Recently, through starting a permaculture enterprise and establishing the Bath veg box scheme based on a 2 acre market garden, I’ve been feeling a shift in worldview. My previous chapter was an intense period of full-time activism and studying environmentalism, social movements and social change, whilst practicing this through direct action, organising and campaigning. The recent shift in worldview has been one from scarcity to abundance, from apology to embrace, from grief to hope. This didn’t come without its growth pains, and the feelings of grief, sadness and ecological devastation still remain within me. What has changed is the underlying assumptions and my cosmology of the world – my way of seeing.
Westernised ways of seeing tend to emphasise the inherent dysfunctionality in the human-earth relationship. Western environmentalism, even in its radical margins, often succumbs to this worldview and assumes separation and exploitative relationship as the given state. The inevitability of collapse is emphasised over the possibility of regeneration. The motivational force of fear is drawn upon despite the well of love from which it erupted. We can only feel fear of loss if we have been lucky enough to fall in love. Many activists and environmentalists have indeed fallen in love with the earth, to realise that she is being stripped of her beauty every day, every hour, with each continuing moment of resource extraction and neo-colonial capitalist expansion. The perpetrators become ‘enemised’ and its easy to fall into hopelessness. All too quickly, the narrative of love becomes a narrative of fear – the opposite of alchemy.
I’ve been caught up in this whirlwind of opposition, of reaction, of blaming, of othering and of separation. I’ve blamed myself (symptoms of an individualised worldview), I’ve blamed other humans (symptoms of a separation worldview), I’ve blamed the system (symptoms of a western intellectual worldview). I’m exploring a new possibility: that none of these approaches are truly valid, let alone effective. Furthermore, they are entrenched in the problem itself, a modern worldview that separates nature and people whilst assuming that we must exist in toxic relationship rather than regenerative symbiosis. Seeing humans and Earth/ecology as symbiotic opens the possibility for a healthy relationship with deep listening, responsibilities and unconditional love. In Braiding Sweetgrass, Robin Wall Kimmerer asks the questions – does the Earth love us? Can we be a healing force whilst ourselves being healed on this earth? What if humans are here for a reason and can perform ecosystem functions alongside their fellow beings? We need to ask these questions critically and with caution – acknowledging the toxic potential of humanity and the evidence for this in our very recent history on the planet. At this late stage of ecological crisis, climate breakdown and species extinction, we can and must confront the grief of what we are doing to the biosphere. And yet, the only way to move through this grief into hope and into the necessary paradigm of regeneration is to adopt a more indigenous worldview which embraces humans and Earth as a partnership in life, in cycles of regeneration. We can be stewards and healers of this world.
Stewardship is one ecosystemic function we can offer as people on this beautiful planet. I have been witness to so many regenerative projects, permaculture farms and reforestation schemes that have transformed scarcity into abundance, monoculture into diversity, desert into edible paradise. This is alchemy. Moving from the paradigm of fear into the paradigm of love means asking what we can give rather than what we can take. Most of us wake up today in the dominant paradigm and ask at every moment what can we take. We wake up and consume technology, factory food, energy and precious fuel. We ask what we benefit from each interaction, what our marginal return is for our input of a time unit. The alchemy begins when we challenge ourselves (and our friends) at every one of these moments throughout the day to ask a different question – what can I give today? Look to nature, who gives abundantly each day and continues to nourish us despite all the relationship challenges in recent history. Every day is a precious opportunity to channel our gifts (given by nature) back towards the source of life, in active regeneration of ecology and intentional healing of people (including ourselves).
Sacred activism is another ecosystemic function, especially important at this moment of climate breakdown and ecological tipping points. My shift from direct political activism towards prefigurative activism (through regenerative agriculture and permaculture projects) has allowed me to step back from the heightened energy and emotions of oppositional protest, and into a (privileged) creative, regenerative space. This, coinciding with my practical and theoretical research into social change, has propelled me explore the necessity of a new paradigm for activism, if it is to be effective in this ecological moment. We need a prefigurative activism which goes beyond the antagonistic, reactionary and purely oppositional approach of previous environmentalisms. We are already witnessing some of this, in the prefigurative communities of resistance in Latin America – going beyond capitalism through re-establishing the commons and protecting the Rights of Earth. Further evidence in the communities of resistance in Rojava, Syria, where social ecological democracies are being prefigured amidst a hierarchical, exploitative militaristic paradigm of violence. The communities of affinity groups are creating and modelling a paradigm that is gender re-balanced, inclusive and decentralised. The prefigurative actions of Extinction Rebellion across the world are also examples of sacred activism, which are not purely based in protest as it is traditionally understood, but are also actively co-creating a regenerative culture and aiming to transform the hearts and minds of the people, to fall back in love with earth whilst holding grief for her in the other hand.
I return to activism at the end of this meta-ramble, to emphasise the need for all sorts of ecosystem services, and the diverse way in which we can be a regenerative presence on earth right now. Typically the discussion has been divided by those who oppose and those who re-build (eco-communities, permaculture, restoration, reforestation etc.). From my experiences in both camps, I conclude that, as with many discussions, the answer is “both, and”. We need everyone: the stewards, activists, politicians, economists, farmers, mothers, healers and more importantly, we need to extend the overlapping circles between these roles, to realise that this is all part of the same work. These roles of us will only be fully released and work in harmony if we can be united by a worldview of regenerative symbiosis and active hope.
The old paradigm of fear and degeneration must become extinct if we are to avoid repeating errors. We could get to ‘net zero emissions’ without truly addressing the root problems – if we are still assuming that humans and earth are in toxic relationship then this will be the reality that is created, and the issues tap root will re-emerge in new forms, through species loss, global pandemics induced through ecological imbalance, toxic waste catastrophes, territorial wars and land erosion. We could farm the world organically and still be depleting topsoil faster than its replenished – leading to scarcity and famine. The solutions therefore must be harvested and cultivated from the root upward.
My experiments with social change work, activism and restoration have led me full circle, back to the start, to worldview and to basic assumptions of reality. We create the reality we live by the daily questions we ask and the habits we entrench. Asking what we can give back to earth in this beautiful dance through life opens up the possibility for regenerative symbiosis. As we appreciate more the daily gifts from life, the simple wonders of each daily ritual, we begin to feel lucky, and special. We begin to feel love. Many environmentalists state that they love the earth. What is we begin with the question: does the Earth love me? What if we realised it to be true, that we are loved unconditionally, and that this invites a way of living that is symbiotic rather than toxic. We can walk with grief in one hand and hope in the other, all the while being propelled by a mutual desire to regenerate and to give back. As we all do this together, the cumulative gifts spiral towards abundance as we partner with earth in the renewal of life and beauty.
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