Everyday Ecology

I am reading two things at the moment: Donella Meadows’ “Dancing with Systems” and Pope Francis’ recent Encyclical Letter, “On Care For Our Common Home.” Disparate as these texts are—the first a reflection on decades of work with ecological systems by perhaps our leading evangelist of systems thinking, published in the year of her death, 2001–and the second, a provocation to more than simply the 1 billion followers of Roman Catholicism to think, discuss, and act upon issues of climate change in the context of our social and economic structures, choices, and philosophies.

I read “On Care For Our Common Home” on the urging of my friend, writer and activist John Elder, who wrote an Op Ed for the Rutland Herald about the recently released encyclical. In reading the whole of the papal letter, I had hoped to find a passage or two that epitomized the ecological sentiment—something I could draw from to write a pithy post related to Climate Resilience. Instead, what I found was paragraph after paragraph of rich, balanced, and nuanced engagement of many dimensions of climate change.

Here are a few examples:

I urgently appeal . . . for a new dialogue about how we are shaping the future of our planet. We need a conversation which includes everyone, since the environmental challenge we are undergoing, and its human roots, concern and affect us all. . . . We require a new and universal solidarity.   [14]

The climate is a common good, belonging to all and meant for all. At the global level, it is a complex system linked to many of the essential conditions for human life. [23]

Climate change is a global problem with grave implications: environmental, social, economic, political and for the distribution of goods. It represents one of the principal challenges facing humanity in our day. [25]

A delicate balance has to be maintained when speaking about these places [of great biodiversity—like tropical forests], for we cannot overlook the huge global economic interests which, under the guise of protecting them, can undermine the sovereignty of individual nations. [38]

Given the complexity of the ecological crisis and its multiple causes, we need to realize that the solutions will not emerge from just one way of interpreting and transforming reality. [63]

The natural environment is a collective good, the patrimony of all humanity and the responsibility of everyone. If we make something our own, it is only to administer it for the good of all. If we do not, we burden our consciences with the weight of having denied the existence of others. [95]

There can be no renewal of our relationship with nature without a renewal of humanity itself. There can be no ecology without an adequate anthropology. When the human person is considered as simply one being among others, the product of chance or physical determinism, then “our overall sense of responsibility wanes”.[118]

Culture is more than what we have inherited from the past; it is also, and above all, a living, dynamic and participatory present reality, which cannot be excluded as we rethink the relationship between human beings and the environment. [143]

It is enough to recognize that our body itself establishes us in a direct relationship with the environment and with other living beings. . . .Learning to accept our body, to care for it and to respect its fullest meaning, is an essential element of any genuine human ecology. [155]

As Pope Francis crafts an argument for an “integral ecology,” he outlines many concepts that are central tenets in the global conversation about climate change: the relationship between cultural and ecological systems, the role of politics and economy as a driving force for cultural and ecological change, the connection between our very bodies and the world we live in.

In short, the June 2015 encyclical proposes a model of thinking about our world that is based on systems, on ecology, and on intentional relationships among human beings and between humans and the world.

Donella Meadows’ short piece, “Dancing with Systems,” is a similarly accessible entree to thinking about systems. In her introduction, Meadows writes,

We can’t control systems or figure them out. But we can dance with them! I already knew that, in a way before I began to study systems. I had learned about dancing with great powers from whitewater kayaking, from gardening, from playing music, from skiing. All those endeavors require one to stay wide-awake, pay close attention, participate flat out, and respond to feedback.

It had never occurred to me that those same requirements might apply to intellectual work, to management, to government, to getting along with people. But there it was, the message emerging from every computer model we made. Living successfully in a world of systems requires more of us than our ability to calculate. It requires our full humanity–our rationality, our ability to sort out truth from falsehood, our intuition, our compassion, our vision, and our morality.

There is a striking resonance here between these two different texts. On one level, it’s heartening that the once more marginal language of ecology and systems has made its way onto the global stage in such a significant way. On another, I am buoyed that we, globally, are thinking (or at least being asked to think) about how we related to and how we treat one another, ourselves, and the world we are both a part of and that is a part of us.

What better way forward for building a community of resilience?

 

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