Saturday, October 31, 2009

Sweetening The Place Where You Live

Many of us feel a huge and hopeless heart wrench at the prospect of wild tigers, polar bears and orang-u-tans disappearing forever - and these are just the "poster-species" for the massive amount of biodiversity we stand to lose in the next 30 to 50 years. It may seem like there is nothing we can do to stop the downward slide to mass extinction - but there is something that every one of us can do.

Nature writer and Biomimicry expert, Janine Benyus calls it "sweetening the place where we live"- what a great line. It reminds us that Nature relentlessly keeps on creating more and more conditions conducive for more and more Life. It's not simply great numbers that sustain Life, but also a wealth of diversity - multitudes of different forms of Life.

Disconnection from the Natural world fosters behaviours such as eradicating the creatures that live around us instead of celebrating them. We grow alien plants instead of indigenous ones. We poison the places where we live instead of sweetening them. We can change this, and when we do, we abandon an artificially imposed sterility and embrace the abundance that is utterly natural.

Love the Life around you. Know it's name. Be proud to foster as much biodversity as you can. It does make a difference. If you live in a city, even in a high-rise apartment, you can still do something to sweeten the place where you live. I recently read about a project encouraging urban-dwellers on the North American butterfly migration route to grow indigenous butterfly food plants not just in their suburban gardens, but on city rooftops, window-sills and balconies with the aim of providing a continuous source of food for the travellers. If you know your place, you can sweeten it so well. It's the kind of small action in the big picture that feels really good.

Anyone can be a champion of biodiversity:

  • Regard the place where you live as an ecosystem and foster its health and robustness
  • Grow native plants and trees that can support other native Life
  • Avoid poisons - if necessary, use only natural pest control strategies until you achieve a self-regulating ecological balance
  • Strive for your environment to provide as much opportunity as possible for as many different living organisms
  • Enjoy your abundance

Monday, October 19, 2009

All Species

No one knows how many species live on Earth. Despite more than 250 years of scientific discovery, identification and classification, no one knows. Estimates range from 10 to 50 million species - but some scientists who study insects propose that there could be 100 million species of insects alone. We have classified less than 2 million species of Life on Earth so far - just the prologue of an extraordinary set of encylopedias - just our toes in the water grasping a ribbon of the extent of the only Life we can be sure of...

This life on Earth represents our only proven companions in the entire Universe...

We are currently living in such a way that half of what lives now, a massive amount of what we don't even know, will be extinct in the next 30 to 50 years. The kind of mass extinction Planet Earth last experienced about 65 million years ago - and this time, our species may well go along for the ride...

The kingpin of the robustness of Life is diversity. Lots and lots of Life forms keep Life happening. Another essential is the size of populations - 3000 tigers on the Planet are not enough, 20 000 Lions are not enough, Honey Bees in Costa Rica but not one in Idaho is not enough...

From the slum-dweller in Mumbai to the CEO in SIlicon Valley - and just about everyone in between, we live our lives as if other Life forms do not matter. It's a terrible, heart-wrenching and absurd way of seeing the world. We are not exempt from Nature. We cannot be. We are Nature, and we depend on everything else that is also Nature.

We depend on clean air, clean water, arable soil, safe food and a temperate climate. For 65 million years, possibly 10 to 50 million species have been providing this stabilty that sustains human lives. No, it hasn't actually been oil, coal or uranium; nor gold or paper money; nor cement or highways or shopping malls; nor celebrities or fluffy toys made in China - none of that makes the world go round for us.

We live because there are eco-systems bursting with biodiversity. We live because there are rainforests and tundras; we live because there are arctic ice sheets and billions of antarctic krill; we live because there are old whales and old elephants and old walruses and old trees. We live because there is an abundance of Life we don't have names for. When half of these species disappear and eco-systems collapse because they are not there - we are in peril, and even more importantly, our precious children are doomed.

We've got to change.

The Encyclopedia of Life:

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Cooling Down the Planet


Yesterday I found a book in my postbox. 'The Fire Dogs of Climate Change - An Inspirational Call to Action' by Sally Andrew, published by Findhorn Press. I had been thinking about what I might write today, Blog Action Day, so when this gift about Climate Change arrived, I read it immediately.

Sally Andrew has written a very personal account of our deep universal concerns, pains and fears - and it is a powerful, intimate, global book. Interweaving autobiographical sketches and fact sheets, Ms Andrew achieves what few writers about Climate Change manage - the meeting of human hearts and minds in the face of the catastrophic end of all Life.

Fire Dogs are all of us across the globe working in myraids of ways to mitigate and adapt to Climate Change, and we are lucky to have Ms Andrew read stories to us. Her courage to open her heart to the pain of the Earth; her succinct offering of practical ways that we can contribute to the caretaking of the ailing Planet; and her insistence that we must be well-educated about the facts makes for a wise and inspiring teaching.

She also does not shy away from the possibility that all the many efforts to restore the Earth may well not be enough. While our intentions are to save, protect, heal and renew, the forces of destruction are massive and we may not be successful. Time might reveal that instead of doing the work of restoration, we are the forerunners committed to the palliative care of an elderly, terminally-ill Earth.

In the face of this devastating prospect, Sally Andrew reminds us why we should persevere:
" it should be with the Earth. However, strong or weak she is. However much hope there is or isn't. I can love her, heal her, celebrate and appreciate her. I need to do this not from despair, fear nor shame; but because by doing so I experience my own integrity. Integrity is being true to myself and others, whether I live in a web of damage, or a climate of joy."

The Fire Dogs of Climate Change - Sally Andrew

Sunday, October 11, 2009


Summer Story
Clivia Miniata

Monday, October 5, 2009

On the Other Side

On the other side of our despair at the state of Life on Earth is empowerment.

In the Work That Reconnects, Joanna Macy teaches that to get there, we have to first acknowledge the truth of the pain we feel for the world.

That pain manifests most commonly as grief, anger, fear, guilt, emptiness and feeling overwhelmed.

We mourn the immense amount of Life lost - individuals, species, ecosystems.
We are outraged by the ideologies and systems, institutions and individuals, actions and motives that have caused all the death and all the waste.
We are terrified for ourselves and for our children as we face the uncertainty that Life itself may not go on.
We experience emptiness all the times when we are numb, witless, collusive and immobile in the face of all the destruction.

Macy calls this "Pain for the World", and she makes 3 important points about it:
1. It is Universal - we all feel it at some or other level of our consciousness. It doesn't matter if we are a peace activist or an arms dealer, each of us is an 'open-system' embedded in Life, utterly interconnected, and so we all feel pain for the world.
2. It is Unprecendented - while our predecessors experienced many hardships and trials of life, they lived with a certainty that Life would always go on. That certainty is lost, and this is the pivotal psychological framework of the times.
3. It is deeply suppressed - as if we fear getting lost in this huge anguish, we tune out our pain for the world, which is a problem because it is this very suppression that renders us powerless and passive.

Finding the ways to truthfully acknowledge and express our pain for the world, preferrably in community with others, is an empowerment process. In our deep sorrow, we reconnect to our great love of the world. In facing our terrors, we find our courage and our capacity to trust. In giving voice to our anger, we allow our passion for justice to bloom. In acknowledging our emptiness, we make space for the new to arise.

In her book, Coming Back To Life, Joanna Macy offers a wise, inspiring and practical guide to understanding our angst, safely owning our pain for the world and moving out of apathy into compassionate action.

In this state, we can be useful, positive contributors to today's all-encompassing revolution - A Great Turning from the doomed global Industrial Growth Society to a Life Sustaining one.

You can learn more at:

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Planetary Boundaries

It's a stressful time on Planet Earth. Uncertain. Challenging. Threatening...

It is also, still, a very beautiful time in a wondrous place...

This week I went to see the BBC feature film, Earth, on the big screen. Incredible cinematography, I am so glad I had the chance to see it in a theatre. In a loose kind of way, the film interweaves three main mother and offspring stories - a polar bear and her twins waking up after the winter hibernation to melting summer ice-sheets; an African Elephant and her calf on their annual Kalahari march to the Okavango in the hope of the flood that may or may not come; and a Humpback Whale and her calf trekking 4000 miles to the southern Ocean where increasing acidity is diminishing the blooming plankton that the whales and many other sea creatures depend on.

In this film, Earth landscapes, waterscapes and creatures are so rich, so alive, and seemingly, so plentiful, that you get caught up in a visual celebration of Natural splendour and abundance that is at odds with the warning narrative.

It is a reminder of today's connundrum - we are well-aware that we live on One Planet with finite "resources" that humans can tap for their growth and development. But, how finite is Earth? How limited are those "resources"?

Interestingly, these quantifying questions have been avoided by scientists and environmentalists, by journalists and politicians until very recently, when Johan Rockström and his colleagues from The Stockholm Resilience Centre ventured to define 9 Planetary Boundaries, and to present actual thresholds for 7 of them. (We have already long over-stepped 3 of these boundaries - which is critical because every boundary, of course, impacts on all the others. So even the 6 boundaries not yet breached, are significantly threatened and weakened.)

The authors offer the 9 Planetary Boundaries because quantifiable limits may well help us to be faster and firmer about finding the ways to carry on the business of being human in a safer space. But, of course, it is going to take a lot to get everyone to agree to what the limits actually are, or should be.

One of Nature's great life-enhancing principles is that it optimises the power of limits. One of human beings' great life-depleting attitudes is that we seem to regard limits as some kind of challenge to overcome so we can carry on doing whatever we like. We'll have to change our minds in order to find our prosperity and well-being within Planetary Boundaries. It means we need to harvest within the carrying capacity of soils and seas; we have to maintain an energy balance - we cannot use more than we add; we must function within a specific and strict range of temperatures conducive to Life.

The 9 Planetary Boundaries are:
  • climate change
  • rate of biodiversity loss (terrestrial and marine)
  • interference with the nitrogen and phosphorus cycles
  • stratospheric ozone depletion
  • ocean acidification
  • global freshwater use
  • change in land use
  • chemical pollution
  • and atmospheric aerosol loading
A debate we don't really have time for is just begining. Thoughtful consideration about Planetary Boundaries could shift us into an appreciation of the real power of limits - that is, using them as devices for focus. has a great set of articles including the authors' exposition and expert comments, go to: