V Moving Toward Sustainability

Deep Ecology

In applying the philosophy of Deep Ecology, there needs to be a radical shift in our philosophical outlook, including both personal and cultural transformations. The development of alternative world-views and practices is crucial. Such views must incorporate ecological insight into issues such as diversity, holism, interdependence and relations. The modern world can not just think our way out of things through a "fix," it requires deeper levels of our being to make vast changes in our personalities and institutions necessary for our survival and life itself.

Deep Ecology not only affects basic economic and political structure, but also ideological frameworks. Economic relationships combined with social relationships will generate feelings of belonging, sharing, and caring. There is a need for cooperative locally based economic systems with fluid and shifting organization and membership. Consumer and material desires should be minimized, while considering the impact on other species and on the earth in general. There should also be a grassroots participatory democracy that administers "green" politics and opposes hierarchies. These structures not only encompass "green" economic and political frameworks, but are also governed by "green" population policy, technology, peace movements, and community lifestyle.

To live by such a philosophy will require a change in ourselves as individuals and as a society. It requires the cultivation of an ecological consciousness stemming from ecological, philosophical, and spiritual approaches. A lifestyle of "treading lightly on the earth" needs to be promoted. Humans ought to live in simple, relatively non-technological, self reliant, decentralized communities. A step in this direction is in organizing communities regionally, therefore existing as a "bioregion;" analogous to the concept of an ecosystem. This regional organization and bioregionalism are far more beneficial to community ideology than traditional political structures. A bioregional mosaic that is "textured, developed, and complex (Pepper, 1993)," cultivates communities that are both co-evolving and self-governing.

To implement such deep changes, there must be self-determination, local community, and informed attitudes exemplifying such slogans as "think globally, act locally." There must be an appreciation and sensitivity of the inter-connectedness between nature and people to further a deep sense of community through collective approaches to social change, environmental betterment, and humankind. Tactics of direct action are required from a grassroots level, avoiding negative government interference. Deep Ecology needs to be localized, as it will lead to better cooperation with many other alternative movements.

Deep Ecology encourages communities to adopt a simpler lifestyle through fundamental change, to progress in a direction that ensures a betterment of life for all inhabitants of the world. A philosophical reorganization on a world scale is necessary if environmental management is to succeed in the goal of sustainability. There must be a consistent and imperative set of values of sharing, caring, solidarity, equality, and responsibility for nature and the future of humankind. Values need to be re-established to reflect small scale pre-industrial traditional societies. Both natural and social systems are key components to this huge web of interdependence with a myriad of contributors to environmental integrity and community itself. It is important that we heal concepts of separation, isolation, and arrogant superiority. Deep Ecology urges us to recognize our place in community, and from here nurture our roots and grow our dreams.

Eco-Politics and Communitarianism

Politics is not a way of life, it is a way of living. (Barber, 1984) All of these political ideas that encourage an ecological and sustainable way of life require the active participation of all citizens. In each of these political views, community is the vehicle to encourage participation in the formation of the values and ideas that will shape a society. Green politics, communitarianism and strong democracy all share similar elements that make up the foundations of their beliefs. Now that we have identified what those elements are, the question becomes, how people can move towards a community and a way of life that instils some of these ideals.

The first step is to encourage people to understand their community as home. You want people to feel like members of a community, who have some sense of attachment to this place. This means that activities need to occur in the community that make people feel like they belong. This can include, welcome wagons, door to door visits, neighboured organizations, the polling of peoples opinions, as well as social activities that are open to the entire community This process must also involve educating citizens about the community. Once people are aware of the social activities, the institutions, and the natural environment in which they live, hopefully they become active in making the decisions that affect their community.

The next part in building community is to have active participation. People living in the community have the greatest knowledge of their surroundings and often know what is best for the community. People must be involved in every step of the decision-making process, and must be given the power to determine their own destiny. Strong democracy, communitarianism and Green politics all stress the absolute necessity of participation in the political process. Without participation, the decisions of a community will have no relevance to the lives of its members.

In order to build a community that is based on sustainability, political positions must be adopted that encourage a relationship between people, built on respect and caring. If a community adopts a position that encourages respect for diversity, non-violence, personal and global responsibility, social justice and the empowerment of women and other minority groups, the relationships between people can only improve. When people care and respect their neighbour, they begin to realize how their decisions will impact others. Once this is acknowledged, we can begin to take more responsibility for our own actions, and work towards bettering our community. As respect for humans grows, individuals will begin to respect the earth as well. Once you value life, you will value all aspects of life, and incorporate them into your way of life. Together these components will lead to stronger communities and political decision making based on an ecological way of living.

The ideas presented in these political structures are not absolute rules to building a sustainable community. Communities are constantly changing, and have different and unique needs. These suggestions only offer guide-lines and ideas that people can incorporate into their communities to work towards building an ecological community.


Present day large cities have gone beyond sustainable operations. In contrast, small communities in self-sufficient bioregions would be saved from the typical boom and bust economic cycles initiated far away, and would be insulated from distant economic control. There are automatic advantages of this scheme ecologically, socially and economically based on this spatial scale of change. There would be minimal import and transportation costs. A reduction in the dependence in a money system would facilitate an skills exchange trade evident in many communities today. Cohesion would inevitably be encouraged through many community initiatives, such as inter-regional transport and food distribution. In this manner of life, the community can directly see the effects of their actions on the environment and therefore be responsible in their actions (Pepper 1993). Education as it is presently defined is heavily influenced at the provincial and federal levels; a bioregional approach to education would include a greater emphasis on educational topics specific to the region and regional levels having more control over similar local decisions (Corcoran and Siever 1994). This concept is not a revisitation of pre-industrial times. It represents a maximized use of current sustainable potential.

Bioregionalism recognizes that the starting point is a re-examination by the human community of the structured forms of differentiation between society and the biophysical environment. The most important aspect or goal of bioregionalism is recognizing, understanding and respecting the life systems in the bioregion; discovering non-exploitive and sustainable ways to fulfil basic needs which include food water, shelter and also culture, community and spirituality (Shapiro 1993).

Healthy Communities

The Ontario Healthy Communities Secretariat in Toronto has a newsletter/booklet which outlines the process required for a community to become healthy. It is an approach to promoting health. It involves community action through public participation in setting priorities, making decisions, planning and implementing strategies to promote health. It is a change oriented process designed to give residents more control over things that happen and affect their home. The process emphasizes the use of local resources to increase citizen involvement in mutual aid.

There are five phases to the Healthy Communities process, entry, needs assessment, planning, doing and renewal. Each phase has a specific area of focus and involves the completion of certain major tasks. At each step there is an evaluation of accomplishments so far, a decision about whether to proceed to the next step, planning for the next phase and finally, action. For information on how to implement the Healthy Communities approach in a community refer to the Ontario Healthy Communities Homepage on the World Wide Web.

Transformations that will be present in a Healthy Community include the above mentioned commitment by the municipal government and promotion of health in policies and decision-making. Other transformations that will be visible on a more social level include the attitude of people toward public decision-making and their commitment to achieving a fully, wholly healthy (as defined by the UN) community.

Ecosystem Approach

The five themes of the Ecosystem Approach mentioned early in the "Understanding Community" section are in fact ways to help move towards community.

The first step, perceiving the ecosystem as "home", is developing a sense of belonging towards nature, thinking that we not only obtain our needs from it, but also have a responsibility and affection for caring and protecting it. To develop such a sense of connection, a sense of community is essential. People will feel a sense of belonging to the Earth only if they feel that they belong to a community.

Community activities are therefore important in getting people involve. Those community activities can be mainly divided into two groups: activities that foster a sense of community, and activities that help develop a sense of community towards nature. The first group includes all kinds of social activities. Examples on campus are regular floor dinners in colleges and organizing activities or taking positions in school clubs or student councils. They aim to provide a sense of belonging towards the community on campus. The second group includes activities that deal with nature, such as education programs about our natural world and participation in greening the campus like Waterhen. While both groups of activities incorporate neighbourhood and co-operation, the activities which focus on nature also help us "care" for the earth.

The other two themes, moving towards sustainability and understanding places, are more or less the same in viewing the role of community in achieving a healthy community, and thus the steps to move towards community are similar.

The fourth theme is knowing everything is connected to everything else. Environmental concerns is not a separate area of study, but has an interlocking relationship with economic and community systems in making a community healthy. However, people may only look at economic value in business and ignore the environmental costs in our social systems. By viewing our social systems as an interlocking basis, we can then connect the intrinsic values on environmental assets, the benefits that a healthy community can bring and the costs of doing remediation of environmental damages. For instance, we can apply such economic instruments as charges on products, deposit-refunding systems, market creation, and financial enforcement incentives to merge the economy, community, and environment in the decision-making process. It is the administration or decision-makers who take the first step in applying these economic instruments to sustain the community's health.

The last theme, integrated process, stresses the idea that if we want to improve the kinds of decisions we make, we are going to have to change the way we make those decisions. During the consultations process, it is recommened that people from different backgrounds are brought together in the round-table format. Instead of discussing issues separately with different parties, proponents should get all involved individuals and groups together and try to reach a mutual agreement in the final decision.

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