Forest for the Trees

If a tree falls in the forest, does anybody hear, does anybody hear the forest fall

Bruce Cockburn

If a Tree Falls

This blog only periodically deals with “big” issues, like the environment, politics, or the economy.  This things to interest me, but I usually feel they are best left out of what is mostly a fun blog. Today, however, I came across an interesting article on the CBC website. While the information contained in the article was well known to me, I hadn’t seen it organized and expressed so succinctly before.  Entitled A look at life on the farm the piece gives a nice overview of the state of farming in Canada. I am not a farmer myself, but I am dating someone whose family still farm in Markdale, Ontario.  I have the upmost respect for that way of life and all it enatils. If you have any interest in understanding one of our nation’s biggest industries, and the current challenges facing our farmers please give the article a read.

When I was debating topics for my Master’s Thesis, I briefly considered the rural crisis as a starting point.  My intention was to develop a model whereby religious groups in rural communities (those who had connections to provincial and national organizations) could act as a mediating force to provide social services.  As part of that process I wrote a brief piece on the concept of an ecology of peace. In the spirit of discussing the rural crisis I would like to share some of that piece with you today. What follows are my own words and thoughts.

An Ecology of Peace

Be fruitful…fill the earth.

Any attempt to understand the relationship between humans and the natural world should first begin by recognizing the inherent power struggle. Historically humanity has battled the world for survival. Most great religious leaders of the past said very little about ecology because the questions about the human footprint are relatively modern. Our species has only recently learned to shape this planet in an image we prefer.  Pope Benedict XVI has referred to an ecology of peace when writing about the extraction and consumption of oil.  I would like to understand this term through its relationship to sustainability.

One of the great disappointments of my life is that I will not be able to be an explorer.  The surface of the earth is more or less completely known and discovered. Although I can not know the joy of discovering a river or climbing a mountain, I can participate in world building.  Many would consider this notion blasphemous because it places humanity in a similar role to God. Yet, like the God-men of ancient mythology, we have consciously decided to mould the Earth.  As we create new landscapes and nurture the growth of the old we supercede our original role among the animals, and elevate ourselves to the status of creators.  There are dangers inherent to accepting and defining such a role, but as we learn more about nature and its component parts, we become evermore the ventral figures of creation. I do not regret or condemn the advancements our species has made. I do not consider world building unethical or evil. As much as we have the ability to ruin and destroy, we have the tools to improve and adapt the world to address local and global needs. Under the umbrella of sustainability is a commitment to ethical world building.

I define sustainability as an ethical system of living that promotes the protection of environmental components while acknowledging the needs of human life.  To borrow a cliché, the genie is out of the bottle, for our species.  Our intellectual capacity has allowed us to build a society that increases our life spans, improves our quality of life, and gets the most out of our resources in both positive and negative ways.  That is not to say that our world is perfect, it is in fact nowhere near that. The notion of sustainability can be applied equally to the environment and to humanity.  I cannot even begin to discuss an ethical standpoint without acknowledging the suffering of millions of people.  I will be able to integrate that reality into my discussion of the rural crisis.

The connection between sustainability and ethics is very important to me.  Although the notion of sustainable systems can exist independently of any moral commitment, the impetus to enact such a model, and the foundations of it will be driven by the human spirit to act justly in the world. But there is a conflict between our long existing desire to control and dominate the planet, probably born out of constant struggle against the elements, and the need to protect the planet from damage.  I would argue that it is not so much that the Earth needs protection from us, but that we must work harder to maintain our own habitat and that of the life forms we depend on for existence. I disagree with the notion that we could “destroy” the planet. As much as we are world builders we lack the capability to render the earth even lifeless and desolate, nevermind destroyed.  What we can do is create a metaphoric sinkhole that eliminates the elements we need for survival and diminishes the ability of the planet to maintain our existence.  Essentially, along with millions of other species we could extinct ourselves, or at the very least fundamentally alter the way we live on Earth.  The prospect of a future in climate-controlled environments that are dependent on enormous amounts of energy to protect us from a hostile world is real enough to be scary, although it is science fiction right now.

To be continued…

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2 Responses to “Forest for the Trees”

  1. I Went Up To The Mountain « The Alder Fork Says:

    […] I am snowed in Guelph for one more evening, then I will be back to Hamilton. I will have the blog back up to full speed with all of the usual features you have come to expect. The last few days have been great fun for me, and I hope you have enjoyed the change of pace. As promised here is Part II of my piece, An Ecology of Peace. If you missed Part I, check it out here. […]

  2. My Life Will Never End and Flowers Never Bend With the Rainfall « The Alder Fork Says:

    […] third installment of my ongoing series about an ecology of peace. In case you missed them check out Part I and Part […]

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