Book Review: Believing Cassandra
by Alan AtKisson
This book is bold, and for some folks, controversial. AtKisson delves deeply into the environmental crisis without being somber and overly intellectual. He gets right to the heart of the structural reasons we find ourselves in "Cassandra's Dilemma." If you are sick of hearing the word "sustainability" and would like a clear-headed and thorough definition of it, this is the book to read. I say controversial because he proposes that "sustainability is not environmentalism" and that "activism to protect Nature from the ravages of the economy is different from working to redesign the economy itself." AtKisson makes a very strong case that "for environmentalism's 'No' to be effective, there must also be sustainability's Yes'".... and that means tackling the gargantuan task of transforming business as usual. He believes that we need to harness both the altruism and the self-interest currently inherent in human nature to make this transformation possible a kind of evolved Marshall Plan for the Earth. One of his most provocative sentences and the one I hope many other books (and much action) will build upon is the following: "Sustainability is fundamentally a matter of decoupling money from material consumption, so that value within the economy can steadily increase, even as humanity's throughput gets drastically reduced." This is really interesting stuff. I'd be curious to know your opinion. E-mail me if you have the time.
In addition to Atkisson's site www.AtKisson.com, the following URL's help navigate the challenging but exciting frontier of sustainability:
The Natural Step www.naturalstep.org
Rocky Mountain Institute www.rmi.org
Living Routes www.livingroutes.org
Environmental Law Exchange
"This looks so much like Kamchatka!" Andrei Abikh exclaimed as our van wound through Vermont's snow-covered February hills. "Except that Kamchatka looks like this in May..."
Andrei was one of three Russian environmental lawyers visiting the US from February 6-16th on a SEN exchange program. For ten days they met with representatives from a range of nonprofit organizations, educational institutions, and governmental agencies dealing with the defense of citizens' environmental rights. For Andrei, of Petropavlovsk's League of Independent Experts, it was his second visit to the US. The other two participants Vera Adnakulova, of the Environmental Rights Center for the Indigenous Minorities of the North in Khanty-Mansiisk, and Aleksandr Miroshnichenko, an independent attorney from Novgorod had never been to the US before.
SEN's Russian guests had over a dozen meetings with representatives from about 25 groups in Vermont, Boston, New York, and Washington, DC. In the course of their visit, they learned about US environmental advocacy from many different points of view, and they improved their understanding of the roles played by citizen groups and government agencies.
It was exciting to witness again, as we have so many times before, the powerful dynamic that is born when Northern Eurasians and North Americans are able to talk face to face about the issues at the center of their professional lives issues that often have global relevance. The passion and commitment of our guests and their US counterparts inspired several new relationships which are already blossoming into concrete partnerships.
· At Vermont Law School, Andrei began a productive dialogue with Patrick Parenteau concerning methods for opposing construction of a controversial pipeline on Kamchatka, and Vera met Dean Suagee of the Cherokee nation, Director of the First Nations Environmental Law Program, who offered to provide her with information about indigenous people's environmental rights in the US;
· Robert Hernan of the New York State Attorney General's office gave Vera a chapter from his book on the impact of the Valdez oil spill on indigenous people, and he has since sent her information on suits brought against Texaco by indigenous Amazon people;
· Judge Thomas Hoya of the EPA, a Russian-speaker who has taught in Moscow and plans to do so again, gave information and inspiration to Aleksandr, who is now planning to organize a seminar for judges and members of the public on citizens' environmental rights and the litigation process.
From an introductory meeting to discuss the participants' expectations
for the trip, to the
written evaluations at the end, we worked together with the Russians to make their visit here as useful and interesting as possible. We were ultimately very pleased with the results the exchange yielded, even within such a short time period, and our Russian guests told us enthusiastically that they too found their visit here valuable and illuminating.
We hope that their new contacts with US groups will offer expanded opportunities for international collaboration, and that their experience here will continue to inform their ongoing projects in Russia. As Andrei commented in an email after returning home, "I can say one thing with certainty: environmental rights defenders have potential, and it is growing... I have learned that we [in Russia] tell others too little about our activities. This is why the public doesn't listen to us, why the powers don't understand us, and why opposition to our work is still high. The conclusion: to work, and to talk about our work."
Russian Environmental Lawyers speak at Pace University Law School
The Sun My Heart
- Thich Nhat Hahn
If you are a mountain climber or someone who enjoys the countryside or the forest, you know that forests are our lungs outside of our bodies. Yet we have been acting in a way that has allowed millions of square miles of land to be deforested, and we have also destroyed the air, the rivers, and parts of the ozone layer. We are imprisoned in our small selves, thinking only of some comfortable conditions for this small self, while we destroy our large self. If we want to change the situation, we must begin by being our true selves. To be our true selves means we have to be the forest, the river, and the ozone layer. If we visualize ourselves as forest, we will experience the hopes and fears of the trees. If we don't do this, the forests will die, and we will lose our chance for peace. When we understand that we inter-are with the trees, we will know that it is up to us to make an effort to keep the trees alive. In the last twenty years, our automobiles and factories have created acid rain that has destroyed so many trees. Because we inter-are with the trees, we know that if they do not live, we too will disappear very soon.
We humans think we are smart, but an orchid, for example, knows how to produce noble symmetrical flowers, and a snail knows how to make a beautiful, well-proportioned shell. Compared with their knowledge, ours is not worth much at all. We should bow deeply before the orchid and the snail and join our palms reverently before the monarch butterfly and the magnolia tree. The feeling of respect for all species will help us recognize the noblest nature in ourselves.
An oak tree is an oak tree. That is all an oak tree needs to do. If an oak tree is less than an oak tree, we will all be in trouble. In our former lives, we were rocks, clouds, and trees. We have also been an oak tree. This is not just Buddhist; it is scientific. We humans are a young species. We were plants, we were trees, and now we have become humans. We have to remember our past existences and be humble. We can learn a lot from an oak tree.
All life is impermanent. We are all children of the Earth, and, at some time, she will take us back to herself again. We are continually arising from Mother Earth, being nurtured by her, and then returning to her. Like us, plants are born, live for a period of time, and then return to the Earth. When they decompose, they fertilize our gardens. Living vegetables and decomposing vegetables are part of the same reality. Without one, the other cannot be. After six months, compost becomes fresh vegetables again. Plants and Earth rely on each other. Whether the Earth is fresh, beautiful, and green, or arid and parched depends on the plants.
It also depends on us. Our way of walking on the Earth has a great influence on animals and plants. We have killed so many animals and plants and destroyed their environments. Many are now extinct. In turn, our environment is now harming us. We are like sleepwalkers, not knowing what we are doing or where we are heading. Whether we can wake up or not depends on whether we can walk mindfully on our Mother Earth. The future of all life, including our own, depends on our mindful steps.
Birds' songs express joy, beauty, and purity, and evoke in us vitality and love. So many beings in the universe love us unconditionally. The trees, the water, and the air don't ask anything of us; they just love us. Even though we need this kind of love, we continue to destroy them. By destroying the animals, the air, and the trees, we are destroying ourselves. We must learn to practice unconditional love for all beings so that the animals, the air, the trees, and the minerals can continue to be themselves.
Our ecology should be a deep ecologynot only deep, but universal. There is pollution in our consciousness. Television, films, and newspapers are forms of pollution for us and our children. They sow seeds of violence and anxiety in us and pollute our consciousness, just as we destroy our environment by farming with chemicals, clear-cutting the trees, and polluting the water. We need to protect the ecology of the Earth and the ecology of the mind, or this kind of violence and recklessness will spill over into even more areas of life.
Our Earth, our green beautiful Earth is in danger and all of us know it. Yet we act as if our daily lives have nothing to do with the situation of the world. If the Earth were your body, you would be able to feel many areas where she is suffering. Many people are aware of the world's suffering, and their hearts are filled with compassion. They know what needs to be done, and they engage in political, social, and environmental work to try and change things. But after a period of intense involvement, they become discouraged, because they lack the strength needed to sustain a life of action. Real strength is not in power, money, or weapons, but in deep, inner peace. If we change our daily livesthe way we think, speak, and actwe change the world. The best way to take care of the environment is to take care of the environmentalist.
Excerpted from "Engaged Buddhist Reader" edited by Arnold Kotler and Published by Parallax Press
Thich Nhat Hanh is a Zen Buddhist monk, peace activist,
poet, and author of over 75 books. During the Vietnam war he was
exiled from his homeland due to his work for peace, and he was
nominated by Martin Luther King for the Nobel Peace Prize. For
mor information see http://www.parallax.org
"Visioning Our Way Into The Future"
Since our last newsletter, SEN's Earth Experiences Program (EEP) has been busy birthing itself through an intensive visioning process led by organizational development expert Jeff Grossberg. This process began last November and is now in the final stages of completion with the development of a strategic plan. An incredibly committed and aligned visioning team has been volunteering countless hours of time and energy into meetings and follow-up research to make this process work. The team consists of Cathy Pedevillano, Leslie Goldstein, John Mossiman, Davis Chapman and Bill Pfeiffer. Jeff Grossberg has also recently donated his time as facilitator to see the process to completion.
This strategic planning process has been essential to building a strong foundation for EEP from which we can spring forth into the world. We have looked deeply into our vision, purpose, mission and core values and beliefs.
Our strategic plan so far consists of several elements. These
are to offer programs that we're experienced and passionate about,
to focus on a regional audience of environmental groups, col
leges, leaders in the sustainability movement, eco-spiritual communities, philanthropists and teachers and to develop custom programs for specific audiences. We intend to promote our values and programs through a variety of marketing techniques including public presentations, written materials and collaborations, to build a sustainable EEP by integrating fundraising throughout our programs, policies and staff, fundraising in collaboration with SEN and running financially-sustainable programs.
As we continue our process, we will outline a budget, timelines and staffing needs. Fundraising to hire a part-time coordinator and volunteer help are essential first steps towards implementing our strategic plan.
Our vision is that EEP will be a vehicle for personal and planetary transformation that deepens our ecological and spiritual connection to the Earth, and that inspires reverence for Gaia and committed action on her behalf.
Please join us in making the Earth Experiences Program a thriving reality. We welcome any and all assistance that will propel EEP forward into this new millenium.
See our calendar of events (below) for upcoming programs.
Earth Experience Program calendar of events
Over the past few years there has been an increasing realization by many of us at SEN that indigenous culture and tradition holds a key role in humanity's quest for sustainability. It's not enough to conserve large portions of the planet's biological integrity without having some kind of experiential knowledge or set of guidelines of what a harmonious human/Earth relationship might look like. Otherwise, its just a matter of time before greed and overpopulation strip the modest conservation gains made in the 20th century.
With this in mind and without idealizing the "First Nations" we have been in the process of informally interviewing dozens of native peoples in the US (aka Turtle Island), and in Siberia (the Sleeping Land). The interviews are intended to find out what remains of native tradition that can guide us towards a future that really works for everyone, and everything. When completed we hope to argue that an exchange between indigenous peoples of East and West is important, if not downright crucial, to a positive future for all.
What has been remarkable is the consistency in ideas regardless of the huge geographic distances separating these peoples. For example, both Tatyana Kobezhikova, a Siberian Khakass, and Nanatasis, a Vermont Abenaki, spoke of the lakes being the eyes of the Earth and the rivers being Her bloodstream. They live about 10,000 apart and their tribes have had no previous contact (at least not since the land bridge over the Bering Sea melted 7,000 years ago).
The other interesting similarity between the indigenous peoples of North America and Northern Eurasia is the deep seated value and importance placed on the practice of shamanism. The shamanic tradition has been around for at least 20,000 years, possibly a lot longer. This "first religion of the Earth" maintains the primacy of the natural world. Its practitioners and supporters have historically had a limited impact on their environment. Some would argue their relationship to the Earth has been sustainable. If we assume that the core beliefs of any society will largely determine its health and equillibrium, then investigating (with the intent of supporting) this quickly vanishing Earth spirituality may also impart something critically important to Western civilization a "civilization" that behaves largely oblivious to its rock-solid dependency on the biosphere.
In a recent trip to South-Central Siberia my intention was to glean whatever cultural, spiritual, and ecological wisdom that was offered. I came back with a treasure trove and what is so often the case the "gold" is not so easy to articulate in a scientific/rationalist style but more in a storytelling fashion. For those who would like to read about my trip please visit the Dream Change Coalition's web site (a partner in this endeavor) at <www.dreamchange.org> or ask us for a copy of their Winter 2000 Magazine.
An extensive and excellent comparison between indigenous views of nature and the emerging holistic scientific worldview is made in a book entitled "Wisdom of The Elders," by David Suzuki and Peter Knudtson. The only area where First Nations were not covered were those from Siberia. We hope to fill that gap in the coming years. Stay tuned. -Bill Pfeiffer
Siberian Hakassians, Lyn Roberts-Herrick and Bill Pfeiffer thanking the spirits at the Valley of the Kings (Siberia's Stonehenge)
"We need a radically different way of relating ourselves to the support systems of the planet. My experiences with aboriginal peoples have convinced me, both as a scientist and as an environmentalist, of the power and relevance of their knowledge and worldview in a time of imminent global eco-catastrophe."
- David Suzuki
From the editors:
The question of the future of zapovedniks (strict nature reserves) in northern Eurasia has been raised again and again as, in the face of economic crisis, natural scientists, local communities and government authorities attempt to design a way to broaden public support and provide the financial resources for continuing to protect these precious areas. Zapovedniks offer the strictest category of protected status in Russia, permitting no humans on the land, with the exception of reserve inspectors and scientific researchers. Is there anywhere else in the world with so many large tracts of land closed to the public for wilderness protection? Kronotskiy zapovednik is one of the oldest in Russia. There are areas in it where no human has walked for over 100 years. Yet in 1997, a contract was established with a Kamchatka helicopter company to bring daily tour groups of up to 40 people to visit the infamous "Valley of the Geysers" in the zapovednik. The controversy stands as follows: bar tourism (maintaining strict wilderness protection); allow visitors in areas that currently offer no human access; or, open parts of the reserve for public awareness and fundraising. At a recent conference in Kamchatka, opinions about this were many and strongly articulated. Below is one point of view on the issuelet us know yours!
Preserved Lands Have Their Rights
Vladimir Boreiko, Kyiv Ecological Cultural Center, Kyiv Ukraine <email@example.com>
Presented at the conference, "The Biodiversity of Kamchatka and Its Surrounding Seas" Petropavlovsk-Kamchatskiy, Russia April 12, 2000
I recently learned that at a meeting of the scientific technical council for the Kamchatka State Committee on Ecology, a proposal was voiced to change the status of a portion of the territory of Kronotskiy Zapovednik so that "all citizens of the country have a right to see these unique areas and so the zapovednik does not have the right to conceal it from the people."
From the position of anthropocentrism, my opponents are right. The zapovednik not only does not have the right to keep its beautiful areas from the country's citizens, but also the minerals, forest, furs, hay, etc. that lie within its boundaries, as well. This is why in 1951 the USSR closed 100 zapovedniks and in 1961, 20 more. To exploit these natural resources, all they had to do was weaken the nature protection regime. According to environmental ethics, not only people but also wilderness has moral rights: for existence (to live), for freedom and for protection. These rights are granted to tracts of wilderness by the zapovedniks that are formed around them, but they are granted, in turn, at the expense of restricting the rights of humans.
It is immoral to satisfy the rights of humans to the detriment
of protected wilderness. Protecting the wilderness in zapovedniks
should be considered first and foremost as a goal unto itselfnot
as a means for achieving the goals of humans. ANY invasion in
even for ecotourism or scientific research, causes harm and should be considered unethical. The beauty of nature in the zapovedniks should be valued for its very existence, not for what it does to satisfy the desires of humans. It is from this ethical standpoint that the UK wilderness protection specialists drew a distinction between protection for "regional prominent natural beauty" (closed to visitation) and protected as "esthetically valuable areas" that are accessible to everyone. This is why people in the UK learn about their areas of "regional prominent natural beauty" mainly through films and post cards. This allows these unique areas to be wholly and completely preserved.
And one more thing: the right to see the beauty of unique wilderness sites is not necessary for human survival. The rights of wilderness in zapovedniks for the existence and protection of its own beauty and nature, is critical to its survival. This is why the rights of nature take priority over the rights of people. And the zapovednik should be closed, under lock and key.
Lake Teletskoe, Altai, Southern Siberia (One of SEN's 4 major focus regions for conservation in Northern Eurasia) (Photo - Vyacheslav Trigubovich)
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