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Our Express program of weekly public events is took the week of Canada Day off. In the meantime, we presented the following text of a presentation which Robert MacDonald delivered on Saturday, June 25th at TEDxOkanaganCollege in Penticton.
I'm going to begin with a story told by John McKnight, which was inspired by E.F. Shumacher:
In 1673 Father Marquette encountered a village in Wisconsin surrounded by fields that had provided maize, beans, and squash for the aboriginal Sauk people for generations reaching back into unrecorded time.
When European settlers moved into Sauk territory in the 1840s, the government forced the native Sauk people out. These new settlers brought John Deere's new invention, the steel plow, with them and used it to open the area to a new kind of agriculture. They ignored the traditional ways of the Sauk Indians and used their sodbusting tool for planting wheat.
It took the Europeans and their new technology just one generation to make the prairie into a desert. The Sauk people, who knew how to sustain themselves on the prairie, were banished to another kind of desert called a reservation. And even they forgot about the techniques and tools that had sustained them for generations.
And that is how it was that three deserts were created - the Sauk prairie, the reservation, and the memories of the people.
More than a century later, the land of the Sauks is now being populated by the offspring of a second wave of European farmers who learned to replenish the soil through regenerative practices that are probably very similar to those that enabled the Sauk people to be so productive.
We live in a time of social, economic and ecological unravelling.
Anyone who didn't get the message from the recent, and continuing, global economic reset is either in deep denial, or dangerously asleep at the wheel. That was just one of the many wake-up calls that have been, and will continue, coming our way.
Let's take, for example, water:
There just isn't enough water for all of us. I know it, and you know it.
Let's look at another example - food:
The path to our current food abundance was littered with unpaid bills, most borne by the environment. Agriculture has become the single greatest source of negative human impact upon the planet as a result of soil salinization, deforestation, loss of habitat and biodiversity, fresh water scarcity, and pesticide pollution of water and soil.
It has also taken an enormous human toll. Witness the rising tide of obesity, diabetes and other illnesses.
Fertilizer use worldwide increased 500 percent from 1960 to 2000, and this contributed to an explosion of "dead zones" in seas and oceans, upsetting a process of nutrient cycling that has existed for billions of years.
Just this week we learned that a catastrophic species extinction event is predicted for our oceans in our lifetimes. Say goodbye to seafood.
On land, we learn that the peak of phospherous production was passed 20 years ago - much sooner than the anticipated peak oil crisis - which will pretty much put paid to the much-ballyhooed green revolution.
So what we're witnessing is the first indications of the collapse of the agro-industrial food systems that we take for granted, and depend on.
All around us are signs that our whole way of living is already passing into history.
We, as citizens and consumers, are completely funding obscene windfalls for executives and controlling shareholders of big business, and we are expected to continue doing so, indefinitely.
The taps seem to have been turned off on the promised trickledown effect.
The commons - public lands and resources that belong to the people, not the government - are being given away at fire-sale prices.
Struggling nations are being robbed, bankrupted, poisoned with our toxins and our utterly unregulated industrial and extraction activities in those countries, and driven into brutal wage slavery.
Trade agreements and global trade practises are gutting social and environmental regulations, and protections, in countries rich and poor. Deregulation is enabling more and more corporate fraud, abuse of workers and the poisoning of our air, our water, our soil and our food.
We must face this reality honestly and learn how to live with it.
The steady worldwide diversion of wealth towards the wealthiest was previously financed by borrowing from the future. Bubbles of credit and ecological debt made it possible for governments to create the illusion of economic growth and for wealth to concentrate.
Further financial or ecological borrowing from the future is a strategy for disaster. The world must quickly change to pay-as-you-go and resiliance - and past accumulations of assets are the only source of wealth sufficient to support this change.
It's only a matter of time before the poor, the starving, the disenfranchised, the disenchanted and the angry reach some kind of boiling point. The looming collision between the "classes" cannot be eluded by any fortress mentality - such as skepticism, materialist escapism or security fencing.
Pandemics, civil unrest, political instability, armed struggle, ecosystem collapses and financial turmoil can harm anyone anywhere - and those with the most have the most to lose.
We must realize that the roots of these crises lie in the stories we have been telling ourselves.
The urge to advance is so fundamental that there is a tendency to imagine progress and development even when it isn't happening. The looming collapse reveals a civilization that has lost its way, where self-interest is misdirected into making things worse for everyone, rather than better.
We must challenge the stories which underpin our civilization: the myth of progress, the myth of human centrality, and the myth of our separation from nature.
Is it still progress when a billion people go to sleep hungry? When ecosystems are exploited to the point of collapse? When debts outpace incomes? When nations seek peace and security behind walls of weapons? When accumulating waste gases re-approach the inhospitable atmosphere of the primordial past?
The looming collapse is progress in reverse, with systematic losses of financial, societal and ecological stability that undermine any realistic prospect of security, in any region.
These myths are more dangerous for the fact that we have forgotten they are myths.
Progress is a myth. Our recent modern and post-modern industrial ages, as well as our present information age, have been rooted in the assumption that ever more evolved technology will bring ever more benefits and therefore a better and happier future for all. It hasn't worked out like that.
Technology alone cannot guarantee our well-being. It cannot even guarantee the sustainability of technology itself.
Progress cannot guarantee our well-being - just ask the 50,000 people who died of starvation yesterday, and the 50,000 who will die today, and the 50,000 more that will die every day from now until we do something about it.
We must write new myths to carry us forward: stories of harmony, regeneration and collaboration.
Our daily meals need to once again come from the strong hands and creative minds of individuals in regenerative food-producing communities, not from avaricious biotech giants or global agribusiness.
Traditional agricultural, nutritional and culinary knowledge needs to again be passed from one practitioner to the next.
This knowledge about how to sow, harvest, cook, preserve and regenerate the natural world around us is key to our survival as a species and worth discovering, discerning, documenting and celebrating. We need to tell those stories.
It probably wouldn't be a bad idea to learn how to build a homemade hydroponics system, how to preserve and can produce, how to find edible wild plants and mushrooms, how to make butter, cheese, and yogurt, how to brew beer, how to take care of animals, how to build a smokehouse and smoke meat, and a bunch of other simple, practical off-grid skills.
Life, at it's most elemental, has two components. First there is stuff. The second is our relationship to that stuff, the elements of our inner or mental experience which results in our attitude toward, engagement with or indifference to whatever is happening.
The unavoidable fact is that most of our challenges will be most effectively solved, not just by tinkering around with stuff (such as better, cleaner fuels) but also by radically changing our relationship to it (such as not needing or wanting to travel in the first place).
So what we need to start thinking, writing and talking about is changing our minds, changing our relationships, and ultimately changing our behaviors.
It's not just consumers and food producers who need a reset. Our architects and builders, our designers, healers, artists and teachers, and other critical creatives need to relearn that to serve the best interests of people, nature and communities, rather than corporate interests, is the best way to foster resilience.
We must reject the blind faith which holds that the converging crises of our times can be reduced to a set of problems in need of technological, ideological or political solutions.
In communities everywhere, people are starting to create their own resilience, and that of their families and communities, so they are better able to withstand the hardships that are already here, and those that are coming.
These are creative, common-sense, no-tech, low-tech and smart-tech approaches to meeting people's needs now while planting the seeds of a more regenerative world for us and the biosphere.
Food is a good example here too. More and more people are planting backyard gardens, building greenhouses, raising chickens and bees, starting farmers markets and reclaiming watersheds for foraging - not just because fresh and local is delicious and cool.
These efforts are in part a response to the lack of fresh and healthy food in urban and rural "food deserts." Food self-reliance is one way people are seeking security and community in an uncertain world.
Theodore Roosevelt said, "Do what you can with what you have where you are."
We need to be able to imagine, adapt, and celebrate. And we need to develop a tolerance for uncertainty.
We humans are not the point and purpose of the planet. We must be caretakers, not controllers. We must sow, as well as harvest.
These signals and stories should make it clear that if we want to even start to create regeneration, we must evolve our entire present human systems, including our patterns of beliefs, values and behavior as a species.
We must look at the economic and governing systems that determine our impact on the planet and each other, as well as the scientific and spiritual concepts which form their context and rationale.
Our regeneration as a species must begin with our stepping outside the human bubble of vanity and greed.
The best human technology has always been inspired by nature. We have imitated spiders spinning and weaving, termites building multi-level mud dwellings, moles and badgers burrowing, cetaceans diving, clams making superglue, birds flying, bats echo locating, mammals calculating and negotiating.
The nanoworld has an evolutionary history billions of years longer than the macroworld we see with our naked eyes. We now have the instruments to see how nature produces the most amazing materials.
While we forcibly "heat, beat and treat" hydrocarbons to manufacture our products with 96% waste in the process and enormous pollution, nature makes her fabulous materials, such as spider silks and mother of pearl, out of carbohydrates at ambient temperatures with no waste at all.
By careful attention, we must re-engage with the natural world.
Nature's manufacture is, then, far more sophisticated than our own, and it is high time we accorded it due respect and learned its ways. We must learn to see ourselves as a integrated part of nature, rather than as a species apart that sees nature merely as a unlimited resource for its own use.
Once we see ourselves within nature's awesomely complex living systems, we will make rapid progress towards collaborative sustainability as a species. Then, having solved the basics of living, we will be free to explore and develop our uniquely creative carrying capacity.
We will co-create a better world only if we're willing to get dirt under our fingernails.
Property has value only when people live harmoniously with it to work, and play and grow things, like food. Sustainable community development must be centered on the creation and perpetuation of affordable housing, affordable workspaces, affordable shared learning and gathering spaces and affordable food production spaces.
We must invest in property, not to get rich quick, but rather to ensure our survival. The future requires a shift in beliefs and assumptions about property from one of ownership to one of stewardship.
Together, we must find the hope beyond hope, the paths which lead to the unknown world ahead of us.
I began with a story and I'm going to double down now that I'm at the end. One from Nic Marks of the Happiness Project, and the other from the poet and farmer Wendell Berry.
Marks states, "Happy people don't only create successes for themselves; they also reach out to others and create societal benefits through their generosity and creativity." He proposes, "We urgently need a positive vision of our future. We need to stimulate people not to run away but instead to engage, to have compassion, to be open, to be flexible, to be creative and innovative."
Together, we must all become gardeners.
The end of the world as we know it is not the end of the world full stop.
Berry maintains, "We have lived by the assumption that what was good for us would be good for the world. We have been wrong. We must change our lives, so that it will be possible to live by the contrary assumption that what is good for the world will be good for us. We must recover the sense of the majesty of the creation and the ability to be worshipful in its presence. For it is only on the condition of humility and reverence before the world that our species will be able to remain in it."
Let's start now.