Friday, 24 September 2010

Disconnection breeds apathy and destruction – connection fosters care and restoration

With this in mind, I would like to share a poignant example of the transformation reconnection can bring.
The small coastal village of Futo in Japan became infamous around the world for the brutal slaughter of many hundreds of dolphins. For thirty years, like his father, grandfather and great-grandfather, Mr. Izumi Ishii was a dolphin hunter. But, one day, Mr. Ishii looked into the eye of a dolphin he was about to kill – and a connection was made. For the first time their pitiful cries touched his heart and suddenly, he could not continue. Mr. Ishii laid down his knife, vowed never to kill dolphins again and began to speak out against the cruel practice.
It took tremendous courage for him to denounce a centuries old tradition in a country where tradition is revered. Mr. Ishii is alone in his community in trying to end the dolphin slaughter.
To demonstrate alternative ways of generating livelihood, he retrofitted his hunting boat and began dolphin and whale watching expeditions, proving to his fellows that dolphin watching is more profitable than dolphin killing. Mr. Ishii now values dolphins not for their meat, but for the wonder they incite.


Leah Lemieux is an author and lecturer who works on dolphin protection, education and conservation initiatives.

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Urgent problems require urgent solutions – (no matter the cost?)

Photograph: showing the breakdown of PNp (a highly toxic derivative of TNT)

Rapid climate change, accelerated extinction rates, precipitated ecological degradation… our world is crumbling before our very own eyes. Whilst sceptics still abound, wallowing in their own apathetic complacency, no one can deny, for example, the transformation of the Aral Sea, once the world’s largest inland sea, into a barren wasteland – all within less than a single generation. Important fish stocks are, in some cases, down 99% from the 1970s levels. At the current trends, there will be no more virgin rainforest by 2030. By then, most coral reefs will have turned into bleached skeletons of their former selves and large swathes of agricultural soil will be too contaminated with endless arrays and combinations of herbicides, pesticides, fungicides, insecticides and nematicides to sustain ever increasing numbers of hungry mouths.
Current mitigation strategies are foreseen to be wholly inadequate in dealing with these pressing matters and most are serving but to delay the inevitable. Government busybodies talk of the stabilising of atmospheric carbon at 450 ppm by the middle of the century, yet this “optimistic” goal is none-the-less associated with a global 2°C average increase; enough to upset and indeed topple the delicate balance of already stressed ecosystems. The future of our planet is entirely dependent on the actions (or inactions) undertaken today. Waiting around hoping for the best is not an option. Urgency is paramount.
Solutions can sometimes be found in the unlikeliest of places. Whilst many people – the general public, government lackeys and moderate environmentalists alike – would baulk at the idea, the application of scientific knowledge in the field of genetics to combat rapid ecological degradation is valid, viable and altogether effective. To date, media scare tactics have enveloped the field of genetic engineering in a dark cloud of frankenstinian proportions. Whilst it is true that, in the hands of capitalistic multinationals with little or no ecological incentives, genetic manipulation has led to the development of fluorescent pigs and featherless chickens; devoted independent scientists across the globe are working furiously to develop techniques based essentially on the natural abilities of biological organisms. For example, bioremediation makes use of the natural biodegradative abilities of bacteria and fungi to break down extremely toxic, synthetic compounds including POPs, PCBs, CHCs and PAHs into their non-toxic constituents.
Molecular biologists are now able to pinpoint the gene systems which grant the micro-organisms these exceptional abilities. Genetic engineering allows for the bio-amplification of these abilities as well as the transferring of these between different species (the so called and much maligned transgenics). These extraordinary feats of scientific ingenuity could, for example, allow the identification of genes conferring the ability to break down and metabolize petroleum-based products in soil bacteria. These abilities could then be transferred into other micro-organisms at the site of environmental disasters such as the recent Gulf of Mexico oil spill and speed up the clean-up process.
Whilst it is true that the liberation of transgenic organisms into the wider environment may provoke a number of negative side effects further down the line, it is a fundamental law of nature that all benefits must come with a cost. The power inherent in the application of genetics to help mitigate urgent environmental degradation must not be overlooked. In this, our 11th hour, we must fight fire with fire.                       
Glyn Barrett is currently training for a PhD in bacterial genetics at the University of Reading.

Friday, 17 September 2010


Even before the leaves start yellowing, we know that autumn is here. We feel the change of direction within ourselves, a desire to return like the snail into the spiral of our being. The sun may still be shining, but it is lower in the sky now and it picks out the cobwebs in the hedgerows and sets them ablaze in the morning when the dewdrops held upon them sparkle like diamonds. The days can be soft, hazy and warm, but the nights are growing colder. Life is beginning to pull inwards, collapsing its systems, folding its wings about itself, settling down and preparing for the endings to come.

The Celts associated this time with the ivy. They considered it the strongest of trees because it can choke and kill anything it grows on, even the oak. It can block paths or pull down walls and when we meet a huge and ancient ivy we do not just meet the plant, with its thick and serpentine sinews, but we confront also that which is hidden within. Something suffocated, ruined and forgotten. So ivy draws us inwards, into the labyrinth of our being, to meet that which still blocks our path to freedom. As the cycle of the year nears its end it is often here that we meet the aspect of our self that we keep most hidden from ourselves and others. As we return from the Summerlands it awaits us.

Ian Siddons Heginworth is an environmental arts therapist, founder of the Devon-based Wild Things community programme and author of Environmental Arts Therapy and the Tree of Life, Spirit’s Rest Books.

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

What could be more profoundly sacred than science?

Over the centuries, science has lost many of its more ‘spiritual insights’ and ceded this territory back to religion. By disowning its principal revelations – the immensity of space and time, the interdependence of all living things and the preciousness of life – science threatens to return us to the grip of the religious belief systems that dominated Western culture before the 16th century. Its insistence on separating the sacred from the material world has encouraged us to build a psychological wall inside ourselves. This makes no sense to me. If religion is concerned with life’s ultimate truths and science is the never-ending search for truth, then what could be more profoundly sacred than science?

The truth is that science has become increasing pragmatic and functional over the centuries. Largely abandoning its ability to inspire awe, it is now Western culture’s chief problem-solver. Today, science’s primary purpose is to provide answers to many of the most serious challenges facing society. Whether it’s global warming or the latest disease pandemic, we look to science and its daughter – technology – for solutions. And their responses have been remarkably effective.

Mostly funded by government agencies and corporate interests, science and technology have significantly improved the quality of human life. For instance, the average human lifespan has increased by more than 40 years in the past century alone. This impressive record of achievement has transformed science into a belief system that is now worshipped like a religion.

As it has assumed the role of chief problem-solver, science has lost much of its capacity to evoke awe and wonder. Although it can generate exquisitely beautiful images of just about anything, science has become increasingly short sighted and limited. Preoccupied with narrowly defined technical problems, many researchers have closed their eyes to unfettered curiosity and open-ended inquiry about life. Why has this happened? It has happened because science has lost its commitment to deep observation.

Observation isn’t just about seeing. It’s also about using all our sense organs – listening with our ears, smelling with our noses, feeling and touching with our skin and tasting with our tongues. The most complete observation requires total attention and is about immersing one’s whole self in the experience of discerning the other.

At this level, observation is about understanding with our hearts as well as our heads. In the process, the separation between subject and object blurs. The observer becomes connected with the observed and a relationship is forged between them. Indeed, it is only through our senses that we can create and sustain relationships.

Nature writers such as Annie Dillard, Gary Snyder, Wendell Berry and Barry Lopez understand this well. Their work is chock full of sensory awareness and insightful reflection. But this type of observation is almost entirely lacking from contemporary science. As Sherlock Holmes said to Dr. Watson “You see but you do not observe.” Today, science is seeing but it is not observing. And without the willingness to fully observe life, science is unlikely to grasp its true splendor.

Read the full article

Kate Davies teaches environmental science and is director of the Center for Creative Change at Antioch University Seattle.