Richards: A Social Ecology




This article is contributed by J. Kelvyn Richards who maintains a website “Discourse: Social Ecology.” Kelvyn was active in community-based education projects for many years. He is now retired and living with family in Greece.

Many writers have argued that in order to make an impact on world pollution, all governments will have to work together, and that it is only a token for individual governments to take certain actions, while the rest go on as before. If the world is to survive as an ‘eco system’ and be sustainable, we will all have to act together. Every individual and every government will have to agree to take specified actions designed to reduce pollution and reduce global warming. The argument is that, whether we like it or not, we only have a sustainable future by acting together and in the interests of our neighbors. For example, the hole in the ozone layer does not just effect Antarctica, it impacts upon the meteorological systems of the earth. The peoples and other organisms of the world form an extended ecological community within complex networks.

In a capitalist global society, the fittest have always been defined as those most able to make as much profit from others as possible.

In a sustainable global society we share with each other. The ‘winner ‘ does not take all, but shares it with the ‘losers’. Development, Conservation and Environmentalism cannot mean that we all seek the ways of living of the richest, but that we all share the resources of the globe so that we all achieve a satisfactory sustainable standard of life. It means caring and sharing.

It does mean that the rich get poorer. Wealth is redistributed for the benefit of all. It means that the rich will have to give back much of their riches to the poorer citizens so that we can all live sustainable lives.

It may mean the initiation of a steady state economy; if not, a no growth economy involving the de-growth of our profits and development in the face of ‘grow and die’.

The nature of our interdependence is such that the greed of some brings about the hunger of many others. In order to secure the greatest happiness of the greatest number, we must act in consideration of all others.

The warnings are all around us from scientists, activists, and, increasingly, from our personal experiences of climate change, with flooding in Australia; droughts in China and Russia, and other natural disasters across the world.

Economic instability is being experienced even among the relatively affluent citizens of the developed world: job insecurity, the migration of corporate capital, downsizing and unemployment are common features of our day-to day experiences. The credit crises which unfolded during 2007/8/9, triggered by the sub-prime mortgage deals in the USA, emphasize our interdependence and interconnectedness.

In many parts of the world famine and destitution are prevalent.

But despite such evidence of the need for a radical re-thinking of our global community, few contemplate changes in their lifestyle.

Social Ecology means that in order to protect the environment, and expect a sustainable future, we must alter our behavior, our lifestyles, our economics, our notions of self; our cultural filters, our priorities, our morality.

Since 1990, the UNDP, in the Human Development Reports, has emphasized that human developmental issues and the relief of poverty are key elements in the recognition of our interrelationships within our global society. It is naive, however, to assume that such  recognition actually leads to any changes.

The development of Deep Ecology and ecosophy represents one attempt to overcome these delusions. As Naess (1990 ) states: ‘Ecology is a limited science which makes use of scientific methods. Philosophy is the most general forum of debate on fundamentals. By an ecosophy, I mean a philosophy of ecological harmony or equilibrium. A philosophy is a kind of sophia, wisdom, and is openly normative. It contains norms, rules, postulates, value priority announcements and hypotheses concerning the state of affairs of our universe’. Thus, within Deep Ecology there is a broadening of the sphere of concern of Ecology, outlining a structure of values, which are seen, as radically different from those dominant in present societies. The central feature of difference with other types of Ecology is the merging of issues, which have previously been seen as philosophical, yet including also a requirement to action in order to effect a change in behavior. Roszak (1969) argues that what is important in the examination of a people’s mindscape is not what they articulately know or say they believe. ‘What matters is something deeper; the feel of the world around us, the sense of reality; the taste that spontaneously discriminates between knowledge and fantasy’. A notion supported by Pepper (1989) who states that: ‘It is of prime importance for us to study the real and tangible physical environment, how different groups and individuals perceive that environment and the nature of the ecologically, socially and culturally based presuppositions which color this perception, or as some express it, their cultural filter.’ If people are to alter the ways in which they behave, they are going to have to alter the ways in which they conceive their culture and traditions, and their relationships with all others, not just their family. This means that we have to think and act local and global.

The United Nations is leading the call for rethinking our political parameters and polarities. Concern for the environment, conservation, development, and ecology are not only about nature, they are calling for social changes: a social ecology, according to which we realize that we are interdependent and connected to each other, within complex networks. I want to call for rethinking our social relations; a realization of our social dependence and interdependence, and a rejection of notions of social independence, and individualism, and elitism, superiority and separatism. Within this framework, there is a continuing role for social ecology education.

1. O’Neill, D.W., Dietz, R., Jones, N. (Editors), 2010. Enough is Enough: Ideas for a sustainable economy in a world of finite resources. The report of the Steady State Economy Conference. Center for the Advancement of the Steady State Economy and Economic Justice for All, Leeds, UK.

2. United Nations Development Project: Human Development Report 2010 The real wealth of Nations: Pathways to Human Development.

3. New Economics Foundation. The Great Transition, where did our money go? 2010

4. Roszak:     The making of a counter culture 1969.

Roszak:     Where the wasteland ends 1972.

Roszak:     Eco-psychology  1995.

5. Pepper,D:  The roots of modern environmentalism 1984.

Pepper,D:  Modern environmentalism 2007.

6. Naess,A:    Outline of a Counter Culture 1990

Naess,A:    Ecology of Wisdom 2010.