Archive for November, 2014

Deep living

Friday, November 14th, 2014

1 Definition

‘Deep living’ asks us to focus on ourselves and develop an ecological understanding of the past and present cultural dynamics of our neighbourhood and community for living sustainably with resilience. It is a social response to, and an expansion of, a philosophical and practical approach to the ecosystem services which support the long-term survival of family, neighbours, community and state. Deep living portrays itself as “deep” because it asks deeper questions about the place of human life on Earth: who we are and how we evolved within a blind universe. As a social movement, deep living develops at the marketplace interface between materialist and humanist values of goods and services. There, it seeks to redress the shallow and piecemeal approach of the economics of mass production to assess the monetary value of ecosystem services.

Modern markets are driven by an economic system that values natural resources in proportion to their capacity for creating wealth and so consumes them faster than they can be replenished. Going further back in time, the major modernist philosophies of science, from Bacon and Descartes to 20th-century empiricism and its role in the Western education system, have served the growth of what Frederick E Bender calls a ‘culture of extinction’. Global warming, air and water pollution, ozone-layer depletion, species extinction-these are all the results of living beyond Earth’s productivity.

Bender’s culture of extinction has arisen because the dominant belief of humankind is that the faster you get one desirable thing the more securely do you obtain another. Forty years ago, this was the conclusion of E. F. Schumacher in his book ‘Small is Beautiful’. Schumacher said that in the marketplace, for practical reasons, innumerable qualitative distinctions, which are of vital cultural importance, are suppressed. Everything is equated with everything else. To equate things in a market economy means to give them a price and thus to make them exchangeable. To the extent that economic thinking is based on the market, it takes the sacredness out of life, because there can be nothing sacred in something that has a price. Not surprisingly, therefore, in our global culture where year on year economic growth is the political aim, even simple non-economic values like beauty, health, or cleanliness can survive only if they prove to be ‘economic’.

To press non-economic values into an economic framework, economists use the method of cost/ benefit analysis. As an attempt to take account of costs and benefits, which might otherwise be disregarded altogether cost/benefit analysis is generally thought to be an enlightened and progressive process. To Schumacher, it is a procedure by which the higher is reduced to the level of the lower and the priceless is given a price. All it can do is lead to self-deception or the deception of others. To undertake to measure the immeasurable is absurd and constitutes but an elaborate method of moving from preconceived notions to foregone conclusions. All one has to do to obtain the desired results is to imput suitable values to the immeasurable costs and benefits. This simply re-enforces the pretence that everything has a price, or in other words, money is the highest of values. In this context, to live deeply is to share a profound respect for Earth’s interrelated biophysical systems regardless of their economic value and cultivate a sense of urgency about the need to make profound cultural changes to restore and sustain the long-term survival of our global ecological niche, which is priceless.

Schumacher’s ‘economics as if people mattered’ has recently resurfaced as the ‘radical political economy’, also known as ‘ecological economics’. To move humanity democratically from the old economics to a radical political economy will involve the very difficult behavioural change from ‘voting to have more’ to ‘voting to have less’. The limited success of green party politics is evidence that people are far from ready to take this step.

2 Management of human consumption

By investigating the human/nature dynamics of past cases of the collapse of civilisations, the most salient interrelated factors which explain the failure of prosperous cultures, and which may help determine the risk of collapse today, are:

‘population’, ‘climate’, ‘water’, ‘agriculture’, and ‘energy’.

Collapse can be avoided and population can reach equilibrium if the per capita rate of depletion of nature is reduced to a sustainable level, and if resources are distributed in a reasonably equitable fashion. In fact, the two key solutions to avoid the fate of earlier civilisations are to reduce economic inequality so as to ensure a fairer distribution of resources, to dramatically reduce resource consumption by relying on less intensive renewable resources and reducing population growth. These factors and solutions were integrated into a global strategy for human survival at the first Earth summit in 1992. This global strategic framework for managing human impacts was published as the Agenda 21.

Agenda 21 is a voluntary action plan that offers suggestions for sustainable ways local, regional and national governments can combat poverty and pollution and conserve natural resources in the 21st century. It is not legally binding in any way.

As a managerial blueprint for building a new world culture, Agenda 21 was compiled according to humanistic values, which are usually discussed in terms of five basic elements of human psychology:

Human beings, supersede the sum of their parts. They cannot be reduced to components.

Human beings have their existence in a uniquely human context, as well as in a cosmic ecology. 

Human beings are aware and aware of being aware – i.e., they are conscious. Human consciousness always includes an awareness of ones’ needs in the context of other people’s needs.

Human beings have some choice about what they do next and with that, comes responsibility.

Human beings are intentional, aiming at goals, aware that they cause future events, and seek meaning, value and creativity in life.

These humanistic elements of Agenda 21 all come together in the dynamics of cultural ecology, which encompasses family within the ‘community action cycle’, which links governance with care for neighbours and neighbourhoods for human betterment. In contrast with materialistic values, humanistic values at the home/neighbourhood level are what we sometimes call simply human values. They have to do with human development, human fulfilment and human enrichment. This includes wealth, health, enrichment of culture, the social order, and the natural environment; it includes everything with which we identify or with which we have an internal relationship. People have always been concerned with meeting their materialistic needs and with acquiring the means for doing so, but in the modern period wealth and power have become ends in themselves or means to still more wealth and power. In fact, we can say that under capitalism life has come to be defined in terms of the quest for wealth and power. Agenda 21 was envisaged to operate in a democratically organised humanistic culture where the human enterprise would be defined in terms of human growth, cultural advancement, and social betterment. The latter elements of humanistic development are expressed practically through Agenda 21 as:

* Equity; the idea of fairness for every person man or women; we each have the right to an education and health care.
* Sustainability; the view that we all have the right to earn a living that can sustain our lives and have access to a more even distribution of goods.
* Productivity; the full participation of people in the process of income generation. This also means that the government needs more efficient social programmes for its people.
* Empowerment; the freedom of the people to influence development and decisions that affect their lives.
* Cooperation; the participation and belonging to communities and groups as a means of mutual enrichment and a source of social meaning.
* Security; the opportunities freely and safely with confidence that they will not disappear suddenly in the future

3 Ecological footprints

The cultural pivot of deep living is ‘the ecological footprint’ which is a measure of human demand on Earth’s ecosystems. Although the term ecological footprint is widely used and well known, it goes beyond the metaphor. It represents an accounting system for local biocapacity that tracks how much biocapacity there is, and how much biocapacity people use. It is a standardized measure of demand for natural capital that may be contrasted with the amount of Earth’s natural capital that is available, such as land, and the planet’s ecological capacity to keep pace with human demands. The indicator is an estimate of the amount of space on Earth that an individual uses in order to survive using existing technology. This space includes the biologically productive land and water area that produces the resources consumed by that individual such as food, water, energy, clothing, and building materials. It also includes the amount of land and water required to assimilate the wastes generated by that person. In other words, the ecological footprint measures a person’s demand on Earth’s ecosystem services. It represents the amount of biologically productive land and sea necessary to supply the resources a human population consumes, and to assimilate associated waste.

The average world citizen has an ecological footprint of about 2.7 global hectares (gha) while there are only 2.1 gha of bioproductive land and water per capita on earth. This means that humanity has already overshot global biocapacity by at least 30% and now lives unsustainabily by depleting stocks of “natural capital”

Using this method of assessment, it is possible to estimate how much of the Earth (or how many planet Earths) it would take to support humanity if everybody followed a given lifestyle. For 2007, humanity’s total ecological footprint was estimated at 1.5 planet Earths; that is, humanity uses ecological services 1.5 times as quickly as Earth can renew them. Every year, this number is recalculated to incorporate the three-year lag due to the time it takes for the UN to collect and publish statistics and relevant research. Since the Rio Summit it shows no signs of decreasing.

4 Thinking ‘Deeply’

Regarding materialism, in 1976, Daniel Bell predicted a vastly different society developing– one that will rely on the “economics of information” rather than the “economics of goods.” Bell argued that the new society would not displace the older one but rather overlie some of the previous layers just as the industrial society did not completely eradicate the ancient agrarian sectors of our society. The post-industrial society’s dimensions would include the spread of a knowledge class, the change from goods to services and the full participation of women. All of these would be dependent on urban renewal through the expansion of services in the economic sector and an increasing economic dependence on science as the means of innovating and organizing technological change. Bell prophetically stated in ‘The Coming of the Post-Industrial Society’ that we should expect “…new premises and new powers, new constraints and new questions–with the difference that these are now on a scale that had never been previously imagined in world history.”

Evidence of the mismatch between areas benefiting from urban revitalisation through culture and related forms of social consumption, and those most in need points to both a lack of cultural planning and a crisis in local governance. This reflects the regimes and power-play existing in the competitive urbanisation process, and in particular, the role of intermediaries that mediate and broker the global with the local impacts. These are rooted in the local communities because this is where the power relationships and integrations of globalisation are seen and felt. Local communities are seen as the essential receivers and transmitters of the forces of globalisation and should therefore be the focus of voter involvement with community action plans.

However, all these models assume that the annual economic growth will continue indefinitely and they do not consider the reduction in the average global family prosperity that would result from widespread wealth redistribution. For example, in the 1970s it was calculated that to redistribute wealth globally so that most people had the same per capita income would result in everyone living like European peasants of the 18th century. All models for adjusting cultures for sustainability also ignore the growing scramble for the earth’s natural resources. This has intensified greatly in the past decade. Countries such as India, Japan and especially China have seen a huge increase in demand for both minerals and agricultural commodities to serve mass consumerism. The third world countries producing these resources, which support the economic betterment of the buyers, are reaping economic benefits, benefits that are not equitable and also result in unplanned devastating environmental consequences.

Nevertheless, post-industrial economic regeneration based on the mantra of ‘new cultures for old’ within the current paradigm of continued economic growth, remains the universal goal of economic regeneration. One such community is the model of an academic proposal for boosting the prosperity of the former coal mining and steel-making community of Tredegar in the South Wales Valleys. The heavy industry work force of Tredegar blazed the trail of the industrial revolution but the valley is now one the European Community’s outstanding areas of unemployment.

5 Acting deeply

Community capacity building (CCB) is one of the ‘twin pillars’ of community development for ‘deep living’. The other pillar is community engagement. Most of the beneficial changes in communities come about through the process of engagement, whereby communities are able to respond to opportunities, or deal with problems, by bringing them to the attention of those with the ability to respond and carrying out agreed plans of action. But such engagement cannot take place unless the community has the capacity and the recognition required to engage in such discussions. Also, the most excluded groups and communities are most often the ones with the least capacity to do so. Communities with capacity are confident, organised, cohesive and influential, and their members are likely to enjoy a better quality of life. This means they can deal more effectively with public bodies to come up with solutions to problems or opportunities. They can do more to set up and run projects or initiatives and encourage people to support each other.

A good working definition of CCB is:

“Activities, resources and support that strengthen the skills, abilities and confidence of people and community groups to take effective action and leading roles in the development of communities” (Strengthening Communities, S Skinner, CDF publications, 2006)

Building community capacity is one of the three national priorities for community learning and development in Scotland and the Scottish Community Development Centre supports this in a number of ways. In Wales, the report on Tredegar as a deep place model of regeneration highlights ‘relevant education’ as one of the major limiting factors in producing a sustainable community. The report says:

“There are major educational attainment gaps between the people of Tredegar and the more affluent areas of Wales. The local education service has been judged as failing and has been placed in special measures. Tredegar is, of course, not alone and across the UK children from the lowest income families are half as likely to get five good GCSEs and study subsequently at university.

A key consideration relates to the type of skills taught and the methods by which they are advanced. Also there is a significant discrepancy between course provision and local employment opportunities. In order to successfully close the poverty gap in education, there needs to be interventions as part of a holistic strategy involving schools, families and communities”.

The authors of the Tredegar report suggest that to anchor the community in ‘deep place’ a Cooperative Educational Trust should be established to include schools attended by residents of Tredegar.

This Tredegar report is concerned with place, and how a deep focus on place can be a powerful mechanism for managing integrated public policy interventions. It sees this focus as the most appropriate and effective means to address two significant, interconnected social policy problems:

* how to overcome the inequitable distribution of wealth, and the unacceptable agglomeration of poverty in post-industrial areas;
* and, how to effectively adjust both personal and civil lives and practices toward a more ecologically sustainable economic model.

A general guiding belief is that sustainable schools are not just well-managed, caring schools. They are also great places to learn, where pupils develop self-esteem and reach high standards of achievement. In this context, evidence shows that using the local environment as an ‘integrating context’ for learning boosts literacy and numeracy standards, while at the same time developing critical thinking skills and reducing behaviour problems. This is attributed to the increased enthusiasm for learning produced by teaching that is grounded in real local issues, people and places. Also, children (and adults too) need contact with elements of natural world, which can be accessed locally, for their own personal and emotional development.

6 Schools and Communities Action Network (SCAN)

Agenda 21 is about getting involved to improve your local patch. If children are to be taken out of school, there is a strong argument that it would be a far better use of limited resources to provide a framework for them to interrogate their local community’s plans for its open spaces. In this way they could come to grips with the day-to-day problems, issues and challenges of environmental management in the heart of their community. This experience would probably equip them to help plan and manage their own patch, at school, or in their own backyards. It is also a practical route to active citizenship.

Motivation to use the local community served by the school as an outdoor classroom for studying and promoting deep living is enhanced in two principal ways.

* issues that matter to young people, from the state of the local park to global warming and its local implications, are used as a context for learning across the curriculum so that time in school is relevant to their lives, not abstract or disconnected from their futures.
* the school estate and its local area are used as a learning resource, so that pupils engage with real issues in real places among real people as a natural part of their learning. The school becomes a testing ground where pupils think through the problems and opportunities right on their doorstep, while studying the connections to larger, sometimes global challenges.

For example, the health of the local community could become a focus for learning across many subjects, with opportunities to examine the school/home food, drink and travel practices, and make comparisons with other places. Similarly, wildlife in or around the school – or places that the school is visiting – provides a window onto the needs of other beings. This can be exciting in its own right, but also draws pupils towards the question of conservation management.

The way such a school’s community action network (SCAN) could operate is exemplified by the 4-Cs model: child (primary/secondary level), curriculum, campus, community.

Curriculum – teaching provision and learning:
The National Curriculum sets out in broad terms what is to be taught in schools, not how it is to be taught, allowing schools to be creative in the way they plan and facilitate learning. Through its focus on issues that matter to young people, and through its links to practical activities in the school’s buildings, grounds and local area, sustainable development can stimulate curriculum and teaching innovation. Learning about real issues in real settings – inside and outside the classroom – can boost motivation across all ability levels, while developing skills such as communication, problem-solving, teamwork and organisation. We believe this approach can help to retain pupils within the education system and improve pupil behaviour, self-esteem and achievement.

Campus – values and ways of working:
Schools that manage their operations sustainably provide a powerful example for their staff and pupils to follow. By encouraging everyone to participate, the whole school can become a medium for acquiring positive, sustainable habits. The benefits to the school can be considerable. Better catering can improve pupils’ health, concentration and learning outcomes. Greener travel arrangements contribute to the safety, fitness and alertness of pupils. Efficient management of school buildings can result in lower energy and water bills. Employment practices like staff development and local recruitment can contribute to regeneration. A strategy of ‘reduce, reuse and recycle’ can result in less purchasing, less cost and less waste.

Community – wider influence and partnerships:
Schools are well placed to exert a broader influence in their communities. Through their contact with parents and carers, suppliers and local organisations, an extensive well-being agenda can be advanced among local people. Pupils are required in school for less than 15% of the year. What they experience outside school has a significant impact on their self-esteem, achievement and behaviour. By promoting safer, stronger, healthier and greener (i.e. sustainable) communities, schools are therefore also helping themselves. Schools have much to give in terms of their facilities and hosting of local services, and in their influence on local affairs. And the goals of a sustainable community are attractive to many parents, providing a focus for their involvement with the school.

The 4-Cs model works! The evidence is contained in the history of the schools and communities action network developed in Wales as a practical response to the Rio Summit in the 1990s. The network was created within the local teacher’s advisory service. It involved schools using simple classroom methods for pupils of all ages to probe the quality of life in their communities. The aim was to alert young people to the character of their surroundings through ‘place awareness walks’, and establish a features database that lists the good and bad things in their neighbourhood. Plans were produced in school and taken into the community and presented to local politicians for action.

The message from Welsh teachers is that there are really many different approaches and methods, to link schools with the communities they serve through the curriculum to enhance and develop people’s deeper understanding of what is special about where they live. They should all be encouraged. Many are traditional ways to study local wildlife that go back to the age of the pioneer nature watchers, such as Gilbert White, Charles Darwin and Charles Kingsley. Others, might take up the need for a broader environmental appraisal that covers issues such as transport, crime, litter, jobs, and energy use. The Schools and Communities Action Network is the tool to mobilise people and stimulate flows of information, methods, ideas and data; person-to-person, family-to-family. The free networking of ideas and achievements has never been easier through Google Sites, Facebook and YouTube as the communication media to network a local social action cycle.