Sustainable WNC

The Gateway to Sustainability in Western North Carolina

Archive for March, 2007


Saturday, March 31st, 2007

Last post I spoke of the importance of the earth’s economy as the foundation of sustainable human economy. Ecology teaches us about whole systems, how they function, how each part is interdependent with each other part in a dynamic and, in living systems, a creative evolutionary manner.

In this season of Easter and Passover, of death, resurrection and liberation, of the two seminal holidays in the Judeo-Christian tradition, I want to speak of a new tradition. Thomas Berry, the renown Geologian, speaks of the revelatory power of the Universe. Creation, in its beauty, awe, and mystery,  is in itself revelation.

Pre-literate cultures have known this. But with modern science we are blessed to understand the Universe Story in a deeper fashion. Destruction, death, transformation, we are all part of this evolutionary cycle. Our challenge is to participate in this journey as deeply as our moral courage and spiritual imagination allows.

To honor this season of budding trees, hummingbirds on the wing back to our gardens, and the opening of trillium outside my bedroom window, may we all be inspired to participate in the transformation and liberation of human culture into a life-sustaining adventure.

From Thomas Berry:


We cannot have well humans on a sick planet.

We cannot have a viable human economy by devastating earth’s economy.

We cannot survive if the conditions of life itself are not protected.

Not only our physical being, but our souls, our minds, imagination and emotions depend on our immediate experience of the natural world.

There is in the industrial process no poetry, no elevation or fulfillment of mind or emotion comparable to that experience of the magnificence of the sea, the mountains, the sky, the stars at night, the flowers blooming in the meadows, the flight and song of birds.

As the natural world diminishes in its splendor, so human life diminishes in its fulfillment of both the physical and the spiritual aspects of our being.

Not only is the the case with humans, but with every mode of being.

The well-being of each member of the earth community is dependent on the well-being of the earth itself.

Sustainable Community - is it a three legged stool?

Monday, March 26th, 2007

Many folks talk about sustainable development as a three legged stool, with the social, environmental, and economic legs being equally important to hold up the structure of the stool. I think this concept was first articulated by the developers of The Natural Step (

To me this is metaphor that seems conceptually clean, but doesn’t match reality. The fundamental fact of life here on this beautiful, mysterious planet is that all life, including human communities, must function within the constraints of the whole earth system that supports life. The economic leg and the social leg of the stool sit on the environmenatl leg, and oops, a two legged stool falls over very quickly. We must change the metaphor to match reality.

Ecosytem health is fundamental to the health and dynamic, creative evolutionary function of the whole. Human culture as civilization is a brand new feature, a whopping 10,000 year blip in the 3.5 billion year history of life on earth. If human culture doesn’t get it right, we are gone. And it is in the very real realm of possibility that we could tip the planet into a mass extinction that rivals the Permian Extinction of 250 million years ago when 90% of all life died. Most scientists who study extinctions believe we are already in the sixth great mass extinction ( And the climate scientists of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change say that there is a 90% probability that unless we change course now we will go past critical tipping points.

This experiment of living in city-states is an experiment in communal living that is heading for failure, a collapse of magnitude for which our imaginations are unprepared. The Black Death and Great Depression pale in comparison with what is in store for us unless we get our act together.

So thinking of three legs is missing the basic point. We must learn to live with what Earth has to offer. We are killing her now because we are living off capital (to use economic language) - now at over 124% of earth’s capacity to renew itself. Allowing business as usual, or to even allow business to define the context of the dialogue will not be sufficient to get us successfully through the next 10-20 years. These are the years that we need to make the most drastic changes in consumption in the developed world, to halt and cap carbon emissions and drastically reduce them so we can avoid multiple and major tipping points towards runaway global warming. We must start in our own community and country so we have the moral trust to help and lead the developing world into a realistic future.

The economic leg (business) always says more is better, economic growth is the engine to prosperity. The fact is that economic growth at this stage in human history is the doorway to ecological collapse. The money economy is a false economy if it is not built on the foundation of earth’s economy.

Humans, especially in the so called developed world need to learn how to live with less, so all can just live. Call it sacrifice, call it austerity, this is the truth and the great challenge and opportunity of our age. We live at a turning point, that is the meaning of the climate crisis and the meaning of peak oil.

How are human communities going to learn to live in harmony with earth’s generosity and beauty? As a culture of consumers addicted to more, we are clueless right now. Making consumers out of the developing world is downright stupid - we’d need 4-5 planet earths to satisfy that economic engine. 

In the end, we need to create a more realistic vision of what a sustainable earth community would look like. To do that we need the participation of more folks who are willing to enter the political arena and dialogue with business leaders and politicians to help move public discourse and policy towards a more realistic agenda. We also need to continue to create local economies and social structures that are in harmony with earth’s creative dynamics.

Hoping that our effort here stimulates some of you to get more involved. There’s alot of work to do, and some great people to meet in the process!

Here’s a line of a Rumi poem I heard last week - …passion burns down every branch of exhaustion…

So let’s ignite each other’s passion for sustainable community, and in its diversity and creativity it will have millions and millions of legs walking on and caring for earth’s gifts.

For the Good of the Whole

Tuesday, March 20th, 2007

Welcome. It’s a pleasure for me to begin to blog on this new website and hope that it not only stimulates your curiosity but and challenges you to become more engaged.

One of my expectations is that this endeavor serves our community and democracy in practical ways. In short, it must be more than an information portal and a resource for conversation only. The Internet has the potential to give all of us what [George Monbiot->] calls “the false sense of empowerment” by creating an artificial impression of action. But the world is demanding that we must actually leave our seats and our computer screens if we want to change the world. Sustainable WNC will be effective only if it encourages us to become actively engaged as social change agents.
I have quoted the N.C. Constitution many times in the last few years. Section 2 reads “all political power is vested in and derived from the people; all government of right originates from the people, is founded upon their will only, and is instituted solely for the good of the whole.”

There are two ideas in this section that are fundament for a vision of a sustainable earth community and earth democracy. “Government of right originates from the people” and “the good of the whole” are fundamental imperatives, action imperatives towards the fulfillment of a sustainable earth community.

We as a nation have become too fat, both metaphorically and literally, and we have learned to blame our leaders. We blame corporate CEO’s and elected officials at all levels of government for our problems. We take the benefits of our historically given privilege, live in denial of our complicity in the current state of affairs, and them blame “daddy” for our troubles. In fact most of us are not oppressed and are just behaving as spoiled children. We will never get out of our ecological and social predicaments unless we become mature responsible citizens.

Orin Lyons, an elder Faithkeeper in the Onondaga Nation, said it beautifully in the December issue of [Orion->]

…And now we have corporate states, corporations that have the status of states – independent and sovereign, and fealty to no one, no moral law at all. President Bush has said, “Let the market dictate our direction.” Now isn’t that as stupid as you can get. What he said was, let the greed of the people dictate the direction of the Earth. If that’s the basis of a country, then its really lost what you call a primary direction for survival.
This is really the danger today – this empty, senseless lack of leadership. But it doesn’t mean that responsibility isn’t in the hands of the people. To come down to the nut of the whole thing, it’s the people’s responsibility to do something about it. Leadership was never meant to take care of anybody…
…It’s the abdication of responsibility by the people. What was it they said? Of, by, and for the people…

So now let us all get to work for the common good. We will need to examine all the elements of our so called private lives, lives as citizens of WNC, and earth citizens through the lens of sustainability. We will need many technological fixes, but the primary fix will have to come through our hearts and souls. Fundamentally it means that we have to transform our thinking and acting that primarily enhances our individual rights and goals and commits our work to the good of the whole, both human and other than human, earth community.

The effects of climate change, ecological destruction, overpopulation, and peak oil will not be solved by business as usual. We are in the interlude between the greatest comforts that the human species has ever experienced and social and ecological collapse. The next decade or so will be pivotal for our survival.

I hope the ideas that I and the other bloggers present convince you (if you need convincing) of the critical moment in human evolution that we occupy, and the wonderful opportunities available to us. Many great practical ideas will be put forward in these columns. The home page will present events in which you can participate, volunteer opportunities that will become available, and actions that you can take. My personal wish is to challenge your moral imagination and inspire you to become fully committed, so that we can quickly move towards a sustainable earth community.

And like my friend Ned Doyle points out in his first blog, this can be fun. Working together with like minded people creates community, inspires us to our highest potential, and gives our lives meaning – all of which are the foundations of true happiness.