Visions of Ecotopia
By Penny Novak
What do we humans need in order to become ecocentric, to be part of and symbiotic with the ecosphere even in our own watershed, our own local ecosystem? In looking ahead to an ecocentric future, we may wonder exactly what a future ecocentric humankind will have had to learn to be able to perceive themselves as being an integral part of their world’s living systems. What skills will they possess? What stories use to support their ecocentric perceptions? How will they choose to deal with the problems of life, including the societal ones? How will they build their homes, cook their food, teach their children?
Our common future flows out of that which we know. Everything available to us is the outcome of our collective past, but the sad yet realistic likelihood is that our common future will simply be “more of the same.” What would it take for we human animals to become responsible in our relationship to our environment, not sentimentally, not as split between what we think is reality and what we want to believe we are? How can we find out how to survive, and better than survive — how can we maintain a joyful life?
All the sturm und drang of the ways in which Nature relieves the stresses of extremes, is really a kind of dance, a balance of forces in everything. The continental plates of planet Earth have danced their mighty dance since it condensed from the tempestuous gas cloud and cooled into its present form. All is tidal between Moon and Sun; there is constant change.
But all change is a process of evening-out of stresses. Just as uneven stresses between continental plates result in earthquakes, so the inevitable result of humankind poisoning earth and air and water is that we are all poisoned. Just as the turning of our planet results in temperature changes from cool to hot and drives the winds, so does the process of global warming destabilize those patterns to which we have become accustomed, and give us extreme weather events that ultimately lead to other extremes, and perhaps eventually on to quieter patterns, within which we will either survive, or not.
Decentralisation as a solution
I’ve long touted decentralisation as a solution for human community, not huge bureaucratic levels of ascending power but local, small, and connected communities. I picture a society that might look very similar to today’s peaceful small town society, with traffic and trade between them but no government structure above them.
That is a comfortable vision, but from what I know of humankind, I don’t know how much chance there is of that. Acceptable inter-community processes are necessary, it wouldn’t help for there to be no co-operative method for dealing with disputes. Then there is the way we always seem to respond to powerful personalities. What would keep us from following the same patterns that brought us into this technological age, with its decimation of lifeforms on our planet?
Needless to say, dictatorship is the opposite of the future I would like to see. In the past there have been social constructs that have kept communities in touch. Fairs, for instance, once were deeply important to the social health of human communities. The Norse had a tradition known as The Thing (sounds odd to us but this is their language) which was basically a periodic event for the purpose of working out difficulties between communities.
Already, our story-makers are working on ways of telling the ways in which we humans might make our communal lives flow around the task of being careful about our impact on the surrounding ecosystems.
Dystopian techno-industrial “reality”
There is some sense that many people envision a future based on scratching out a living on the detritus of the past, a dystopian techno-industrial “reality.” I suppose that is to some extent inevitable, but we need stronger stories than the dismal ones that propose a virulent “Fall From The Perfect World” scenario that such a pilfering of the garbage dumps would suggest.
We need to understand that we have a place and we are part of the living world around us. We need to perceive ourselves as having a personal relationship — indeed, that we are personally related — to the landscape within which we live. For that, we need new stories, and we need new habits. We need skills that are not about our power to make change, but about our power to grow and change to better live responsibly within this world.
I picture no one single sort of society. I picture those who roam, either because they move between communities trading their skills for what is grown or made, where they stop for a while or not, because they just move. Perhaps there would be cultures which follow the seasons, having some relationship to agricultural work. Perhaps they would have an affinity with some other species that migrates as the Lapps still do.
— I picture farming, but I also picture places which one could not farm but which would be practical places in which to weave or craft items that others don’t have the time to create.
— I picture people who truly live solitary sorts of lives: mountain people, desert people, people for whom socialising would be seldom, and whose closest friends would be the wild things.
— I picture humans as I know them from the present, the past and the multiples of the past that are the many sorts of communities that have evolved around the globe.
“We need to become grown up as a species. We need to understand our place, and we need to do so with love and out of love rather than with hatred and fear… we must learn how to find joy in being in touch with our world, in touch with each other.”
We need success stories
Small enclaves of people are doing all of these things even now, but their story is obscure and often they themselves don’t perceive it. If you don’t know you’re doing something you don’t have a story to tell about it. We would have to have successes, we would have to understand what we are not doing, and we would have to realise deeply how close we all came to ecocide. We as a species need to be so clear on the necessity to keep an ethical relationship with our living landscape, so that we would never return to treating it as a throw-away commodity.
Of course, none of this will work with a large population. We are an extreme on planet Earth, and Nature strives to neutralise extremes with cause and effect, simple physics. Whether we or even the Gaian ecospheric system survive, the change will happen just as all the other events of time and space happen.
For us, for humans, the question is whether we will survive intelligently, ethically or even mythically to live in a way which is actually and realistically sustainable. We must live closer to the earth in realistic relationship with each other, or will we simply degrade, become even less able to cope, become our own extinction even as the planet heals.
We need to become grownups as a species. We need to understand our place. And we need to do so with love and out of love rather than with hatred and fear. For our survival we must learn how to find joy in being in touch with our world, in touch with each other.
About The Author ↑
Penny Novack is an eco-centric poet who lives with her partner Michael on a farm in rural Maine. An active participant in the left-bio email list, Penny brings her right-brain artistic sensibilities to issues often only argued in left-brain, mechanistic, technical terminology.