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Proposal for Discussion Roundtables 1, 9, 28, 33, and 36
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Proposal for Discussion Roundtables 1, 9, 28, 33, and 36
Do We Need Nature?
A question such as, "Do we need Nature?" leads me to contemplate which components of life’s sustaining machinery we could possibly live without. As I ponder this over, Nature herself fills my lungs. She processes and sorts nutrients taken in from the air, and sends them through my veins so that my thoughts may take shape.
Believe what we will, we are not capable of living beyond Nature’s subtle influences. She controls the wondrous complexities of the very life forces that sustain us and allow us our thoughts.
As I delve further into this question of needing Nature, my eyes scan the hundreds of objects before them. There is not one whose source existence has not been fashioned out of Nature’s bounty!
Being obsessed with sustainability’s enormous market potential, the impact of our society’s disconnection from Nature both concerns and intrigues me.
The thought of tearing up as much as 96% of each dollar and sending it to a landfill is inconceivable. And yet when money is in the form of products made from toxic-laced non-recyclable or non-reusable materials, and society pays the costs hidden over time, that is inadvertently what does happen.
Millions of people are employed within thousands of industries that ultimately manufacture waste in various forms. Every process at each individual stage of producing all of these products reduces, if not wastes, a myriad of raw materials that Nature has taken hundreds, and even millions of years to make available.
For future generations’ sake, a greater accounting of human activities is direly needed. We must begin to put all our collective efforts towards creating a ‘restorative economy’ specifically intended to generate social and environmental profits – as well as financial profits.
And what of myself? Am I not of Nature? Will not my great-grandchildren also be the sum total of millions of years of evolution?
When we speak lightly of Nature, our thoughts might wander through the colorful beauty of wind-caressed meadows, or along the pristine shores of sun kissed mountain stream-fed lakes, the sun dancing lightly about the fluid surfaces.
Even now those tranquil images lull my restless soul to further reflect upon Nature’s physical beauties. Many are the times of my life that I have found peace and sanity within Nature’s orchestrated symphonies.
Not long ago I found myself standing in awe before an astounding scene. The entire view filled the breadth of my vision. I stood riveted, intentionally oblivious to sound, and suddenly realized the impact of the scene. It compelled me to try to comprehend the source of my growing uneasiness.
Countless outcroppings jutted skyward and sprawled outward, violently ejected from the earth’s surfaces, although not by a spasm of quakes. Barren shades of grays and browns rarely yielded to plush vegetation. Deep chasms and passageways displayed telltale signs of human life.
Looking at this vast, unnatural, modern cityscape, I wondered for how much longer our natural systems could continue feeding civilization’s insatiable hungers for comfort, convenience and luxury.
My thoughts turned to all the stores packed with endless aisles of countless consumables. I struggled to grasp the enormous amounts of natural resources and human activity their production required. We feel that we have to possess it if it pleases our senses, amuses or entertains, is this season’s fashionable style or colour, organizes our stressful lives, or makes our days more convenient. For how much longer, I wondered, might the whole of humankind escape the consequences of our crippling Nature’s ability to sustain life?
My dread turned away from our unsustainable, consumer-driven society toward my current need for ensuring that my great-grandchildren’s generation will have the wherewithal to meet their basic needs around the year 2040.
This urgent global quest for sustainability challenges people within every municipality and region to see and begin to create their world anew. Dwindling regional prosperity could be renewed by focusing in on our current needs for healthy, vibrant and productive communities. Sustainability’s greatest challenge however, is in re-establishing our place within Nature’s chaotic complexities.
The last two decades have witnessed the birth of new sciences intended to gain insights into the complex workings of ‘whole systems’. Over the course of history, sciences have evolved in isolation of each other. The emerging result is that we are losing sight of the interconnections that inextricably link them all into this concept we have always called ‘Nature’.
Computer Science has played a major role in raising awareness towards how interrelated, complex and unpredictable Nature is. Having developed my own whole-systems thinking skills in order to write and troubleshoot computer programs efficiently, I was not surprised to see of the emergence of ‘Complexity’ on the heels of the computer’s advent.
This newer science seeks out to determine whatever order can be found at the edges of chaos. In his 1992 book, ‘Complexity,’ Mitchell Waldrop touched briefly on the work of a 21-year old young wunderkind from England named Stephen Wolfram, who in the early 1980s experimented "with very simple rules to generate [by computer] patterns of startling dynamism and complexity." Wolfram’s initial programs simulated the complexities of cellular life by simply following a short set of ‘if-this-then-that’ programming rules called algorithms.
Last year, after an entire decade of obsessive experimentation and documentation, Wolfram stunned scientific and non-scientific communities with his findings. His manifesto, "A New Kind of Science," presented compelling evidence that strikes at the foundations of virtually every scientific discipline. The universe’s complexities would appear to be more the results of simple algorithms than complicated mathematical equations. Some of Wolfram’s algorithms resulted in order and beauty similar to those found in Nature. Others started out with some semblance of order yet quickly collapsed into an ugly chaotic mess not unlike our economies, social systems and weather patterns. According to Wolfram, predicting the outcome of any one program proved impossible.
James Lovelock’s recently formulated Gaian Hypothesis explores the theory that the Earth is actually a living superorganism. Just as each of our bodies is a complex organization of tightly integrated components working in unison to maintain and protect its ‘working unit,’ so is the Earth. As our organic bodies fend off or eliminate unwelcome foreign germs and viruses, so does Gaia.
If Gaian Theory holds any truth the question really becomes, does Nature need us?
Unpredictable weather patterns of endless destructive storms, floods and droughts, raging forest fires, and landscape-altering earthquakes may just be Gaia’s attempts at ridding herself of our viral attacks upon her overall well-being. It is we who must begin to yield to Nature, as Nature will never yield to us.
While we as a species have evolved to the point of creative thought, technological invention and great engineering prowess enabling us to fashion some forms of control over our surroundings, we have yet to discover the means to produce something out of nothing. The suggestion of settling on other planets, or harvesting natural resources from even the nearest of worlds, remains the reality of vivid imagination. Until such time that we succeed at realizing any one of these aspirations, we will still have to depend on increasingly scant resources that have taken Nature a galactic lifespan to generate.
Just one breath taken in over the course of an average lifetime endures in time far beyond that of humankind’s entire existence within a galactic lifespan. Within some extremely short timeline of that breath, industrialization has harvested and converted the vast majority of Nature’s resources into useless, even life threatening, waste. As we persist in recklessly designing and consuming products that challenge the very laws of Nature, we continue to limit the means of survival for each successive generation yet to be born.
Will Nature afford us the time needed to restore her capabilities of sustaining life so that we might survive long enough to take in one last galactic breath? Discovering the secrets of complexity may well equal the challenge of proving the existence of God. By all accounts we may have left to us barely enough time to concentrate our efforts on adapting ourselves to Nature’s complexity.
Viewed through historical prisms, we stand today at crossroads not unlike those which our ancestors faced. Beginning with the late nineteenth-century, the industrialization of horseless carriages altered the nature of life, work and travel. A hundred years later, over the course of the industrial age, life, work and travel have altered Nature herself. That brings back into perspective a restorative economy’s market potential for ensuring our survival within the 21st Century.
Barely has the international sustainability movement begun, and a most provocative realization is stimulating some rather intriguing, multifaceted solutions. People are beginning to ask, "What is it that needs to be sustained, given the social, economic and environmental threats to our communities, and residents?"
After assessing the life threatening results of the last industrial revolution, the Next Industrial Revolution’s leaders, architect William McDonough and chemist Michael Braungart, are successfully enticing industrialists to embrace Nature’s mentorship. McDonough and Braungart’s ‘sustaining design principles’ of "Whose food is it?" draw attention back to Nature’s whole-system efficiency wherein nothing is wasted. Waste generated in one phase of a process becomes the nutrients at other phases, thus emulating Nature’s manner of maintaining perfect balances within closed-loops.
Toxic-free materials used in creating new products are currently being designed such that they will become either the quality raw materials for future products or will decompose into safe, healthy nutrients for Nature’s use.
Their magnificent splendor aside, McDonough’s wholistic building designs are awarded for their innate ability to integrate with, and even restore, their environments.
And so, in the Next Industrial Revolution consumerism need not end but inherit complete respect for Nature, integrating smoothly with those complex ecosystems we need in order to perpetuate our species on this planet.
Nature is what seems to have set this planet apart from any others we know. Whether by divine intent or by some abnormal happenstance, life thrives within, upon and above our Earth’s surfaces. Species come, and species go. If we homo sapiens value our continued existence, we will admit to our needing Nature and re-establish our connections with her. That is what will lie at the heart of our arduous struggle to achieve sustainability.
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