Tag Archives: knowledge

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

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!)

Aside

excerpt from Orion Magazine:“We live in a world of dwindling natural resources. The principle of sustainability offers us a roadmap for managing what we have left. Yet as we attempt to put our world back in balance, we’ve seen the … Continue reading

Getting Inspired at Bioneers

There is so much concentrated hope in one weekend at Bioneers, it can get a person like me and thousands of other “reverent, sane people” (a.k.a. environmentalists – Caroline Casey) through the rest of the year.  Here are just a smattering of the amazing things I learned about this weekend:

  • restoration on the Loess Plateau in China (John Liu)
  • the ways Google Earth is being used to protect coral reefs and indigenous Amazonian lands (Rebecca Moore)
  • the design of churches as a metaphoric representation of birth, but administered and controlled by men (Gloria Steinem)
  • the Wampanoag had a prophecy, now being realized, that invaders would take their language from them but then help restore their language to them much later (Nitana Hicks)
  • fungus is smarter than us, and can do almost anything, from cleaning oil spills to designing transit systems to curing cancer (Paul Stamets)
  • slavery is the basis for the modern food production mindset; the first national Food Day is this October 24th (Anim Steel)
  • sometimes the best way to solve problems is to make them bigger – expand the parameters; solar PV on just 3% of existing buildings in the US would replace all the energy we now get from coal (Amory Lovins)
  • we need to think about intergenerational justice: fairness in the ways that living generations interact with those that will follow us (David Orr)
  • almost all of the commercially raised bees in the US meet and mingle in California’s central valley during the couple of weeks that the almond orchards are blooming (the film Queen of the Sun: What Are the Bees Telling Us?)
  • restoring the Traditional Ecological Knowledge of old-growth cultures,  and this amazing image (Melissa K. Nelson)
  • if the history of life on Earth were one calendar year, there wasn’t any sex until September 17th, and fungi got to land a week before plants did in mid-November (Dayna Baumeister)
  • a democratically-elected Women’s Parliament was convened in 2009 in India, the world’s largest democracy (Pam Rajput)
  • Co-operators are standing by!” (Caroline Casey)
There was so much else, in the plenary sessions, in the afternoon workshops, and else-when.  I was on a panel called “Education in Action: Leveraging Higher Education for Sustainability,” moderated by Anthony Cortese of Second Nature. In case you missed it, Bioneers sends this:

 If you weren’t able to join us in California this past weekend, or catch the live webcast of the conference, check out archived videos of all three days by clicking here. You can also watch Kenny’s Bioneers 3.0 presentation referenced in the video above by clicking here.

and

There is as much cause for hope as for horror. As David Orr said, “Hope is a verb with its sleeves rolled up.”

It’s all alive.  It’s all intelligent.  It’s all connected.  It’s all relatives.

‘Contagion’ Connections: How Links Among Humans, Animals And The Environment May Be Spawning A New Class Of Infectious Diseases

‘Contagion’ Connections: How Links Among Humans, Animals And The Environment May Be Spawning A New Class Of Infectious Diseases.

I haven’t seen the movie, but this article provides another reminder of the complex, interlinked way that biological systems operate, and another call to encourage exchange across traditional disciplinary boundaries in research and teaching.

Are you a nutter?

A Fall Field Guide: Nuts.

Ah, Mother Earth News… I knew you when.  In fact, I probably read this article when it came out in 1988, in the library at Diablo Valley College.  My fondness for MEN was one of the things that began to distance me from the other members of Dark Refrains and Velvet Darkness, the RHPS casts to which I belonged in my late teens (in contrast, my fondness for young men was widely known and made me rather popular in those circles).    It was partly MEN and partly a natural history class at DVC that got me so interested in wild foraging.

Now, the interest is mostly intellectual.  I read about it (faves include The Flavors of Home and Mushrooms Demystified), and I look for plants I know when I do go out for hikes, but mostly I’ve restricted my foraging to berries and miner’s lettuce. I did gather and prep some Valley Oak acorns once (fairly tasty, if labor-intensive).

Sadly, the nuts described in the MEN Fall Field Guide to Nuts are mostly those from the eastern half of Turtle Island (or Isla Tortuga, or if you must, North America).  Out here in Cali, we get acorns and pine nuts.   What about hazelnuts?

Still, the thing I liked most about this article was the use of “nut” as a verb.  Go nutting, be a nutter.  It just made me smile.  Hopefully, you too.