Today’s post is the third in a series from Richard Jurin who, before his retirement, ran the Environmental Studies programme at the University of Northern Colorado, launching a degree in Sustainability Studies.  His academic interests are environmental worldviews and understanding barriers to sustainability.  This post follows up a recent one and responds to the NAEE Manifesto. As ever, with our blogs, Richard’s views are not necessarily shared by NAEE.

In a recent website commentary, Educator Alan Reid of Monash University stated that we should embrace 5 more Rs (beyond the traditional 3 Rs and the environmental mantra Rs, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle) to any curriculum if “we are serious about regenerating, recovering, rebalancing, renewing, and reimagining our shared life on earth through education. I have immense respect for Alan and liked what he wrote, yet his short commentary still sounded a lot like just a big tweak of the existing system.    

Sustainability is a practice not an end point said Vietnamese peace activist Thich Nhat Hanh, who’s known as the father of mindfulness:  “If you want peace, you have to be peace.  Peace is a practice … not a hope”.  You cannot be sustainable and still have nearly 8 billion humans wage devastating war on each other and the natural world.  Yes, there can be pockets of successful groups living sustainably, but ecological problems are no longer confined to localized areas.   The main cause for all our planetary ills is the economic system that dominates the planet.  As Albert Einstein is credited, “You cannot solve problems with the same thinking that created them.”  Conflict is profitable.  Ecological devastation is profitable.  Materialistic consumerism is profitable.  Poor health is profitable.  Everything that is the problem is profitable, or at least it is for the 1% that enjoy the privilege of those profits.  Vandana Shiva is eminent among the voices that try to tell us about this, but how many of the nearly 8 billion humans are listening.  Rachel Carson wrote Silent Spring in 1962, yet here we are in 2022 expanding the practices that she warned about.  Why? – because it isn’t profitable with our current economic system to do otherwise.  We use some environmental economic practices that factor in the natural world, and even ecological economic practices that make the natural world a center point, but still, we continue to keep trying to tweak the system to save it from itself.  We teach about whole system, natural and human made, but keep tip-toeing around this economic problem because it seems insurmountable.  We feel and act like victims of a system that we know will never really act to save the world, but we hope that somehow the elites will have a change of heart.           

The World Economic Forum (WEF) along with many other elitist meetings every year seem set on recreating society in their image.  Klaus Schwab calls it ‘The Great Reset.’  If you look closely at this dream solution for the planet’s impending ecological collapses, it looks more like a Global Feudalism resembling ‘The Hunger Games’ than a new kind of utopia.  If we all are to truly transform society, I believe that we could collectively do a much better job than the policies and economics of the past few centuries by monetary elites that created the global problems we now encounter.  The eminent environmental educator David Orr puts it succinctly when he states that, the planet “needs people who live well in their places.”  As I said in part 1 of this series on Nova Renascentia, we currently live in a culture that thinks money is the main measurable thing that is seen as important.        

We have become a society where waste, and disconnection from our food systems dominates our thinking.  Since the 1950s we have become accustomed to simply buying everything we need or want materialistically – the paradox, focusing on the Standard of Living while essentially ignoring the Quality of Life we know we want.    

When we take charge of our own destinies then we will become free.  Many sustainability economists, like the late Richard Douthwaite, have explained this in detail in their numerous books.  Economist, Antony C Sutton stated: “[T]he power system continues only as long as individuals try to get something for nothing. The day when a majority of individuals declares or acts as if it wants nothing from the government, declares that it will look after its own welfare and interests, then on that day the power elites are doomed.”

Wade Davis asks, “Is a forest mere cellulose and board feet?  [or] was it the domain of the spirits?”  We are not talking superstition here, but a reverence for the natural world that transcends mere resources as something to be used for comfort and profit.  What matters is not whether a spirit actually lives in an ancient tree or resides on a mountain top, but the potency of the belief that plays out in daily living that controls the mindset for a local ecological footprint – the impact that every society has on its local environment.  Just because we are a physical technological society does not exclude our ability to live within nature.  Indigenous peoples had no conscious sense of being stewards of the land on which they lived.  They did, however, create deep spiritual connections steeped in ritual about their relationships with the land, “Breathed into being by human consciousness” as Davis would say.  Aldo Leopold with his Land Ethic would have understood these peoples.  For them the land is alive with a dynamic identity.  Until the Europeans arrived, most of these indigenous peoples enjoyed good health and happy lives.  In extreme climates, life would be hard, but that didn’t diminish the high-quality well-being that they enjoyed.  Their stories did not set them at odds with the natural world but connected them intimately to it.  For the colonizers, it was religion of one form or another that told them that not only were they separate from nature but almost required to dominate it.  This has always been a split in religion where the term dominion, so well used, has been a central cry in justifying destruction of the natural world.    

As long as we practice victimhood and bow to the gods of money, we will not resolve our global problems, no matter what else we teach. Contrary to popular belief, humans are not a naturally violent species, we are conditioned that way. We need to teach more empathy, compassion, and spiritual connections and how to empower ourselves to change the system to what we want instead of what is being offered by the elites.  We need to inspire our audiences to take back their own power and sovereignty.  We need to sing a different tune.   “Inspiring someone is wakening a viewpoint that something that seemed impossible can actually be done” Harry Palmer. 


Richard can be contacted at:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Post comment