No Time to Waste – Returning to the Good Life

earth-clock-01AS a child the school summer holidays seemed an eternity. Time seemed to pass very slowly. These days as an adult its hard to keep up with all the things one has to do. How many times have you heard people complain we “just don’t have the time”?

Psychologist William James’ explanation is that children experience everything for the first time and that all experiences are new. Their intense perception of the world around them means that times goes slowly. As adults we have fewer new experiences, life is more familiar and less information is taken in and time is less stretched. While there are obvious cognitive psycholgoical explanations to our perception of time there are also other factors at play.

As a child growing up in the 1970s there was only three TV channels which only ran for a limited number of hours. We did not have a computer, mobile phone, video player or DVD to distract us. Most of the time was enjoyed playing out in the streets with other friends. On TV there was a popular sitcom called The Good Life which described the experiences of Tom and Barbara who have had enough of the rat race and decide to become self-sufficient. They convert their garden into a farm, keep pigs and chickens and grow their own crops.the-good-life1

Life seemed a lot simpler back then but perhaps I am looking back through rose-tinted spectacles?. Afterall, I did not have to worry about paying bills, going to work or doing house work. Despite all this, I do feel that life has speeded up.

streetsThis is evident in our breakdown in our sense of community. In the cobbled streets of inner city Salford (UK) where I grew up we knew or had a good idea who lived in the 40-plus houses there. These days I only know three of my neighbours. This is partly due to people being more mobile and not staying in one place too long and partly due to being more private individuals. No longer do we have the time for idle chit chat. Like the White Rabbit in Alice in Wonderland we are rushing around saying we are late.

In his Novel Momo Michael Ende wrote about a mysterious young orphaned girl, who arrives in a small town and notices that the inhabitants are starting to change, becoming obsessed with time and money. Momo discovers that the culprits are the “Grauen Herren”, sinister, ghost-like men who are stealing time. The effects were dramatic. The village barber found that:

he was becoming increasingly restless and irritable. The odd thing was that, no matter how much time he saved, he never had any to spare; in some mysterious way, it simply vanished. Imperceptibly at first, but then quite unmistakably, his days grew shorter and shorter. Almost be­fore he knew it, another week had gone by, another month, and another year, and another and another.”

In his article entitled Time Pollution, Prof. John Whitelegg attempts to explain the paradox that the more people try to save time, the less they seem to have? Whitelegg argues:

Time is central to notions of sustainability. A sustainable city or a sustainable transport policy or a sustainable economy cannot be founded on economic principles which, through their monetarisation of time, orientate society towards higher levels of motorisation, faster speeds and greater consumption of space. The fact that these characteristics produce energy-intensive societies and pollution is only part of the problem. They also distort value systems, elevate mobility above accessibility, associate higher speeds and greater distances with progress, and dislocate communities and social life.”

There is no doubt that our lack of time has contributed to the community disintegration that has been occuring across Europe and other western countries in the last few decades. Perhaps we need to change our perception of time and spend more time being rather than doing. A global recession may provide that window of opportunity to reassess our values and lifestyles and perhaps like Tom and Barbara we can return to the “Good Life” that many of us remember.

© Gary Haq 2009

Darwin, Deep Ecology and the Bible

Charles DarwinTHIS year marks the bicentenary of the birth of the naturalist Charles Darwin and the passing of Norwegian philosopher and founder of deep ecology – Arne Næss.

In his seminal work, ‘On the Origin of Species’ Darwin challenged the Judeao-Christian tradition that humans were created in the image of God: “Then God said, Let us make man in our image … in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.”

Darwin explained that all species of life have evolved over time from common ancestors. This occurred through the process of natural selection whereby organisms most suited to their environment survive and reproduce and pass their advantages to their offspring.

As many more individuals of each species are born than can possibly survive; and as, consequently, there is a frequently recurring struggle for existence, it follows that any being, if it vary however slightly in any manner profitable to itself, under the complex and sometimes varying conditions of life, will have a better chance of surviving, and thus be naturally selected. From the strong principle of inheritance, any selected variety will tend to propagate its new and modified form.”

Darwin’s theory of universal common descent based on evolutionary principles placed humankind as part of the tree of life rather than separate to it.

There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.

Arne NaessArne Næss’s work also challenged the Judeao-Christian tradition and the anthropocentric (human-centred) view of the planet. In the book Genesis the first words God is alleged to have make to humankind were:

Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”

Since then nature has been used commodity to be traded to meet human needs which has resulted in our current global ecological crisis. Næss believed that humans have no right to reduce the richness and diversity of nature except to meet vital needs.

He argued that every being, whether human, animal or vegetable has an equal right to live and to blossom. The well-being and flourishing of human and non-human life on Earth have value in themselves. These values are independent of the usefulness of the non-human world for human purposes. We should not see the world from the narrow viewpoint of ourselves but should see ourselves as part of an ecospheric whole. We should move from anthropocentric to an ecocentric view of the world.

Both Darwin and Næss show we are part of the diversity of life and cannot be separated from it. If we took a more ecocentric approach to policy making then perhaps we could appreciate the inherent value in life itself rather striving for an increasingly higher standard of living.

© Gary Haq 2009

President Obama’s Green Rethoric

HE 44th president of the United States (US), Barack Obama, promised change on the campaign trail especially with regard to the US’s Green credentials. If President Obama is serious about his new environmental agenda then he will need to change rather than defend the US way of life. Lets hope for the sake of the planet that Obama can deliver his agenda of change.

The Art of ConsumptionTHE 44th president of the United States (US), Barack Obama, promised change on the campaign trail especially with regard to the US’s Green credentials. He set out ambitious environmental targets which include ensuring that 10 per cent of US electricity supply comes from renewable sources by 2012, and 25 per cent by 2025; introducing a cap-and-trade programme to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 80 per cent by 2050; creation of 5 million new jobs by investing $150bn in green technology companies over the next 10 years; target to save more oil than US imports from the Middle East and Venezuela within 10 years and 1 million plug-in hybrid cars on the road by 2015.

It is estimated that Americans constitute 5 per cent of the world’s population but consume 24 per cent of the world’s energy. According to the American Associate for the Advancement of Science , the United States is the world’s largest consumer in absolute terms. It takes the greatest share of 11 out of 20 major traded commodities. These include corn, coffee, copper, lead, zinc, tin, aluminum, rubber, oil seeds, oil and natural gas.

Global Per Capita Consumption

It is also the largest per capita consumer. If we look at meat consumption China with the world’s largest population is the highest overall producer and consumer of meat. However, the US has the largest per capita consumption of meat. An average US citizen consumes more than three times the global average of 37 kilos per person per year. This is in sharp comparison with Africans who consume less than half the global average, and South Asians consume the least, at under 6 kilos per person per year.

President Obama's Inaugural Speech In his augural speech President Obama defended the American way of life: “With old friends and former foes, we will work tirelessly to lessen the nuclear threat, and roll back the specter of a warming planet. We will not apologize for our way of life, nor will we waver in its defense, and for those who seek to advance their aims by inducing terror and slaughtering innocents, we say to you now that our spirit is If stronger and cannot be broken; you cannot outlast us, and we will defeat you.”

If President Obama is serious about his new environmental agenda then he will need to change rather than defend the US way of life. Lets hope for the sake of the planet that Obama can deliver his agenda of change.

© Gary Haq 2009

What is Human Ecology?

Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden As a Human Ecology graduate I was recently surprised to hear the term “Human Ecology” being used by the media. It was used with reference to Pope Benedict XVI Christmas speech where he was explaining the need to respect human nature with regard to the order of being ‘man’ or ‘woman’:

We need something like human ecology, meant in the right way. The Church speaks of human nature as ‘man’ or ‘woman’ and asks that this order is respected.”

He suggested there is a need to save humankind from a destructive blurring of gender roles is as important as saving the rainforests. He explained that defending God’s creation was not limited to saving the environment, but also about protecting man from self-destruction.

The Pope makes a distinction between humans and the environment. If there were no environment then we would not be around. I am not so concerned about the blurring of gender roles. I am more concerned about saving ourselves from committing ecological suicide or ecocide. If we are to stop this then a concerted effort is needed from everyone including the church. Over population and over consumption of the earth’s natural resources are the key factors which will determine the fate of humankind.

Taking a holistic human ecological perspective is the only way forward to deal with the key issues. We need to understand our interaction with our social, political, economic and physical environment. Why we behave the way we do and what we can do to change? There are many definitions of human ecology but for me it is an academic discipline that deals with the relationship between humans, human societies, and their natural, social and created environments.

I was fortunate to study Human Ecology at Huddersfield University. I was attracted to the interdisciplinary nature of the course and the focus on local and global issues. Huddersfield was the first and only institute of higher education to offer this type of course in the UK. Sadly, Huddersfield abandoned the course but human ecology lives on at the Centre for Human Ecology in Edinburgh.

For some human ecology might seem an old term from the 1960s especially when we hear so much these days about sustainable development. However, understanding our human ecology is more relevant now than ever.

© Gary Haq 2009