“Environmental Justice” is a rather fancy framework – two words with seven total syllables to convey a concept. Let me give you a simpler structure – one question to ask yourself as often as possible. How will I behave here? Five important words make up this question, and each one can continue to yield insight the more time you spend with it.
Let’s start with the subject – ‘I’. Bringing awareness to how you think of yourself is a huge step in understanding – not just for environmental justice, but for Life in general. Know thyself. What are you biologically? How do you fit in the ecosystem or the food chain? Do you have a beginning or an ending? What does it take for you to survive the middle? Who are you psychologically? What has influenced that and what makes that change?
The direct object in the sentence is ‘here’. What is the Here that you relate to ? I suggested in the writing prompt “Tell Me: What IS Environmental Justice?” that our contributing authors may look at the environment from a perspective of Nature, Place or Community. As you ask yourself this question on a daily or more frequent basis, Here will be increasingly specific.
Now the verb: ‘behave’. It’s the act of acting; perhaps it’s all verbs in one. What we do matters. In my work as a volunteer at a Nature Center, I learned a short maxim for Environmental Education. It was made up of 4 words beginning with ‘A’: Awareness, Appreciation, Attitude and Action. Action is the outcome of our character. A lot goes into making us who we are, but it’s who we are that will most influence what we do. There are those who hope to influence action from the top down and employ legislation, incentives and consequences. There are those who hope to influence action from the bottom up and employ education, compassion and liberty. Behavior is often the event that gets a conversation started, the outward and visible sign of internal forces. We see video clips in the news and wonder, “Why THAT behavior?” (the Oregon rock tippers, graffiti in National Parks, buffalo calf rescuers, photographers disturbing marine life, etc.)
The word ‘will’ in the question can be both a verb tense and a noun and makes a great pondering point. What is your Will? What do you desire, hope for, intend, long for, want, choose and champion? You get to bring all your personal energy into this question. You will behave in some way. You will act or refrain from acting one way or another, and this will make a difference.
Finally, we’re left with the very first word: HOW? This is where we’re invited to expand our imaginations and reach toward infinity. This is where creative people can lead and model and catapult the status quo toward a more distant target. It is also where we can entrench ourselves in habits, in conservative approaches that allow for little or incremental change, in comfortable measures of disturbance offset by self-congratulation. This HOW will be the expression of our will and our identity.
So, think and ask: How will I behave here? That is how you will engage in Environmental Justice.
And you will engage, whatever you do.
Ponderosa pines smell like vanilla! (photo credit: Steve Wiencek)
This is what I’ve been working on. Besides editing, I wrote 3 pieces and Steve wrote one. Please click on the Be Zine link and enjoy all the contributions! I couldn’t be more enthusiastic about sharing. This is a hugely important arena, encompassing life, health, and EVERYTHING!
The Environment is a complex array of interconnections and interbeing (as Thich Nhat Hahn would say). Steve & I have various metaphors for this. He likes to refer to “his bowling pins”. He imagines setting up a toy set of pins on a lawn and bowling at them. When they scatter, you set them back up exactly where they landed and bowl again. This takes you all over the neighborhood in endless permutations. I think of “trophic cascades”, changes in an ecosystem that originate at an extinction or other dramatic altering of balance, similar perhaps to “the domino effect” but less linear. However you try to wrap your brain around it, the nature of Life on this planet is intricate and incomprehensible. We are wise to approach it with the utmost humility. Because we are intrinsically involved, however, we must not fear to engage. We are already…
This essay is my contribution to the monthly ‘Be Zine’, found here. Check out the other contributions by my colleagues!
According to Wikipedia, the term “biodiversity” came into popular usage in 1985 as the 1986 National Forum on Biological Diversity was being planned. A decade earlier in scientific studies, the term “natural diversity” was the expression used to describe the variety of different types of life found on earth, and “species diversity”, “species richness”, and “natural heritage” are even older terms. The same Wikipedia article goes on to describe how biodiversity benefits humanity. This is where I want to jump off the Wiki-wagon. I have a diminishing tolerance for anthropocentric thinking. Diversity isn’t important because it’s good for us. Diversity is important because it IS.
Where diversity exists, you know the carrying capacity of the environment is at a high level. This means that there are enough resources to support a large community of biota. There is abundance and health….for everything. There are food sources, water sources, shelters, places to meet others of your species, safe habitats in which to reproduce and raise young, and plenty of predators, large and microscopic, to keep the population in balance. Where diversity is threatened, you see widespread extinction, the development of large mono-cultures, and the altering of climate and landscape. (For a fascinating example of this, see this story on how the re-introduction of wolves into Yellowstone Park changed the course of a river. How Wolves Change Rivers on youtube.com.)
Diversity and abundance or extinction and scarcity. These are snapshots on either end of the spectrum of possible futures for our planet…or for any small subset of it. My question isn’t about how diversity benefits humanity. My question is about how diversity feels. Not only to you, or to us, but to the Universe. As Eckhart Tolle would say, think beyond the Egoic Mind. What is diversity to the Power and Source of Life? It is essential; it is essence poured out on reality. You might say that the Divine is manifest in diversity. What is diversity to the Ego? It is a threat. It is Other and Dangerous. I’m sure you can see how this plays out across different parts of history in different parts of the world. Where mono-cultures restrict diversity in the human community, what is the effect? Take a moment here to think of all you’ve ever read or heard, seen or felt about genocide, extinction, ‘ethnic cleansing’, segregation, persecution, and intolerance. The human Ego fighting the reality of diversity is a war that makes no sense to me. There is no possible victory in it anywhere, for anyone.
My final questions are these: what is diversity to the Person you want to be, in the world where you will live? How is your carrying capacity, your caring capacity, today?
Spring is host to many different kinds of ephemerals: ponds, wildflowers and insects, to name a few broad categories. Nature is ever-changing; habitats and inhabitants come and go. Yet humans often like to think of themselves as permanent and solid (‘My name is Ozymandias, king of kings: Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!’). This is a great irony, given our surroundings. To live in the moment, to appreciate your own presence and transience in the same breath — there is the key to living gracefully! To realize life is as beautiful and fleeting as frost on my window,…
as powerful and swift as a rush of laughter.
It flickers like a candle flame: mesmerizing, warm and ultimately fragile….
…while surrounded by mighty forces which shape its destiny.
Yes, my life is ephemeral, but LIFE is an ongoing flow that fills the aeons.
I have been invited by Terry of Through the Lens of My Lifeto participate in a Five Day Challenge. Each day, I will post a photo and write a story to go along with it. (I probably will interpret the term ‘story’ quite loosely. I do that.) I will also invite one person each day to take up this challenge on his/her blog.
Today’s story is called “Behind the Pine Curtain”:
Far to the North, deep in the taiga, things are different. The anthropocentric domination disappears; the caribou and the gray wolf roam freely. Seasons, not schedules, set the pace of life: snowfall creates quiet, thaw invites growth and activity. The wind whispers and howls, carrying the voices of ravens, golden eagles and coyotes over wireless stretches connected only by a network of fresh air. Pathways through the boreal forest are deeply rutted by cloven hoofs and claws; these are the tread marks of travel. Trade and currency are exchanged in life and death, who eats, and who goes hungry through the night. There are no agencies or systems to correct these interactions between inhabitants; none are needed. Let no revolution disturb this country, no liberation infiltrate its borders. Let it be wild and perpetuate its own freedom.
— Next, I invite you to visit Kaye at Rebooting. She’s one of my newer blog friends, and I think she’d be up for a Challenge. She’s a hoot, in my opinion: British and cheeky and very entertaining. Cheers!
Where were you in 1970 when Earth Day was first celebrated? I was 7 years old. My particular corner of Earth was a suburb of Chicago where I played in a Forest Preserve across the street from my house. I learned to recognize wild flowers like violets and Jack-in-the Pulpit and animals like squirrels and blue jays. I picked up litter that motorists had thrown out their windows or that picnickers had left in the woods. I’d often find broken beer or Boones Farm Strawberry Hill bottles near the concrete structure off the trail, within the circle of the remains of a campfire. I could never understand why people would just leave their trash behind. My parents would not tolerate that kind of disrespectful behavior in me, and I was incredulous that adults could get away with it. I would come home and tell my mother (a Girl Scout leader) that I’d found evidence of people not “leaving the place cleaner than they found it”. I can still feel my girlish outrage. When I was in 6th grade, I joined an Eco Club and volunteered to help pick up trash in the playground after school. I think I was the only one. I remember being alone with a big trash bag, meandering the grounds and talking to myself. I was very happy feeling that I was contributing to the Ecology Movement. Now that I’m 50, the scope of my awareness has outgrown the patch of land I call my neighborhood. I still feel outrage; I still hope to be part of the solution but on a more grown-up scale. How to do that as an individual is perplexing. There is not one easy button to push to do it. It is a network of decisions, with threads crisscrossing from recycling to teaching to voting. To stay engaged, to keep up the effort, to put energy into learning and practicing responsibility is the way of Earth friendliness. How is your friendship with Earth going today?
The Bardo Group, which mercifully counts me as a contributing writer and core team member, has invited its visitors to share Valentine’s Day posts in celebration of our love for this awe-inspiring planet. Planet Love has been on my mind for a week now; I’ve scribbled phrases and ideas on scraps of paper at work and engaged in ardent discussions with Steve about it, but until now I haven’t had time to sit down and write. “You don’t have time for the planet!” Steve jokes.
Au contraire. I AM the planet.
I have been thinking about the nature of my Planet Love. It starts with the obvious. Duh! I depend on the planet. I need it desperately – the water, the air, the energy from edible sunshine. Without it, I would die! My survival depends on this environment that birthed me and sustains me every breathing minute. I am an infant, perhaps a parasite, a needy lover hopelessly driven by biology into the thrall of her. She is my EVERYTHING!
But my ego shrinks from this debasing posture. I would much rather be the poetic admirer, the worshipful devotee who praises her and charms her, caressing her with ardent words of love. I would describe her in vivid, pleasurable detail. My senses delight in her. I rub against her textures: sand beneath my feet, bark under my fingertips, meadow grass against my back. I inhale her fragrance: sea air and pine and sulfurous volcano. I taste her bounty and drink in her landscapes, satisfied and still wanting more. I strain toward the whisper of her winds and dance to the rhythm of her tides. Her specific excitements are too numerous and various to be composed. She is more vast than my words. The vaulted roof of the cosmos lifts away, and I am exposed.
Suddenly, I realize that the cosmos is not only endless, it is edgeless. There is no ‘It’ and no ‘Not It’. It is integrated. And here I am. Not ‘I’, not ‘It’. WE. We are. The planet, the cosmos, and me – together. We are. What kind of love is this, without borders? Without egos? Is this perfect love? Perfect love casts out fear. I am not afraid, not of death, not of survival. But I know suffering. We suffer. We suffer desecration. Everywhere the planet is fouled, I am wounded. I am sad. I feel a lover’s pain. I stand with her in this pain and take my vows. We are one. We must be at one. At-one. Atone. Heal. Integrate. Become whole. Forgive my ignorance. Forgive my ego. Forgive my parasitic need. I will love without borders. My life, my time, my energy is cosmos – and I will remember that.