Harmony with Nature
The Triglav Circle made a contribution to the preparations for Rio+20. The title of the contribution was harmony with nature. See full text.
Harmony with Nature: Statement by the Triglav Circle
This paper constitutes the Triglav Circle’s input to the compilation document for the Zero draft of Rio +20. The Triglav Circle is a registered NGO, having special consultative status with ECOSOC.
For website see http://www.triglavcircleonline.org
Thank you for this opportunity to convey a statement on Harmony with Nature on behalf of the Triglav Circle, which was created in the wake of the World Summit for Social Development to work on enriching the public discourse on global issues with spiritual and ethical perspectives.
The founding objective of the Circle is to realize the core messages of the Social Summit articulated in the Copenhagen Declaration:
Our societies must respond more effectively to the material and spiritual needs of individuals, their families, and the communities in which they live…
We are deeply convinced that economic development, social development and environmental protection are interdependent and mutually reinforcing components of sustainable development, which form the framework for our effort to achieve a higher quality of life for all people.
These commitments by governments were part of a text rich in moral affirmations and reflective of a holistic vision of development and social progress. Today, the Triglav Circle seeks to promote an approach to international relations and public policy grounded in moral and spiritual values. It aspires to enrich the discourse on global problems with the accumulated knowledge of scientists, philosophers, people engaged in the arts, religious thinkers and academics. The Circle pursues its objectives not only through regular dialogues, seminars, and research, but also through its special consultative relationship with the United Nations Economic and Social Council, its cooperation with similarly motivated organizations, and the work of individual members in their respective spheres of action.
The UN’s initiative to promote harmony with nature is indeed very timely and important to the work of the Circle. Members carefully read the texts prepared by the Secretary General and met to consider their implications. The Circle is grateful to the General Assembly for its Resolutions on Harmony with Nature and applauds the Secretary General for his two excellent reports on this subject. There reports illustrate the broad breadth and depth of the subject. Members feel that it is vital for the survival of life on the planet that imbalances between human activity and the integrity of the natural commons be corrected; and that care be taken not to exceed the carrying capacities of environments wherein harmony between humanity and nature still exists. Members of the Circle assert that the well-being of present and future generations depends on living within the limits of nature. To do so demands a holistic approach to establishing and maintaining a harmonious relationship between humankind and nature. This approach requires a wide sharing of knowledge obtained from the empirical sciences, philosophy, and the arts on the substance of nature and what constitutes harmony.
Political Leaders and Harmony with Nature
Different conceptions of harmony with nature have been reflected in the works of intellectuals and artists for millennia, beginning with the drawings of cave dwellers, followed by messages carried down through the ages from the sages of ancient civilizations. Throughout most of history, nature has been contemplated by philosophers, poets, scientists, political leaders—astronomers, physicists, biologists; artists, musicians, and other thinkers whose combined wisdom and knowledge offer wellsprings from which to inform civilization of holistic approaches to life on Earth. Among them, some widely respected political leaders, including James Madison, the fourth President of the United States; John Stuart Mill, the political philosopher, economist, and parliamentarian; and Vaclav Havel, the former President of the Czechoslovakia have addressed environmental questions in terms that are particularly relevant to the quest for harmony with nature.
In his famous speech to the Agricultural Society of Albemarle VA, on May 12, 1818, James Madison, expressed serious concerns about the environmental damage that industrial progress might inflict. He anticipated today’s major environmental challenges including loss of biodiversity, destruction of the land, and pollution of the atmosphere. His speech contained a persuasive argument for an “ecological” method of agriculture and forewarned about deterioration of the soil and deforestation as consequences of progressive and aggressive agricultural practices.
Madison questioned the ethics of reducing all of nature’s endowments to the singular purpose of supporting human life while neglecting to protect an essential balance among all forms of life. He advocated protecting the rich diversity of plant life and warned against too much specialization at the expense of other species of plants and animals. He pointed out that each plant needs different types of soils and responds differently to different types of manures.
For Madison, the destruction or measureable dwindling of any species of flora or fauna that did not enter into the economy of humankind was beyond comprehension. Moreover, the usefulness and interconnectedness of species were to be respected, —even if these linkages were obscure to humankind, or were not necessarily vital to human survival. Madison stated:
The Earth contains no less than thirty or forty thousand kinds of plants; no less than six or seven hundreds of birds; nor less than three or four hundred of quadrupeds; to say nothing of the thousand species of fishes. Of reptiles and insects, there are more than can be numbered. …On comparing this vast profusion and multiplicity of beings with the few grains and grasses, the few herbs and roots, and the few fowls and quadrupeds, which make up the short list adapted to the wants of man, it is difficult to believe that it lies with him so to remodel the work of nature as it would be remodeled, by a destruction not only of an individual, but of entire species; and not only of a few species, but of every species, with the few exceptions which he might spare for his own accommodation.
Although global warming and climate change had not been identified as potential problems in Madison’s time, he clearly anticipated the pollution of the atmosphere and the harm this could bring to life on the planet:
The atmosphere is not a simple but compound body… The atmosphere in its natural state, and in its ordinary communication with the organized world, comprises various ingredients or modifications of ingredients, derived from the use made of it, by the existing variety of animals and plants…Is it unreasonable to suppose, that if, instead of the actual composition and character of the animal and vegetable creation, to which the atmosphere is now accommodated, such a composition and character if that creation were substituted, as would result from a reduction of the whole to man and a few kinds of animals and plants-is the supposition unreasonable, that the change might essentially affect the aptitude of the atmosphere for the functions required of it? And that so great an innovation might be found, in this respect, not to accord with the order and economy of nature?
In book IV, chapter VI of Principles of Political Economy (first published in 1848) John Stuart Mill, praised the benefits that harmony with nature could offer humankind. Mill related harmony with nature to development of character, intellect, values and wholesome desires.
It is not good for man to be kept perforce at all times in the presence of his species. A world from which solitude is extirpated is a very poor ideal. Solitude, in the sense of being often alone, is essential to any depth of meditation or of character; and solitude in the presence of natural beauty and grandeur, is the cradle of thoughts and aspirations which are not only good for the individual, but which society could ill do without.
He also challenged the assumption that economic resources were unlimited and described a depressing vision of future wastelands resulting from humankind’s relentless exploitation of the land, eliminating plants and animals unfit for human consumption.
Mill envisaged the integration of intellectual, spiritual, and scientific activities in a society where the pursuit of industrial art would have a greater purpose than material enrichment. He opposed the struggle for material enrichment to the “Art of Living,” encompassing the cultivation of the graces of life, stimulation of the intellect, artistic creativity, meditative thought, and character building.
Promoting balance between seeking reasonable material advances and cultivating the art of living through intellectual, spiritual, and artistic pursuits is not a public priority in most countries. Utmost marks for successful governments and public policies go to governments that demonstrate the highest growth rates; regardless of the havoc such economic ambitions reap in the natural environment or their costs to intellectual or artistic human well-being. Moreover, what remains of nature’s beauty and grandeur suitable to serve as “the cradle of thoughts and aspirations” continues to dwindle. Perhaps, these circumstances offer some explanation for the apparent dissatisfaction seeming to threaten the quality of life for people around the world. Humanity appears on the brink of becoming subservient to the exigencies of the market economy as a result of a dominating and narrowing vision that confuses the purpose of material progress with the goals of human life.
Since the 19th century, the processes destroying the natural environment have been ongoing, despite efforts at the individual, national, and international levels to slow if not stop them—whether in the atmosphere, on the land, or in the sea.
The reality of modern political economic power, which complicates the quest for harmony between and within societies, as well as between human kind and the natural environment, has much to do with the state to which society has advanced in science and technology. The current paradigm of modernity is but an elaborate construction of Promethean man. It is not a construction in consonance with Nature, nor is it in consonance with the nobility and dignity that sages found inherent in the human spirit. This Promethean construct does not take into account the extravagant social and environmental costs of reducing humanity to a commodity or a cog in a “monetized universe.”
So where does this leave society? It leaves it in a strange and unhappy condition portrayed by artists and scholars in a variety of grotesquely depressing ways. Such is the imagery—appropriate also to the post-modern era—that teacher, philosopher of culture, and man of letters, Roland Barthes captures in his critique of a classical Dutch painting, a society where all vestiges of nature and its sacredness have been imprisoned by human intention. The dominating vision is of humankind and its empire of things:
…Man stands now, his feet upon the thousand objects of everyday life, triumphantly surrounded by his functions. Behold him, then, at the pinnacle of history, knowing no other fate than a gradual appropriation of matter. No limits to this humanization, and above all, no horizons: … the overloaded boat connects the two shores and thus closes the movement of trees and water by the intention of a human movement, reducing these forces of Nature to the rank of objects and transforming the creation into a facility.
Seeing society in the way of Barthes description of the Dutch painting, Vaclav Havel raised the following questions:
Is not the essence of the environmental crisis related to the loss of respect for the order of existence in which humankind is not the creator, but a mere component of its mysterious meaning or spirit? (…) Is not the crisis the logical consequence of the perception of the world as a complex of phenomena controlled by certain scientifically established laws and (ignoring) questions on the meaning of existence and (the relevance) of metaphysics? (…)
What is absent in the present discourse is meaningful appreciation of the limits to humankind’s capacity to learn the larger truths of existence through scientific rationality alone. Empiricism alone cannot frame all the questions and provide all the answers. For Havel, only a renaissance of the human spirit can inform modern society with the ideas needed to address the fundamental causes of the environmental crisis.
This affirmation is not new, but most people dismiss it as the mere dream of idealists. The contention here is that rejection of this prescription reflects ignorance and/or denial of the practicality and efficacy of the human spirit in coming to grips with underlying forces now increasingly manifest in the changing chemistry and functioning of the biosphere.
Consistent with this line of thinking, a prerequisite for any effective environmental policy is a radical change in heart and spirit. Havel writes: “Only humankind’s understanding of its place in the universe will allow the development of new models of behavior, scales of values, and objectives in life and, through these means, to finally bind a new spirit and meaning to specific regulations, treaties, and institutions.”
Today, there are many voices of scientists, political activists, artists, and other public intellectuals echoing, illustrating, and enlarging upon these reflections and urging a vision of nature as the complex of living and nonliving substance that constitute the biosphere—the habitat of all life. Nature has intrinsic as well as instrumental value and should be considered not simply a collection of resource objects and inputs to feed the world’s economy, but the interdependent parts of an integrated ecological system deriving from and existing in an infinite universe. The realization of projects aimed at establishing lasting harmony with nature in consonance with sustainable development requires imaginative, holistic and transcendent thinking.
It would be absurd to fail to recognize the intellectual, ideological and political change that these efforts demand, and equally unfair to minimize the results to be achieved. There is now general recognition that the earth and its ecosystems are fragile and destructible.
- The realization of projects aimed at establishing lasting harmony with nature in consonance with sustainable development requires imaginative, holistic, and transcendent thinking.
- There is much wisdom to be found in the writings of political thinkers who foresaw the dangers of extensive industrialization and extravagant and aggressive technologies that would bring about abuse of the natural environment.
- Man’s wisdom can never replicate piece by piece, the wonders of Nature. Thus there is need for a re-enchanted vision of nature to inspire policies to respect and restore the environment.
Monopoly of Scientific Thinking
The pursuit of lifestyles that favor intellectual and artistic flourishing in a healthy natural environment requires rehabilitation of currently neglected sources of knowledge. This means actualizing the belief that reality includes a harmonious order of qualities and relationships that are not evident to the physical senses but discernable through the powers of the mind.
The most valued function of science and technology in the modern economy is to produce the knowledge needed to inform the appropriation and use of natural resources. Non-material reasoning, intuition, imagination and philosophical reflection have little practical relevance in this scientific/technological and economic enterprise, which without much thought or constraint, is gradually consuming the natural environment . To bring back into currency these other sources of knowledge necessary for undertaking a holistic approach to securing harmony with nature, without seeming to push back the clock is a challenge for the 21st century. It demands a dramatic shift in the social mindset. It means reexamining empirical evidence and the values streaming from it, in the light of non-empirical but none the less important sources of knowledge of life.
Albert Einstein, a holistic thinker and physicist, has lessons to offer in this connection. He emphasized that scientific thinking and instrumental rationality had strong limitations. He wrote that the whole of science is “nothing more than a refinement of everyday thinking (…) even the concept of the ‘real external world’ rested exclusively on sense impressions.” Einstein also affirmed that science is methodically directed toward finding regulative connections between our sensual experiences—bringing together, by systematic thought, the perceptible phenomena of the world into as thorough going an association as possible. In the immediate, it produces knowledge and indirectly implies means of action. But, such empirical thinking is neither the way to determine the meaning in life, nor to identify goals and values essential to sustainable life-styles, social harmony, and happiness. These can only be discovered through holistic thinking by way of philosophy, poetry, the arts and many other haunts of the creative spirit.
Imagination and intuition must balance scientific objectivity. Idealism sees life freed from what can be described as the drab blur of triteness and endless calculations, or the familiarity that comes with the appropriation of things, such as Francis Fukuyama evoked in his famous article “On the End of History.” Things are not their master as Karl Marx noted. He added: “All our invention and progress seem to result in endowing material forces with intellectual life, and in stultifying human life into a material force.” If Marx is correct, this actuality would doom any ambition to seek harmony with nature.
To a society in awe of its growing capacity to control and reform nature, modern philosopher, Jacques Maritain offered the view of a much grander Reality, over which humankind had very limited control. Philosophers can witness the supreme dignity of thought and point to that which is eternal in nature and humanity. They can stimulate the thirst for pure knowledge of those fundamentals about Nature and humanity itself.
Thus, it should be emphasized that while scientific rationality and the physical sciences are essential to well-being in modern societies, matters of human destiny and fulfillment in harmony with nature are beyond its ambit. But because what is to the physical senses ‘scientific’ is generally treated as the only practical form of knowledge, notions such as dignity, meaning, and magnanimity are ignored in the search for answers to the most pressing global issues, including the environmental crisis.
- It should be emphasized that while scientific rationality and the physical sciences are essential to well-being in modern societies, matters of human destiny and fulfillment in harmony with nature are beyond its ambit. What is to the physical senses ‘scientific’ is not the only practical form of knowledge. Notions such as dignity, meaning, and magnanimity should not be ignored in the search for answers to the most pressing global issues, including the environmental crisis.
- Imagination and intuition must balance scientific objectivity in restoring harmony with nature.
- To establish harmony with nature there must be a dramatic shift in the socio-political mindset. Decision makers must reexamine empirical evidence and the values streaming from it, in the light of the non-empirical but none the less other important sources of knowledge about life.
- Philosophers should be witnesses to the capacity of the human mind to transcend the mundane passions and place value on what is eternal in humankind. He/she should stimulate the thirst for pure knowledge of those fundamentals about Nature and the nature of humanity itself.
Science and Harmony with Nature
Although humankind’s instrumental use of nature can be blamed in part for catapulting humanity into a global, technological civilization under a regime of domineering materiality, this instrumental mentality does not characterize the whole of scientific thinking about the earth. Highly respected scientists see the necessity of perceiving the natural environment as a complex and delicate system having its origins in the cosmos. They have made it their life-work to try to understand this universe. They have been humbled by the uncertainties of their scientific theories and are in awe of their discoveries. For example Nobel Laureate, Richard Feynman remarked:
This universe has been described by many, but it just goes on, with its edge as unknown as the bottom of the bottomless sea of the other idea—just as mysterious, just as awe inspiring, and just as incomplete as the poetic pictures (of the ancients) that came before. But they see that the imagination of nature is far, far greater than the imagination of man. No one who did not have some inkling of this through observations could ever have imagined such a marvel as nature is.
Physics and higher mathematics indicate many significant ideas concerning the realities of the universe and life that can remove chains binding human intentions to material circumstances and aspirations. With the assistance of enlightened reason, higher mathematics, and imagination, modern scientists can also lead humanity to a more profound sense of purpose that perceives value in wisdom and harmony with nature. Physicist Brian Greene’s view summarizes this standpoint:
To open our ideas to the true nature of the universe has always been one of physics’ primary purposes. It is hard to imagine a more stretching experience than learning, as we have over the last century that the reality we experience is but a glimmer of the reality that is.
The sublimity and order, which reveal themselves in the spirit of Nature and in the world of ideas, offer intuition, inspiration, and direction in the quest for harmony with nature.
Nearly 100 years have passed, since Einstein made his discoveries. In the meantime, other sophisticated mathematical theories about the substance of the Universe have surfaced. Super String Theory and M Theory, an advanced version of String Theory, may successfully merge general relativity and quantum mechanics, and hold out the hope that humankind is closer to really understanding the deepest laws of the universe, though actual experimentation to verify their findings is still beyond the pale of science.
According to Greene, string theory holds that there is one fundamental building block of the multidimensional universe; that is the string. The wealth of particle species simply reflects the different vibration patterns that a string can execute, just as a string on a violin or cello can vibrate in many different ways, producing a full range of sounds. Greene writes:
Metaphorically, the different notes that can be played by a single species of string would account for all of the different particles that have been detected. At the ultramicroscopic level, the universe would be akin to a string vibrating matter into existence.
A glimpse of reality is perhaps offered in the timelessness of transcending ideas. Aristotle’s esteem for the powers of music seems to be shared by certain contemporary scientists discovering the intellectually stimulating qualities of Mozart symphonies. Such discoveries and others bare out today what Aristotle surmised thousands of years ago when human intelligence had a more instinctive sense of Nature. The human mind is altered by music, perhaps bringing it closer to the never-ending harmonies of the strings and branes of the universe under the baton of a master Consciousness. Such symphonies would surely inform the ultimate Harmony with nature, which links humankind through the ecology of the earth to the cosmos in which it abides.
Astrophysicist and philosopher of science, Owen Gingerich, sees the wonders of the universe in particular the remarkable arrangements of carbon and oxygen nuclear resonance, as a way for making sense of the astonishing cosmic order that the sciences repeatedly reveal and even more so the remarkable evidences of design in the biological realm. In light of the rapidity with which modern society is consuming nature and its resources, Gingerich believes that unless society learns the message of service and sacrificial love that a transcendent belief in the meaning the cosmos conveys, humankind may be doomed as a species.
To neglect to seek deeper understanding of the systemic workings of the universe is to continue to “wrestle in the dark with an unknown opponent,” as stated by physicist Brian Greene, who also notes that: “Assessing life through everyday experience is like gazing at a Van Gogh masterpiece through a coke bottle.” Although physicists have insights on physical reality, they are themselves unable to predict more than a fraction of nature’s behavior. The humility that comes with recognizing that humankind’s understanding of the world is only a glimmer of reality gives renewed validity to earlier views on the importance of that “glimmer of acquaintance” for society’s well-being and human-kind’s flourishing. Even glimpses of reality, the awe they inspire and the respect they generate are better than ignorance for the continuity of life and should give reason for living in conformity the nature that envelops all living creatures.
- With the assistance of enlightened reason, higher mathematics, and imagination, modern science should lead humanity to a profound sense of purpose that perceives value in wisdom and harmony with nature.
Compassion and Purpose in Harmony with Nature
One of the major failures of modernity, as it has been construed during the last twenty/thirty years, is the failure to recognize that the capacities for love, selfless work, and creativity are intrinsic to human nature and can be the only permanent building blocks of a compassionate society in harmony with nature. Without love and magnanimity, people lack a positive ethic for confronting the many crises, including of the environment, which beset the globalizing world. The dominant political discourse assigns this role to fear. But fear alone cannot provide an ethical foundation for responsible environmental policy. After a while, arguments based on fear lose credibility and cannot provide an effective motivation for long term responsibility. It is urgent to recognize the unique roles that compassion, selflessness and generosity have in motivating socially responsible behavior.
Considering general notions of harmony with nature and their moral foundations, British political philosopher, John Locke wrote in his piece entitled, Conduct of Understanding, 1754: “We should love our neighbor as ourselves” – is such a fundamental truth for the regulating of human society, that, I think by that alone one might without difficulty determine all cases and doubts in social morality.” This statement, extricated from the writings of one of the great architects of liberalism, offers stimulus and direction for analyzing the possibilities for building that heretofore ephemeral moral foundation for social justice and harmony with nature.
The concept of “love” used in Locke’s text has the quality of universality, contrary to the current foundations for the western ideological approaches to social justice and respect for the planetary abode of all knowable life. It expresses nobility in the spirit of magnanimity. Similar ideas are conveyed in writings of the ancient Greeks, Taoists, Confucians, Islamic scholars, and Buddhists, to mention only the most widely accepted belief systems and philosophies. This common wisdom emphasizes virtuous social behaviors including compassionate response to the needs of ones’ fellow human being and other living creatures inhabiting the planet. It conveys the universal “truth” that in seeking harmony in society and with nature, one finds one’s own well-being. A society without a strong sense of compassion permeating its ethos will ultimately collapse as its natural surroundings deteriorate.
One of the major challenges today is to find meaning and purpose in human life that is informed by harmony with nature. This search for meaning and purpose is not about grand ideologies or social experiments in the name of God. It is “simply” a quest for sense and direction that can inspire human flourishing, social harmony, and life in equilibrium with nature. It is not teleological: it is in the largest sense about “being.”
Meaning and purpose in just “being” echo in the harmonies of nature, as revealed in a story of a small bird, told by Giuseppi Sermonti. “The bird, Cyanosylvia sveccia (blue throat) delivers his most artistic song, objectively the most complex, when relaxed in the depth of its own bush, poetizing to himself.” The song changes when the bird seeks to protect its own interests. It becomes a monotonous repetition of string strophes and all the graces and harmonies are lost.
Pondering the message of Cyanosylvia sveccia, should not people feel some inclination to seek satisfaction in lifestyles minimally controlled by material needs and drives and maximally concerned with the exercise of their inner song composed by their intellectual and artistic gifts? It may be that these mental exercises actually increase the capacity of the brain for holistic thinking and inclination such that return to old ways of seeing the world would neither be comfortable nor satisfying. Certainly life styles concentrated on the art of living as opposed to getting on in a productive/profit sense can bring at least as much happiness to life as advertisers are promising in promoting “the services of things” to the privileged and underprivileged alike. Philosophers have been telling this story for centuries and even now and then the modern media delivers this message, perhaps out of genuine sentiment or perhaps out of a general malaise caused by a premonition of imminent environmental catastrophe.
- The international community should take into account the common wisdom that emphasizes virtuous social behaviors including having compassion for the needs of other beings.
- All humanity would do well to heed the universal “truth” that in seeking harmony in society and with nature, one finds one’s own well-being.
- It must be remembered that a society without a strong sense of appreciation of the need to protect the inherent beauty and purity of the natural world will ultimately collapse.
- The ultimate meaning and purpose for human life should be inspired by nature, the well spring of all life.
The above text was authored by Barbara Baudot, as Coordinator of the Triglav Circle. This statement does not necessarily reflect the views of all Circle members but is consistent with the ethos of the Circle. Supporting views are given below.
Statements by Individual Members and Friends of the Circle
Harmony with Nature: A Writer’s Perspective
The proposed initiative on Harmony with Nature is a sharply focused, intellectually sophisticated, and timely one. In addition to building directly on such landmarks of modern conservation as Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring (1962) and Aldo Leopold’s A Sand County Almanac (1949), it resonates with a global literature of nature’s inherent value that encompasses the poets of T’ang Dynasty, Japan’s Haiku tradition, the writing of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, the English Romantics, and Alfred North Whitehead’s synthesis of philosophy and physics. What all these writers and many more affirm is that without a healthy biosphere there is no possibility for human prosperity and happiness. Such an assertion is not an alternative to the economic and political policies that generally and appropriately concern the United Nations. But it is a necessary complement to it.
Especially today, when the grave challenges of climate change and runaway population are being experienced in especially challenging ways by citizens of developing nations, it is crucial to correlate ecological and social health. Many studies have demonstrated the necessity of a full suite of native animals for the continued health of forests and soils. (Leopold’s Thinking like a Mountain, from Sand County Almanac, was one influential statement of this relationship.) Similarly, the protection of waterways and wetlands is indispensable for stable agricultural systems. One of the best ways to promote such protection of nature’s fundamental elements is through an attitude of respect and love that is in turn ratified by indigenous traditions around the world. Harmony, in other words, is between the arts, religion, and the sciences, as well as between humanity and what the philosopher David Abram has called ‘ the more-than-human world.’ By this phrase, Abram means not greater than humanity, but instead encompassing people within a much broader community of life.
Many prescient writers, from Teilhard de Chardin to the systems-thinker Donella Meadows, have described this sort of synthetic perspective as a crucial next step in cultural evolution, and one which will support the development of hopeful new social institutions. I share this view, and devoted my 38-year career as a scholar and a professor of Environmental Studies to exploring its ramifications. For the United Nations to commit to the proposed initiative would, I believe, be a bold, appropriate, and highly productive action. It would encourage many vital endeavors in both the industrialized and developing nations of the world.
Statement by John Elder, Stewart Professor of Literature and Environmental Studies Emeritus, Middlebury College; author of Reading the Mountains of Home and Editor of the Norton Book of Nature Writing; recipient of Fulbright and Guggenheim Fellowships; and member of the Triglav Circle.
- It should be remembered that without a healthy biosphere there is no possibility for human prosperity and happiness. It is crucial to correlate ecological and social health.
- One of the best ways to promote such protection of nature’s fundamental elements is through an attitude of respect and love that is in turn ratified by indigenous traditions around the world. Harmony, in other words, is between the arts, religion, and the sciences, as well as between humanity and what the philosopher David Abram has called ‘ the more-than-human world.’
Nature and Culture: The Only Harmony We Know
In 2008 the Icelandic nation was faced with serious economic situation and to many the future looked bleak. All official efforts were obviously put into addressing the financial crisis. However, midst in this grave situation a group of 153 interested people, coming from different sectors of the society established a Nature Fund, the first of its kind in Iceland.
At this significant time in the nations´ recent history, it came obvious how important and dear to us, our Natural Heritage is. Intertwined with our Cultural Heritage it shapes us as individuals and moreover makes us the nation we are. The nature and the culture have together created a small nation that further has commitments to the rest of the world, by preserving its own National heritage. The Audlind Nature Fund was established to guard the principal resources of Iceland’s nature, to maintain their variety and to protect their sustainability. The principal goal of Audlind is to protect and reclaim Iceland’s natural heritage. This goal will be attained by encouraging stewardship of nature, including participation of individuals, societies, corporations, investors, municipal communities and government.
Now that water has been recognized as the world’s most valuable natural resource, effort must be put into both its preservation and restoration. Wetlands’ important and natural role in water management is crucial in this endeavor. Audlind Nature Fund is already running a wetland restoration program, but Iceland´s natural wetlands have been severely diminished; in some areas over 90% of wetlands have already been drained. This will, if continued, place threats to water quality and the health of the natural environment. However with raised awareness and tangible restoration projects this evolution can be turned around. Some successful restoration projects already pay tribute to this attempt.
The Audlind Nature Fund emphasizes working with landowners as well as other NGO´s and governmental entities, responsible for land management. This approach is extremely important since natural resources can only be saved for future generations’ livelihood and enjoyment, if we that are responsible for nature´s present utilization are able to value its current role as the source of both our physical and cultural existence.
Audlind Natural Fund is honored to have one of its initiator and founder, Vigdís Finnbogadóttir, former president of Iceland as its patron.
Iceland, October 31st, 2011
Submitted on behalf of Vigdis Finnbogadottir, [member of the Triglav Circle]
First chair of Audlind Natural Fund
- Because water has been recognized as the world’s most valuable natural resource, efforts must be put into both its preservation and restoration. Wetlands’ important and natural role in water management is crucial in this endeavor.
On Educating Children about Nature
Natural funds, conservation lands, parks and nature centers must be vigorously put to use in the education of the world’s children. Children should be taught of the magic and the beauty that nature holds for them. This education should begin from the earliest ages of awareness of their surroundings. They are the hope of the future and if they grow up appreciating their natural surroundings through playing in them, discovering life in them and making friends with the different creatures inhabiting these corners of the planet they will likely never allow themselves to give into destructive behaviors in the future.
Nouna Kettaneh, Ph.D.
Physics and Mathematics
Member of the Triglav Circle
- Natural funds, conservation lands, parks and nature centers must be vigorously put to use in the education of the world’s children. Children should be taught of the magic and the beauty that nature holds for them. This education should begin from the earliest ages of awareness of their surroundings.
On Harmony with Nature
This message is to convey my strong support for the UN’s efforts to enhance “harmony with nature”, and my hope for substantial advances in the meetings and events to come.
Two observations might be of interest in addressing this massive and complex agenda. First, is that the last century has witnessed an explosion in scientific knowledge and technological innovations. Many, if not most, of these innovations, while of immediate and immense use to the earth’s inhabitants, do negatively affect the environment in a serious manner. To overcome this conflict of interests, and advance harmony with nature, equal attention is needed for studies and preventive innovations to address these secondary negative effects.
The second observation is about the “level of solution”. Advancing harmony with nature requires actions at all levels—individuals and families, the immediate communities, and national, regional and global organizations. Important for achieving these actions, are international laws and regulations, capabilities for monitoring results, and promoting compliance. No global organization is in a better position to guide these efforts at the governmental levels than the UN.
Finally, the education of current and future generations cannot be emphasized enough. In order to enhance compliance throughout societies of varied cultures and levels of development and geographic characteristics, the population itself must understand and become convinced that these changes are necessary and that the required sacrifices are being made in a fair and equitable manner.
Saad Z. Nagi, Member of the Triglav Circle
Professor Emeritus of Sociology
The Ohio State University
Former Director of Social Research Center, American University in Cairo
- The last century has witnessed an explosion in scientific knowledge and technological innovations. Many, if not most, of these innovations, while of immediate and immense use to the earth’s inhabitants, have a serious negatively effect on the environment. To overcome this conflict of interests, and advance harmony with nature, equal attention is needed for studies and preventive innovations to address these secondary negative effects.
- Advancing harmony with nature requires actions at all levels—individuals and families, the immediate communities, and national, regional and global organizations. Important for achieving these actions, are international laws and regulations, capabilities for monitoring results, and promoting compliance.
- The education of current and future generations cannot be emphasized enough. In order to enhance compliance throughout societies of varied cultures and levels of development and geographic characteristics, the population itself must understand and become convinced that these changes are necessary and that the required sacrifices are being made in a fair and equitable manner.
The Environment and Social Equity
The environmental crisis is hitting the poor much more than the affluent. Knowledge-intensive solutions including technologies are available to restore natural systems, and dramatically reduce pressures on climate and the environment while improving human well-being. A “green economy” is attainable but must be embedded in a holistic concept of sustainability. What we need is a change of lifestyles. A holistic understanding of sustainability includes reinventing the state against financial markets that have become arrogant, and disregard social equity and long term considerations of climate and the environment.
Ernst U. von Weizsaecker
Member of the Triglav Circle
UNEP International Resource Panel, co-chair
Former Chairman of the Bundestag Environment Committee
- Society must recognize that a holistic understanding of sustainability includes reinventing the state against financial markets that have become arrogant, and disregard social equity and long term considerations of climate and the environment.
- The world needs a change in life style that demands a well-functioning multi- institutional society, conscious of the need for social equity and respectful of the call for keeping economic activities within the carry capacity of the natural environment.
On Harmony with Nature
An underlying theme of the stimulating discussions over the years at the Triglav Circle have either presupposed or stressed harmony with nature as a precondition for sustainable development. This emphasis has also taken critical note of the degree to which the operationalization of sustainable development has effectively minimized the impact of ‘sustainable’ by giving priority to ‘development’ as principally assessed by aggregate rates of growth.
As we move into the 21st century it becomes increasingly evident that the array of challenges emerging from the climate change problematique cannot be adequately addressed unless the concept of sustainability becomes a substantive guideline for development. Such an imperative requires a new understanding of the relationship between the economy and the environment that draws upon an ethos of harmony with nature, as informed by positive and negative learning experiences drawn from a variety of civilizational perspectives.
We in the West have stressed autonomy and the maximization of self-interest often interpreted on the basis of an increasingly dysfunctional reductive and materialist worldview. The Triglav discussions were particularly useful in bringing to bear non-Western understanding of the human interface with nature that more integrally and naturally stress the centrality of harmony as a keystone value and goal.
It is hoped that the Rio +20 discussions will advance public appreciation that without the serious struggle to achieve harmony with nature, which will necessarily involve some difficult reversals of consumerist life style patterns, there will be no sustainable development in the decades ahead, and the more likely reality will be ever more evident as ‘unsustainable development’ or more accurately development that is unsustainable disclosing itself as de-development that is part of ecological descent into a planetary inferno.
Member of the Triglav Circle
Author, editor, and/ or co-editor
- The Rio +20 discussions must advance public appreciation that without the serious struggle to achieve harmony with nature, which will necessarily involve some difficult reversals of consumerist life style patterns; there will be no sustainable development in the decades ahead.
- The world should recognize that development that is unsustainable, disclosing itself as de-development, leads to an ecological descent into a planetary inferno.
Ecological Implications of Confucian Humanism
Confucianism as a spiritual humanism involves four dimensions in its project for human flourishing: self, community, Earth, and Heaven. Self-cultivation is the point of departure for character building which is the primary purpose of Confucian moral education. Education is more than acquisition of knowledge or internationalization of skills. It ought to be a holistic way of learning to be human. Such a learning is defined in Confucian terms as “learning for the sake of the self,” “the learning of the heart-mind and nature,” or “learning to be a profound person.” It is misleading, however, to assume that Confucian learning is a quest for individual happiness or inner spirituality. Rather, Confucian learning, far from being “individualistic,” is a communal act. The self is never an isolated individual but a center of relationships. As the center, the self is independent and autonomous. Its independence and autonomy is predicated on the dignity of the person as an internal value rather than a socially constructed reality. At the same time, the self as relationships is inevitably interconnected with an ever-expanding network of human-relatedness.
Community is never separated from the self. To paraphrase from William James, without the creativity of the centered self, community stagnates and without the sympathetic resonance of the community, true selfhood fades away. Community in Confucian humanism is variously understood as family, village, country, world, and cosmos
Self-realization as a communal act presupposes the personal commitment to harmonizing the family, governance of the state, and world peace. The full realization of personhood entails the authentic possibility of transcending selfishness, nepotism, parochialism, nationalism, and anthropocentrism. The underlying paradoxes are clues for understanding the subtleties of Confucian moral reasoning. An essential task of self-cultivation is to overcome selfishness. The maintenance of harmony in the family requires that we overcome nepotistic attachments at the expense of openness to other relationships. Communal solidarity is predicated on our ability to recognize the meaningful existence of other communities. Patriotism is at odds with chauvinistic nationalism. Indeed, following the trajectory of this line of thinking further, we must transcend anthropocentrism to enable the self-realization of humanity to fruition.
The underlying paradoxes are clues for understanding the subtleties of Confucian moral reasoning. An essential task of self-cultivation is to overcome selfishness. The maintenance of harmony in the family requires that we overcome nepotistic attachments at the expense of openness to other relationships. Communal solidarity is predicated on our ability to recognize the meaningful existence of other communities. Patriotism is at odds with chauvinistic nationalism. Indeed, following the trajectory of this line of thinking further, we must transcend anthropocentrism to enable the self-realization of humanity to fruition.
Chairman of the Board of the Triglav Circle
Professor, Peking University and Harvard University
- Education is more than acquisition of knowledge or internationalization of skills. It ought to be a holistic way of learning to be human.
- Self-realization as a communal act presupposes personal commitment to harmonizing the family, governance of the state, and world peace. The full realization of personhood entails the authentic possibility of transcending selfishness, nepotism, parochialism, nationalism, and anthropocentrism.
Harmony with Nature and Social Progress
When adopting in April 2009 International Mother Earth Day, to be celebrated every year on 22 April, the General Assembly of the United Nations expressed its conviction that “in order to achieve a just balance among the economic, social, and environmental needs of present and future generations, it is necessary to promote harmony with nature and the Earth.” A few months later, in its resolution entitled Harmony with Nature, the Assembly declared that “humanity can and should live in harmony with nature.” And, in December 2010, in its second resolution on this subject, the Assembly stated that “sustainable development is a holistic concept that requires the strengthening of interdisciplinary linkages in the different branches of knowledge.”
Harmony, holism, complementarity of different sources of knowledge: such concepts applied by the General Assembly to the protection of the environment and to economic and social progress, are of the utmost importance. They are elements of the nascent political philosophy so clearly required by the problems and opportunities that are inherent to an interdependent and yet conflicted and unjust world.
The search for harmony is the antidote to environmental degradation, economic unbalance and social injustice. Holism is the response to the various forms of dualism – notably Man and Nature, Spirit and Heart, the Spiritual and the Temporal, the Abstract and the Concrete, Reason and Sentiment, “Hard” and “Soft” Values – that have plagued the dominant conception of modernity. Recourse in the public discourse to intuition, poetic and artistic imagination, the teachings of past philosophies and spiritual traditions, would balance the logic of science and the calculations of instrumental rationality. The United Nations, which is both a mirror of the world and a unique force to change the spirit of the time towards a greater wisdom, is a critical institution to debate and contribute to implement such political philosophy.
It is a matter of urgency. Seven billion people cannot hope to prosper, and even to survive, if the various dis-harmonies affecting the world are allowed to continue. And, the present generation has the responsibility to prepare a hospitable world to the nine billion of the year 2050. A greater Harmony with Nature is a matter of survival, and it is also a wonderful project that should and would stimulate and mobilize the creative energies of people around the world. For Harmony with Nature is intimately and unavoidably linked with Harmony among Nations, among Peoples, and with Harmony with the Self. Love and Respect for Nature is Love and Respect for the Other.
As all forms of violence, in thoughts, words and actions, feed each other, all forms of benevolence and altruism, in ideas and deeds, also feed each other. Here and there, throughout the world, women and men of good will, inspired by the search for the common good of humanity, are taking initiatives and working tirelessly for the emergence of a better and more harmonious world. The United Nations ought to give an international and global expression to these efforts. Harmony with Nature and Social Progress for All, are inseparable exigencies of our time. The conference “Rio plus 20”, including the working of the implications of the beautiful concept of Harmony with Nature, offers an opportunity that should not be missed.
Secretary of the Triglav Circle,
former Director of the Budget and Controller of the United Nations, former Director of the Social Development Division, and Coordinator of the United Nations World Summit for Social Development, Copenhagen, March 1995.
- Building upon the General Assembly’s acceptance of the concepts of harmony, holism, and complementarity of different branches of knowledge, the UN ought to be a center of reflection and debate on the policy implications of these concepts as they are applied to the protection of the environment and economic and social progress.
- A greater harmony of humankind with Nature is a matter of survival. But the links between harmony with nature, social and political harmony and harmony with the self are such that actions motivated by the recognition of the precariousness of life on Earth can also be part of a dynamic and joyful global political project. The UN, starting with Rio + 20 is a privileged institution for debating and orchestrating this project.
Environnement et Tradition en Afrique de l’Ouest
La gestion de l’environnement a été toujours au centre des préoccupations de tous les empires qui se sont succédé en Afrique de l’ouest. La gestion environnementale était intimement liée à la gestion des ressources humaines elle-même. Nous allons retenir le règne de la dynastie de Soumaoro dans le Mandén qui a particulièrement organisé et structuré la gestion de l’environnement entre 993 après JC et 1235 à la fin de la dynastie.
- 1. La gestion de la forêt
Cette dynastie a institué ce qu’on appelle les forets sacrés en Afrique de l’ouest pour préserver les plantes d’intérêt médical et aussi en faire des hôpitaux verts où les malades contagieux sont soignés. Ces lieux servaient les de refuge pour les femmes et les enfants en cas de conflit s. A l’époque la coupe des branches d’arbre frais était sévèrement interdit d’où l’obligation respecter cette règle.
- 2. La gestion de la faune
Concernant la protection de la faune, la dynastie de Soumaoro a institué l’organisation de la chasse en interdisant la pratique à tout moment et recommandant dans chaque village un chef chasseur et un chasseur dans chaque famille dont le rôle consistait à apporter la viande de la cuisine. Donc, la société s’était organisée de manière à permettre la reproduction libre des espèces sauvages.
- 3. La gestion de l’eau
La gestion de l’eau a été confiée aux hommes du fleuve qu’on appelle « ba môkô » en particulier les bozos, les somonos, les sorghos en pays sorai. Ils sont chargés de veiller à la sécurité de la navigation, de l’organisation et l’exploitation de ressources du fleuve et la gestion de la reproduction des poissons par l’observation d’un calendrier de pêche.
- 4. La gestion du feu de brousse
La gestion du feu de brousse était une question d’une extrême importance car il s’agissait de préserver les ressources naturelles de la brousse dont les arbres fruitiers et médicinaux mais aussi la faune. C’est pourquoi, il ya un calendrier de mise à feux des clairière ( fouga).Ceci pour empêcher l’embrasement de toute la savane et la forêt.
En 1236, les rois du mandén se sont rassemblés à Kouroukan fouga ( actuelle Kangaba, une préfecture malienne) pour adopter une constitution.
Appelé la charte du Mandén, cette constitution a fait adopter à l’unanimité des douze rois présents la préservation de l’environnement. Toutes ces mesures ont été entérinées et validé par la charte de Kouroukan fouga.
Aujourd’hui, toute la population de l’Afrique de l’ouest fonctionne sur ces règles non écrites.
Ainsi, la société traditionnelle ouest africaine a procédé à une organisation interne de son harmonie avec la nature .Cependant, les comportements, pratiques, et coutumes liés à cette harmonie subissent une influence du modèle de consommation occidental et d’un relâchement dans la transmission du savoir local et communautaire. A cela il faut ajouter les changements de comportement consécutifs à la pauvreté. Toutes choses qui contribuent à menacer l’équilibre de cette belle harmonie traditionnelle, notamment en milieu rural.
Perspectives et Recommandations
Au regard de la menace croissante sur les ressources environnementales en Afrique de l’ouest, notamment dans le sahel, il conviendrait à un niveau concerté(Organisations de la société civile, décideurs politiques, agences de développement, et communautés) d’envisager et mettre en œuvre les mesures suivantes :
1) La documentation et la vulgarisation du savoir local dans le domaine de la gestion de l’environnement
2) Une accélération de la promotion des énergies renouvelables(le soleil est la denrée la plus accessible et la mieux partagée dans le sahel)
3) L’information et l’éducation des communautés rurales sur les réalités et risques de la dégradation rapide de notre écosystème. Ces communautés sont loin, très loin des résultats de recherches et autres informations pertinentes sur le changement climatique
A cet égard, l’initiative de l’animation des centres de ressources communautaires pourrait contribuer à partager les informations élémentaires de base sur les questions de l’environnement
3) L’éducation pour le développement durable devrait commencer par formation des enseignants, qui à leur tour prendrons en charge les enfants à l’école
L’impact du changement climatique est une réalité dans le sahel. Les populations vivent le phénomène et le subissent comme une fatalité , parfois comme une malédiction divine.
Elles constatent une rupture progressive de l’harmonie avec la nature sans pouvoir en expliquer les raisons. Il y a un problème réel d’information, de sensibilisation et d’éducation sur la question.
Ces dispositions sont relativement faciles à mettre en œuvre dans un milieu ou les Hommes ont un respect « religieux » pour la terre d’autant qu’une pensée religieuse ou philosophique suggère que « Dieu créa l’homme à partir de la terre »
Adama N. Diarra
Membre de Triglav Circle
Directeur du Fond de Solidarité
Ancien Ministre de la Jeunesse
Gouvernement du Mali
Commissaire, Croix Rouge Internationale
Triglav Recommandations :
Au regard de la menace croissante sur les ressources environnementales , il conviendrait à un niveau concerté(Organisations de la société civile, décideurs politiques, agences de développement, et communautés) d’envisager et mettre en œuvre les mesures suivantes :
- La documentation et la vulgarisation du savoir local dans le domaine de la gestion de l’environnement.
- Une accélération de la promotion des énergies renouvelables.
- L’information et l’éducation des communautés rurales sur les réalités et risques de la dégradation rapide de notre écosystème. Ces communautés sont loin, très loin des résultats de recherches et autres informations pertinentes sur le changement climatique.
- A cet égard, l’initiative de l’animation des centres de ressources communautaires pourrait contribuer à partager les informations élémentaires de base sur les questions de l’environnement, l’éducation pour le développement durable devrait commencer par formation des enseignants, qui à leur tour prendrons en charge les enfants à l’école.
Sustainable Development, Non-Consumerism and Happiness
Since the disaster caused by the earthquake and tsunami in Tohoku area, including the near catastrophic accidents in four nuclear furnaces in Fukushima on March 11 2011, Japan has been facing a difficult decision about which of two paths to take for its nation’s future. One is to continue the present course of consumerism based on fossil and atomic energy, and the other is the frugal social life based mainly on renewable energy sources which in essence depend on solar energy.
These alternatives are just like the paths described in Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring.” One is the continuation of the present path, which appears easier than the other; the un-trodden way of harmony with nature appears to be much more difficult. If we should decide to take the harder way, we should examine not only the perspective that it will guide us to a happier society but also what kind of measures should be taken to persuade people to follow it. Failure in the case of environmental change, because of over indulgence in consumerism can wipe humanity from this planet. We should not take a chance by betting on the easy life, since the magnitude of loss is infinitely large. Elise Boulding wrote “Frugality is one of the most beautiful and joyful words in the English language, and yet one that we are culturally cut off from understanding and enjoying. The consumption society has made us feel that happiness lies in having things, and has failed to teach us the happiness of not having things.”
The fundamental importance of a frugal lifestyle in which harmony with nature is the prerequisite for a sustainable society has been expressed by many Asian historical figures. For example:
Ando Shoeki an 18th century Japanese physician and thinker wrote about the importance of harmony with nature in a startling book “Shizen Shineido (The true way of life to live in accordance with nature)(3)”. The book contains a story about four meetings held by, animals chaired by a monkey, birds chaired by an eagle, insects chaired by a beetle and fishes chaired by a whale. The conclusion of all four meetings coincided with the same statement that: Among all creatures the manner in which humans live is by far the most out of sync with nature. Only people, among all creatures, use money and many of them enjoy life without individual productive labor (agriculture). People make their own “laws” for the benefit of their own profit, most of which are against the law of nature. In short they concluded that the most harmful creature in the world of living things is without doubt people who live in a manner out of harmony with nature.
A similar way of looking at our way of life was written by a Chinese thinker Wang Chong as early as in 1st century in a book “Lunheng (Balanced Consideration)(4). In which is a sentence stating: We call locust a harmful insect because it devours crops we produce. However, if a locust can talk, it will say that crops are not for people only. Heaven gives crops for every creature so that humankind is a harmful ‘insect’ for locusts.
Since the industrial revolution, people have consistently preferred “development” to the more natural and environmentally sound old fashioned way of life. It must be emphasized that a sustainable economy is an ethical imperative.
If we should decide to take the harder way, we should examine not only the perspective that it will guide us to a happier society but also what kind of measures should be taken to persuade people to follow it.
Hideo Shingu, Ph.D
Member of the Triglav Circle
Professor Emeritus, Kyoto University [Engineering and Energy Use]
Former Dean of the Graduate School of Energy Science at Kyoto University
Representative, Kyoto Energy and Environment Research Association
- The world community must recognize the fundamental importance of a frugal lifestyle in which harmony with nature is the prerequisite for a sustainable society.
- A sustainable economy is an ethical imperative.
From the Big Bang to Harmony with Nature
Out of the Big Bang, 13.7 billion years ago, came hydrogen and helium, the elements that power most of the 60,000,000,000 stars in our Milky Way galaxy. But essential atoms for life, oxygen, carbon, and nitrogen, and rarer elements such as phosphorus and iron, formed over billions of years in the fiery cauldrons in the cores of giant stars, spewed into space by gigantic supernova explosions. They formed further generations of stars and planets. Armed with the necessary ingredients for organic chemistry, many became congenial habitats for the contingent evolution of life as manifest in our cosmic home, Earth.
Today seven billion people inhabit our planet. Human beings and domesticated animals make up 90% of the vertebrate mass today, up from 0.1% 10,000 years ago. Nearly 80% of Earth’s land surface has been modified by humans. Both air and potable water, which have always seemed freely available, are becoming increasingly precious. Fortunately scientists discovered the man-made cause of the polar zones of ozone depletion before catastrophic consequences followed. Whether the toxins of climate change are heeded remains to be seen.
This is the decade of the exo-planets, the astronomical discovery of planets orbiting thousands of other suns. There must be hundreds of millions of habitable planets in our galaxy, but whether any are inhabited by other sentient beings we may never know. But think on this: how long will our environment remain congenial to thinking beings? If we destroy our habitat within a century, we would have been electronically communicative for scarcely two centuries, a mere whisper in cosmic time. If other civilizations last less than a millennium, our chances of co-existing with other sentient life in the vast sweep of time seem vanishingly small.
The human brain is the most complex object we know in the entire cosmos. We might just be the unique pinnacle of the universe’s entire evolutionary process. Let us hope that we have the foresight and moral courage to make the hard choices necessary to preserve our species, our environment, and our heritage for the generations to come.
Professor Emeritus of Astronomy and of the History of Science, Harvard University
Senior astronomer emeritus at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory.
- The world community should ponder how long our environment will remain congenial to thinking beings. If we destroy our habitat within a century, we would have been electronically communicative for scarcely two centuries, a mere whisper in cosmic time.
- Human beings might just be the unique pinnacle of the universe’s entire evolutionary process. Let us hope that we have the foresight and moral courage to make the hard choices necessary to preserve our species, our environment, and our heritage for the generations to come.
Harmony with Nature
It is both timely and urgent that the United Nations takes up this subject in the context of preparation for Rio + 20. As stated in the Secretary-General’s Report on Harmony with Nature (A/66/302), there is an urgent need for a major shift in values in our societies and in the social, economic and environmental paradigm. Humanity’s current domination and exploitation of nature has led to materialistic and consumerist societies that have produced unacceptable and dire consequences on the lives of humanity and all living creatures. Only through reverence for nature can we re-recreate our ways of life and a world that is more humane and inclusive. The UN provides an excellent and most appropriate forum for governments, the civil society, all other interested and concerned parties and people of good will to come together to raise awareness, share experiences, and discuss this very important topic, which, despite being mentioned in Agenda 21 twenty years ago, has not been taken up until now.
The concept of “harmony with nature” is hardly a new one and in fact forms the basis for both Confucius and Taoist teachings in China (around 500 BC). The focus of these philosophies was on how harmony could be restored and maintained between human life and the life of the universe. Out of this focus came the Confucian moral philosophy of “human heartedness” and correctness, and the Taoist philosophy of simplicity and self-purification. Both philosophers were proponents of the belief that Heaven, Earth and Humanity form the three legs of the tripod. From these flow all creativity – all species, land, waters and civilization. The teachings of Confucius put the spirit of “the vastness of heaven and the thickness of the earth” into the heart of humanity, thus putting heaven, earth and humanity into a perfect whole. Knowing one’s place within the greater world of the forces of nature, having respect, obedience and to be in tacit agreement with all creatures in nature are prerequisites for attaining serenity and harmony within the person, within the family, within the society and ultimately within the nation and beyond.
According to Confucius, the path of harmony lies in developing certain essential qualities that are innate in human nature called “the four virtues”— compassion or benevolence, righteousness, propriety, and wisdom. These are developed using oneself as a measure of one’s conduct toward others – “Do not do unto others what you would not want others to do to you,” is a famous Confucian saying. In practicing human-heartedness (including, for example, through giving and through the quest for wisdom), we gradually lose the selfishness that invades the spirit, and in becoming less selfish we cast off the false distinctions we once made between people, and between the world of people and the universe at large. Thus, we perceive the essential unity of the universe. In the process, we improve not only ourselves but also our environment. Just as the tree, true to its own nature, spreads and gives shade, and in turn influences its environment.
Since everything in the universe is linked together by a shared origin and a shared spirit or “energy”, there exists a natural tendency toward harmony. In nature, everything works together perfectly – that is nature’s way. Only people have the ability to stray from human nature as it originally expressed itself. For example, the leaf can do nothing but float and be carried; the sheep follows with no thought.
Harmony with nature is best demonstrated in the art of Chinese calligraphy. It has been said that “Words are the voice of the heart; calligraphy is the painting of the heart”. The ancients penned characters as a means of spiritual elevation, for it was considered possible to express the essential spirit of the universe through brushwork. In Chinese thoughts, the act of writing a character is seen as parallel to the universal process of creation, and an embodiment of principles that govern all life. Just as “spirit” or “energy” creates all living things in the universe, the human spirit creates art. One stroke could signify the whole of nature and humanity. Like Taoism which believes that we need only yield – quietly and passively – to our inner law, while simulating our spiritual understanding of all nature, including the human, the art of calligraphy is seen as a matter of letting the true spirit within flow freely, without hindrance. It is the spirit that moves the brush which is guided by the heart. Finally, it is interesting to note that the Chinese character “harmony” (“Ho”) consists of two parts: the character “grain” on the left side and “mouth” on the right side, signifying that “Harmony” is that time when all creatures (not only human beings) will be nourished.
Member of the Triglav Circle
Former Chief of Branch in the United Nations
Department of Economic and Social Affairs
- Knowing one’s place within the greater world of the forces of nature, having respect, obedience and to be in tacit agreement with all creatures in nature are prerequisites for attaining serenity and harmony within the person, within the family, within the society and ultimately within the nation and beyond.
- Only through reverence for nature can we re-recreate our ways of life and a world that is more humane and inclusive.
- All peoples must see that there is an urgent need for a major shift in values in our societies and in the social, economic and environmental paradigm if human well-being is to be sustained.
A Word about the Intrinsic Value of Nature
Intrinsic value refers to the power of nature to inspire. For example Mill, saw nature as the cradle of thoughts and ideas. Nature’s intrinsic value lies in its reflections of the laws and evolution of the universe, the source of its scientifically unknowable essence. It lifts the sensitive observer to the realm of the infinitude of ideas wherein one feels intuitively in harmony with nature. It empowers the imagination, it offers poetic inspiration, and prods intuitions about unseen but present ideas. It helps the restrained thought to transcend physical impressions to gain transcendent perspectives and thus cleanse and nourish the soul. The intrinsic value of nature perceived and introduced into the political discourse on problems confronting contemporary societies—affluent or destitute—enriches reflections and policy perspectives, reveals higher aspects of humanity and offers fresh ideas for political action.
Acquaintance with and sensitivity to the intrinsic values of nature’s creations inform humanity that only a holistic approach to the problems of the environment can restore harmony with nature. Only very limited understanding of natural phenomena, [whether animals, plants, or other living organisms or whether elements of the biosphere, — the atmosphere, the land or the sea], can be gained by reducing the study of nature to an examination of individual fragmented parts.
The futility of taking a fragmented approach to nature and environmental problems is well illustrated by the tragic situation of the honey bee presently encountered today in many parts of the world.
To deal with colony collapse disorder one has to appreciate the intrinsic nature of the bee, the spirit and inherent instincts of the hive. The interconnected lives of bees are intrinsic to the hive. Left to nature, there is order and balance in the life of the bee which thrives in symbiosis with other living creatures and forms of life. It has its role in promoting the continuity of plants through the process of pollination, in reward for which it is richly fed by the nutrients produced by these flowers. Humankind’s disregarding of the complex nature and life of the bee and focusing only on keeping the hive alive for its instrumental value may be the underlying cause of the collapse.
In selectively reducing the hive to a pollinating factory for human enterprises, the harmony of the hive has been disturbed, the bees stressed, their instincts all but destroyed, their food poisoned by pesticides or uprooted to make place for monocultures with their short blossoming periods. The “modern” honey bee has a much more limited and unpredictable access to pollens and nectars, than do its wild relatives in other places in the world. When food is scarce their honey combs are injected with corn syrup substitutes of questionable nutritional value. Certainly this syrup lacks the vital natural nutrients to which honey bees in uncontaminated habitats of wild flowers are accustomed.
In the interest of human business, foreign queens are hired to replace those native to the hive. Often their wings are clipped and they are prohibited to swarm out of the hive according to nature’s plan. Their natural life span of 4 to 5 years has been reduced to an average of two years to insure frequent renewal of the industrialized hive. They have foregone nurturing by newly hatched bees whose first role in life is to feed the eggs and larva of future generations. Drones have been bred and directed to a particular bee, rather than allowed to seek their mates according to the radar of their natural instincts. Considering all of these unnatural incursions into the life of the hive, it is not surprising that their immune systems have been vastly weakened.
Ultimately, the stress caused by imbalances and disharmonies of their modern lives and on the “spirit of the hive” may destroy these precious and very important insects. The honey bee is the canary in the “coal mine” of human existence. Humankind needs to heed its warning. If he and she do not seek to appreciate the intrinsic value of the bee and similarly of other forms of life, and continue to treat them all aggressively as objects for excessive profit and other questionable ends, their collapse may be final. And so millions of years during which the honey bees have served nature and humankind as a source of sustenance and inspiration for poetry, art and politics will come to a crashing end. As go the bees, so for the song birds, the frogs, the polar bears the butterflies to mention a few of the endangered species.
With their loss and that of others similarly fated in the vast and relentless on going destruction of the natural world, humanity will not only be deprived of essential resources but will also lose the ephemeral wonders that inspire art, imagination, and creative thinking.
Barbara Baudot, Ph.D.
Coordinator of the Triglav Circle
Professor of Politics and International Relations
Former Economic officer with the United Nations
- People must consider the intrinsic value of nature and its creatures as important as the instrumental value of natural resources.
- A holistic approach to imbalances in nature caused by human intervention is essential to slowing destruction and restoring a semblance of balance.