Jim Kent:

"Human change initiatives must work at social, economic, and ecological levels if they are to succeed."


Posted by Jim on May 6, 2010

This reflection on the transformation of our society is inspired by JKA Associate Harley Parks in Honolulu, Hawaii. Collaboration, participation, citizen-based stewardship, sustainability, livability, individual and ecosystem health are all part of the emerging Age of Ecology. The Age of Ecology, which is my term, had its origins with Ed Ricketts, a Marine Biologist, who owned the Pacific Biological Laboratory on Cannery Row. He wrote an amazing book called Between Pacific Tides after his and Steinbeck’s excursion to the Sea of Cortez. This was one of the earliest books on ecology. It was published in 1939 and republished several times since because it is still used in college courses on marine biology. Ed predicted the demise of the sardine industry, tracking his indicators to the very year that the sardines did not come back. Of course the commercial sardine industry would not pay heed to this strange prediction.
This publication was followed by Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath which documented the physical-ecological destruction of America’s grasslands known as the Dust Bowl. What a surprise that the “rain did not follow the plow” a deep held myth propagated for many years in the agriculture communities of the Great Plains. When the rain stopped the soil turned to dust due to lack of care. In California the Oklahoma migrants trying to find work ran into a social- ecological disaster when there was no protection for them from predatory farmers and orchard growers who exploited their powerless condition. It was a government camp where the Jode’s finally found control and predictability over their environment. A “U.S. government run camp” that provided a safe island in a sea of inhumanity.
The next major event was the publication of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring in the early 1960s. This book and its aftermath set the stage for the passing of the first federal laws to protect our environment from continued exploitation by the industrial complex. NEPA, Clean Water Act, Clean Air Act, Council on Environmental Quality, new regulations for all federal agencies, especially Interior and the US Forest Service. At the same time the social inequities were being addressed by the passing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Voters Rights Act, War on Poverty including Head Start, Legal Aid, Neighborhood Health Centers. Environmental protection and social justice arrived in our society at about the same time—a major confluence of incredible proportions that was a once in a lifetime happening.
Thus began our move as a nation from the Industrial Age to the Age of Ecology. It was the strong environmental movement that grew and carried the burden forcing compliance while other profound shifts were taking place in our society. Citizen awareness to their external environments and the fact that they could impact those environments that oppressed them began to fall into place. People in their everyday informal networks began to empower themselves. Surviving, taking care of each other and maintaining ones culture began to gain strength. It became clearer and clearer that oppressive systems in the formal order that fed our politicians were coming under siege. The current turmoil is the turmoil that takes place when a society moves from one Age to another. Chaos is the adjustment of our citizens to an ecological age.
The Age of Ecology requires collaboration, participation, partnerships, deep democracy– all concepts that are currently being driven by a major trend called citizen-based ecological stewardship. The election of Barack Obama was the institutionalization of the shift from industrial age exploitation to the ecological age of caring for our physical, biological, social, cultural and economic environment. It was the long awaited “tipping point”. The major crisis in finance and banking that almost brought our society down, climate change, exploding oil rigs and refineries are all indicators of an end of the industrial era where citizen’s lives are exploited for narrow vested interests to accumulate wealth at the expense of the environment and society. What we are seeing is the emergence of formal government, systems that must get their strength and legitimization from the citizens in their informal networks, from citizen-based ecological stewardship, and not from formal vested/ special interest groups.
The future is based on a new phoenix rising of people, in their human geographical areas, taking control of their immediate environments. The new order is based on participating and gaining predictability and control of our physical and social environments in a manner where others do not have to be oppressed or sacrificed for individual or corporate gain.
Indeed there is a new era arising and it is profound.
Jim Kent


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