Evolution and a philosophy for perseverance
by Robert T. Nanninga
uring the holidays I did some serious reading. Perhaps voracious would be the more accurate word. In an attempt to counteract the dumbing-down of the mainstream media, I have been compelled to seek out different forms of input. Going online, where there is a plethora of critical thought, I have been able to supplement my information Jones.
Bookstores are another great place to find reading for both entertainment and education. And for those of us who read textbooks for entertainment, the booksellers doing business around Stanford University are the equivalent of a candy store. Stocking up on mental bonbons, I picked up a book on the ecological history of North America titled My Story, as told by Water, and the recently finished Ecological Identity, by Mitchell Thomashow.
Written by the director of the Doctoral Program in Environmental Studies at Antioch New England Graduate School, Ecological Identity focuses on the use of reflection as a tool for educators and environmentalists. The author makes his point by using the written reflections of past students to explain how attitude and an understanding of place, shape identity. Not exactly a page-turner, but worth the time and brain space.
Of course, a book on reflective environmentalism would prompt reflection on part of the reader. I was no different. The time between Solstice and New Year was spent hiking the paths of memory through the back hills of Vista, CA. A bulldozer here, a strip mall there, and suddenly a reader can begin to see how a person's ecological identity is shaped.
Paramount to ecological identity is a sense of place. Integrating concepts such as sustainability, bioregionalism, decentralization, simplicity and community, the author shows how linking self to surroundings allows a person to better know themselves. This includes understanding what role environmental loss plays in the development of an individual's ecological perspective.
In the past I have reflected in print on the issue of environmental psychology and positive disintegration. I have raged about capitalism, consumption and overpopulation. I have even waxed philosophical in regards to future-friendly biocentrism. Reading Ecological Identity, I was introduced to a new distinction: ecosophy.
For those of you unfamiliar with the term, ecosophy is a philosophical system or world-view inspired by the conditions of life in the ecosphere. Ecosophy is the knowledge that all trees make a noise when they fall in the forest. Ecosophy knows everything has a place, and all places have a limit. John Muir was an ecosopher. George W. Bush is not.
Regardless of a community's size, it can only be ecologically sustainable with biologic diversity intact. In a 1949 essay, Aldo Leopold redefined the relationship between humankind and the earth, with the ground-breaking concept we now know as the Land Ethic. Up to this point, philosophy had never expanded ethical consideration beyond humanity. Ecosophy is the result of 53 years and two subsequent generations living with environmental ethics as part of their consciousness.
Ecosophy is not a religion, as it has nothing to do with faith and everything to do with living naturally, in balance with nature. And before anyone starts mumbling it's impossible to live in ecological balance, let me just remind everyone that 99% of the species on planet earth live in balance without needing to be reminded, cajoled, bribed, and/or threatened with damnation.
Ecosophy is what drives environmental concern. It is what called John Muir to the Sierras, Edward Abbey into the desert, and Julia Butterfly Hill to the defense of Luna and the old growth forests of Humboldt County. Ecosophy is also what prompts people to recycle, plant trees, and embrace Veganism.
I love being introduced to an evolution of thought. Like finding buried treasure, discovering ecosophy was like hitting philosophical pay dirt. More than just thinking as if the earth mattered, an ecosophy requires you to think as if you were the earth. To be more precise, an ecosopher recognizes his place in the biological community and his ecological role its continued survival.
Environmentalists play a biological role; we are an evolutionary adaptation through which our species is trying to mitigate past imbalances. We are the human equivalent of the prairie dog that warns others a hawk is looking for lunch, as well as the whale singing the song of harpoons and factory ships.
If we are lucky, the 21st century will be the century of ecosophy and the main-streaming of environmental ethics.
Robert Nanninga is a free-lance writer, producer and environmental journalist. A native of Vista living in Leucadia, he Chairs San Diego ZPG, as well as representing coastal North County on the Green County Council.