression of Indigenous spirituality, knowledge and wisdom.

Buck grazing grass among wildflowers
Photo by garrett parker on Unsplash

What if we could imagine, realize, and actualize ways of tackling ecological threats?

We may best characterize this ambition in the form of a succession of hypothetical “what ifs?” in the service of imagining that potential.

What if enough North Americans experienced an epiphany that we are suffocating the earth? Perhaps this realization would evoke an undeniable, demonstrable voice of human ‘social license’, manifesting as the collective muscle to mandate federal, provincial and corporate leaders to boldly establish links between knowledge and action. The following “ifs” no doubt depend on that epiphany, while also contributing reciprocally to its occurrence. This is the conundrum of challenge into which we have evolved.

What if federal governments responded, joining with the wisdom of Indigenous nations, while recruiting corporate interests, in becoming aptly apprised of the catastrophic effects of biodiversity disruption and loss, and thus concluded to identify with those effects as the primary source of our societal jeopardy and dysfunction in our responsibility for this collapsing earth?

And what if a federal government, in collaboration with Indigenous nations, in concert with corporate interests, began to construe a necessary, revolutionized, sustainable economic and social future, adaptively born of a viable response to biodiversity disruption and loss?

And what if all governments enacted law devoted fully to the Rights of Nature as a protection of the earth and all sentient beings sustained by it, effecting both policies and their implementation, while mandating litigation of systemic violations.

And in doing so became devoted to a provision of human and material resources in a full development of its scientific, intellectual capital, with the purpose of adequately informing, and operationally mobilizing, all relevant institutional departments and offices within the priority of biodiversity support and protection?

And what if that then led to a thorough mapping of the entire horizon of discrete and interacting identifiable national biomes?   

And what if that mapping was followed by an institutional commitment to the human and technological assessments of discrete, unique biome conditions and resources, toward a triaged evaluation of the human and nonhuman vulnerabilities, needs and assets within those individual biomes?

And what if those assessments became the empowering language for bridging to the human communities within those biomes toward informing, inviting and accessing the innate spectrum of existing wisdom and resources within those communities?

And what if that commitment became the beginning of a dynamic collaboration of insights and wisdom in the creation of narratives shared across the terrains of local and remote human stakeholders, amid all the dimensions thus revealed, warranting care?

And what if that became the source of an emerging intimate, no doubt sacred, compelling image and knowledge of these complexly discrete, unique organic worlds we are calling biomes, shared alike by humans and nonhumans?

And then – what if this now elaborated identification with the synergistic parts and whole of these biomes becomes the source of carefully tailored fundamental, local coordinated interventions, and essential preservations, to be embarked upon, and integrated, into the creation of a sustainable future?

And what if those prospective interventions and preservations (by their essential local nature) became an unequivocal reciprocal verification of the empowering material/financial support from federal, provincial, regional and local economies and governments?

And what if those supports became the ground of a reliably coherent, ongoing individual and shared human enterprise, targeting opportunity for expressions of all dimensions of cultural and personal preference, aptitude and expertise, in a way that provided rewarding, hopeful, sustaining experiences of continuing individual and collective efficacy, anchored authentically in the lived local eco-terrains of each devoted soul?

In effect, what if all of these together, and no doubt more, elaborated fully, might constitute a plausible, palpable, engageable vision; an accessible vision to be adapted and pursued according to the gifts and inspirations of each participant and group, within the realities of his, her, or their world.  And would that offer an experience of viability and hope as an alternative to a presently residing spiritual/psychological vulnerability within an emotional milieu of doubt and incapacitation; the latter being effects of what Eisenstein and others are presently calling The Story of Separation?

Orange, yellow and white wildflowers and pond
Photo by Photos.com from Photo Images/Canva

Alternatively, we may reconfigure these “what ifs” as arising from within the residing wisdom, impetus and leadership of local communities. Perhaps this may result in upward moving volitional engagements/recruitments of national, institutional capacities and resources. In fact, we may best imagine, and advocate for, a synergistic process of reciprocal movement back and forth between local and national, centered in the fundamental integrity of the rich scientific/natural terrains of the character of biodiversity, and utilizing that in all dimensions of what an adequate vision of healing and transformation can mean.

As an embrace of all of the above, perhaps we may best conclude with Eisenstein’s notable question, expressed in the forward to Stephen Jenkinson’s book Die Wise, on page Xxii……:  He puts it this way in a form of what if….”We need to……devote ourselves to love rather than safety, beauty rather than growth, and participation rather than control. That is a revolution that would reach to the foundations of our civilization: its science, its economy, its medicine, its ways of birth, death and everything in between”.

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