(Perma)Culture and Sanity
Plant and animal extinctions have occurred at a terrifying pace on Earth during the last three centuries. Already our time period ranks as the 6th great Extinction of known evolutionary history, and to many it seems we're only getting started. What are the causes of this devastation in our time? The individual reasons are myriad, but perhaps at the root of the problem lies our modern idea of Humans' "dominion over" (as opposed to our "belonging to") the Earth and its ecosystems. This attitude is shared by every non-native culture on Earth today, and is the attitude which allows us to remove resources from a system to the detriment—sometimes even to the extinction—of its other inhabitants. This attitude of ownership is the main defining psychological feature which distinguishes dominating, economically based cultures from "belonging," ecologically based ones.
This paradigm of actual ownership over Nature and its citizens and processes on the part of economically based cultures has led to the loss of hundreds of indigenous, ecologically based cultures, and hundreds of thousands of plant and animal species. Economically based systems "strip-mine" ecological systems—and then replace them with monocultures—to extract economic wealth independent of direct or indirect social and ecological costs. They ignore the general welfare of their citizens and local environments to concentrate wealth in the hands of a few. This "resource mining" for economic gain typically results in depletion of the health, resources and energy of local ecologies and economies.
Thus the Irish, when speaking of the Potato Famine of the 1840's, said "God sent the blight, but the English brought the famine." By this they referred to the fact that the blight, but not the famine, was caused by failure of an ecological system. The blight represented the first—but not the last—major, modern crop failure which resulted from an entire crop with too narrow a genetic base (i.e., too few genetic "parents") succumbing to disease. Although New World potato varieties numbered in the thousands and included many varieties immune to blight, all potatoes planted in Europe at the time of the blight came from just two blight susceptible varieties brought from the New World 250 years earlier.
The famine itself—which took place during years when grain crops were quite successful and adequate to feeding Ireland's entire population—was caused by failure of an economic system which placed control over ownership of those grain harvests in the hands of far too few. During the blight and subsequent famine, British troops had to be employed in Irish coastal ports to protect these cereal harvests from hungry mobs so that the grain could be exported for foreign currency (hence the Irish differentiation between the blight and the famine). Meanwhile, over a million Irish peasants starved and as many left the countryside for England's cities or America.
Unlike purely economically oriented agricultures, ecologically based systems supply local Human needs for food and shelter on a socially equitable, ecologically sustainable, local basis. Agricultural knowledge systems developed by indigenous peoples around the world aimed at husbanding local natural ecosystems for the purpose of caring for the needs of every person in the group, and tended to increase or maintain the health of the local ecologies which supported them.
Indigenous knowledge systems were designed to "dip into" the natural flows within ecosystems to harvest energy, food and materials without interfering with the continued flows of the system as a whole. These knowledge systems, far from being "unscientific" or "primitive," were based on familiarity with hundreds or thousands of plant and animal species, and a sophisticated understanding of the complex interactions that sustain each of them. Whenever another of these ecologically based cultures disappears, the highly evolved knowledge systems developed for sustainably managing their local ecosystems disappear with them.
As our presence on Earth begins increasingly to result in globally threatening changes in the ecosystems which support us and make life possible, ecological knowledge and understanding grows exponentially more critical to our survival. Fortunately, with new understanding about the importance and fragility of ecological processes, the at once new-and-old attitude of belonging to the Earth, and of non-ownership of its systems, is finding new life. Evidence of the rebirth of these new-old attitudes can be seen in new "community-based accounting" systems—which take local social and ecological conditions into account when measuring wealth—now being adopted by some developing countries. As our realization of the importance of living in harmony with the life systems we are part of increases, our ability to live indefinitely as inhabitants of the Earth also increases.
Reprinted from (Perma) Culture and Sanity Website