Toward a New World View
In a way, this issue of Timeline is special-and in a way it isn't.
It's special because copies will be going with a team from the Foundation to the Parliament of the World Religions <www.cpwr.org> this summer in Barcelona, Spain. We wanted the articles to reinforce the message FGC is taking there, which is the need for an expanded, more realistic view of the world-in computer terminology, an upgrade from worldview 2.0 to 3.0. Hopefully, the articles will help inspire some of the changes the world increasingly needs.
Yet it's not special in the sense that all the articles in every issue of Timeline are designed to present thoughtful discourse on subjects that matter to the well-being of the human enterprise-culture, the environment, business and economics, agriculture, education, religion, the resolution of conflict, systems theory, sustainability, war and peace, and more.
We hope you find this issue rewarding, and look forward to your comments.
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Toward a Worldview Commensurate with the Times
One of the workshops we give at the Foundation for Global Community is on the importance of worldviews. The following is based on a presentation prepared for the workshop by Kern Beare.
Everyone of us has a view of the world. Whether we are aware of it or not, this worldview affects our beliefs, thoughts, and actions. Author Frances Moore Lappé calls it "a set of assumptions about how the world works that forms the very questions we allow ourselves to ask, and determines our view of future possibilities." This powerful, backstage voice influences how we perceive and interact with the world.
Where does our worldview come from? How can we know if our "set of assumptions" is in tune with reality? And if it is not, how can we change it?
Some of how we see the world is passed along to us in our genes, simply because we are human beings. But much of our view of the world comes from the values and beliefs of family, community, and culture—the environment we live in. We absorb these beliefs and values unconsciously, and only realize we have them when we encounter people who believe and act differently. Others of our values and beliefs are more subtle and stay below our radar screen. Hidden or not, our values and beliefs influence the course of our lives-how we spend our time; how we relate to our friends, our neighbors, people whom we perceive as enemies; the work we do; how we play; what we buy. The assumptions in our worldview are so fundamental that they don't just determine what we think, they determine how we think.
In workshops on this subject, we've been using the analogy of an iceberg as a way to think about the power and influence of a worldview. The visible top of the iceberg represents the outcomes we see in the world, and also the actions that lead to those outcomes. But below the surface are other, deeper layers—the thoughts that precede the actions and the assumptions that give rise to the thoughts—how we think.
Using this image, an outcome we see more and more today is the imminent collapse of many of the natural systems on the planet we depend on for survival. Evidence of the stress on these systems is everywhere: destruction of the rain forests, ozone depletion, over-fishing, disappearing habitats and species, global climate change.
One of the causes of this environmental crisis is without question the exploitation of resources for short-term gain.
People can disclaim responsibility for their part in stressing these systems because one individual is only a small cog in a large wheel. Businesses can lay the blame on competitive pressures and the drive for profits. Nations can excuse their actions by saying they are essential for national security or to maintain the nation's vitality. The thinking is: We're just one person, or one tribe, or one business, or one country; we can't take responsibility for everything that goes on. We need to take care of our own interests; others can take care of themselves. In reality, this kind of short-term thinking is irresponsible on the part of everyone involved.
When as individuals we see ourselves as powerless and think what we do doesn't matter, it's easy to lose interest, not vote, or fail to participate in trying to make life better. It's easier for some of us to abdicate our responsibilities as citizens and tempting to retreat to a variety of mind-numbing escapes. The outcome: a diminished sense of community, and openings for corruption and the abuse of power.
The worldview behind such thinking has another, more fundamental dimension- the idea that we are separate and disconnected from our planet and from each other. What happens in a far corner of the world, or to a species that is threatened with extinction, does not impact me. If we as a nation feel powerful enough militarily, we can call the shots, force people to do what we want them to do, stay secure behind our fortress. History is replete with examples of the folly of such a view.
Albert Einstein observed that we cannot solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them. The world changes, and if we don't keep up, our beliefs can become obsolete and inadequate to address the problems that face us. Fortunately, the worldview—far too prevalent today—that we can do whatever we want as a species, that we are separate from the life systems around us, that resources are unlimited and waste is no problem, is beginning to be replaced by a worldview more in line with reality.
To use a computer analogy, it's time for an upgrade-from worldview 2.0 to world—view 3.0. Great strides have been made using version 2.0, but it no longer serves us, no longer fits with reality. Rather than seeing everything as separate, where only the fittest survive, the upgraded worldview recognizes that everything is interdependent and interconnected, and that the survival of each part depends on the survival of the whole.
Worldview 3.0 can lead to a new relationship to our environment, new possibilities, new thoughts, actions, and outcomes. Worldview 3.0 is based on the careful shepherding of natural resources, an emphasis on renewable energy sources, and a demand for a just social order. It views our understanding of national security realistically. Rather than the belief that our long-term survival is assured through military superiority, 3.0 points out that stability and security come only from mutual cooperation, respect, and understanding.
Worldview 3.0 would give individuals a new place as determinants of future outcomes. Like a pebble in a pond, what we do produces reverberations around the planet in ways we do not fully understand. In an interconnected world, we all make a difference.
Is such an upgrade possible? Scientists in the field of systems theory talk about complex, adaptive, self-organizing systems. All that is needed for a system to self-organize, they say, is a set of fairly simple operating instructions. If we extrapolate from the research done in this area, it may be possible to derive some simple instructions, or agreements, to help the new worldview emerge. Here are a few ideas for what some of them might be.
1. Presence - Pay attention and accept what is.
No organism or species can survive without being present to its environment. If we are in denial or resistance about a particular situation-such as global climate change-we cannot respond constructively. Creative action begins with clear perception.
2. Integrity - Be real. Start from where you are.
Each of us has a unique perspective. Share it.
3. Inclusivity - Be open to opposing points of view.
Not just acknowledge opposing points of view, but welcome them, understand them. That's how we learn and grow.
4. Responsibility - Our actions matter. Act for the long-term benefit of all.
All life is interconnected and interrelated. Our responsibilities extend not just to the here and now but to all time and all life. Be responsible with resources, resolve conflicts nonviolently, contribute where you can.
In worldview workshops, we ask people if they are willing to examine their own worldview. How does it determine your thoughts and actions? Try out these four operating instructions or agreements. See if they make a difference in your life, and the lives of those around you. Would you change them, add to them? Talk to other people about worldviews and the determinative role they play in creating our future.
It's a great way to learn what others think—and expand one's own thinking in the process.
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Challenging a Religious Worldview
An Editorial by Mac Lawrence
It is time that religions took a tougher stance on war. The argument that there are "just" wars has always been thin.
Central to all religions is the concept that all is one, and that love, kindness, mercy, generosity, forgiveness are the role of the human. War has no part in this. War is an injustice to everything it touches. It corrupts. It brings misery, death, and devastation.
At the start of the nuclear age, Albert Einstein warned that either we do away with war, or war will do away with us. Since then, nuclear weapons have increased exponentially in destructive power. There is no informed person alive who does not realize that a major nuclear exchange could possibly be the end of the human experiment on planet Earth.
We may engage in wishful thinking that these weapons will never be used. But, in reality, there is no way to make sure. The world has already come shudderingly close to nuclear war, both accidentally, and by decision. General Douglas MacArthur is reported to have wanted to nuke China after being repulsed on the border of China in the Korean war. He was overruled by President Truman, but imagine what might have happened if the president at that time was of a different mindset.
The world came close again in 1962 with the Cuban missile crisis. Fortunately, President Kennedy found a way other than war to defuse the situation despite the clamor for military action by his closest advisers. More recently, India and Pakistan ramped up their threats to use nuclear warheads on each other; despite a current thaw in their relations, missiles on both sides remain ready to launch. In the last few months, Russia, feeling insecure and impotent as a once-important player in the world game, began overtly flexing its nuclear muscle in military exercises. (Both Russia and the U.S. still keep thousands of large-scale nuclear weapons aimed at each other, ready to fire on a moment's notice.) Britain, China, France, and Israel all have nuclear weapons, perhaps to be joined in the nuclear club by countries like North Korea which may view nuclear weapons as important to their safety.
The situation is further destabilized by current U.S. posture. The Bush administration insists that nuclear weapons are central to America's defense, has pulled out of or weakened important nuclear treaties, and plans to add even more weapons to its nuclear arsenal.
One need not stop at the nuclear danger. Some of today's "conventional" weapons rival nuclear devices in their destructive power, and research to make them more deadly is heavily funded.
Where, then, does that leave the human race, other than as rabbits caught in the headlights of war, not wanting to face the reality, not wanting to think about what might happen in the next war, or the next war, or the one after that?
One hopeful response came in the form of the millions of people in countries around the world who took to the streets to protest the idea of the U.S. invading Iraq. At no time in history has a pre-war protest taken place on such a scale. Many of those folks had never demonstrated before, had never marched in the streets carrying banners and signs. At a minimum, they were saying that even if it might be a good idea to remove Saddam Hussein, this war was not the way to do it.
Hopefully, they were saying more. That today, war-all war-is unacceptable, and other ways of resolving conflicts must be found. Those who have come to this conclusion are far ahead in their thinking, not only of most governments, but of any institution which believes that a war can be "just."
It is relatively easy to lead people into supporting a war. Fear is a great motivator, as governments have shown for millennia. What is needed now can only be found in the hearts and minds of people-faith that a solution not dependent on violence can be arrived at, and the willingness to do the hard work to find it. Now the institutions of religion have the chance to play a unique and powerful role, taking a stand, providing inspiration and leadership, helping rid the world, at long last, of the scourge of war.
U. S. Presidential Perspectives, Past and Present
"There is nothing more urgent confronting the people of all nations than the banning of all nuclear weapons under a foolproof system of international control."
— President Harry S. Truman
"Let no one think that the expenditure of vast sums for weapons and systems of defense can guarantee absolute safety for the cities and citizens of any nation. The awful arithmetic of the atomic bomb does not permit any such easy solution."
— President Dwight D. Eisenhower
"Every man, woman and child lives under a nuclear sword of Damocles, hanging by the slenderest of threads, capable of being cut at any moment by accident or miscalculation or by madness. The weapons of war must be abolished before they abolish us..."
— President John F. Kennedy
"...uneasy is the peace that wears a nuclear crown. And we cannot be satisfied with a situation in which the world is capable of extinction in a moment of error, or madness, or anger."
— President Lyndon B. Johnson
"School children once hid under their desks in drills to prepare for nuclear war. I saw the chance to rid our children's dreams of the nuclear nightmare, and I did."
— President George H.W. Bush
"Nuclear weapons play a critical role in the defense capabilities of the United States, its allies and friends. They provide credible military options to deter a wide range of threats, including WMD and large-scale conventional military force. These nuclear capabilities possess unique properties that give the United States options to hold at risk classes of targets [that are] important to achieve strategic and political objectives."
— President George W. Bush
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Making a New Cosmology Personal
An Essay by Karen Harwell
|We need a common and compelling vision of the nature of the Universe and the role of the human within it. Such a new cosmology must be grounded in the best empirical, scientific understanding, and must be nourished just as deeply by the vibrant cores of our planet's wisdom traditions. Only such a vision has a chance of awakening the deep psychic energies necessary to shape a new era of health, well being, true prosperity. —Brian Swimme
One only has to look around and see what is happening to our world to know that Brian Swimme is right: We need a new cosmology. What we have been taught about the Universe and our part in it is inadequate for the times we live in.
How do we awaken the deep psychic energy Brian Swimme talks about? For me, the answer came from reading two books by Thomas Berry. His book Dream of the Earth held insights far different from the cultural teachings of my education, my religious upbringing, virtually everything the typical cultural coding told about the nature of reality.
A second book by Thomas Berry, The Universe Story, written with Brian Swimme, offered personal tools to explore the answer from an intellectual standpoint. In it, the authors talked about three key aspects of the Universe.
All activity in the Universe is Universe activity. The fireball energy arranges itself into the antennae of beetles or the subterranean architecture of gophers. For thirteen billion years, creative energy has shaped itself into a story of majesty. The whole sequence of spontaneous shinings becomes a story precisely because the spontaneities are governed by the central contours of the Universe, here identified as subjectivity, differentiation, and communion.
The Universe consists of subjects_ each with the capacity for being a source of its own sensibility and perception, as well as initiating freely and naturally without external cause. The Universe manifests only in and through particular subjects. To be a subject, then, is to be an autonomous source of Universe activity.
According to Thomas Berry, not only is every being different from every other being in the Universe but each has its own inner articulation, and each carries in its subjective depths "the numinous mystery whence the Universe emerges into being. This we might identify as the sacred depth of the individual being."
This is astonishing news-the first time humans have had any empirical evidence of the story of the Universe and of their own unique connection to that story. A few mystics, through their own insights, intuited this connection with the Universe and interpreted it for others. Now we can see for ourselves the continued emergence of the Universe through the amazing views coming from the Hubble telescope and have our own mystical experience.
It is easy to think of subjectivity in terms of humans, harder to think of animals and plants as subjects, and even harder with things that are inanimate. Yet we say "a star shines," so it's not too much of a stretch to think of a star as a subject which is acting. Its dynamic organization of hydrogen and helium, its ability to produce a vast entity of elements and to produce light, are all its own business.
We can also imagine an atom as a self, for each atom is a blazing blur of self-organizing activity. This same invisible power, assembling energy into a particular pattern, is the atom's center of organization.
To imagine what is actually taking place in a rock requires an appreciation for the activity required for rock existence. The rock is not simply passive. It burbles with activity at the quantum level so that the rock can be what it is. That which sustains and energizes the rock is its subjectivity, that which sustains and energizes the mountain is its subjectivity, just as that which sustains and energizes a human is its subjectivity. Everything, absolutely everything, is a subject_ a unique expression of the whole cosmic community. The origin of every subject traces back to the beginning of time and space.
How different from the cultural coding I was exposed to, which viewed only the human as subject and thus the only one capable of intimate relationship with the Divine. Everything else was viewed as object, with its value based on its resource potential for human use. This old view had never resonated with me, whereas the new view does. In the new view, everything is unique, with its own intelligence and strategy, intriguing and mysterious.
I spent my childhood journeying back and forth from the majesty of the Rocky Mountains to the plains city of Denver, where our home was located. Most weekends and much of the summer we were in the mountains, where as a child I reveled in magical creeks and streams, played hide and seek with chipmunks, searched for mica and other minerals, felt sheer delight on the back of a galloping horse and in locating a lost calf, felt cooled and humbled by afternoon rains and thunderstorms, went quiet and inner with the awesome experience of the Sun sinking behind the purple mountains, and came together in warmth and community around blazing campfires. There was coherence in this magical community. Somehow it was easy to feel in balance and in right proportion as a human presence in relationship with everything else. In the mountain community, I had a deep knowing of belonging.
Then on Sunday evenings, as we wound our way down the mountain roads to Denver, I always felt a certain disease and sadness and longed for things to work in Denver as coherently as they did in the mountains.
Today, I have the language to describe what I was feeling and experiencing then. The chipmunk, the stream, the mica, and the mountain were all subjects to me. They were real and had value in and of themselves. They comprised my world and were my relations. I felt a deep love for each of them. They were not objects to be used by me. I was not looking at the mountain as mineral deposits to be mined; the chipmunk was not just a creature in the background of my landscape; and the stream not just a source of water for me to drink. In this intimate encounter with each, I was experiencing an awesome revelation of the Earth community.
In Sunday school, we never talked about all the things that made my life so full and wonderful. Instead we talked about an abstract God who lived someplace else, and about his son who lived far away and long ago and didn't resemble anyone I could relate to. We talked about a set of rules that God had revealed to a people who also lived long ago and far away and the rules didn't mention anything about chipmunks, streams, or mountains. Later on, I began to wonder why, if we loved God, wouldn't it be better to express our love by loving his creation? I thought if I were God, I wouldn't want people professing how much they love me; rather, I would want them to love everything I had brought into being.
Among the more subtle meanings of subjectivity is the dimension of time and its effect on everything. Over time, everything changes, even the Universe. Appreciating this, I find it uncomfortable to realize how easy it is to "box" people in time, instead of allowing them to reveal themselves at each new meeting. Now instead of thinking I know how so and so is, I catch myself and move into anticipating who they have become since we last met.
From the elementary particles to all the myriad forms of the animate world, to the complexities of galaxy and planetary systems, we live in a Universe of unending variety. We once saw the night skies as filled with little twinkling things we called stars. Then we learned what the stars were and that they were all different, and we learned that some were actually planets, and they were all different. We learned about nebulae and galaxies, all of which were different. The more intimately we become acquainted with anything, it seems, the clearer our recognition of its differences with anything else in the world.
We are now fully aware that the Universe is coded to become more and more diverse. The Earth is highly developed, and its aliveness arises out of this principle of differentiation. Why then, as Thomas Berry asks, do we try to make everything the same?
Whereas the basic direction of the evolutionary process is toward constant differentiation within the order of the Universe, our modern world is directed toward monocultures. This is the inherent direction of the entire industrial age. It requires standardization, an invariant process of multiplication with no enrichment of meaning.
The first 20 years of my life, I sought familiarity, choosing to be with people who were like me. It all changed when I transferred from a small, liberal arts women's college to a large university, where the only residential option was to live in a boarding house. The people who lived in this house, as well as the graduate students who came for meals, were the most diverse group I had ever spent any time with. At first, I was uncomfortable, even closed. But with each meal conversation, it became clear that these people, whom I never would have selected to be with, were far more interesting than many of my friends. By the end of the year, it was obvious how much I had missed by avoiding diversity. It's a good lesson on the importance of welcoming, even seeking out, the opportunity to experience diversity, valuing the richness it brings.
Differentiation also promotes strength. I have experienced an old growth forest. After cradling the fullness of its diversity, anything less now seems to be sparse and degraded. In agriculture, in our forests, and in our gardens, we are increasingly aware of how vulnerable and weak monoculture is. Where there is a variety of types of plants and a variance in canopy levels, there is healthy growth, and the strength to resist pests and changes in weather. So it is a cruel irony that we are so prone to want to eliminate differences, when in fact, differentiation is the key to our well being and to the chance to continue on in the community of life.
To be is to be related. The Sun and the Earth are bound in a relationship we call gravitational interaction. The chlorophyll molecules carry the essence of the Sun in their structure. The human celebrates this relationship with the Sun in all the ten thousand primal cultures on Earth.
Much of our existence finds fulfillment in relatedness. We can experience this in all of the attention we humans, other animals, insects, and creatures of all kinds put into the mating rituals the natural world has evolved. So much of the coloration and dance and song of the world come from our desire to enter relationships of true intimacy. The energy we and other animals bestow on this work of relatedness reveals something of the ultimate meaning of communal experience.
In Thomas Berry's words: The ethical imperative of communion reminds us that the entire Universe is bonded together in such a way that the presence of each individual is felt throughout the entire special and temporal range of the Universe. This capacity for bonding of the components of the Universe with each other enables the vast variety of beings to come into existence in that gorgeous profusion that we observe about us.
One of the most amazing insights of my life came during a course in biology. We were studying honeybees and the intricacies of their community which enables them to be the amazing pollinators they are, which in turn enables each corn silk in my garden to become a kernel, the almonds to come into their fullness, the flowers to sweeten the Earth, and on and on. I had my own mystical awakening to the reality that the whole thing is interwoven and utterly interdependent. I felt infused with respect and reverence for the intelligence and wisdom that permeates everything, and that insight totally reframed my perspective on life.
I feel fortunate to have found these three principles. Woven into daily life, they can serve as a balance. When things seem to be going off kilter, almost certainly one or more of the principles is out of balance. When this happens to me—such as getting too much into community and not respecting differentiation and/or subjectivity, or some other combination—and I self-correct, a sense of balance seems to return.
Using the three principles as a barometer/compass to navigate through each day, I find more and more joy in being alive on this blue/green Earth, and this mysterious and numinous cosmos.
Karen Harwell is director of FGC's Sense of Place series, a year-long exploration of the local bioregion. She has done graduate studies in cosmology at the California Institute of Integral Studies in San Francisco, and is a long-time volunteer educator with the Foundation.
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World Social Forum: Civil Society in Action
"Just imagine," says FGC volunteer Larissa Keet, "a group of 80,000 people gathered in one place, focused on the idea that 'Another World is Possible.' " It happened this past January in India at the World Social Forum, said Keet, who attended the event. "There were illiterate villagers, Tibetan monks, Dalits (untouchables), academics, domestic workers, a former president of India, Nobel Laureates, peasant farmers—all of whom, in one way or another, are determined to confront the power structure that is taking the world in the wrong direction."
Frances Korten, another who was there, described the setting in an article in YES! Magazine as "a giant state fair; only instead of pigs, pies, and amusement rides, the tents and halls hold seminars and workshops on pressing issues, the stages are alive with dancers, poetry, and plays, and the streets noisy with drumming, chanting groups of indigenous peoples and Dalits. Now imagine this huge event with no advertisements for SUVs, designer clothes, or fast food—instead the signs are for campaigns to stop the privatization of water, make Tibet a zone of peace, and promote fair trade and not free trade....Imagine a space filled with raucous protests, vigorous debates, and exuberant celebrations where there are few if any security searches and the police are friendly and helpful."
During the six days of the 2004 World Social Forum (WSF), participants from 160 countries had 1200 events to choose from, only a few of which were put on by the WSF itself. The WSF sees itself as providing an "open space" for groups of civil society to meet and work on issues they are passionate about. Participants are welcome as long as, in the words of the WSF Charter of Principles, they are "committed to building a planetary society directed towards fruitful relationships among Humankind and between it and the Earth." Government officials are welcome, as long as they don't represent their government, only themselves. Some 300 nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) were there, setting up stalls to distribute literature, sell crafts made by women's entrepreneurial collectives, and display low-technology wares such as solar ovens.
The WSF makes clear it is not a movement. Its Charter states: "The meetings of the WSF do not deliberate on behalf of the WSF as a body. Therefore, no one will be authorized, on behalf of any of the editions of the Forum, to express positions claiming to be those of all its participants." But WSF does state its opposition "to all totalitarian and reductionist views of economy, development, and history, and to the use of violence as a means of social control by the State." The WSF specifically opposes "neoliberalism and the domination of the world by capital and any form of imperialism."
The term "neoliberalism" may not be familiar to readers in the U.S., but it is used often by the WSF and those at the Forum. The gist of neoliberalism is that it puts people and the planet second, and the working of markets first. So it's no wonder that globalization, the World Trade Organization, the International Monetary Fund, and the World Bank are all seen by WSF participants as making things worse rather than better.
The idea of ordinary people influencing global issues grew during the large global conferences put on by the United Nations, beginning with the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992 and ending a decade later. With no more such UN-sponsored global gatherings in sight, the World Social Forum meetings have taken their place. This most recent meeting in Mumbai, India, is the fourth WSF gathering, and the first to be held outside Brazil. In the interim, the scope of the WSF has broadened, and the attendance has increased four-fold. Moreover, the value of such meetings has spawned regional social forums in Africa, Europe, and other parts of Asia and Latin America. A Northwest Social Forum is planned for Seattle in October (www.nwsocialforum.org).
The New York Times, in commenting on the millions of people who protested the war on Iraq, has called world opinion "the second superpower." The WSF meetings are a clear example that such power exists and is truly global, grassroots, and growing. As Frances Korten notes, "[The WSF meetings] have taken center stage as the place where global civil society meets—to protest a disastrously unfair world order and to develop a more empowering vision. The Forums have become a living, breathing manifestation of an emerging planetary consciousness and the indomitable human capacity to image that—yes, another world is possible."
More about WSF in next article...
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Two Groups at the World Social Forum Who Are Making a Difference
by Larissa Keet
The Tamil Nadu Women's Collective
In attending a session on the International Rice Campaign, I sat near a group of women in black saris from Tamil Nadu, a state in South India. Although we didn't speak a common language, their brochure was in English with dozens of captioned photos. How pleased I was to discover our shared, ongoing involvement in Women in Black, with its solidarity vigils held regularly in hundreds of remote and metropolitan locations in 28 countries to oppose every form of violence.
Through their 75,000 members in 20 districts of Tamil Nadu, the Women's Collective seeks to improve the lot of all women, particularly the most marginalized. The issues the Collective focuses on include domestic violence and the role of alcoholism; discrimination on the basis of caste, class, religion, and gender; exploitation of children; female infanticide; and economic and environmental violence. Women farmers and farm workers take vows not only to avoid use of pesticides and inorganic fertilizers, but also to participate in ecologically sound and sustainable development of agriculture and industries.
Through education, training, and the building of skills, Tamil Nadu seeks to empower women by organizing economic self-help groups, participating in politics, and changing public policy on all levels—local, state, and national. Their goal also extends internationally, e.g., joining with a global campaign to exert pressure on the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund to cancel third-world debts.
Those in the worldwide Via Campesina movement of peasant farmers see an intimate connection between rural cultures and the seeds that traditional cultures have used for centuries. Both are threatened, they are convinced, by widespread corporate patenting and genetic engineering of seeds.
"Seeds," the Campesinas explain, "have been the foundation of culture and society throughout history. Seeds incorporate values, sentiments, visions, and ways of life that tie them to the realm of the sacred. It is our task and our duty to preserve this legacy for future generations...If seed disappears, so would rural cultures and peoples also disappear; similarly, the disappearance of cultures carries with it the disappearance of seed."
Efforts by the Via Campesina movement to save heritage seeds take place world-wide. In Colombia, a seed-saving campaign involves public officials, educators, and businesspeople. In Uruguay, seeds are exchanged at organic farmers' markets. In Brazil, a festival of corn has become a national event, with a company formed to distribute traditional seeds.
A number of NGOs are helping support grassroots seed-saving campaigns. One which is especially active is Amigos de la Tierras (Friends of the Earth) which has locations in 62 countries on several continents.
The life-sustaining seeds of the future are contained in the life-nourishing seeds of the present. There is a global ethic forming as civil society reconnects with innate wisdom and relearns how to be an integral part of the ecosystem, instead of being apart from it. Affirming interdependence with all forms of life, global citizens are recognizing that biodiverse conditions are vital to sustaining life on Earth. A symbiotic relationship with heritage seeds, soil, air, water, sunlight, cycles of nature, and the whole web of life, is becoming conscious and cherished by growing numbers of people. I believe this emerging global ethic has the potential to activate a "critical mass" of the global human community.
Larissa Keet has participated in local/global citizenry endeavors for two decades, including the UN Forum on Women in China, Conflict-Resolution in Azerbaijan, and Compassionate Listening in Israel/Palestine. She is a long-time volunteer at the Foundation, and a member of the Foundation's Valley of Heart's Delight Project. Professionally, Larissa is an eco-psychotherapist in private practice in Los Altos, CA.
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As We Live and Breathe
by Mac Lawrence
We humans owe a lot to microbes. They brought us the oxygen in the air we breathe, the veins of gold we mine, the intricate patterns in a marble floor, the inhabitants in the cells of our body which break up the food we eat and convert it into energy. Now, when the human race is faced with a whole new world that threatens to do us in as a species, we need to learn from the fantastic ability of these tiny life forms—so small you can only see them in a microscope—to adjust to new conditions.
That's one of the concepts the Foundation team will emphasize at the Parliament of the World's Religions in Spain, using microbes as a metaphor. Messages we can learn from microbes:
• Look at wastes differently.
Every "waste" product is someone else's food.
• Live on the energy coming from the Sun.
The Earth has marvelous resources in oil and coal, but if we use them up, we're out of business.
• Cooperate-we're all in this together.
If I sink my end of the boat, or you sink your end, we both drown.
Microbes-in the form of bacteria-were the Earth's first living things, appearing some 4 million years ago. Conditions on the planet were harsh, but bacteria were up to the job. They flourished in boiling mud, in deep-sea vents and volcanoes, in pools of concentrated sulfuric acid.
In fact, bacteria were so successful that they soon exhausted their food supply. The result: The world's first food crisis.
PROBLEM: Where to find more food.
SOLUTION: Make their own, which they did by using solar power to take hydrogen from the hydrogen sulfide gas spewed from deep-sea vents and volcanoes, and combine it with carbon dioxide. Result: a form of photosynthesis, the Earth's most important metabolic innovation.
NEW PROBLEM: As the Earth calmed, less free hydrogen became available.
SOLUTION: Evolve a strain of microbe (cyanobacteria) which can obtain hydrogen by splitting water molecules.
NEW PROBLEM: When water molecules are split, oxygen is produced, a highly toxic waste, poisonous to the microbes that existed then.
SOLUTION: Evolve new organisms which use up oxygen by breathing it.
And so it went with those clever microbes. As the book A Walk through Time describes the scene: "Communities form in which one microbe's waste is another's lunch.... Microbial mats form richly layered eco-systems, and under the right conditions, these become stromatolite bacterial skyscrapers. The blue-greens live in the top layers, slipping in and out of the UV-light-shielding sheaths to gather solar energy. Cynobacteria produce prodigious amounts of food. 'Consumer' bacteria, immune to oxygen, quickly join the cyanobacteria. Beneath them live mixed populations of consumers and producers, each possessing unique diets and tolerances for oxygen, light, and sulfides.
"Microbes experiment with various life-styles. Those who take up swimming explore habitats, moving with grace from meal to meal. Many microbes pursue colonial lifestyles, huge populations mixing with one another for food and flexible gene exchanges. Microbes experiment with multi-cellular lifestyles, some forming complexes eerily like trees and other organisms of our familiar landscape.
"Many veins of ores exist because microbes have the chemical effect of precipitating minerals out of water, thus settling them to the bottom. Some microbes consume minerals, which then remain in their 'resident' places as they die in huge numbers...Colonies of microbes are found down to a depth of more than four kilometers inside Earth's crust."
Microbes successfully set up the conditions for all other forms of life, handled with creativity every change thrown at them, and still thrive today after millions of years. We humans may not be able to perform the same kinds of magical physical transformations. But we can see what lessons these little microbes have to teach us about survival, and use our brains to save our necks.
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An issue sorely in need of a change in worldview
by Walt Hays
There is no more dramatic example of the need to upgrade our thinking than the issue of global warming/climate change.
In their book New World New Mind: Moving Toward Conscious Evolution, Paul Ehrlich and Robert Ornstein note that the human brain, which evolved in the days of the caveman, is wired to respond to immediate dangers, like a bear in the mouth of the cave, but has a harder time dealing with more remote threats, even if the latter are potentially more dangerous. For example, people will rush to rescue a single nearby child in distress, but be virtually oblivious to the fact that 40,000 children far away die of starvation every day.
That brain structure leads naturally to different ways of thinking about an issue like global warming. One way is rationalization: "Yes, it may be a problem, but there is dispute about it, it's far away, and in the meantime everything seems OK. If it is a problem, solving it would probably cause some inconvenience, like higher gas prices, so let's wait until we're sure that is necessary. I doubt that anything I do would have much effect anyway, and I have more immediate, pressing matters to think about."
Is that way of thinking reality or denial? If the latter, what would it take to make us "be present—pay attention and acknowledge what is"? A series of recent articles should capture our attention even if we're still in the caveman mode, because they portray global warming scenarios as imminent, catastrophic, and irreversible in our lifetimes-symbolized by the shift in terminology from "global warming" to "climate change."
Here are some of those scenarios, in progressively cataclysmic order:
1. Extinction of Species
An article by Paul Brown in The Guardian summarized research published in the magazine Nature in January as stating that "climate change over the next 50 years is expected to drive a quarter of land animals and plants into extinction." The effects could be much worse in some regions. Kruger National Park in South Africa, for example, could lose up to 60 percent of its species. The results shocked the researchers, one of whom described them as "terrifying."
According to the studies, species living in mountainous areas will have a greater chance of survival, because they can simply move uphill to get cooler. Those in flatter areas are more vulnerable, because they might have to move thousands of miles to find the habitat they need.
Halting climate change requires that we move away from fossil fuels. But many species are doomed even if we make the switch quickly, because it takes at least 25 years for any change in climate to take effect. In the meantime, the continuous discharging of greenhouse gases, particularly by the U.S., is steadily making things worse.
John Lanchberry, of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, described the research as "depressing." According to him, "President Bush [by refusing to address the issue] risks having the biggest impact on wildlife since the meteorite that wiped out the dinosaurs."
2. Floods and Droughts
According to an article by Thomas Atkins of Reuters, scientists expect global warming to trigger increasingly frequent and violent storms, heat waves, flooding, tornadoes, and cyclones, while other areas slip into cold or drought. The world's second largest reinsurer, Swiss Re, estimates that the economic losses from such disasters threaten to double, hitting insurers with $30-40 billion in claims, the equivalent of one World Trade Center disaster every year. Lord Peter Leven, board chair of Lloyd's of London, the largest single insurer of the World Trade Center, agrees, stating that climate change is a bigger threat than terrorism.
A report by the World Water Council stated that between 1971 and 1995, floods affected more than 1.5 billion people world-wide: An estimated 318,000 were killed and more than 18 million left homeless. The economic costs of those disasters rose from $35 billion in the 1960s to $300 billion in the 1990s.
Bruce E. Johansen, author of the Global Warming Desk Reference, explains that warmer air holds more moisture, making rain (and sometimes snow) more intense in some places; but it also increases evaporation, causing other areas to experience drought. So with sustained warming, normally wet places generally receive even more rain, while normally dry ones become more subject to persistent drought.
Johansen adds: "As if on cue to support climate models, the summer of 2002 featured a number of climatic extremes, especially regarding precipitation. Excessive rain deluged Europe and Asia, swamping cities and villages and killing at least 2,000 people, while drought and heat scorched the United States' west and eastern cities. Climate skeptics argued that weather is always variable, but other observers noted that extremes now seemed to be more frequent. A year later, following episodic floods during the summer of 2002, Europe experienced some of its highest and longest sustained temperatures in recorded history, causing between 19,000 and 35,000 excess deaths. As much as 80 percent of the grain crop died in Germany." (Johansen also gives numerous examples of the effect of such disasters on specific cities.)
In many areas, California being a good example, farmers and cities depend on the annual snowpack in the mountains to avoid winter floods and provide a steady stream of water as the snow melts. But John M. Wallace, professor of atmospheric sciences at the University of Washington, notes that over the past 50 years, winter precipitation in the Sierra Nevada has been falling more and more in the form of rain instead of snow. In addition, recent studies indicate that the melting of half of the sea ice in the Arctic would shift the storm-guiding jet stream north, reducing California's precipitation of snow and rain by as much as a third. With the state's ever-growing population, that would be disastrous.
3. Killing the Oceans
Professor Johansen also deals with this issue, stating, "We are carbonizing the oceans, with dire implications for life in them." He quotes oceanographers Ken Caldeira and Michael Wicket, from a September 2003 report in Nature: "We find that oceanic absorption of CO2 from fossil fuels may result in larger pH changes over the next several centuries than any inferred in the geological record of the past 300 million years."
According to the oceanographers, carbon dioxide enters the oceans as carbonic acid, gradually altering the acidity of the water, which could threaten the health of many marine organisms, beginning with the plankton at the base of the food chain. Acid dissolves the calcium carbonate in their shells or skeletons.
Acidity aside, warming alone is devastating plankton, leading to what the oceanographers call an "ecological meltdown." For example, scientists monitoring the North Sea report that unprecedented warming has driven plankton hundreds of miles to the north, and the warm-water species that are replacing them are smaller and less nutritious, causing fish stocks to plummet.
4. Disrupting the "Great Conveyor Belt"
All of the foregoing scenarios involve fairly gradual change. However, another prospect that has received serious attention recently involves an abrupt change-the shutting down of the Gulf Stream-that would throw the world back into an ice age that could last between 700 and 100,000 years and would probably lead to devastating wars over diminishing resources.
According to Thom Hartmann, author of The Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight, the Gulf Stream works like this: Salty, cool water in the North Atlantic sinks to the bottom of the sea south of Greenland, forming an undersea river 40 times larger than all the rivers on land combined. This river flows down to the southern tip of Africa and enters the Pacific, where it slowly rises to the surface. That out-flowing makes the level of the Atlantic slightly lower than the Pacific, which draws in a strong surface current of warm water. This current flows past North America and over to Europe, eventually cooling off by Greenland and starting the process over again. The warm current, which is the source of temperate climate in Europe and Eastern North America, is called the Gulf Stream.
The whole cycle is known as the Great Conveyor Belt, which Hartman says is "the only thing between comfortable summers and a permanent ice age for Europe and the eastern coast of North America." And this is how climate change could cause a sudden switch to the latter: Warmer temperatures lead to increased melting of Arctic ice, which makes the northern waters less salty and therefore less dense. That causes them to stop sinking, and instead collide with and overrun the warm, denser Gulf Stream waters, forcing them down to the bottom-thereby shutting the Gulf Stream off and causing the whole Great Conveyor Belt to crash, bringing on a new Ice Age.
Scientists have known that such transitions happened in the past, but until recently believed that they happened gradually over many thousands of years. In the last 20 years, however, studies of ice cores in Greenland have shown that they took only two or three years. Hartmann likens this situation to a "delicately balanced teeter-totter, which can exist in one state or the other, but transits through the middle stage almost overnight."
Hartmann's description of the consequence of such a transition is scary: "Winter would set in for the eastern half of North America and all of Europe and Siberia, and never go away. Within three years, those regions would become uninhabitable, and nearly two billion humans would starve, freeze to death, or have to relocate. Civilization as we know it probably couldn't withstand the impact of such a crushing blow."
When is that likely to occur? Again Hartmann's answer is not reassuring: "Nobody knows. Preliminary models and scientists willing to speculate suggest the switch could flip as early as next year, or it may be generations from now. It may be wobbling right now, producing the extremes of weather we've seen in the past few years. What's almost certain is that if nothing is done about global warming, it will happen sooner rather than later." (italics added)
On This Issue Even the Pentagon Agrees
Some scientists (many financed by oil companies) may quibble over the likelihood and imminence of such a sudden switch. However, a recent report commissioned by the U.S. Defense Department concludes that it is "plausible and would challenge U.S. security in ways that should be considered immediately." (italics added) In an article in The Observer, Mark Townsend and Paul Harris state that the Defense report "predicts that abrupt climate change could bring the planet to the edge of anarchy, as countries develop a nuclear threat to defend and secure dwindling food, water, and energy supplies. The threat to global security vastly eclipses that of terrorism, say the few experts privy to its contents."
The Defense report carries a lot of weight, because it was commissioned by Pentagon advisor Andrew Marshall, whose advice has strongly influenced U.S. military thinking over three decades. According to The Observer, "Marshall, 82, is a Pentagon legend who leads a secretive think tank dedicated to weighing risks to national security, called the Office of Net Assessment, [and is] dubbed 'Yoda' by Pentagon insiders who respect his vast experience."
The following statements by three prominent world citizens offer a good summary of the threat:
Hans Blix, the former chief weapons inspector in Iraq: To me, the question of the environment is more ominous than that of peace and war. I'm more worried about global warming than I am of any major military conflict.
Sir John Houghton, co-chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change: Global warming is already upon us [and its impacts] are such that I have no hesitation in describing it as a weapon of mass destruction.
David King, chief scientific advisor to the UK: Climate change is the most severe problem we face today—more serious than the threat of terrorism.
If space permitted, one could talk about still other disastrous effects that climate change is predicted to cause—and is already causing—such as the submergence of islands and coastal cities by rising seas, and the spreading of diseases as mosquitoes move into areas that were formerly too cold for them. Hopefully, however, the facts presented will be sufficient in themselves to shake up even the most rigid of worldviews.
For more information on the Pentagon report: www.ems.org/climate/pentagon_climate_change.pdf
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Perspectives from Space
The first day or so we all pointed to our countries. The third or fourth day we were pointing to our continents. By the fifth day we were aware of only one Earth.
Bin Salman Al-Saud, Saudi Arabia
Before I flew, I was already aware of how small and vulnerable our planet is. But only when I saw it from space, in all its ineffable beauty and fragility, did I realize that humankind's most urgent task is to cherish and preserve it for generations.
Sigmund Jahn, Germany
As I looked down, I saw a large river meandering slowly along for miles, passing from one country to another without stopping. I also saw huge forests extending across several borders. And I watched the extent of one ocean touch the shores of separate continents. Two words leapt to mind as I looked down on all this: commonality and interdependence. We are one world.
John David Bartoe, U. S. A.
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