Dr. Heschel, meet Dr. Ehrlich. Dr. Ehrlich, meet Dr. Hanna…

When I was a young puck – and I was more puck than buck – I was a research assistant in the Environment and Security Program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. The Environment and Security Program looks at connections between Environmental degradation and devastation, and national and international security. There are centrally two connections: scarcity leading to wars, and environmental degradation and devastation adversely affecting national security (through inability to sustain physically, and/or fiscally.) A growing number of us continue to be concerned with those issues today.

I recently started following Geoff Dabelko, the current Director of the Environment and Security Program, on twitter (#geoffdabelko.) Yesterday, Geoff tweeted a blog post on The New Security Beat titled ‘Reading Radar: Population and Sustainability.’ ehrlich_400pxThe post opens considering a paper by Paul Ehrilch (The Population Bomb) about the Millenium Assesment of Human Behaviour (MAHB.) The post states that the MAHB was created “because societies understand the magnitude of environmental challenges, yet often still fail to act.” It goes on to quote Ehrlich, “The urgent need now is clearly not for more natural science… but rather for better understanding of human behaviors and how they can be altered to direct Homo sapiens onto a course toward sustainability.”

This coming summer an article I wrote extracting material from my book (Somatic Ecology) will be published in the journal Somatics. In the article I write,

“Science is a superior tool for understanding the world, but it cannot provide perspective on how to interpret or act on the data collected. The environmental crisis, which threatens the long-term health of our cultures and our economies, is not the result of incomplete science. It is the result of incomplete perspective.”

…Which is pretty similar to Ehrlich’s understanding.

Rational actors in the economic system balance the cost of invested debt with the benefit of current equity. If you’re not an economics person another way to say that is: you know if you spend everything you have at the beginning of the month on fancy dinners, you won’t have anything to eat at the end of the month, so you don’t. But what if the end of the month is a time period at an indistinguishable distance in the future? How would that affect your behaviour? AND, what if you the actor involved were responsible to an electorate over a far shorter time span than it will take for the benefits of savings to register? Well, then you get inaction.

2008-06-05-heschelI argue in my book that we have lost an immediate understanding of ourselves in the real world. Because we no longer have a strong, grounded, animal experience of the world, our own shadows are threatening to envelop us. As the Jewish theologian Abraham Joshua Heschel wrote, “Our concern is not how to worship in the catacombs, but how to remain human in the skyscrapers.”

We are not adequately seeing, and we are not adequately feeling. The thesis of Somatic Ecology is that by developing a healthier relationship to our personal ecologies, we will develop a healthier relationship to the global ecology. I’m encouraged by recent developments, and look forward to sharing more of my research. You can see a few things here and here.

Author: Robert Bettmann

Founder of Day Eight, and the DC Arts Writing Fellowship.

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