This model presents a collection of diverse ideas, which combine to form a holistic approach to sustainable development. By clicking on each section you can navigate through the different parts. The parts are inseparable, and to understand each part they have to be understood in relation to each other and the whole. Changing one part will affect every other part, however distant their relationship may seem. The model is concerned with how we understand ourselves and our relationship with the world around us, and questions a number of basic assumptions from spiritual, social, cultural, political, economic and ecological perspectives.
Shift in Consciousness
We are living in a time of enormous confusion during which the only certainty is that our future shall be neither like the past nor the present. We have reached a crossroads in our journey; to carry on in the same direction can only lead to disaster and to turn back is not an option - we have to take a new path.
Despite the current political turmoil, there are many positive steps in the right direction. A new movement of social and ecological awareness is growing and people's attitudes are changing rapidly.
The philosopher Edward Carpenter describes the change as a shift into the 'third state of consciousness'. He attributes the 'first state of consciousness' to our early ancestors, and the 'second state of consciousness' to our present civilisation - one in which "the self has thrust itself to the forefront and created false barriers of greed, malice, suspicion, and power-hunger that separate it from other forms of life."
He goes on to explain; "self-obsession leads to a sense of isolation that eventually becomes intolerable, causing so much suffering that human beings are eventually forced , by another twist of the evolutionary spiral, into the Third State of Consciousness. This represents the rediscovery of unitary thought, but on a higher plane than that of the First State because it is enriched by the experience of the intervening 'civilisation' phase".
Joanna Macy refers to this change as 'the greening of the self', Fritjof Capra refers to it as a discovery of the 'ecological self'; they all imply a shift towards an expanded awareness and a greater understanding of our relationship with the world around us.
Such a change would lead us towards a more natural way of life, in which harmony and sustainability is created through the co-operation of diverse societies working together as a whole. With a mass shift in consciousness towards unitary thought, people would act for the good of all. Humankind would gain the wisdom to co-operate with one another, break down boundaries of religion and race, and gradually distribute wealth and power to create the conditions for a peaceful and sustainable future.
The word 'Swaraj' is an ancient Sanskrit word meaning 'self-rule' and 'self-restraint'. Mahatma Gandhi used the idea of Swaraj as a way of motivating the Indians during their country's struggle to gain independence from the British. To quote from Gandhi himself, "real Swaraj will not come by the acquisition of authority by a few but by the acquisition of the capacity by all to resist authority when it is abused. In other words, Swaraj is to be obtained by educating the masses to a sense of their capacity to regulate and control authority."
The concept of Swaraj is perhaps more relevant today than it ever has been in the past, not just in India, but all over the planet. 'Authority', or 'power', is now being abused on a global scale by governments and major organisations such as WTO and the World Bank, who continue to prioritise economic growth over human welfare and ecological stability. As a result, the livelihoods of people throughout the world are being crushed by corporate greed, while the expanding economy of the West systematically destroys the very system we depend on for our existence.
One of the roles of sustainable development must increasingly be to raise awareness of these truths, and to dispel the myth of western 'progress'. When people realise the extent to which authority is being abused, and the consequences this abuse will have on the planet, I am sure they will wish to do something about it. The biggest danger we face right now is ignorance, for it can breed powerful leaders who fail to understand the consequences of what they are doing to the planet - and what they are doing to themselves.
Awareness is growing, and this is indicated by the world-wide protests against economic globalisation. However, protests have become violent, and although it is bringing the issues to the attention of the media, it is also creating an increasingly powerful resistance. The majority of the protesters are non-violent and wish to protest peacefully, but there is always a small minority who provoke violence. If the movement is associated with violence, it is unlikely that much will be achieved other than greater control over our freedom of speech. So if we are not able to change the system through protests, then in what capacity are the masses able to regulate and control authority?
One of Gandhi's methods of regulating British authority was to boycott their goods. Empires and colonies, World Banks and WTOs can only remain powerful if the masses continue to co-operate with them, and that normally means in terms of trade. Gandhi successfully started a movement of boycotting English cotton, revitalising local production and the use of hand-looms throughout India. If he was alive today, I am sure that Gandhi would be at the forefront of the anti-globalisation movement, calling for an end to free-trade and encouraging people to buy, produce and sell local goods as well as supporting international fair trade. He would certainly urge people to boycott large multi-national corporations that exploit people and environment for profit.
But perhaps the most effective way for our message to reach world leaders is to get on with creating a world-wide grassroots movement of individual, social and ecological development from the 'bottom-up', starting with those with the greatest needs. As awareness spreads, it will enter into our way of thinking and will reach the top, not as a violent protest for change, but as a message that reaches much deeper. As world leaders witness the benefits of such a movement, they may be shaken out of their mental inertia and do something to change the world for a better place.
World Peace means much more than just the absence of war. Peace on a global scale would represent a huge shift towards unitary thought, from a world of competition and conflict to a world of mass co-operation and mutual aid.
If we were to develop an understanding of the underlying unity that connects us all, we would see beyond the barriers of religion, race and nation, celebrate our cultural diversity and embrace our common identity. We would realise that to cause harm to others is to cause harm to ourselves, and that our own well-being cannot be separated from the well-being of all.
We must develop individual peace of mind in order to create peace in the world. If we create peace of mind in ourselves, we feel a sense of belonging in the world. One of our greatest problems comes from having no sense of belonging and no peace of mind; people grasp at false securities such as wealth and power, normally at the expense of others and the environment.
Religion can create a sense of belonging, and peace of mind, but it can also create false barriers that prevent us from experiencing our underlying unity. We can only create world peace and experience security if we share our wealth and accept our differences in belief. The main cause of conflict nowadays is religious intolerance and the unequal distribution of wealth and power.
Without equal opportunity in decision-making, power and wealth are easily abused. The result is poverty and environmental degradation. Apparently, the 20% of people living in the rich countries of the world consume 86% of the world's resources, and most of these resources flow from the poor countries to the rich. As the rich countries get richer, the poor countries get poorer, and this trend of inequality is growing at an accelerating rate.
Gandhi was once asked if he would like India to develop as much as Britain, to which he replied "Britain is such a small country but it required the plunder of half the planet to give it this development, so for a big country like India to develop in the same way will probably require the plunder of several planets".
Nearly every conflict during the 1990s was fought within national boundaries of the 'developing' world, and was caused by environmental degradation and inequality - water scarcity, flooding, desertification, disparity of wealth and destitution. Much of their shortage is a result of the excess wealth in the West. We therefore have a responsibility to reduce our consumption, and to share our wealth with our neighbours in the 'developing' world.
According to Robert Muller, the Assistant Secretary General of the UN, in the 1990s the world collectively spent 120 million dollars on military expenditures - every hour! That means a trillion dollars every year…
Imagine if we spent just a fraction of this money on the main cause of the conflict rather than the conflict itself. If world governments set out to reduce inequality and improve understanding between different cultures, perhaps they would create greater peace through more peaceful means.
If just a few small 'ecological armies' were employed to plant trees and provide water where it is needed, the problems of the world would be reduced. If the world governments made ecological restoration and cross-cultural dialogue an international priority, our way of life and health would improve, and conflicts would be reduced dramatically.
If the wealth of the rich was used to help the poor, exploitative free trade replaced by mutual aid and world-wide ecological restoration made a priority, the world would become a much more peaceful place. With a healthy environment and greater equality, we would then create the conditions for everyone to develop individual peace of mind. Only then can we hope to achieve world peace on a global scale.
Peace of Mind
"Every man sees the world through the window of his perception" Lord Buddha
The way we understand the world is not so much a reflection of how the world really is, but a reflection of how we are. Developing peace of mind is a first step towards seeing things truly. In Eastern philosophy, our restless chatter of thoughts, our emotions, cravings and desires are believed to be the cause of illusion and the root of all suffering. Our thoughts are always taking us away from the present moment, preventing us from experiencing true peace of mind that can only exist in the 'here and now'. Only by learning to quieten our minds can we begin to experience a greater sense of peace.
Evidence is increasingly pointing towards there being a single reality that exists both for science and for religion. As new levels of scientific understanding are uncovered, scientists find themselves as philosophers, while monks, priests and yogis find themselves as scientists. Quantum physics is revealing a subatomic reality of an interconnected, intelligent world of information, much closer to the wisdom of ancient religions than of the mechanistic world-view created by scientists during the last two centuries. With a deeper understanding of interconnectedness, a new breed of scientists are realising that they are not separate from what they are studying, and are therefore turning inwards for the knowledge they seek.
It is said that the true nature of every human is inherently peaceful and loving. When we learn to rest in our true nature we experience a great feeling of peace, we feel the unity of all things and ultimately, we gain knowledge. However, our minds are naturally restless, our thoughts and desires always taking us away from our true nature, making us feel isolated and separate from the world. Without a true sense of belonging we suffer, grasping onto false securities such as wealth and power in an attempt to fill the void. Modern society is highly stressed and insecure, in great turmoil and conflict - there is a greater need now than ever before for us as individuals to develop our own peace of mind.
In Fritz Schumaker's essay on Buddhist Economics, he writes "it is not wealth that stands in the way of liberation but the attachment to wealth; not the enjoyment of pleasurable things but the craving for them". When we cease to be governed by our cravings and desires, life becomes simple, we begin to see the world more clearly and return closer to our true nature. We take greater pleasure from simple things, we grow closer to nature and gain more fulfilment from living in a simple, natural environment. Developing peace of mind is essential if we are to create a sustainable global society. It will help us to reduce our high levels of consumption, live in greater harmony with other people, nations, races and of course, we shall learn to live in greater harmony with nature.
One of the most effective methods of quietening our minds is through regular practice of Yoga and meditation. The word Yoga comes from a sanskrit word meaning "to unite", and was developed as a scientific method of uniting mind, body, spirit and the Universal Soul. A combination of healthy diet, moral discipline, physical exercise, controlled breathing and development of concentration prepares one for meditation, in which the mind and body are trained to rest and recharge in a blissful state of stillness. Regular meditation brings enormous benefits on a physical, mental and emotional level, it expands our awareness and brings greater fulfilment to our lives.
"Being Indian is an attitude, a state of mind, a way of being in harmony with all things, and all beings" Brooke Medicine Eagle, Native American.
'Expanded awareness' could be described as an increase in awareness of an individual to his/her relationship with the environment around them. To put it another way, it is the development of a direct understanding of the interconnectedness of all nature and the appropriate mode of behaviour towards all life that ensues.
For much of our lives our minds are occupied with thoughts and feelings generated by our way of life and the world around us. The fact that the modern world we live in is becoming less and less connected to nature reflects the contents of our minds, the way we live our lives and the effects of our way of life on the planet.
Our minds churn with synthetic details; of appointments, tasks, credit card bills, clothes and mobile phones. We spend so much time absorbed in our own world that we have forgotten the importance of our relationship with the natural system that sustains us. We believe ourselves to be separate, isolated in a competitive world of survival and greed, when in fact our future survival depends on a system of mutual aid and co-operation.
If we expand our awareness beyond ourselves, to others and the natural environment that we live in and our relationship with the environment, we see that we are not separate, and that we are not isolated. When we understand that all things are connected we do not need to be told how to treat the environment, for we will automatically care for it as we do for ourselves.
Ahimsa is an ancient Sanskrit word meaning 'non-violence', a term that has been translated as "an attitude and mode of behaviour towards all living creatures based on the recognition of the underlying unity of all life". Ahimsa is a common characteristic of communities that have lived for long periods of time in close contact with nature. By separating ourselves from nature, we lost this understanding. The only way to get it back is to return to a more natural way of life.
"To see a world in a grain of sand, And a Heaven in a wild flower, Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand, And Eternity in an hour." William Blake
It could be said that we are coming to the end of a long dormant period. Now that we are actually witnessing the effects of the damage caused by many decades of unsustainable development, we are becoming increasingly uncomfortable with the way of life that supports it. We cannot fail to notice the increasing numbers of floods, hurricanes, crop failures, polluted seas and global refugees, now proven to be the legacy of our past.
People are beginning to wake up, one by one. A new social and ecological movement of sustainable development is growing, spreading awareness, educating people and initiating change. In the words of A.T. Aryaratne, founder of the Sarvodaya movement, "Change in the world begins with change in countries, and change in countries can only begin with change in local communities. Change in local communities requires change in individual people".
Sustainable development must aim at awakening society in this way; not by change from the top to the bottom, but by change from bottom to top. Just as global peace can only be achieved if individuals first find peace in themselves, ecological stability can only be restored through a gradual spread of awareness from individuals to families, communities, countries, continents and beyond.
As individuals, we must therefore consider our own role in development. We affect all those around us by our own spiritual, moral, cultural, social, economic and political values. We will get nowhere by parading and shouting for peace and equity, we must first make it a part of our lives, then it shall spread to others
Central to our philosophy and approach to sustainable development is the understanding that everything in the world is interconnected and a part of a greater whole. Every part makes up its own whole, which is made up of its own interconnected parts, and so on. Just as the planet makes up a whole, so does a society, a family and an individual person. They are all made up of interconnected parts, yet they are all a part of a greater whole.
The parts are inseparable, and to understand each part they have to be understood in relation to each other and the whole. Changing one part will affect every other part, however distant their relationship may seem.
This model represents the foundations of our philosophy, a base upon which practical ideas can be built. The model is concerned with how we understand ourselves and our relationship with the world around us; a step that I believe should be taken before carrying out further work in the name of sustainable development. It questions basic assumptions from spiritual, social, cultural, political, economic and ecological perspectives, combining new ideas with old to create a holistic philosophy for a peaceful and sustainable world.
An understanding of holistic interconnectedness has been accepted, not just by philosophers, theologists and ecologists, but by scientists, academics and doctors, just to mention a few. Sustainable development is a particularly broad subject, and in order to be successful it requires a holistic approach, taking into consideration many different issues across a broad range of interconnected academic & non-academic disciplines.
As with any system, I hope this model shall evolve. In India we are putting these ideas into practice and learning new things all the time. As our projects evolve, so shall our ideas and so shall our projects to come.
Co-operation has been the foundation of every sustainable society that has ever existed. Co-operation is the act of people willingly working together, whether it is with ideas, labour, organisation or support. As Mahatma Gandhi once said, "there is sweetness in co-operation; there is no one weak or strong among those who co-operate". When people co-operate, a sense of belonging is created - people feel part of a greater system in which a greater purpose is felt.
"The basic necessity of life is co-operation, or mutual aid. If living beings wish to stay alive, to thrive, prosper, and develop, they soon realise that they must help each other and build a mutual system of support, they realise that two together can always act more effectively than two separately. They must pool their resources". (Robert Hart)
Modern society lives in an unsustainable world of exploitation, competition and rivalry. Ever since Darwin came up with his theory of evolution, people have justified such injustice, claiming that life is simply a struggle for survival in which only the fittest survive, and those who lose out do so due to a process of 'natural selection'.
However, today there are many thousands of species who have 'lost out', or are in danger of 'losing out' because of our unrestricted competition for resources. It is becoming clear that the fittest species in the 'struggle for survival' are those who learn to co-operate with others. If we do not learn to co-operate, not just amongst ourselves, but with every strand in the web of life, 'natural selection' shall remove our entire species and many others with it.
Sustainable Development covers such a huge range of issues, requiring the co-operation of individuals, families, communities, NGOs and governments, all using their respective positions, skills and knowledge to their best ability. The task of an NGO such as Ananda is to bring these people together and to enhance the communication and relationships between them in order to carry out tasks that are only possible with the co-operation of many.
Ethics and Values
I believe nature provides us with every lesson we need for developing a sustainable way of life. Left to its own devices, nature takes what it needs, and in return gives back what it can - nothing is ever wasted. Trees, for example, take nutrients from the soil, which are then returned via decomposed leaf litter on the forest floor. The tree itself eventually dies and returns all its nutrients to the soil. In this way, nature remains in a steady balance of equilibrium; the ultimate example of sustainability.
Humankind followed these rules for many thousands of years until, at some point in the not so distant past, we started to take more than we returned. As soon as we did this, we began to disturb nature's equilibrium and put things out of balance. Despite scientific understanding of nature's balance and evidence of the damage we are causing, we continue to take more than we give - a pattern that can only lead to disaster.
In most Native American communities, if any single person displayed a greater amount of wealth than everybody else, they would be frowned upon by the rest of the community. To them it would indicate that he took more than he gave back, which went against the ethics of the society.
Like many traditional communities, they believed that if anyone accumulated more wealth than the rest, it should be distributed among the community so that they prospered together as a whole. Being in tune with the laws of nature, Native American societies understood how to live within her limits, making sure they did not disturb her equilibrium.
Western society, however, proudly displays its selfish accumulation of wealth. People prosper alone, not just without sharing it, but gaining it at the expense of others and the environment. It is time that we learnt from the lessons of Nature and people such as the Native Americans. Our lives cannot be sustainable if we continue to take more than we give. In the words of Duncan Poore "Nature has evolved in such a way that retains a balance… creatures that disturb this balance find themselves rejected".
Individual health is an essential ingredient in building a healthy society and a healthy planet. Modern medicine has begun to recognise that our mind and body are part of a single system in which the state of one affects the health of the other. This understanding of each person as a 'whole' is bringing holistic medicine further into mainstream thinking, leading us towards a more natural system of health care based on physical, nutritional, environmental, emotional, social, spiritual and lifestyle values.
Rather than walking away from a doctor with a bag of brightly coloured antibiotics, which attack problems in our body at the expense of our own natural resistance and self-healing immune system, many patients are now being advised to change their diet, take more exercise and find more time to relax. Stress is said to be the main cause of illness in modern society along with poor diet and a deteriorating environment. In this light, it is becoming widely accepted that the most effective form of health-care is a system of prevention rather than cure, in which health is achieved by creating all-round balance and well-being.
There is no system of healing more efficient than our existing self-healing powers. Our body's self-regulating system means that it is always striving for wholeness, always trying to keep a balance through the complex flows of energy and information that connect each part of the whole. To stay in good health we must keep ourselves in good order, avoiding foods and lifestyles that create blockages and disorders, while keeping our mind clear and body strong and supple to enhance the performance of the self-healing system.
Of course, problems can still occur, and medicine is often required, but nowadays we have the choice of a huge variety of alternative techniques to 'conventional' modern medicine. Aryuveda, Acupuncture, Reiki, Acupressure, Reflexology, Homeopathy and Magnotherapy are just a few of the natural medicines and therapies we have available to us.
The difference between these and conventional allopathic medicines is that they work in harmony with our existing self-healing powers, enhancing the circulation and flow of energy and information, boosting the body's immunity and resistance to the imbalance, infection or disease that is creating the problem in the body. These alternative medicines re-establish order in the mind/body system, thereby allowing natural healing to take place.
Just as every person makes up an indivisible whole, and therefore an independent system, we are also parts of a greater whole on many different levels. The health of our society as a whole can also be described in terms of a system, in which we make up the parts. The health of a society is also dependent on co-operation between people, and on an equal distribution of the flow of energy and information, decision-making and participation. Just as every cell has an intelligence that is used to keep its locality in good health, so should a society depend on a decentralised self-regulating system to keep the whole in good order, ensuring healthy individuals and a healthy society.
James Lovelock takes this concept one step further; "It may be true also in planetary medicine that our collective attitude towards the earth affects and is affected by the health of the planet." As parts of a much greater whole, our health and outlook may therefore have an effect on the entire planet. We are not separate from the planet, so it makes sense that the health of the planet reflects our own. We can therefore take part in healing the planet by creating a healthy balance and well-being in ourselves, and simultaneously we can heal our body and mind through the conservation and restoration of the planet's natural environment.
The general meaning of decentralisation is the transfer of power or authority from a centralised minority to a localised majority, e.g. from a central government in large cities to the masses in small towns and villages. When power and authority are decentralised, more people are able to participate in decision making and the outcome is greater democracy. The more people that share authority, the less likely it is to be abused.
Decentralisation can also refer to the use of communally owned resources, i.e. a shift from private ownership to communal. Again, the more people that share the decision making of how resources should be used, the less likely they are to be exploited and misused. At present, the majority of our global resources are controlled, and their use decided by a small and powerful minority whose motives are driven by profit and greed. The outcome is widespread social, cultural and ecological degradation.
Essentially, what political and economic development has done is to 'centralise' ownership and decision-making into the hands of a few, privatising goods and services that were once owned by the masses. As the web of world relations becomes more and more complex, it becomes more and more difficult to comprehend the far-reaching effects of day to day decisions. World leaders, who make decisions on our behalf, cannot feasibly consider the needs of every cell in the world organism; they cannot consider every part of the whole.
The only way we can build a world that considers the needs of every part is to decentralise decision-making. If decisions were made by a majority, based on local needs, more people would be represented and more parts would be considered. The effects of people's decisions would be locally visible, and therefore authority would be less likely to be abused. If everybody looked after their own 'patch', and if people were aware of what effect their actions had on others, society would become self-regulating, and therefore sustainable.
Development projects in the 'less-developed' world were, until recently, based on the western idea of 'development', i.e. economic development as a means of reducing 'poverty'. Foreign strategies and decisions were made by the people at the top of the organisation, passed down to those at the 'bottom'. Although their intentions were normally good, most of these projects failed to actually improve the quality of people's lives, many of them made their lives considerably worse.
Nowadays, in the light of our failure to improve people's quality of life through western models of development, people have come to realise that the decisions in development projects in the 'developing world' must be made from the bottom-up. In other words decision-making must be decentralised to the community level, where local people decide what is really needed, and what development really is. In this way, decisions are made which strengthen the community in the context of their own environment and culture.
Sustainable development is a social movement - it will only succeed with a concentrated effort of the masses. It requires communication, not just between individuals, but between societies, countries and continents. The well-known saying of "think global, act local" is of particular relevance to sustainable development, where changes need to be localised, based on the shared ideas of the globe.
The health of the global organism can be compared to the health of a human being. We have our own self-regulating, self-healing system in our bodies that that rely on a constantly circulating flow of information and energy. One of the main causes of illness and disease are blockages that prevent this flow from reaching all parts of the body. Communication creates understanding between the different parts, whether they be cells in a body or different cultures in the world. Where there is good communication, there is better understanding between different societies and better harmony in the global organism.
Communication is the means of spreading education and awareness from person to person. The knowledge and technology needed for sustainable development already exists, it just needs to spread to the people who are in a position to put it into practice. Ironically, it is often the people who do the most damage who are in the best position to put the damage right. For example, as a result of education and the spread of awareness, poachers have found good jobs as nature guides and timber smugglers have successfully capitalised on selling medicinal herbs from forests.
Tourism is the largest industry in the world, and it is predicted to treble during the next twenty years. For as long as it continues to transport people to their destinations by petrol-fuelled aeroplanes, tourism will not be sustainable. Yet while the industry exists it can be used as a vital method of cross-cultural communication, spreading global messages across the planet. It can be used to teach and to learn about other ways of life, to encourage and even fund the redevelopment of self-reliant communities.
One of the aims of Ananda is to combine the existing tourism industry with sustainable development. By living with local people in local communities in India, tourists learn how to live a sustainable way of life, whilst simultaneously supporting local sustainable development initiatives such as organic farming and community-based reforestation schemes. Rather than becoming dependent on the tourist industry, the local community can use tourism as an exchange of knowledge and ideas and a resource to re-develop their own self-reliance and improve global communication.
We have reached a very interesting time in our history, for our most basic assumptions of what we consider to be progress are now being challenged by evidence of widespread self-destruction. There have been huge advances in standards of living, technology and science, yet there is more poverty now than ever before, there are higher rates of stress, depression and suicide than ever before, and the rate of extinction is higher now than at the time of the dinosaurs.
As we begin to realise our mistakes, we should question our idea of progress and restructure our system of education to suit the basic needs of our time. Perhaps our greatest need is to regain an understanding of our place in nature's web and how to apply that into our daily lives.
Nature is the ultimate teacher and the ultimate example of sustainability. To find our way again, we must turn to nature and work with it rather than against it. We must acknowledge that we are a part of nature and that if we separate ourselves from nature, we get lost.
Nature is made up of self-regulating, self-governing communities of diverse species of life. When left alone, nature retains a perfect balance. Everything that is taken is returned, recycled and re-used. Natural energy is harnessed, bartered and exchanged, passed on in flowing cycles, ending where it begins and starting where it ends. The closer society is to resembling the laws of nature, the more sustainable the society shall be.
Our education should help us learn more about nature and ourselves. Of course, it should provide us with knowledge of how to survive in the world, but it should also consider how our children will survive in the world after us. Our present education system teaches us that economic growth is an accurate measure of human welfare, it does not teach us that such growth cannot be sustained and that current economic practices are destroying the natural systems that support life on earth.
David Suzuki sees the root of our problems coming from the scientific way we study static and separate subjects, he believes that 'by focussing on the parts, we often lose sight of the whole'. We can choose to study economics, or biology, or geography, but we rarely learn how they are related to living a meaningful life and what effect they have on the world as a whole.
We are trained to be cogs in a giant economic machine that has no idea where it's going or what it's doing. Unqualified in the next person's work, we concentrate on our own work, presuming that somebody knows how the machine works and what it's doing. But, with everybody specialising in individual cogs and the machine being so large, nobody can possibly be qualified to control or steer it.
The problem is that the economic machine has become too big. It needs to be cut up into smaller parts for anyone to be able to understand where it is going and what it is doing. A world made up of small economies would resemble nature's network of self-governing sustainable communities. If each 'cog' in every 'machine' were able to understand the function of every other cog, they would understand the function of the whole machine. Each economy could then be controlled and steered in the right direction.
Education must become more holistic, in other words it must not focus on the parts, but on the whole. With a single global economy, this is impossible - it is too vast and complicated, nobody can study the whole. We must first learn how to 'relocalise', to develop smaller economies more in touch with the natural systems that support us, which can be understood by those who are a part of it.
Of course people must specialise in certain 'subjects' to give them a trade, but only once they have understood how their trade relates to their economy, and what effect it will have on the 'quality of life', rather than the 'standard of living' of the community as a whole.
If education was holistic, each person would understand how they are connected to the next, and would therefore develop an understanding of the underlying unity that connects us all. Holistic education would teach us about mental and physical health, co-operation and ecology, creating a wide and meaningful perspective of life. Despite living in smaller communities, we would develop an expanded awareness and create the conditions for a peaceful and sustainable world.
"Only when the last tree has died and the last river been poisoned and the last fish been caught will we realise that we cannot eat money" A Native American
Modern life has plunged us into the age of information, science and technology with little preparation of how to use our knowledge wisely. Science has simultaneously given us tools of progress, as well as tools of destruction - it is our choice how to use them. Our awareness of the world, of its problems and its growth, are limited to the information that we receive. Unfortunately the real issues that face us rarely emerge from behind the commercial façade of mis-information, so we continue to be unaware of them and continue to misuse our tools.
The mass media brings us information about the economy and useless facts about celebrity marriages, politicians spend most of their time discussing their own election process and the faults of the opposition, while very little is said about the deteriorating state of the planet that we live on. We receive so much information through adverts, newspapers and televisions that when we do hear about the real issues of the greater whole, they quickly merge into our mental muddle of mis-information and are soon lost and forgotten.
After thousands of years of simple living, our environment and way of life has changed very suddenly. Perhaps our minds have not been able to adapt quick enough to comprehend the complexity of the change. In the words of David Suzuki, "we have become so tied up in the parts that we have lost sight of the whole". We need to take a giant step back, slow down and look at what we are doing.
Sustainability can only be achieved if there is widespread awareness of what the problems may exist, and what solutions can be made. Awareness needs to spread to all sectors of society, for the actions of each person are as significant as for the next. We can learn from our past and look to the future, then use our science, information and technology for good, not for bad. Just as in complementary methods of healing, our tools should be used to enhance the natural systems that already exist - not to modify them under the false belief that we know better.
"We do not control nature, nature supports us. Nature has evolved in a way that retains a balance… creatures that disturb this balance find themselves rejected." Duncan Poore
Ecology is the study of organisms in relation to one another and to their surroundings. It is the study of nature, and of its vast diversity and intelligence, of which humankind is only a very small part.
The way we understand the world is a reflection of how we see it, not necessarily how the world really is. The growing interest in ecology reflects how our perceptions are changing. We no longer see the different aspects of nature as static and separate parts: ecology provides us with a holistic study of nature as an interconnected whole, which can be understood by the relationships of its parts to each other and to the whole.
We are all dependent on nature's diverse balance of micro-organisms, insects, animals, plants, trees, clean water and air for our basic survival. It could be said that the welfare of our own material existence cannot be separated from the welfare of nature and its ecosystems. Our bodies come from the earth, they are maintained by the earth, and they will return to the earth.
If we damage the earth, we are indirectly damaging ourselves - perhaps not in the short-term, but certainly in the long-term, and just as we depend on the co-operation of nature, nature depends on the co-operation of mankind. Unfortunately, our lack of co-operation has cost us unprecedented environmental destruction. By separating ourselves from nature, we abandoned our source of wisdom and lost our way.
Latest figures released by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) claim that 30% of the world's biodiversity have been lost in the last twenty five years. Above the Antarctic there is a hole in the ozone layer over 3 times the size of the USA, while carbon levels in the atmosphere are higher than they have ever been in the planet's known history. The current extinction rate is higher than at the time of the dinosaurs some 65 million years ago.
We are beginning to realise that there is nothing more efficient than the natural systems that already exist. Instead of experimenting with these systems, which more often than not results in disaster, we must use the 'precautionary principle' and live within the known laws of nature, which took billions of years to evolve. In the words of Jonathon Porrit, "the rules are set by nature, not by man".
Ecology can teach us how to live in harmony with the natural systems that support us. It can teach us how to tread lightly on the planet, using renewable resources, restoring nutrients to the soil, oxygen to the sky and fish to the sea. The holistic study of nature can provide us with the ultimate example of sustainability, giving us guidance on our path back to nature, where we belong.
"There is no quiet place in the white man's cities. What is there to life if a man cannot hear the lonely cry of the whippoowill or the arguments of the frogs around the pond at night?" Chief Seattle
Most of modern society measures wealth in terms of money alone. For many tribal groups however, money has very little meaning, it is community, culture and environment that they value most. Their idea of wealth would be better measured by the quality of their food, the health and diversity of their environment and the strength of their community. The environment provides them with their every need, and with very little demand for material goods, these simple societies leave themselves plenty of time to develop their creativity through arts & crafts, music, dance and ritual.
Unfortunately for many of these societies however, they have been, or they are being, forced into a monetary way of life by the privatisation of resources caused by economic development. Globalisation has put a price on many things that used to come for free, turning communal resources into objects of cost. Many societies have been removed from land that they had no idea could be owned in the first place, and forced to buy things that to them had always been for the communal use of all.
With a greater need for money, traditional communities all around the world have ironically had to sacrifice their wealth in the name of economic development. Unable to pay taxes living their traditional non-monetary way of life, or unable to use land that no longer 'belongs' to them, these communities are forced to find whatever employment they can in order to meet their basic needs. The desperate need for employment is often met by the industries from the West, capitalising on the opportunity for cheap labour and high profits.
The inevitable poverty that ensues is then understood by the West as a need for more economic development, which further separates the people from their traditional & sustainable way of life. The more money that enters their system of living, the more things cost and the more money people need. As the traditional way of life falls apart, so does the strength and solidarity of the community. Rather than sharing communal resources, they are forced to compete in an open market, where people and environment become commodities, exploited by those with power.
Our own 'wealth' in the West seems to have come at the expense of our community, culture and environment. Despite our riches and our high 'standard of living', suicide is common, divorce is widespread and depression is almost epidemic. The elderly are not cared for by their families, crime is soaring and pollution has reached unprecedented levels. Evidence points to the fact that the more our economy grows, the more our quality of life deteriorates. The Index of Sustainable Economic Welfare (ISEW) shows a gradual reduction in the quality of life in the UK over the last twenty five years though the gross domestic product (GDP) has risen by 50%.
The facts that are available to us, combined with our common sense, should be enough to tell us that our growing economy is leading us towards disaster. Sustainable Development requires a whole new way of looking at welfare and progress. Our idea of wealth should no longer be governed by the economy alone, we must not forget the vital importance of our community, culture and environment. Let us learn from the small Buddhist country of Bhutan who prefer to measure their wealth by using GNH - Gross National Happiness.
The accepted definition of sustainability is 'being able to meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs'. Our current way of life is unsustainable. Mankind is living without respect for nature and exploiting Planet Earth's vital resources, systematically destroying the natural systems that support life on earth.
Back in 1992, 1,670 scientists, including 110 of the 138 living winners of Nobel prizes in the sciences, issued the famous 'World Scientists' Warning to Humanity'. It included these comments:
"We are fast approaching many of the Earth's limits. Current economic practices which damage the environment cannot continue. Our massive tampering could trigger unpredictable collapse of biological systems which are only partly understood. A great change in our stewardship of the Earth and life on it is required if vast human misery is to be avoided and our global home on this planet is not to be irretrievably mutilated."
That was almost ten years ago, and although world leaders have discussed the issue, in practice nothing has been done about it. Governments make little changes every now and again, they reduce emissions by 1%, 3%, but in the big scale of things, little changes like this are completely futile. It has been likened to being in a aeroplane falling towards the sea, in which most of the passengers are arguing about where they are going to sit, not how to prevent the plane from crashing.
The only way change will take place is if there is a movement from the bottom-up. In other words, a change initiated not by governments, but by you and I, the people who are governed. Change must be widespread, reaching from one end of the world to the other in a co-operative movement of ecological respect and global unity.
If future generations are going to meet their basic needs, we need to question what our own needs really are. It has become clear that we cannot make the planet adapt to the steadily increasing 'needs' of our steadily increasing population, so the only solution is to adapt ourselves to the vital needs of the planet.
Primarily, this means reducing our high levels of consumption and unsustainable rate of growth. As Gandhi said, "there's enough on earth for everybody's need but not for everybody's greed". The disproportionate amount of wealth in the West accounts for much of the poverty in the rest of the world. Already, millions of people are unable to meet their basic needs throughout the world - "the rich need to live more simply in order that the poor can simply live"(Peter Marshall).
There is no such thing as sustainable growth, yet we live in an economic system that requires growth to survive. The global economy has been likened to a 'monster' that has outgrown the planet. It feeds off our labour and the planet's natural resources, producing waste that pollutes our land, sea and sky, yet we continue to feed it and help it grow.
We must restructure and relocalise economies to a more natural pattern of subsistence that abides by the laws of nature. Economies do not need to prioritise money ahead of community, culture and environment - wealth comes in many forms, most of which cannot be purchased with money. Sustainability will only be achieved if we put purpose back into life, where peace of mind can become a meaningful measure of wealth.
This model represents my underlying philosophy of sustainable development. More than anything, it is a way of organising a diverse collection of interrelated ideas into a structured system, which makes it easier to understand as a whole. Using this philosophy as a foundation, we shall try to put ideas into practice through our projects in India.