Wednesday, June 1, 2011


Occasionally, we encounter natural forces more powerful than ourselves, which cannot be ignored, like the recent Japanese tsunami and earthquake. We generally plug up our ears to hearing nature's calls, most of which are subtle and easily ignored. But the forces of nature want us to listen. By entering into the subtle conversation, natural forces can help us cope with the mess we've created; because urban people can't help but be disconnected from nature. For many, the environment isn't a real part of their daily lives, but something outside it, something experienced in a Discovery special. As an extreme example of this disconnect, some children don't know that food comes from soil.

Many urbanites see nature as a stock of resources to be converted to human purpose. Yet many indigenous people see nature as a living god; to be loved, worshipped and lived with. It doesn’t take rocket science to know that the Arctic is melting. Yet, the people who thought they could safely harness nuclear power were dumb enough to put the plants’ backup generators in the basements, vulnerable to the same tsunami that could knock out the plants. We need to evoke the primal creativity of wilderness now in society, to alter the self-destructive systems of business as usual, and bring abundance out of scarcity. Bringing the wild into our urban lives can put us in greater harmony with the natural world.

How do we break the spell of this cultural separation from the natural world? Pressing far past our edge could take us beyond safe urban locations, into the wilderness. We don't have to go that far to regain the connection, letting the wildness in can start by simply getting our hands in the dirt. While good ways to enhance our personal growth, how do these approaches help accelerate the evolution of our larger society; where rising human population and constantly increasing rates of growth meet limits to the Earth's finite resources? There are levers, or places within a complex system (such as a firm, a city, an economy, a living being or an ecosystem) where a small shift in one thing can produce big changes in everything.

Part of the vision is to create systems that are both smaller and more complex. With constantly increasing use of resources no longer possible, a new paradigm based on maximum cycling and recycling of resources is the only sustainable course. Our economies are based on rapidly turning natural resources into consumer goods; and then quickly into trash, trucked and dumped at great cost. The alternative includes full product reuse and recycling; and the composting of all biodegradable waste, returning it to the soil. We need to take a risk, to go past the edge; to exercise the power that we already have in order to strengthen our capacity to be of service.

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