Tag Archives: interdependence

The living wind stilled

One hundred years ago, the once mighty species Ectopistes migratorius lost its final survivor.  Alone in the Cincinnati Zoo, on 1 September 1914,  Martha was found dead at the bottom of her cage, the last of the passenger pigeons which had outnumbered humans more than 3-to-1 a century earlier (by some estimates)[1].   Her kind had vanished from the wild fourteen years earlier [2].

The death-of-birth among the passenger pigeons was one part of the ongoing Sixth Great Extinction.  It may not have been exclusively the fault of Homo sapiens, but there can be no doubt that our species contributed and it is likely we were the deciding factor. And it’s quite likely that the loss of this species, once so abundant that a passing flock could darken the sky for days, contributed to the steep decline of the once mighty American chestnut tree, whose loss in turn contributed to the rise of moonshine and tobacco in the American southeast.

So take a moment on September 1st to contemplate the loss of this bird: fleet and gregarious flyer, shaper of continental ecosystems, a feathered message penned with a last breath a century ago.

RIP Martha | ca. 1900 – 1 September 1914

Men still live who, in their youth, remember pigeons. Trees still live who, in their youth, were shaken by a living wind. But a decade hence only the oldest oaks will remember, and at long last only the hills will know.  ~ Aldo Leopold, 1947

Interdependence~Independence Day 2014

Re-imagining Independence Day

It’s that time of year again, and I’m an ocean away from my home country.

Of course, I can’t let a Fourth of July pass without remembering my dear friend Joody, and our attempts to articulate and celebrate new thoughts appropriate to such a revolutionary anniversary.  So raise your own flagoccupy your worldget decolonized,  start your own currency and declare something wonderful today!

Again this year, I celebrate and embrace both, entwined as they are in their powerful dance.  I declare Independence ~ Interdependence!

In light of the Independence /Interdependence Day celebration, I found some related links:

A 2012 Declaration of Interdependence (a bit New-Age-y-Self-Help-y, but makes good points):

 

And if you are feeling a bit anti-patriotic, I can recommend some great readings from the Archdruid Report:

(Updated from my 2011 Inter-dependence Day Post, with a little from 2012 and 2013, because recycling is beautiful!)

Quality quantification? Comparing Asian Countries

In her recent, brilliant (as usual) video, “The Story of Solutions,” Annie Leonard admonishes that we should stop relentlessly working toward MORE and start emphasizing BETTER.

Trouble is, how do we locate BETTER?  How do we know if we’re moving toward or away from that goal?  How do we get the feedback we need, in a way that will be convincing to people across the ideological spectrum?  In other words, how do we measure our progress in ways that allow for useful comparison?  Here’s what Donella Meadows had to say on the subject:

Pay attention to what is important, not just what is quantifiable.

Our culture, obsessed with numbers, has given us the idea that what we can measure is more important than what we can’t measure. You can look around and make up your own mind about whether quantity or quality is the outstanding characteristic of the world in which you live.

If something is ugly, say so. If it is tacky, inappropriate, out of proportion, unsustainable, morally degrading, ecologically impoverishing, or humanly demeaning, don’t let it pass. Don’t be stopped by the “if you can’t define it and measure it, I don’t have to pay attention to it” ploy. No one can precisely define or measure justice, democracy, security, freedom, truth, or love. No one can precisely define or measure any value. But if no one speaks up for them, if systems aren’t designed to produce them, if we don’t speak about them and point toward their presence or absence, they will cease to exist. [from D. Meadows, "Dancing with Systems" 2002]

And yet, I’m a science nerd.  I ♥ numbers.  Can we get numbers, even with fuzzy definitions, just to give us some way to compare over time or across cultures?  If natural selection works by amplifying positive deviance, and we seek to emulate this most successful biological process, then we need a way to recognize those bright spots on the fitness landscape, so that we can foster them and encourage their replication.  We need feedback to know if we’re moving toward our goal of BETTER.  And, to quote Meadows again:

If the goal is defined badly, if it doesn’t measure what it’s supposed to measure, if it doesn’t reflect the real welfare of the system, then the system cannot possibly produce a desired result.  Systems, like the three wishes in the traditional fairy tale, have a terrible tendency to produce exactly and only what you ask them to produce. (Thinking in Systems: A Primer, p. 138)

There are several indices out there that purport to measure something about our well-being and progress.  I’ve written before about the idea of Gross National Happiness. I’ve been investigating other available measures in relation to my current project to promote Education for Sustainability in the sixteen countries that represent half the world.

What is it that could be BETTER in this vast and complex system?  I’d venture almost everything in the nested sets of human economic, social and environmental interactions.

3REALMSX

These interdependent and interpenetrating systems interact in complex ways (go ahead, say that three times fast).  As discussed previously, economic aspects of these systems tend to be the first ones measured, because money is by its very nature quite amenable to counting.  There have also been some interesting attempts to measure global environmental health, and even to express environmental health in economic terms.  And there are some widespread attempts to measure things like social well-being, especially in terms of freedom. No such index is without controversy; all have limitations in terms of data validity, not to mention the challenges associated with trying to quantify important qualitative values (basically attempting to scrute the inscrutable).  Nonetheless, they are a place to start, so I’ve started there with my attempts to compare the current status of my sixteen countries.  Below are my tabulated results, with color coding to help our primate optics detect patterns more readily.  Click the link or image for the Excel spreadsheet.

Asia Economic Data by Country

First up, the oh-so-quantifiable economic measures.  The classic and deeply problematic way of representing the economic status of a country is its Gross Domestic Product (GDP).  To even begin to be a useful basis of comparison, this must be expressed in some kind of per capita way (otherwise, the fact that China’s GDP is so much bigger than Brunei’s is almost entirely attributable to the fact that there are over 3000 Chinese citizens for every single Brunei citizen). But as we move into the relationship between economic and social factors, another glaring discrepancy becomes obvious: the distribution of the wealth represented in the GDP is far from equitable.  Just how far is indicated by another index: GINI, utilized by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).  A higher GINI coefficient indicates a more dramatic difference between the few rich and the many poor in each nation (Wikipedia is a good starting place for not only the definition and calculations, but also the limitations and controversies).  Also, GDP and GINI notoriously neglect certain aspects of what are usually considered important goals in economic development (e.g. health, education).  So UNDP factors those into another measure, the Human Development Index, which can then be further adjusted for inequality, to give some sense of progress (or lack thereof) toward the Millennium Development Goals.

Asia Economic Data by Country
Asia econ data table

Asia Political Ratings by Country

The above economic indices are also, of course, measures of social relationships in some sense. The following data and rankings move more explicitly into the social and political realm.  (One could argue that HDI more properly belongs in this set.) I’ve included a quick-and-dirty summary description of each country’s political system (thanks Google), and some indices related to freedom, as a shorthand for some of the crucial social systems at the national level.  Sadly, Gross National Happiness has not yet been measured for most countries.  There are lots of other things I could include here (dominant religions, years since independence from colonial powers, etc.); feel free to suggest other useful comparisons in the comments.

Asia political data by country Asia social data table

Asia Environmental Ratings by Country

These are ratings that are more specifically connected to the human impact on the rest of the biosphere.  As they are in the realm usually investigated by the natural sciences (e.g. population biology, forestry and ecology), they are again more quantitative.  One particularly interesting rating is the Happy Planet Index, an attempt to measure the environmental efficiency of human well-being.

Asia Environmental Ratings by Country

Asia enviro data table

Education for Sustainability: What Every College Student Should Know

If you happen to be in Singapore and you can make it by on the 30th…

The Environment and Sustainability Research Cluster of HSS cordially invite you to a seminar by Dr Michelle Merrill, a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Environment and Sustainability Research Cluster. Her topic is Education for Sustainability: What Every College Student Should Know.

Details of time/venue: 30 April 2014, Time: 3:00pm – 4:30pm,   HSS Meeting Room 4, Level 4 (HSS-04-71), Nanyang Technological University, Singapore

Education for Sustainability: What Every College Student Should Know

It is easy to find evidence for unsustainability. Almost everyone has heard about the problems (climate change, air pollution, water scarcity, soil degradation, biodiversity loss…) and it is not difficult to imagine scenarios in which multiple converging crises precipitate devastating social, economic and political shocks.  Most would agree that, even without such doomsday scenarios, solving these unsustainability crises is an obligation we have to future generations; intergenerational well-being demands that we learn to be good ancestors and leave a world that works for our descendants.  While most sustainability problems actually have solutions that could be implemented without waiting for tomorrow’s technology, the solutions are often dismissed as “not feasible,” with the clear implication that leaders in industry, government and academia do not really know how to resolve these interdependent problems.  Sustainability requires not just new technologies and industrial processes; it also requires new attitudes and mindsets, especially the ability to consider how consequences travel through interconnections in complex adaptive systems.  Colleges and universities are where tomorrow’s leaders should gain the skills to wisely address these challenges.

Education for sustainability is essential for intergenerational well-being and the long-term viability of society. It also provides an ideal platform for students to learn and apply interdisciplinary critical thinking.  This talk will investigate strategies for promoting interdisciplinary education for sustainability in tertiary education.  Concepts and pedagogies that were implemented at Cabrillo College (California, USA), and preliminary results regarding their efficacy will be addressed.  The talk will review some of the organizations and strategies for promoting professional development in education for sustainability around the world.  Plans for fostering a strong network of sustainability educators across colleges and universities centered in Southeast Asia will be presented.

Michelle Y. Merrill Biographic Sketch:

Michelle Y. Merrill (Ph.D.) studies teaching, learning, cultural evolution and culture change.  Since 2004, her focus has been on the application of those concepts to sustainability:  how we can connect with, learn from and teach one another to co-create a resilient, regenerative future.  She is particularly interested in applying principles, examples and metaphors from ecology and evolutionary biology in solving human design problems in both the social and technological arenas, especially systems thinking and biomimicry. Before embarking on her current research project on sustainability and pedagogy at NTU, she worked at a community college in California, developing sustainability-themed courses, advising student clubs, and supporting college efforts to enhance institutional and community sustainability and social justice.  She won the 2013 John D. Hurd Award for Teaching Excellence at Cabrillo College.

Dr. Merrill’s previous research was on the evolution of primate behavior, giving her a broad grounding in tropical ecology, primate and human evolution, social networks, cooperation, learning and communication.  She studied wild orangutans (Pongo abelii) on Sumatra, and bonobos (Pan paniscus) in Zaire (now Democratic Republic of Congo) and at the Language Research Center (Decatur, Georgia, USA).  Her doctoral dissertation in Biological Anthropology and Anatomy from Duke University (2004) was on Orangutan Cultures: Tool Use, Social Transmission and Population Differences.  Her experiences in tropical rainforest fieldwork inform her current approach to sustainability, emphasizing the need to address social and economic development along with environmental conservation to protect and preserve endangered great apes and other species, including our own.

…Meanwhile, Happy Earth Day!

Link

Warmer climate strongly affects human conflict and violence worldwide, says study

In case you didn’t get the memo that climate change is probably the most important, and almost certainly the largest human rights issue facing us today. If you want to promote peace and justice, you need to work to reduce and mitigate climate change.

Warmer climate strongly affects human conflict and violence worldwide, says study.

“What was lacking was a clear picture of what this body of research as a whole was telling us,” said Solomon Hsiang, the study’s lead author, who was a postdoctoral fellow in Science, Technology, and Environmental Policy at Princeton during the research project and is now an assistant professor of public policy at UC Berkeley’s Goldman School of Public Policy. “We collected 60 existing studies containing 45 different data sets and we re-analyzed their data and findings using a common statistical framework. The results were striking.”

They examined various aspects of climate such as rainfall, drought or temperature, and their associations with various forms of violence within three broad categories of conflict:

  •  Personal violence and crime such as murder, assault, rape, and domestic violence;
  • Intergroup violence and political instability, like civil wars, riots, ethnic violence, and land invasions;
  • Institutional breakdowns, such as abrupt and major changes in governing institutions or the collapse of entire civilizations.

The results proved all three types of conflict exhibit systematic and large responses to changes in climate, with the effect on intergroup conflict being the most pronounced. Conflict responded most consistently to temperature, with all 27 out of 27 studies of modern societies finding a positive relationship between high temperatures and greater violence.

… The findings of the study suggest that a global temperature rise of 2 degrees Celsius could increase the rate of intergroup conflicts, such as civil wars, by over 50 percent in many parts of the world.

Aside

David Bergman: EcoOptimism posted more about Interdependence Day on July 6th: As befits a post on interdependence, there are a lot of intertwined tentacles here: property rights, voting rights, future generations, our relationship to nature. Just a few ethical and existential questions. Good … Continue reading

A Declaration of Interdependence~Independence Day 2013

Re-imagining Independence Day

It’s that time of year again.  Here in our little coastal paradise, hordes or barbarians descend to get out of the inland heat, char some animal flesh, and blow things up on the beach.

Of course, I can’t let a Fourth of July pass without remembering my dear friend Joody, and our attempts to articulate and celebrate new thoughts appropriate to such a revolutionary anniversary.  So raise your own flagoccupy your worldget decolonized,  start your own currency and declare something wonderful today!

After working so passionately on devising a new Independence /Interdependence Day celebration, I had a few more thoughts.

One has to do with the dynamic tension between the two possible sentiments: Independence ~ Interdependence (as Eamonn Kelly would put it).  Both are present and necessary in these challenging times.

From an artistic perspective,  independence is about the negative space: breaking away from that which we no longer need.  There are other examples of the power of this negative-space perspective; the language of the Ten Commandments, the resistance movements of the Arab Spring, and many crucial environmental movements have been drawn around the negative space, with “Thou Shalt Not…” language and a call to STOP doing wrong.  This is Michelangelo, knocking away the unwanted bits of marble to free the glorious figure within.

Interdependence is framed more in the positive language that McDonough and Braungart promote in The Upcycle, their new sequel to Cradle to Cradle. It is much more about what we want to move towards, not just what we want to stay away from: “more good” instead of just “less bad.” Interdependence, of course, is the province of the weaver, finding the gossamer connections between things. The first peoples of Turtle Island/North America spoke of  Grandmother Spider, who knew a thing or two about interdependence.  This is not a wisdom taught as commonly in the dominant, Euro-derived culture.  It is a harder thing to see the immaterial links between, the pattern which connectsand keeps communities, civilizations and ecosystems whole and healthy.

Again this year, I celebrate and embrace both, entwined as they are in their powerful dance.  I declare Independence ~ Interdependence!

(Updated from my 2011 Inter-dependence Day Post, with a little from 2012, because recycling is beautiful!)