Friday, 29 January 2016

'Live simply so that others may simply live'

'Live simply so that others may simply live.' 
“You must be the change you want to see in the world.”
Mahatma Gandhi

When I first came across these quotes from Gandhi as a teenager, they had a huge impact on me.

I have always considered the first saying to include other species, and the earth itself - that in order for other people and other species to live well and for life on earth to flourish, we all need to live more simply - to embrace voluntary simplicity.  The second quote compelled me to take responsibility for what changes I wanted to see - to live it, not just talk about.

Mahatma Gandhi - 'my life is my message'


Permaculture appeals to me because it is practical, about living simply and about designing with nature - aiming to create low-impact resilient communities that are in harmony with the natural world. However, in order to live with nature and design with nature, we need to understand how nature sustains life.

To explore how nature actually does sustain life, over the years I have explored Fritjof Capra's systems view of life. He has recently co-authored a text book on the subject and is now offering a 12 week online program which I have enrolled in to develop a deeper understanding of how life works. I am enthralled.


Fritjof Carpa -  scientist, educator, activist, and author. The focus of his education and activism is to to help build and nurture sustainable communities.  His thinking has been extremely influential on mine over the years -  I studied with him in 1992 and 2000 at Schumacher College in England.

Last night I listened to Fritjof Capra explain the systems view of evolution in part 4 of his course.  It changed my understanding of how life evolved - from what I had learned at school, from what is still taught in most schools of biology.

The first big change he highlighted, brought about by recent discoveries in microbiology, is that evolution is not just about random mutations followed by natural selection, as Darwin explained. There is a third way of evolution, one which Lyn Margulis  (1938 - 2011) describes as co-evolution or symbiosis of bacteria - things don't evolve in isolation, but together. 

Lynn Margulis has changed the way we think about evolution - that it is a creative process of co-evolution.

Margulis explains that in the world of bacteria, genes are exchanged so rapidly that it is actually difficult to identify the different species of bacteria. She suggests that bacteria actually forms one microscopic web of life across the whole planet - a global communications network that has been around for billions of years (well before the internet!). 

This process of co-evolution and has created all life's basic systems - fermentation, photosynthesis, nitrogen fixation, respiration...  Margulis says creativity is the new focus of evolutional theory.

Another key point Fritjof made was that human evolution is not just a physical, biological process, but that humans coevolved in social relationships and with technology. People's ability to cultivate good community and the use of tools determined their ability to survive - it is not just survival of the biologically fittest.

Also ancient cave and rock paintings from 30-40,000 years ago show amazing sophistication. This shows that art was part of human evolution from the beginning. From this, Fritjof explains that the emergence of modern human species is the emergence of the storyteller and artist - and that we cannot understand the evolution of humans without understanding art, language and culture. A purely scientific  explanation is insufficient - we need a whole systems view of life.

By Thoams T. (https://flic.kr/p/9x7tZY) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Finally, Fritjof reminded us that we humans are the newcomers to the web of life and so we must respect life, and the rules and traditions of earth's household - oikos.... Live simply and lightly on the earth, live in harmony with nature.

To illustrate just how recently we have arrived, in Fritjof's lecture he referred to David Brower's* story of the history of life on the planet:


Our planet was formed as a fireball of molten lava around 4.5 billion years ago. The first cell formation, the beginning of life, took place 3.5 billion years ago.   
Imagine however, the Earth is just 6 days old: 
The beginning: Sunday midnight - Earth is created in the big bang. 
Day 2: Tuesday 8:00am - Life created (first bacterial cells) 
Day 4: Thursday midnight - the microcosm becomes fully established and now regulates the planetary system 
Day 5: Friday 4:00pm -  micro-organisms invent sexual reproduction 
Day 6:  Saturday - all life forms emerge
  • 1:30am - first marine animals
  • 9:30am - first plants on land
  • 11:30 am - insects and amphibians
  • 4:50 pm - great reptiles (die out by 9:45 pm)
  • 5:30 pm - mammals arrived
  • 7:15pm - birds evolved
  • 10:00pm - tree mammals evolve into first primates
  • 11:00pm - monkeys
  • 11:40m - great apes
  • 11:52pm - first Southern apes stand up and walk on 2 legs (disappear at 11:57)
  • 11:56 pm - first human species evolves (Homo habilis)
  • 11:56:30 pm -  Homo erectus
  • 11:59:30 pm - Homo sapiens
  • 11 seconds before midnight - the modern human species finally appears (and in Europe only 5 seconds before midnight)
  • Two thirds of a second before midnight - written human history begins.

David Brower founded Friends of the Earth, Earth Island Institute, was CEO of the Sierra Club from 1952 - 1969. He was instrumental in the passing of the Wilderness Act in 1964. He saved the Redwoods in California, stopped a dam in the Grand Canyon and was instrumental in 11 National Parks being created. Brower died in 2000, but the Brower Centre continues and houses some of California's leading environmental organisations including the Centre for Ecoliteracy.


“We don't inherit the earth from our ancestors, 
we borrow it from our children.”
David Brower


4 comments:

  1. This sounds really interesting - I wonder if I would have the ability to understand and follow the course - it certainly interests me. I am going to give it all more thought - one is never to old to learn more especially about such an important subject as this. Thanks for sharing it with us.

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  2. Thank you Morag, a very interesting read, I read it to my son and he reminded me of another example. If the world was created in a year we wouldn't exist till September. And there is more time lapse between stegosaurus and tyrannosaurus than tyrannosaurus and us (400 million years to 40 million years! ) blows me away. Have a great weekend

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  3. How about we keep it simple and say....in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth? I must unfollow your blog although I find your lifestyle interesting, I suppose this difference is too big to ignore. I wish you well.
    Beth

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    1. And my very best wishes in your simple living journey too Beth. Thanks for visiting.

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