AND ECOLOGICALLY MINDED ALTERNATIVES
I wonder if we wouldn't become more gracefully productive by recognizing that we are
all living cells with organisms like cities, bioregions, continents, and the earth itself.
Could we lessen our stress, become healthier and more whole, if we saw our work as
simply helping these organisms realize their living wholeness?
Daniel Kemmis, Mayor of Missoula, Montana (1995)
In this chapter, I begin by presenting the "big picture" of environmental degradation and
sustainable alternatives. I argue that corporate globalization - which is creating massive
environmental devastation, poverty, and community disintegration - is leading us to an
evolutionary dead end. The global economic system has become de-linked from place
and people, and has developed a tendency to extract and degrade environmental resources
for short-term monetary gain (Korten, 2001). I argue that the central goals of an
ecological revolution toward sustainable alternatives is to create an earth community with
economies which are: (a) driven by social needs; (b) linked to place; and (c) biased
toward creating small communities, finding long-term solutions, living in balance with
nature, conserving resources, and living co-operatively with all people. The conceptual
framework of this chapter consists of two main components: (a) the issues and problems
of environmental degradation, and (b) the values, principles, and ideas which lead toward
sustainable living and social justice.
Environmental problems are community problems. We all have a responsibility to
enhance and protect the planet that we inhabit. The solutions to these problems rest in the
hands of individuals and communities of citizens. They will require the actions of
informed citizens willing to tread more lightly on the planet and to move their neighbours
to make the commitment to do the same. They also will need governments to develop the
political will and legislation to stop the senseless destruction of the planet we all share.
Environmental problems are also transdisciplinary problems. Although most of the
students reading this book will be taking a community psychology course, the conceptual
framework utilized in this chapter integrates material from multiple disciplines, including
ecology, ecological economics, biology, general systems theory, psychology, sociology,
planning, and popular education.
The solutions to global environmental decline are coming from individual citizens and
communities of people who value the resources of the earth, and who believe in freedom,
justice, democracy, and equality for all of the people who inhabit the planet that we share.
ENVIRONMENTAL DEGRADATION AND COMMUNITY PSYCHOLOGY
Kidner (1994) has argued that, as a discipline, psychology has been mute about the
environmental crisis because its ideological preconceptions are similar to those of the
ideological-economic-technological systems which are largely responsible for the crisis.
Even though the health of the natural ecology is fundamental to the well-being of people,
the transactions between individuals and the natural world remain largely unconsidered in
community psychology research and practice. While community psychologists have
adopted ecological concepts from the field of biology and have postulated ecological
principles as a frame of reference for their work (Kelly, 1966, 1970; Trickett, 1984;
Trickett, Kelly, & Vincent, 1985), the focus has been on social ecology rather than on
natural ecology or on the transactions between human systems and the natural world.
That is, the transactional analyses legitimate a worldview in which people are seen as
separate from the natural environment rather than as interdependent with it. Further, few
community psychologists have been actively engaged in "change of the system" work
(Bennett & Foy, 1987; Prilleltensky & Nelson, 1997). This is particularly problematic in
the face of the burgeoning global ecological crisis.
There is evidence, however, that these attitudes may be starting to change. Recent
community psychology textbooks (e.g., Dalton, Elias, & Wandersman, 2000) have
included environmental psychology in their descriptions of conceptual perspectives for
describing ecological context and its impact on individuals. Further, there have been
some high-profile, intensive, and longitudinal community-level studies of the
psychological effects of living in close proximity to toxic disasters (Baum, 1987; Baum
& Fleming, 1993) and toxic waste sites, and of citizen activism in response to these
conditions (Levine, 1982; Stone & Levine, 1985; Rich, Edelstein, Hallman, &
Wandersman, 1995). Excellent work also has been done in researching and popularizing
the area of community-based social marketing as a means of fostering sustainable
development (McKenzie-Mohr & Oskamp, 1995; McKenzie-Mohr, 2000).
ENVIRONMENTAL DEGRADATION: ISSUES AND PROBLEMS
The Environmental Crisis, Psychosocial Dysfunctions, and Macroeconomics
A significant transformation has been taking place in North American communities and
in communities around the world during the past 50 years. Accelerated economic growth
has placed extraordinary demands on the ecosystem, demands which exceed what the
earth community is capable of sustaining.
As a result, we are witnessing a burgeoning of social disintegration and environmental
degradation in almost every country in the world. In the last century, people have
managed to destroy much of the planet's "living capital," which took two billion years to
create. The evidence is everywhere - ozone-layer depletion, climate change, epidemics of
new diseases such as AIDS, an expanding population, and the loss of biodiversity, fish
stocks, agricultural land, forests, and the global water supply. All of this is in addition to
the social and economic injustices discussed earlier in this book.
The relentless and insatiable quest for economic growth and the pursuit of profit for its
own sake have served as the organizing principles for public policy in North America and
in countries around the world, and are the central threats to the earth community. The
requirements of an economic system driven by a growth mentality have been the main
causes of the global environmental crisis and the crisis in community. The documentation
of the ecological costs of the growth orientation pursued by conventional macroeconomic
policies is overwhelming.
Daly and Cobb (1989), two internationally respected economists, foresee current global
economic policies leading civilization to a dead end. They argue that contemporary
economic growth has meant an exponential increase in the extraction of resources from
the environment and the emission of waste products into the environment - all with little
regard for the exhaustion of natural resources, pollution, or the human community. The
line is that
y we are
health issues have observed that environmental factors give rise to stress, overpower the
coping mechanisms of the individuals they affect, and undermine mental health (Cowen,
1977; Epp, 1986, 1988; Horney, 1937; Lalonde, 1974; Lazarus & Folkman, 1984;
Rappaport, 1977, 1984). Among those environmental stressors, Cahill (1983) includes
structural characteristics of the macroeconomy. The link between macroeconomic
conditions and psychosocial dysfunctions is further substantiated by Seidman and
Rapkin's (1983) literature review and Wachtel's (1989) in-depth treatment of the
psychological underpinnings of our insatiable desire for growth.
Economics: Chrematistics or Okonomia?
Environmental issues fit Mills's (1959) discussion of "public issues." Public issues
transcend the local environments of individuals and their inner lives, and have to do with
the organization and structure of social and historical life. They are connected to an
economic paradigm that measures human welfare in relation to the Gross National
Product (GNP). Some scholars (Daly & Cobb, 1989; Wachtel, 1987), however, observe
that the tendency to treat the GNP as a general index of national well-being is a fallacy of
misplaced concreteness that ignores many social, psychological, and environmental costs.
According to Daly and Cobb (1989), the GNP is a poor measure not only of national
welfare but also of income. True income, they argue, is sustainable - and the GNP
subtracts neither the expenditures associated with economic growth (such as degradation
of the environment) nor the social costs of development. Further, in the GNP, harmful
consumption (e.g., of unhealthy fast foods and tobacco) is viewed favourably because it
appears as an indicator of "growth." The income accounting of GNP does not calculate
the maximum amount that we can consume without impoverishing ourselves; thus, Daly
and Cobb conclude, we are living beyond our means.
Accordingly, Daly and Cobb advocate a paradigm shift from the present-day economics
of chrematistics - "the manipulation of property and wealth to maximize the short term
monetary exchange value to the owner" - to the economics of okonomia - economics for
"the larger community of land, of shared values, biomes, institutions, language and
history" (1989, p. 138). The key to economics for a sustainable future, they contend, is to
acknowledge the carrying capacity of the ecosystem and to understand that the economy
has a proper scale relative to the ecosystem. Only in this way, they argue, can we avoid
Loss of Biodiversity
The loss of biodiversity serves as evidence of the threat to the earth's structural and
functional undergirding systems - its atmosphere, chemical fabric, and biological essence.
The loss of biodiversity and global climate change introduce a new class of problems to
the prototypical complex adaptive system called the biosphere (Levin, 1999) - problems
which threaten its internal organization and capacity to maintain itself. Few people fully
understand the significance of biodiversity to the sustenance of life or the implications of
its loss: With the increasing loss of ecological systems, we are speeding up our own
One of the most serious aspects of the loss of biodiversity is the exponential rate of
environmental destruction. An ecosystem may be attacked in hundreds of ways from
hundreds of sources, all at once, and not always with warning. Because of the
interdependent nature of the ecosystem, the extinction of some species can speed up
extinction rates overall. Environmentalists label this phenomenon exponential
environmental destruction (Suzuki, 2002). The net effect is the creation of a biodiversity
deficit, "where species and ecosystems will be destroyed faster than nature can create
new ones" (Coddington, 2002, p.27).
Ehrlich and Holdren (1971) argue that the most significant event in the two-billion-year
history of life on earth has been the ascendancy of the Homo sapiens species. Only
10,000 years ago, the human population (numbering only about 5 million) was but one of
many species of large mammals living on this planet. As a result of the agricultural
revolution, the human population had risen to 500 million by 1650, and now exceeds 6
billion. This exponential population growth and its accompanying agricultural, industrial,
biomedical, biological and technological revolutions have come with staggering costs to
biodiversity at all levels - from large mammals and old-growth trees to the smallest of
organisms. Humanity has realized enormous achievements (such as the exploration of
space), but we have failed miserably in living in harmony with nature and in eliminating
global injustices such as poverty and hunger.
Agriculture, Food, and Environmental Degradation
There have been serious consequences to the globalization of the food system. The
economic colonization of the global food system has forced many countries in the Third
World to stop growing crops necessary for the subsistence of their population and,
instead, to sell cash crops for export as a means of paying their foreign debts. Further, it
has diminished the capacity of local areas to produce their own food, contaminated the
food with herbicide and pesticide residues, and reduced the nutritional value of the food
Environmental degradation is one of the most serious elements of the crisis in agriculture.
The protection of the biodiversity of farm soils is essential to agriculture, the
environment, and human and animal health. Yet industrial methods of farming such as
monoculture (reliance on a single crop or livestock) have contributed to the loss of
hundreds of millions of tons of topsoil each year to erosion, have dramatically reduced
essential biodiversity in agricultural soils, and threatened the integrity of the soil and our
ability to grow healthful food. The industrial paradigm of agriculture, which has been
promoted by public policy, relies heavily on the use of farm inputs such as chemical
fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, irrigation, and large-scale equipment for
working the land, planting the seeds, and harvesting the crops. Modern farm strategies -
along with the lack of regulations for the disposal of toxic animal wastes, the
environmental and health risks associated with feed contamination, and the problems in
the meat packing and food processing industries - have become an ecological disaster.
Closely related to the health and environmental risks posed by our food supply system is
the unhealthy nature of our diet. Schlosser (2002) argues that high-sugar, high-fat, fast-
food diets have had staggering health impacts on citizens around the world. They increase
the risk of heart disease, hypertension, certain cancers, and diabetes. In the United States,
where 25% of the population eat at least one meal a day from a fast-food outlet and
where fast-food is served in school cafeterias, obesity is the second highest ranking cause
of death (approximately 60% of adults and more than 20% of children are overweight).
And, as Schlosser notes, the United States is exporting its fast food and dietary problems:
U.S. beef exports have increased to 2,417 billion pounds in 1999, up from 40 million
pounds in 1970; Coca-Cola is now Africa's largest employer; and Mexico surpasses the
United States in per capita consumption of Coke (Lappe & Lappe, 2002).
Barlow and Clarke (2002) posit that the degradation and the depletion of the world's
water supply is perhaps the greatest threat to the survival of our planet. The world is
running out of fresh water: The Third World is already facing a water crisis (which
endangers human beings and other species) and, they argue, other areas of the world,
including North America, are on the brink of one.
Not only are we polluting of our fresh water supply, but in some cases, Barlow and
Clarke (2002) argue, we also are using water at a greater rate than ground water reserves
can be replenished by precipitation. They assert that unless we change our ways, as much
as two thirds of the world's population will experience severe water shortages in the next
quarter-century. They observe that global water consumption is doubling every 20 years -
more than twice the rate of human population growth: "Put in economic terms, instead of
living on fresh water income, we are irreversibly diminishing fresh water capital. At
some time in the near future, we will be fresh water bankrupt" (p. 15).
Environmental Degradation and the Crisis of Governance
It is the responsibility of a government to govern in the interests of its citizens and to
protect the commons (the natural and social ecology of individuals and societies).
However, influenced by a business-first ideology and by their close relations with the
corporations that cause pollution and other environmental problems, government officials
often abdicate this responsibility.
On June 13, 2002, the United States announced proposals to amend its Clean Air Act to
make it easier for utilities to expand coal-burning power plants. Buck Parker, executive
director of the environmental law firm Earth Justice, argued that this amendment would
result in millions of tons of additional pollution, and made a powerful analogy to the
recent disclosure of the feared "terrorist" dirty bomb: "With the release of this report the
Bush administration dropped a dirty bomb and its going to cost thousands of American
lives." David Anderson, Canada's environment minister, believes the proposed changes to
the U.S. Clean Air Act could result in more pollution drifting into Canada (K-W Record,
June 14, 2002, p. A-3).
The power of some elite transnational corporations has been consolidated by international
trade agreements - such as the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) - which
are backed by the World Bank, the World Trade Organization (WTO), and the
International Monetary Fund (IMF). This increased power has resulted in a crisis of
governance. Governments around the world seem unable to protect the commons against
the ideological and legal-political-technological forces of economic globalization.
Increasingly, governments are giving corporations a new set of rights which have no
responsibilities to the welfare of individuals or community tied to them. Under NAFTA,
virtually any government action (including action to protect the health of the country's
citizens) that interferes with a corporation's reasonably expected profits can result in an
obligation to pay millions of dollars in damages to the corporation.
Summary of the Big Picture
The earth is in serious trouble. Around the globe, we see countless examples of life-
threatening environmental problems which are the results of unsustainable, large-scale
human activity. Indeed, we have almost become inured to the daily reports of ecological
devastation. Most of us want to breathe clean air and drink safe water. Yet our
environmental problems persist and, as they are multiplied across diverse ecosystems and
communities, they increase exponentially with each passing year.
While there is serious cause for concern, there are also thousands of examples, involving
millions of citizens, that give us hope that we can save our troubled planet (Roberts &
Brandon, 1996; Barlow & Clarke, 2001; Korten, 2001; Lappe & Lappe, 2002; Suzuki &
Dressel, 2002). As grim as things may seem, I can't imagine what the world would look
like today without civil society fighting for its rights.
TOWARD SUSTAINABLE LIVING:
VALUES, PRINCIPLES, IDEAS AND STRATEGIES
Values and Social Change
"When we begin to believe that there is a greater joy in working with and for others than
just for ourselves, then our society will truly become a place for celebration."
Prilleltensky and Nelson (1997) have identified the values of community psychology as
being: (a) health, (b) caring and compassion, (c) self-determination and participation, (d)
human diversity, and (e) social justice. I believe that a shift in emphasis toward these
values can make feasible a more harmonious balance with nature. So far, our
relationships with nature have been largely absent from community psychology's
conceptual models of ecological context. But I believe that community psychology's
values must, in their definitions of ecology and well-being, explicitly embrace the natural
environment (Bennett, 1992; Bennett, in press).
A main argument of this chapter is that the choices which individuals and societies make
regarding their relationships with the environment are informed by values. Our economic
system and our relationships with nature have gone astray and out of control because we
have lost sight of what is really important. In this chapter, I join an increasing number of
critics who argue that the dominant value that is influencing the escalating global
environmental crisis is human greed - an insatiable appetite for economic growth and
wealth. These appetites have disrupted the psychological foundations of well-being - for
individuals and for our societies. It is my view that we have choices; we can prevent the
eco-catastrophe that is facing our civilization and attain a harmonious ecological balance.
To do so, though, we need to make a fundamental shift in values from an economic
definition of well-being to a more holistic one.
There are an expanding number of world-wide social movements based on the desire to
create a world that works for all -- a fight for life, democracy and well-being. Examples
include: Ekins, (1992), grass roots movements to promote self-reliant and healthy
alternatives; Hallman (2000), a global movement to enhance spiritual values for earth
community. Korten (2001), the Global Movement For A Living Democracy - seeking
transformative justice through non-violent means; Sarkar (1992), the emergence of green
alternative politics that began in the 1970s in Germany; Shiva (1988), the growing social
movement of women in the third world fighting for survival and the environment; Mies
& Shiva (1993), the ecology and feminist movement and the meaningful advancement of
some ecofeminist subsistence alternatives.
Fundamental Principles: Justice and Accountability
"It is the awareness of having faults, I think, and the knowledge that this links us to
everyone on Earth, that opens us to courage and compassion."
Justice, accountability, and appropriate process are important aspects of social change.
When there are power imbalances or an abuse of power, it is especially important to
name problems, and to hold people and governments accountable for their actions and
A broad scientific consensus exists, for example, that increased CO2 emissions and other
human-produced greenhouse gases are precipitating warming of the global atmosphere
and contributing to disastrous climatic changes. Since 1989, governments have been
negotiating to address climate change under the auspices of the United Nations. Scientists
and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have been important contributors to the
In 1992, at the Rio Earth Summit, the first major agreement was adopted. From a justice
perspective, there were two significant aspects to the treaty: (a) that the governments of
the world acknowledged that they must work together to solve the problem and that some
countries have more responsibility for the problem than others, and (b) that there is an
urgent need to stabilize greenhouse concentrations in the atmosphere - by reducing the
annual emissions of CO2 by more than 60% - to prevent dangerous anthropogenic
interference with the climate system.
By December 1997, governments had negotiated the Kyoto Accord, a specific protocol
for reducing emissions to a level still considerably higher than that called for by the
scientific community. An important element of the Kyoto negotiation process was the
"Justice Statement" presented by the delegation of the World Council of Churches, which
transcended the legal negotiations and was directed primarily at the lack of moral conduct
of the world's rich nations:
The Kyoto Accord has major shortcomings - not the least of which is that, the United
States withdrew from the Accord in January, 2001 and as of July 2002, the Parliament of
Canada had not yet ratified it. Nonetheless, it is an important step toward finding justice
and assigning moral responsibility for a serious world environmental problem. As such, it
serves as an important "small win" in the move toward sustainable living.
The Power of Ideas
"Until we have a reasonable idea of where we want to go, we are unlikely to get there."
Why are we facing environmental degradation and death in a world so rich with
resources? Fromm (1973) argues that we all have the power to create realities which defy
common sense and are destructive to our lives and to future generations. If we follow a
map of ideas which are destructive to the environment and the planet, we can be
destroyed. But we can also choose to follow a map of ideas that leads us toward a long
and healthy future.
Among the many ideas that can contribute to the transformation work which points us to
sustainable living, are: (a) schooling for emotional intelligence; (b) understanding health
as wellness; (c) developing eco-cities; (d) promoting eco-literacy; (e) reclaiming
agriculture; (f) promoting biodiversity; (g) reforming banking practices; and (h)
providing tools for living simply.
Schooling for emotional intelligence. Goleman (1995) presents well-documented
arguments to indicate that modern society lacks emotional literacy and would benefit
from the idea of schooling for emotional intelligence. He argues that emotional
intelligence: (a) meaningfully contributes to reducing self-centered focus and impulses;
(b) strengthens character, moral conduct, self-discipline, and empathy; and (c) is essential
to both democracy and a healthy society. In recognition of such arguments community
psychologists have developed intervention programs in schools and other settings, for
children, youth and adults (e.g. Caplan, Vinkour, & Price 1997; Shure, 1997; Weissburg,
Barton & Shriver,1997). In 1995, health promotion and prevention-oriented action
researchers joined to establish the Collaborative to Advance Social and Emotional
Intelligence (CASEL). The mission is to advance the social and emotional competencies
of children and adolescents (Dalton, Elias, & Wandersman, 2001).
While Goleman and others have argued for schooling the emotions in the public schools,
I think that there are also strong arguments to introduce such programs into business
schools and for corporate executives and government leaders. Indeed, the evidence
provided by the examples in this chapter strongly suggests that the leaders of North
America's government and corporations lack the body of skills which emotional
intelligence represents - character and moral conduct.
Understanding health as well-being. When Marc Lalonde served as Canada's minister
of health and welfare, he proposed a policy document which recommended that Canada's
health system make a profound shift to incorporate an orientation toward wellness. The
document, New perspectives for the health of Canadians (Canada, 1974), argued for a
holistic approach to health which highly valued the health of the natural and social
environment. The Lalonde report was a significant government document. It represented
a "paradigm shift" in thinking about health because it argued that the major
improvements health would emerge not from changes in health services but primarily
from changes in lifestyle and in the environment. The concepts of the Lalonde Report
have since been added to by others and implementation strategies have been developed.
In 1986, the first International Conference on Health Promotion was convened in Ottawa,
Canada by the World Health Organization (WHO). An influential and enduring document
was produced, the Ottawa Charter for Health Promotion. The document focussed the
importance of health promotion as a process of enabling citizens to improve their health,
and defined health promotion as extending beyond healthy lifestyles to well-being. Also
in the mid-80s Healthy Communities projects were initiated in Europe and in Canada. In
Canada, the intiative has been called the Canadian Healthy Communities project and
includes all types of local governments and communities.
Developing Eco-cities. It is possible to restore cities so that we can enhance various
forms of human exchange - goods, money, ideas, different forms of concourse - and
improve our quality of life (Engwicht, 1993). In 1975, for example, Richard Register and
his colleagues founded Urban Ecology, an organization dedicated to planning and
revitalizing cities based on ecological principles. Among the paradigms and social
movements on which Urban Ecology was based were "healthy communities, appropriate
technology (AT), community economic development, social ecology, the green
movement, bioregionalism, native world views, and sustainable development" (Roseland,
1997, p. 4). It is interesting to note the similarities in values between the principles and
concepts of community psychology and the paradigms for creating ecological cities.
Among the many viable manifestations of these paradigms and concepts in American and
Canadian cities, community gardens provide an excellent example. Community gardens
are plots, typically situated in urban areas, for people who don't have access to land. They
are used for growing food and for connecting people to the land and to one another.
Promoting Eco-literacy. The resurgence of school gardens has provided children with
an option to grow their own food, prepare it, share it with their peers and teachers, and
preserve it to extend the season. School gardens can help children to re-establish their
connection to nature and to food as a social and cultural good. They can also serve as a
viable alternative to fast foods. Lappé and Lappé (2002) report that one fifth of California
schools now have school gardens, and thousands more have been sprouting up across the
United States. With curriculum development assistance for eco-literacy, students start to
make connections between seemingly disconnected parts of life (e.g., the connections
between the regular consumption of fast foods and soft drinks and the problems of
childhood obesity) and learn to develop an ecological perspective.
Reclaiming Agriculture. Pirages and Ehrlich (1974) introduced the concept of the
dominant social paradigm (DSP) to describe a society's frame of reference. The DSP
mostly values: (a) a bigger-is-better growth orientation, (b) survival-of-the-fittest social
and corporate Darwinism, (c) strong faith in globalization of resources and markets, (d)
strong faith in science and technology, and (e) control over nature. Working within the
DSP, people have created wastelands and destroyed vast areas of our planet.
Wes Jackson (1997) argues that succession in agriculture is necessary for ecological
survival. He further contends that, to achieve sustainable agriculture, we need to give
emphasis to two important ecological concepts, redemption and transcendence, both of
which are fundamental to the Judeo-Christian worldview. The concept of redemption is
important because it is hopeful. Nature has shown that it can heal itself in time -
particularly if it is aided by tender loving care (although some damage may be
irreversible or take thousands of years to repair). The notion of transcendence moves us
from the reductionist thinking of conventional agriculture, which continues to move us
away from the interdependent harmony of nature. Transcendence, at a cultural level, is
essential to succession.
At a cultural level, I have witnessed the power of transcendence in my Amish neighbors'
relationships to community and human-nature interactions. The Amish farmers live in
harmony with the natural world. The Amish worldview stands in sharp contrast to the
dominant social paradigm (DSP) of the global industrial society. Baltaz (1998) provides
other examples of ecologically minded Ontario farmers who, like the Amish, are
transcending the reductionist notions of modern industrial agriculture and the DSP. For
these practitioners, farming is a way of life, a way of working with nature. Sick crops and
animals are symptoms of imbalances between management practices and nature, and
these farmers recognize that they must address the source of the problem and the holistic
approach to a solution transcends the industrial quick-fix approach.
Promoting Biodiversity. For the past several years, organic agriculture has been the
fastest growing sector in North American agriculture. The movement has been driven by
consumers who are searching for food that is produced without the use of pesticides,
herbicides, and antibiotics. However, because it does not fit the DSP, the ecological farm
movement has not benefited from the support of either governments or the knowledge
sectors of society. Cuba, on the other hand, has made a national commitment to the
development of sustainable farm practices. Cuba's accomplishments serve as a positive
example of what is possible, when there is the political will to take such action.
To meet its economic challenges, Cuba has been slowly transforming its industrial
methods of food and fibre production into a more sustainable, self-reliant, low-input-use,
and organic-farming style of agriculture. The government has given priority to ensuring
that there is food for all and to becoming self-reliant in food production through
encouraging: (a) the use of animal power and traditional farming knowledge, (b) the aid
of Cuba's network of research laboratories and research stations, and (c) the benefits of a
well-educated populace. The research stations and the country's traditional farmers have
helped Cuba move successfully toward the goal of total elimination of agro-chemicals
through the use of agro-ecological methods. In comparison with other Third World
nations which have faced food crises, Cuba stands alone as a country that looked
primarily to its own resources to solve the problem. As such, Cuba represents a
wonderful natural experiment of a nation on a journey to transform its entire food
production system to sustainable agricultural methods.
Reforming Banking Practices. The Grameen Bank (Bangali for "The Village Bank") has
accomplished what many thought to be impossible - building a "micro-credit" system for
the poor. The Bank, which was founded in Bangladesh 20 years ago, now has
approximately 2.5 million borrowers and more than 10,000 employees. The liberating
work of the Grameen Bank includes reclaiming Bangladesh's fishing ponds and reviving
traditional crops. Microcredit is expected to be extended to 37 million people in 2002 - all
of whom live on less than $2 a day - and to 100 million by 2005. The model of the
Grameen Bank has been so successful that it has been replicated in 56 countries. It has
been growing at an exponential rate because people have been empowered to help one
another (Lappé & Lappé, 2002).
Providing tools for living simply. For more than 20 years, the Working Centre, in
Kitchener, Ontario, has been assisting people to acquire tools for living. The Centre's
spirit is captured in the words of Christian Agaard, a local newspaper columnist, "A few
people with a few tools can do extraordinary things for their neighborhoods. It is street
level democracy that sows community gardens and fixes bikes for people who can't
afford main street rates." The community tools projects of the Centre have attempted to
respect and enhance a simple way of living that honors people and the environment.
Following in the footsteps of E.F. Schumacher (1973) - one of the world's most
influential thinkers since WWII. (London times, 1995) - the Centre practices a form of
community and household economics which starts and ends with people and their desire
to be self-determining and living in ways that are harmonious with nature.
The Working Centre does not provide services or formal programs; rather, it provides a
setting where citizens can meet formally or informally, around concrete resources, to
determine ways in which they can become involved in personal and community
development. The Centre provides access to tools, support, and assistance. Citizens are
given the opportunity to discover their own dreams and opportunities for relationship
building. The Centre is described by its founders, Joe and Stephanie Mancini, as "an
independent instrument of self-help community development." The Working Centre's
diverse projects demonstrate a remarkable intelligence about the necessities of everyday
life, about the creation of community and about the need to facilitate a balance between
the human needs and the health of the natural world. One illustration is their clean air
Imagine no possessions, I wonder if you can
No need for greed nor hunger nor folk with empty hands
Imagine all the people sharing all the world
You may say I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one
I hope someday you'll join us and the whole world will live as one
John Lennon, 1971
This chapter has provided an introduction to the central environmental issues and
problems and to some of the values, concepts, ideas, tools and examples of sustainable
alternatives that people are pursuing. It represents one community psychologist's way of
thinking about the challenges and the alternatives. I hope that you will build on this way
of thinking and the examples introduced in the chapter, and join with neighbors and
friends and the millions of people worldwide who are successfully finding answers to
World history changed on September 11, 2001, when a group of terrorists who had no
fear of death demonstrated the vulnerability of the United States, the most powerful
nation on the planet. I believe that the lesson of September 11 is that we cannot have
peace and security without eliminating world poverty, hunger, environmental degradation
and global injustices. With First World countries having failed to live up to the Rio
Accord of 1992, and with the United States and Canada having failed even to ratify the
Kyoto Accord of 1997, the need for a global ethical framework based on justice for all is
clear. The problem of modern government is that it has taken a fragmented approach to
world affairs and has uncritically embraced economic globalization, which favors profit
over community wellness and environmental stewardship. We all need to ask questions
about how we live: Is it just? Is it sustainable? We need to make a commitment to build
consensus that terrorism against the environment will be resisted.
What can citizens like you and me do to reduce and prevent the health-threatening
environmental pollution that surrounds us? I suggest that you start by answering some
questions to measure the size of your own ecological footprint. To a greater or lesser
extent, we are all participants in the destruction of the planet. We are part of the problem
and we can be part of the solution.
The university students with whom I work have found the exercise which follows a
useful way to start the process. After you respond to the questions, it can be particularly
helpful to join with others in your class to discuss the experience.
<insert Figure 1 here : What's your share of the global commons?>
Here is a list of some selected names and addresses of settings that can help citizens who
wish to become involved in ecologically-minded research and action. The settings listed
are valuable resources and can assist you to link to hundreds of other resource settings.
Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA) An action research and advocacy
organization on diverse public issues. National office: www.policy alternatives.ca
Council of Canadians A Canadian citizens' watchdog organization invlved in a diverse
range of social and environmental issues. email: <email@example.com>;
Conservation Ecology www.consecol.org email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Electronic peer-reviewed scientific journal on conservation themes with 10,000
Cuba: Sustainable agriculture www.foodfirst.org/cuba;www.cityfarmer.org/cuba
Resource on Cuba's agricultural revolution.
Environmental Rights Action (ERA) A Nigerian-based organization which disseminates
information on the human and environmental abuses of transnational corporations in the
third world. email: <email@example.com> or <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Greenpeace Canada www.greenpeacecanada.org tel. 416-597-8408
Greenpeace USA www.greenpeaceusa.org tel. 1-800-326-0959; 202-462-1177; fax. 202-
Greenpeace International Keizersgracht 176, 1016 DW Amsterdam, the Netherlands tel.
31 20 523 6222; fax. 31 20 523 6200
Greenpeace has active campaigns on diverse issues. Sometimes the campaigns are listed
separately. Start by going to their main site.
Institute for Policy Studies in Washington www.seen.org
Good information on big oil corporations and their links to World Bank Funding.
International Forum on Globilization www.ifg.org
A San Francisco-based organization of approximately 60 leading activists, scholars, and
economists engaged in public education work on diverse environmental issues.
John Ikerd, "Sustainable agriculture -- A positive alternative"
Rainforest Action Committee www.amazonwatch.org
An active NGO concrned with drilling in ecologically sensitive areas of Central and
South America. The Union of Concerned Scientists www.ucsusa.org
Consists of hundreds of prominent scientists who have organized to disseminate research
information on diverse global environmental
The International Rivers Network www.irn.org
A worldwide network of activists and professionals working for policy changes and
community-based river management.
The Natural Step The list of conditions by which to live.
Canada: email@example.com www.naturalstep.ca
The Sierra Club of Canada email: <firstname.lastname@example.org>; www.sierraclub.ca/national
A very active and effective environmental organization.
The Small Planet Fund www.smallplanetfund.org
Supports groups across the globe who are re-embedding economics in values that sustain
land and community.
Utne Reader www.utne.com An outstanding alternative magazine with regular
contributions and contacts on sustainable activities.
World Wildlife Fund www.panda.org
A global organization with action programs that are particularly effective in the third
YES! A Journal of Positive Futures An excellent resource for people in search of
sustainable alternatives. email: <email@example.com>; www.yesmagazine.org
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Edward M. Bennett is Professor, Department of Psychology and Co-ordinator of the
Graduate Programs in Community Psychology, Wilfrid Laurier University, Waterloo,
Ontario, Canada. He is the co-founder and a past senior editor of the Canadian Journal of
Community Mental Health. Ed has been actively engaged in community-based research
and development work for over 30 years. Since 1992 he has worked with the Old Order
Amish of Ontario on land use planning challenges and sustainable agricultural practices.
He has helped to initiate several community-based economic development ventures
including a goat cheese co-op, and a certified organic, community shared agriculture
setting - the Fair Share Harvest.