Category Archives: revolution

Cultivating Ecosystem Gardens of Health and Hope

This is a talk I gave last week at the conference “Spontaneous Beauties?” World Gardens and Gardens in the World at NTU (YouTube video of practice talk, and SlideShare of PowerPoints).



Three different approaches are transforming humanity’s relationship to the wider biosphere through innovative ecosystem stewardship, informed by our deepening understandings of ecology and complexity.  Microbiome management promotes human health by cultivating the ecologies of microorganisms in, on and around our bodies, seeking to encourage beneficial symbionts and discourage invasive microbes that can trigger illness. Permaculture is a philosophy of gardening, food production and homestead management that fosters beneficial ecological interactions to cultivate healthy habitats for humans and other species.  Rewilding is a strategy of landscape management that seeks to restore the balance and diversity of historic or prehistoric ecosystems by introducing species to fill trophic niches emptied by local extinctions.  These approaches represent a radical shift of the post‐industrial human role in nature, from one of dominance, produce maximization and pest eradication to one of regenerative alliance and collaborative cultivation.

Keywords: microbiome, permaculture, rewilding, ecosystem, biodiversity, complexity



We’ve got goals: the 17 SDGs

Global Goals SDGs

The UNDP’s Sustainable Development Goals took effect the first day of 2016.  I’ll be leading a discussion of these goals at the upcoming NTU Sustainability Salon.  As I see it, the most promising thing about this renewed effort is the intention to interlink these challenges, recognizing interconnections and building bridges between disciplinary silos.

Learn more:



Goodbye and good riddance to coal

Two fascinating and promising new articles regarding this fossil of a fuel (both from German Energiewende perspectives):

Is renewable electricity now driving coal prices?

 at Energy Transition makes the argument that, particularly in light of COP21 and the divestment movement, coal’s dropping price may not lead to more demand (as traditional economics would predict), but instead may be a consequence of the fact that no one really likes coal anymore.  Even China’s coal use is down 5%, and their coal imports are down 35%. Is “The Invisible Hand” actually getting it right for a change, or is this really just demonstrating the efficacy of national policies in places like China and Germany?coal_and_renewables

Coal prices are at rock bottom, and coal companies have been hurt badly. (Photo by Marcel Oosterwijk, modified, CC BY-SA 2.0)

Can Germany engineer a coal exit?

This Science Climate Policy editorial notes that, although cheap coal is still Germany’s top energy source (43% in 2015) and top GHG emissions source (40% of carbon emissions), renewables are rapidly overtaking coal there.  They are particularly heavy users of some of the least-efficient, dirtiest coal: lignite.  Germany has pledged to go to 80% renewables by 2050 (and they’re committed to giving up nuclear power, and it’s not exactly the sunshine state up there, so it’s not as if they’re just doing it because it’s easy). Weaning themselves off coal is the only way they will get there.  Agora Energiewende proposes halting all construction of new plants and lignite mines now, and closing down the older lignite plants beginning in 2018.


“The Stone Age did not end because people ran out of stones.”

Fritjof Capra (from Z. Yamani)

Coal is the fuel that opened the way to the Industrial Revolution, for both good and ill. That was a long time ago, at the beginning of the Anthropocene.  It really is time to move on to something better. Germany is one major industrial nation who’s getting serious about doing it, and China appears to be on her way as well. This is a most welcome reflection of the Great Work of our time.


Creating a New Kind of University

If you know me or have been following my blog, you may have surmised that I’m interested in creating new forms of higher education that are more conducive to sustainable human futures. This is an idea I’ve been ruminating upon for quite some time, so I’d like to share a little of the history of my thinking on the topic. I was especially inspired by a recent conversation with Arshad Rab, who noted in his welcoming talk at the International Greening Education Event last October:
“The university of the future doesn’t exist yet.  We will build it in the next five years.”

Arts, Design and Media building, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore.  Photo by Erik S. Peterson.

I have often wondered what it would take to create a university that could provide real education for a sustainable future. Can such a thing be built by a small group of thoughtful, committed people, in a way that promotes institutional resilience and sustainability?
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” ~ Margaret Mead (attiribution disputed)
In 2000-2001, I worked at New College of California, a higher educational institution that was consciously designed by a small group of scholars in the 1970s with the intention of providing holistic education for social activists.  I participated in the meetings where the motto of “Education for a Just, Sacred, and Sustainable World” was proposed and thoughtfully debated.  New College of California established one of the earliest “Green MBA” programs. Sadly, financial and organizational mismanagement hampered the institution’s viability, leading to eventual loss of accreditation and closure by 2008.  But, despite its shortcomings, I was most inspired by the stories of how it started at the beginning of the 1970s: just a couple professors and a few dozen students gathered in someone’s living room, deciding they should create a higher education institution for people who wanted to change the world.
Of course, financial crises were widespread in higher education institutions in 2008.  At about that time, I started a new blog to share my thinking about trying to form a new institution to offer Bachelor of Arts degrees, as a way to make use of the relative abundance of qualified-but-underemployed instructors in my hometown.  That never took off, but the notion of building a new institution of higher education has lingered in the back of my mind.  Last month, there was a piece in Nature on the overabundance of science PhDs relative to academic jobs.  Wouldn’t it be great to be making better use of all that potential talent, in service of building a sustainable and resilient future?
And I believe that talent is best harnessed using approaches to teaching (really, facilitating learning) that are more appropriate for today’s and tomorrow’s world. Since July, I’ve been working on a paper with Rodrigo Lozano on linking sustainability competences (skills, abilities, attitudes) to pedagogies (methods for teaching or otherwise guiding learners), to better inform higher education for sustainability (this is what I presented at the Global Cleaner Production and Sustainable Consumption conference in Barcelona last November).  The take-home message from that work is that there are many pedagogies in use in a few places that would serve the goals of helping students develop sustainability competences, and that most of the best are very different from what are still the most widespread pedagogies at our universities (didactic lectures and summative exams).
I have a suspicion that the structure of established universities may inhibit (perhaps even prohibit) the development of of better approaches to education for a sustainable future.  I believe that it is time to start talking about how to create a higher education system that can support the evolution or revolution of adult learning that can improve our prospects for sustainability.
At a workshop by Lauralee Alben in 2006, participants were tasked to articulate a guiding question.  Mine was “How can I connect with, learn from and teach people so that we can co-create a sustainable, resilient culture?”  This question is still what guides my work, and I believe it is essential that I have conversations with people around this question.
 What can and should we do?  Where do we start?  What are our visions for the university that has yet to sprout?  If you want to join this conversation, I encourage you to leave a comment below, or join the “International Andragogy for Sustainability” group I initiated on LinkedIn.

Happy Holidays?

CGP Grey gives a brief recap of Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs and Steel, just in time for Thanksgiving.

Speaking of Thanksgiving, do take some time to get in touch with gratitude for all the good things in your world.  And do consider how many in the world have so much less.  Then remember that the following day is Black Friday Buy Nothing Day, now part of a complete Buy Nothing Xmas (courtesy of Adbusters) — a great way to start down the road to Degrowth.

At the very least, please avoid shopping at “the Dirty Dozen” this season:



An Ecology Of Mind – A daughter’s portrait of Gregory Bateson

I was lucky to see this at the Rio Theatre in Santa Cruz a couple years ago. Now it’s available to the world.


An Ecology Of Mind- A Daughter’s portrait of Gregory Bateson Directed by Nora Bateson – Trailer from Nora Bateson on Vimeo.

If you’re a fan of Gregory Bateson, like me, you will love this retrospective. If you’ve never heard of Gregory Bateson, you need to – watch and learn now!

“The major problems in the world are the result of the difference between how nature works and the way people think.” -G. Bateson

A New Type of Thinking

The world we have made, as a result of the level of thinking we have done thus far, creates problems we cannot solve at the same level of thinking at which we created them.

Because attribution of sources is a big part of good scholarship, I went looking for the original source of this quote (often phrased differently, but almost always attributed to Albert Einstein).

What I found was things like:

Ah, searching for “Einstein” and “level of thinking” rather than “same level of thinking” turns up a much earlier example from The Journal of Transpersonal Psychology, Volumes 1-4, which is dated 1969 by google books though these snippets show it contains pieces from 1969 and 1970. The quote, on p. 124, is “The world that we have made as a result of the level of thinking we have done thus far creates problems that we cannot solve at the same level as the level we created them at.” It’s prefaced by “Einstein said an interesting thing”, and the same phrase and quote appears in a 1974 book by Ram Dass (who needs his own wikiquote page!), The Only Dance There Is, on this page, so presumably the one in The Journal of Transpersonal Psychology is the same piece by Ram Dass.  []


In the interview by Michael Amrine titled, ‘The Real Problem is in the Hearts of Men’ (New York Times Magazine – June 23 1946) Einstein says:‘Many persons have inquired concerning a recent message of mine that “a new type of thinking is essential if mankind is to survive and move to higher levels“.’ (p.7)

The source of that recent message is quoted in an article that appeared the month before titled‘Atomic Education Urged by Einstein‘ where the mircofiche archive copy of the article reports on an appeal by telegram to ‘several hundred prominent Americans’ on 24 May 1946 in a ‘Plea for $200,000 to promote new type of essential thinking’. The telegram was signed by the Emergency Committee of Atomic Scientists with Albert Einstein as Chairman and the Federation of American Scientists. The text of that telegram is quoted in part and reads:

‘Our world faces a crisis as yet unperceived by those possessing power to make great decisions for good or evil. The unleashed power of the atom has changed everything save our modes of thinking and we thus drift toward unparalleled catastrophe… a new type of thinking is essential if mankind is to survive and move toward higher levels… []

Of course, one can argue that the words and the source are not as important as the idea conveyed.  That notion that we have to think about things in new ways to resolve major problems is powerful.  I suspect that is why the quote is constantly rephrased and repeated, yet that essential message survives the transformations.