Falling down

a story of ordinary madness…

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The indigenous idiom for sustainability

Gangte gonpa image
Gangte gonpa (from Flickr)

An example of the linkage between social and ecological systems is offered by the Gangte villages in the eastern Indian state of Manipur: the traditional land-use system among these communities had involved leaving uncultivated groves which were considered sacred until the British colonization of India. In fact, the larger commercial interests have little spur to preserve the ecosystems of the area and influenced the local communities to abandon their conservation practices in order to start marketing the precious forests. The effects of the elimination of these groves have been noticeable on the ecosystem services and brought about the deterioration of the local environment underpinning the local subsistence economy. As a result the protection of forests has been reinstituted in the area and enforced with new social incentives. “While these refugia are no longer considered to be inviolable as abodes of spiritual beings, the system of community-based vigilance and protection is identical to that prevailing with the sacred groves”(Berkes & Folke, 1998).  The idiom has changed but the relevance of local knowledge in preserving the ecosystem is still pivotal toward sustainability.

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The dawn of a new ethics

Sunrise image

Sunrise (from Flickr)

Humans, like all the other species, alter their surrounding environment to meet their basic needs. However, technology has granted society the power to re-engineer the ecosystems to an extent that has no equal within the natural world. We have almost forgotten the requirement for every living organism to fit into its life-support system. Thus, as our economy and our living patterns reveal themselves as increasingly unsustainable, we ought to realize our limitations in controlling Nature.

The new form of social development for the twenty-first century must be represented by a shift of paradigm from the view of a society detached from the environment to one in which civilization is seen as embedded in it. Furthermore, we ought to cease trying to control and homogenize cultural diversity on behalf of a new form of syncretism which enriches each human group with the ecological knowledge gained by the others. We ought to substitute our reductivist approach with a holistic one, which accepts the complexity of nature and the uncertainty intrinsic to the outcome of the interaction between humans and the natural world. Our need for a new harmony between civilization and nature must be a spur to create a new ethics concerning economic growth, science and technology because, as the philosopher Rolston stated: “great power, unconstrained by ethics, is subject to great abuse”.

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