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Our Perspective on the World Today and a Way Forward

Center For Ecozoic Studies

Mitigation of the present ruinous situation, the recycling of materials, the diminishment of consumption, the healing of damaged ecosystems—all this will be in vain if we do these things to make the present industrial systems acceptable. They must all be done, but in order to build a new order of things.

—Thomas Berry, “The Determining Features of the Ecozoic Era”

I believe that the idea of development stands today like a ruin in the intellectual landscape, its shadows obscuring our vision. It is high time we tackled the archaeology of this towering conceit, that we uncovered its foundations to see it for what it is: the outdated monument to an immodest era.

—Wolfgang Sachs, “Development: A Guide to the Ruins”

Claiming respect of the autonomy of their new commons, many people are attempting, first of all, to regenerate their notion of living well, and second to perceive it, once again, as a cultural expression, alive and changing, of a community well rooted in its tradition and soil. . . . It claims, for people constituting a majority of the Earth’s population, what they have been denied for the last 500 years: autonomous routes to their unique, locally rooted lifestyles.

—Gustavo Esteva, Salvatore Babones, and Philipp Babcicky, The Future of Development: A Radical Manifesto

There is an impulse to fix the problems we are facing with the same approaches that have caused them—more technology, growth, investment, and consumption. Many well-informed environmentalists and policy makers believe that renewable energy can be substituted rapidly for fossil fuels with benefits uniformly far outweighing the adverse effects. This conceivably would lead to net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 and provide the energetic and, indirectly through increasing extraction and processing of materials, the material base for ongoing industrial economic growth and human betterment. Following this reasoning, they devote little thought or action to radical changes in our ways of living.

We take a different view. We believe the high-energy and high-material-throughput approach of industrial civilization does not present a feasible pathway forward. In the future we will live in a post-growth world. This will occur voluntarily by choice and involuntarily as a result of biophysical feedbacks, and will mean, among other things, greatly reduced energy and material consumption and the devolution of economies from global to regional and local. While the following changes will not occur evenly or equitably around the world, in the course of the 21st century many of the modern modes of civilizational presence, such as megacities dominated by tall buildings and sprawling suburbs dominated by automobiles and roadways will falter; there will be extensive migration; water, food, and energy scarcity will create tensions and discontinuities for humans and other species; and human population will peak and then decline. We will live in a hotter world with degraded ecosystems, diminished material resources, reduced biological diversity, and political instability. Options available in the waning industrial age will be curtailed by these new environmental, climate, material, and social conditions.

In a situation of such uncertainty with so many unknown and unpredictable variables, it is difficult to envision a humane and decent future for humans and other species. The current discourse among concerned environmentalists and policy makers primarily focuses on the supply side, for example, on ways to provide renewable energy and electrify everything, invent genetically modified, heat-resistant food crops, build barriers to protect against sea level rise, finance the green economy in the Global South, and so forth. While affirming the extensive need for supply-side efforts, we call for attention to potential unintended consequences, short-sightedness, and effects on diverse communities and ecosystems; and we make our primary emphasis the demand side via radical adaptation, including reducing energy and material consumption, embracing bioregionalism, living closer to the land, and giving more space to wild nature.

If we and countless other species are to survive, we need to move from the period of civilizations with their ever-growing quest for more energy and material throughput and consumption, to a new period of nested ecozoic societies (societies of life) in an ecological age we call the “Ecozoic era.” “Ecozoans” are people, whether they identify as such or not, who are bringing into being the Ecozoic era. They are lovers of all kinds of life, sentipiensan (feel-think) with Earth community, and seek the wisdom of the life-world. Drawing on ancient and contemporary wisdoms, the ways they comprehend, act within, and relate to the larger community of life and life systems, including the human part of it, are grounded in reciprocity, gratitude, gift-giving, respect, compassion, frugality, and mutual responsibility.

Many more must join this movement to reduce dramatically the harmful effects of humans on Earth and to provide justice and sufficiency for humans and other species. This means, among other things, salvaging and reducing the use of materials rather than new mining; diminishing consumption, especially by those with globally higher incomes and wealth; lowering energy demand, replacing fossil fuels with energy that minimizes environmental harm, and providing energy sufficiency for all; preventing the use of nature as a repository of waste, including toxic substances, novel compounds with unknown environmental effects, non-biodegradable products that accumulate in ecosystems, and greenhouse gases; diminishing interference with natural systems and processes that sustain life; changing the way we feed ourselves; reducing human population; and, importantly, identifying and augmenting activities that are mutually beneficial and beautiful for humans and nature. Science and technology tempered by ecozoic (life-giving) visions and understandings have important roles to play in enabling and softening the landing into this new low-impact, just society; whereas continued economic growth measured in conventional terms and many of the proposed environmental technofixes will perpetuate, even worsen, what Thomas Berry calls “the present ruinous situation.”

The road ahead will be difficult and long. There will be extensive suffering and social upheaval for humans and tragic losses in the natural world along the way. We will need to take a long-term view while not excusing delay, for delays in acting have made and will make the transition increasingly challenging. To follow Thomas Berry’s maxim of living as though members of Earth are subjects, not objects, means willingly and skillfully reducing our cumulative negative environmental impact to the level of pre­industrial societies while recognizing it is neither desirable nor possible to return to the past.

New ecozoic visions and ways of living are needed. In furtherance of this, we of CES commit to sharing critical reflections, stories, visions, and practices of long-term ecozoic futures. We commit to building, informing, and supporting a body of ecozoans; developing and making available ecozoic ideas; helping people understand and deal with increasingly difficult circumstances; and engaging in transformative, institutional-reform projects (such as our present work on ecocentric law). And in all of our work, we commit to articulating the life-sustaining wonder, beauty, and intimacy so present in our world and to fostering human capacities for creativity, adaptation, and transformation.

Those who contemplate the beauty of Earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts.

—Rachel Carson