As far back as 1964, Paul Sears, an eminent American ecologist and former chair of the graduate program in Conservation at Yale University, described ecology as “a subversive subject” and asked “if taken seriously as an instrument for the long-run welfare of mankind, would it endanger the assumptions and practices accepted by modern societies, whatever their doctrinal commitments.”
Several years later, Murray Bookchin, who developed the concept of social ecology, suggested the true subversiveness of ecology is seen when it is applied to the cultural, social, political and economic situation of humankind as human ecology, for then “ecology is intrinsically a critical science — in fact critical on a scale that most radical systems of political economy failed to attain.”
That, of course, is why Green politics is so threatening to the established order. It simply does not accept the “givens” — the core values — of modern society: the primacy of the economy, the belief in perpetual growth and the accumulation of more and more “stuff,” humanity’s domination of and separation from nature, the valuing of the “wants” of the individual over the greater needs of the community, and all that follow from those core beliefs.
But what if we changed our core beliefs? What if we believed:
• Humans do not dominate but are entirely dependent upon nature, of which they are but one small part?
• Perpetual economic growth on a finite planet is, as Kenneth Boulding, a former president of the American Economic Association, suggested way back in 1973, something only a madman or an economist would believe in?
• We can’t have all our selfish wants met, but have to recognize we are part of a community where everyone’s basic needs must be met first?
• The source of happiness is not to be found in the accumulation of even more stuff, that enough is indeed enough?
It seems something is afoot in the body politic and the halls of government, something that might challenge those core beliefs and subvert the assumptions and practices accepted by modern societies: ecology. Taken seriously and applied to our society, it challenges our current system, which we can see has created massive and rapid global ecological change and high levels of inequality.
Slowly, haltingly, governments and international organizations, including the United Nations, have been groping toward these new core beliefs and values.
And now we may be seeing it in B.C., with the publication of the draft B.C. Biodiversity and Ecosystem Health Framework, public comment on which just closed.
It is, if taken seriously and implemented, an astonishing document with dramatic implications for government, and for that matter the governance of society and communities as a whole.
The draft framework is commendably clear: If it’s adopted, the B.C. government would commit “to the conservation and management of ecosystem health and biodiversity as an overarching priority and will formalize this priority through legislation and other enabling tools that apply to … all sectors.”
An overarching priority, note, and one to be applied to all sectors, not just natural ecosystem and resource management.
The draft framework then lists the sectors it would be applied to: forestry, agriculture, fisheries and aquaculture, energy and mines, oil and gas, tourism, recreation, transportation and housing” (I would add urban development and infrastructure), as well as “other sectors that benefit from biodiversity … including health, finance, education, research, training, and innovation.”
In his opening message, Minister of Water, Land and Resource Stewardship Nathan Cullen notes: “Healthy ecosystems and biodiversity are not only essential for our individual health and wellbeing, but they also ensure that ecosystems, economies, and communities throughout B.C. can flourish.”
So if we add “equitable human wellbeing” as an overarching priority, we have the two key overarching priorities that will make B.C. a Wellbeing Society.
Note in particular that the finance sector is included; we can’t have a Wellbeing Society without a budget focused on human, social and ecological wellbeing.
Note also that the framework recognizes that “changing our ways … is complex and challenging and requires all government bodies at all levels to be actively involved” — so this is also about municipal governments, school boards, health authorities and so on.
Could B.C. be about to radically transform governance?
Dr. Trevor Hancock is a retired professor and senior scholar at the University of Victoria’s School of Public Health and Social Policy.
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