How Did We Get Here? Part Two

FEBRUARY 15 / Marilyn Milavsky


Climate disasters in the world are increasing beyond our historical past records. In Canada, we are witnessing flooding and mudslides in British Columbia which may be the greatest catastrophe in Canadian history. It is at this point in time that we all need to prepare for future climate disasters that could occur anywhere. Conscious attention to the reduction of greenhouse gases is the responsibility of every citizen, organization and government.

When the health of the planet is in jeopardy, the health of people is also in jeopardy, as we are now bearing witness to the number of deaths and suffering caused by the pandemic and by natural events.

How did we become so disconnected from the natural world to cause this kind of imbalance and instability?

The Period of Enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution gave rise to the worldview that exploitation of the planet was acceptable for economic and industrial growth, with no limits or moral compass attached. This trajectory of ecological and social imbalance we face today is the result of the thinking and behaviour that started in the 17th and 18th centuries, and that characterized European society with rigorous discourse in science, politics and philosophy. These studies resulted in understanding science in purely mathematical terms and took the view that if something couldn’t be measured, then it did not represent reality. Consequently, influential thinkers like Rene Descartes, Isaac Newton and Frances Bacon deemed the planet to be dead matter which could be exploited for the benefit of humans who would have control and dominion over Nature. The last 250 years have had an accelerated impact on the destruction of the earth, which has led to climate instability and global warming.

The pioneers of new science such as Rachel Carson and Arne Naess writings in the 1960s attempted to change our thinking about the relationship we have to the natural environment. They brought forward a view that recognizes a deeper consciousness and connection to nature. Arne spent many years in a cabin on top of a mountain called Tvergastein in central Norway. He was the youngest professor of Philosophy at the University of Oslo, but his passion and ten years of life experience on his mountain (where he encountered Arctic storms and continual changing weather patterns) allowed an experience in nature that he has termed ‘Deep Ecology’.

Stephan Harding, a friend of Arne’s and renowned Biology Professor at Schumacher, spent time with Arne on that mountain, and shares his reflections with us in his article from Resurgence issue 185 on “What is Deep Ecology?” He states that, “Ecological Wisdom is required to advance our understanding of our relationship with nature and that this can only take place through one’s focussing on deep experience, deep questioning and deep commitment”. The understanding of inter-relatedness is intensified, and is what Arne would call Ecosophy - defined as an evolving but consistent philosophy of being, thinking and acting in the world, that embodies ecological wisdom and harmony.

Pat McCabe, an Indigenous woman from the U.S. who speaks about Indigenous Wisdom, also includes health, heart and harmony within the natural world. She sees harmony as an integrated way of knowing and living and being as it relates to all living things. There is so much knowledge that indigenous people are willing to share that potentially opens our hearts and minds to a new understanding of ‘Deep Ecology’.

I see a close alignment of the deeper experience in nature that Arne Naess, Stephan Harding and Pat McCabe speak about, and my recent visit to Schumacher College brought this point home powerfully.

Stephan Harding invites his students to take a Deep Time Woods Walk in Dartington where Schumacher college is located. This Deep Woods Walk had a remarkable impact on me, even though what Stephan was explaining in terms of the history of the earth some 4.6 billion years ago, was a topic I had studied prior to coming to Schumacher. As we walked through the forest and woodlands for 4.6 km representing the development of earth’s evolution to the present, the acknowledgement of the destruction of the earth that has taken place in the last 250 years was shocking. To walk the distance of the last 250 years would be one-fifth of a millimetre, and 1000 years would be the equivalent of one meter. The abundance, diversity and beauty of the earth have taken billions of years to evolve and yet humans can destroy it in only 250 years. This realization fostered a deeply emotional awareness in me.

David Abram, another colleague of Arne and Stephan – and who also visited Arne’s cabin on top of the mountain – is the author of the book The Spell of the Sensuous.  He has eloquently written, “Our bodies have formed themselves in delicate reciprocity with the manifold textures, sounds, and shapes of the animate earth – our eyes have evolved in subtle interaction with other eyes, as our ears are attuned by their very structure to the howling of the wolves and the honking of the geese. To shut ourselves off from these other voices, to continue by our lifestyles to condemn these other sensibilities to the oblivion of extinction, is to rob our own senses of their integrity, and to rob our minds of their coherence”.

I have always felt that living in the countryside in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, yet close to the city of Calgary, was such a gift as it puts me in closer contact with my natural surroundings. I enjoy the wildlife that arrives on the property, the deer, the moose, the abundant variety of birds, skunks, coyotes, cougars and bears. They make me feel like I belong to another community having as much right to be on this land as I do.

Even in the city of Calgary, situated at the convergence of the Elbow, Bow and Ghost rivers where Indigenous people first settled, there is so much green space to be appreciated. As they were growing up, my children spent a lot of time in Glenmore Park, building forts with scrap lumber, cycling, cross-country skiing, sailing in the Glenmore dam, fishing and just having fun.

The opportunity to take that deeper dive into the experience of ‘beingness’ with nature is right at our doorstep. It is all here, and only a short distance to the mountains, rivers, lakes and forests where we can inhale the magic and mystery of being part of the wholeness of the universe with the deep experience of knowing and sensing what it means to be fully human.