Earth Summit as a Natural Ecological System
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Prepared as a statement (see others
by Nadia McLaren (inspired by dialogue groups which met in Brussels, January 1992
and Oslo, February 1992) for the occasion of the Earth Summit (Rio de Janeiro,
1992) for the International Facilitating Committee for the Independent Sectors
in the UNCED process (Geneva). Portions of the text were published in the Encyclopedia
of World Problems and Human Potential
(1994-5, vol 2) and in the online
version of its commentaries (to which links below are made) shaping the global
network of local bargains by decoding and mapping Earth Summit inter-sectoral
What would the
Earth Summit look like if it were a natural ecological system? How could it embody/integrate sustainability
throughout its being? Would this
maximise the contributions it can make to sustainable development in a global
context (applying the images of microcosm/macrocosm, pattern creation, "do
it once and it is done for ever", Mao's exemplary commune, "walking
As it currently
stands, the most obvious comparisons for the Rio conference are to a botanic
garden, zoo or circus - a managed, semi-natural system designed to maximise
rarity, display, the exotic, the fragile, diversity of form; but low on interactive complexity, not a
true living system, low on necessity and purpose, complexity of interaction,
and contextual relationship with whole.
Its psyche is artificial, depauperate, arid, "deforested", to
use some terms from nature.
What are the
characteristics of a full-featured ecological system? Two are basic:
- Structure is a network. Information flows in all directions (materials,
energy, influence). It is open. There is no unnecessary blockage or movement.
Action is initiated at appropriate nodes. Feedback is integrated, and the
whole and any part is self-organising.
- Process is a cycle. Build up and break down. Anabolic (synthesis/recomposition)
and catabolic (decay/decomposition) halves of the circle. There is a structural
cycling of components from simplicity through complexity and back again.
Why is it that the structures we humans build are limiting the flows of
resources? Necessary feedback loops which would regulate over-consumption,
over-population, and waste are absent. Action and influence are linear instead
We hear that thinking is the problem. Emotions are the problem. Actions
are the problem. What have we created with our uncompleted thoughts, feelings
forgotten the decomposing half of the cycle.
We build nuclear power stations and leave it to the next generation to
clean up. When will we give the same
time and attention to the shitty part of the work? When will we honour our garbage collectors, love earthworms and
We are stuck in
the first part of the cycle. Immature
children. Doing, acting. Making things and leaving the mess. Frenetic oscillation on this side of the
Blocked on the
other side. The down side leads to
simplification, return to chaos. We
approach the down-slope and pull back.
Fear, pain. Rats continually
getting an unpleasant electric shock become ill. How much individual illness, social ill-health, is the result of
overexposure to psychological/spiritual pain, or the avoidance of pain?
Avoidance of cycle completion
of pain. Fear of pain. Anxiety - fear of the void, of decay and
death. One useful aspect comparable to
meditation and other techniques is to accustom ourselves to emptiness. Initiation ceremonies and sacred rites teach
the reality of pain, and the ability to move through the pain and get on the
other side. Many therapies also help to
get us through.
asked what would happen if we could complete a thought. Took it to its very end. What would happen if we could complete our
emotions, our actions. Took them full
The ending of
time? Karmic (repetitive patterns)
time. Why do some people take fifteen
years to "know" something when another never has to learn, simply
knows? and vice versa? Another said that "Time is what occurs
when you need a learning experience".
Time is what it takes for us to "know" something. If your head hears something and understands
its meaning, then you have to "incarnate" a learning experience so
you can also "know" its truth.
But if your heart understands it, you know instantaneously, there is no
need for experience, there is no time.
The end of the cycle is actually the point of transformation - simple begins
to become more complex again, but in a new phase - so called "paradigm
shifts". If we never get through to this point, there is no completion,
only repetition of old patterns, karmic time.
This is perhaps
why war and revolution have positive characteristics. They break old patterns, shorten the cultural time needed to
transcend that learning experience again.
Time speeds up through human history, even now our own lifetimes, and
But in fact
much is usually left undone; the cycle
is left broken and incomplete. The oil
fires are left burning after the war is over in the Middle East - the desert is
home to yet another symbol of the aridity of the collective psyche. So even though war brings catharsis and
fresh beginnings, and we have the benefit of lessons of the past, there is
rarely a complete phase shift.
of attention and awareness must we add to our thinking, actions, and emotions
to reach completeness? Can we build up
the value of our psychic resources, in the same way as we have our material and
economic resources, in order to balance our affairs and avoid recapitulation of
our empty behaviour patterns?
Ecological principles as a basis for world governance
Is this a clue
as to how can we reach a collective, higher order, understanding, where we
would "know" that ecological principles are a basis to world governance
and lifestyles? We do not have much
more time to keep repeating the old patterns. Or is the urgency false? Will the planetary system look after itself,
keep speeding up and accomplish the shift as if we did not even count? Is the Earth Summit an inflated claim to
Metaphors for gatherings on sustainability
If not, what
would the Earth Summit look like if it used the Earth as its model? In
considering the possibilities, it may be worthwhile to reflect on some other
natural metaphors of the pattern of behaviour in international, intersectoral
and intercultural gatherings. These highlight many of the challenges of
- exploding population (of ideas and emotions);
- unemployment and undernourishment (of certain sectoral perspectives);
- tendencies to expansionism and dominance (by certain sectors);
- self-righteous projection of blame (onto certain sectors, often under-represented
- entrapment in old patterns of status-seeking and positioning for recognition
(in response to agents of authority);
- pollution and poisoning (of the atmosphere of the meeting) because of failure
to recycle waste products of group activity;
- failure of collective learning;
- over-exploitation of non-renewable resources (especially collective attention
time at a gathering of limited duration);
- failure to deal with implications of impoverishment and indebtedness of