In case my fellow Americans have been overwhelmed by all the other news during this chaotic era of descent, a white supremacist is making the rounds on college campuses inciting racism, hatred, and ethnic cleansing. His speech caused a murder and other violence in Charlottesville two months ago. He is now coming, uninvited, to the University of Florida on October 19th. The administration has waffled three times back and forth as to whether to allow it. They are now going to allow it, on the basis of overturned decisions on another campus and First Amendment free speech concerns. And they are funding the process with at least $500,000 in public, university funds.
My grandfather, Howard Washington Odum, was a prominent social scientist in the south, and was a tireless activist for racial integration. My parents taught me that racism, white supremacy, and Nazis are not a subject that one remains silent about. And I was taught that activism and science are not separate spheres. So here we go, within a bigger-picture context of energy descent. Continue reading Don’t come around here no more
There have been a flurry of public conversations recently about the importance of protecting the biosphere. We are paying more attention to the environment again, after forty years of neglect. And many people are finding this website after googling a surprising question, “Is ecology good for economies?”
There is a growing recognition of the importance of the environment, but there is still a disconnect in understanding the link between environment and economy, and inertia about how to begin to make changes we need to make. How do we convert the basic cultural assumption or value that what is good for us is good for the world? How do our values and ethics shape our culture for adaptation to a future of energy descent? Are values more important during times of scarcity, and how must our values change if we are to survive?
I recently read Holmgren’s 2002 book, Permaculture; Principles and Pathways beyond Sustainability. The developing science of permaculture applies systems ecology principles to a new way of living—a permanent culture that honors the environment. Permaculture respects our energetic limits, as a means of restoring the environment while adapting to our future of less energy. Holmgren begins his book appropriately with a description of the three ethical principles of permaculture: care for the earth, care for people, and fair share. The second and third principles are derived from the first, which is primary. I was going to write a general review of Holmgren’s book, but then realized that I needed to spend an entire post discussing his first ethical principle of Care for the Earth. The review will have to wait until later.
Holmgren recognizes the increasing importance of environmental protection during the collapse of a society in overshoot. As the culture evolves to fit a lower energy pattern, societies that survive will be those that care for and protect their ecosystems. Too many people with too much technology will put extra pressures on the biosphere. Our growth-oriented values, ethics, and religion will have to evolve over time if we are to survive. What might that look like?
“Everything and anything that takes place on earth involves a flow of potential energy, provided primarily from the sun, as it streams toward a pool of dispersed or expended heat. The pathways of the stream are shaped by a hierarchy of directive forces that have evolved under nature’s laws as by-products of the stream. These directive forces include wayside storages of energy in the material patterns and dynamic circulations of the earth’s substances, including all the elements of the biosphere from the earliest and most primitive to the latest and most civilized or spiritual elements of human feeling, thinking, and behavior in the arts, sciences, and religions” (Odum, 1977, p. 110). . . “Although most humans in the recent century of rich and rising energy have lost awareness of environmental responsibility, the role of humans is one of service. Humans provide complex control and management actions back to maximize the main power and survival of the whole system” (Odum, 1977, p. 117).
Cultural values are group norms or rules for behavior that make a culture work. Ethical values are our cultural DNA. But our values can change in response to the conditions of the economy and environment. Our current value system is no longer working—money, science, laws, mores, politics, religion, and culture are becoming less meaningful to many. Traditional values of frugality, community cooperation, and a sense of responsibility or stewardship have been usurped by the capitalist consumption machine. The survival of the whole system is at stake, and ethics will begin to shift as old ways of doing and being endanger humanity. Eventually, those of us in developed countries will need to reduce our empower use by 80% or 90% (Odum, 2007, p. 392). Knowing what is right will consist of a process of continual change to relearn old ways and adapt to new ways of being. We need a new set of values and ethics for the future, as culture evolves to adapt to a lower energy world. Continue reading Energy ethics for survival of people in nature