Global Express
An interactive quarterly for those who care about the future

Holistic Environment: HOLISTIC ENVIRONMENT


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What are you doing for the environment? A familiar question. It's not just a matter of planting trees and recycling waste. There are many environments - global, physical, cultural, internal, political and social. Together they make up our holistic environment. Often we lose sight of the 'bigger picture'. We fail to make connections - between matter and energy, mind and body, reason and feeling. This produces conflict. In this issue, World Eye looks at people embracing a holistic environment.

Global Environment - identification with humanity...

Chop down a rainforest in the Philippines and the summertime temperatures in the US climb a little higher, the polar ice-caps melt a bit faster and Bangladesh inches still closer to complete submersion. The link: we share one world and depend on each other for its upkeep. This is the concept the environmental movement hinges on. This is what helped bring over 30,000 Australians onto the streets of Sydney on Bastille Day to protest against the French nuclear tests on Mururoa Atoll. Most of us who attended that rally went because we had been captivated by pictures in the Australian media of crystal clear lagoons and palm trees swaying in the breeze. We were outraged at the prospect of it being enveloped by a toxic mushroom cloud. We felt 'linked' to these people and the beautiful corner of the world they lived in, linked enough to join in protest.

Yet there is so much of their lives - what they eat for breakfast or the games their children play - that we do not know and perhaps, when the media spotlight shifts elsewhere, we never will. In fact, if the nuclear-testing issue had not been adjudged sufficiently newsworthy, most of us would never have known Mururoa existed. There are other places - Rwanda, Burundi and Chechnya - the media have added to our common geographical knowledge. Our linkage to people and their concerns in far-flung corners of the world depends on mainstream media. This dependence becomes a worry when you realise the global media are dominated by TV networks and tycoons based in the Western world. The recent media mergers in the US, between Capital Cities/ABC and Walt Disney followed by CBS and Westinghouse, indicate a growing trend towards more and more media power in fewer and fewer hands.

The lop-sidedness of news coverage is already evident. Compare the coverage of the Okalahoma bombing to that of the refugee crisis in Rwanda. In the former, the TV cameras focused on individuals and the victims had names like Bobby and Kate. In the latter, we were shown sweeping shots of crowds of anonymous people and, if the journalist was slightly more persevering, an interview with a foreign aid-worker. It becomes easier to feel for Bobby and Kate's parents than the suffering thousands we never really got to know.

If we are to think and act as members of a global community, we have to link up with people in other countries whose stories are either partially told or not at all. We cannot depend on our daily news to create these links. We must find alternative sources: magazines whose covers might not be glossy, NGOs which function from one-roomed offices and people with different accents who have important messages for us. It is not only the environmental movement that depends on these links for its strength. But it stands to lose the most if we fail to develop them.

The next time we march on the streets, let us march not because we feel a fleeting concern for picture-postcard beaches; let us march because we know the names of those who walk on them.

Shampa Sinha, India/Australia

Physical Environment - land, oceans, ozone...

Indigenous peoples see themselves as part of the environment, not removed from it. Treating things in isolation may be appropriate for technology and science- based issues but this approach does not solve (and can even cause) environmental problems.

'When we were farming traditionally, our farm became like a drug addict,' says Bill Twigg. 'The more inputs, the more the land demanded to achieve a satisfactory yield.' Twigg's farm in Victoria, Australia, is called 'Nil Desperandum' (Never despair). His family have farmed in the area for 90 years. They have sheep, grain and cattle. The problem, he and his wife

Gwen decided, was the chemical fertilisers, which were killing organisms releasing important elements into the soil. Once the organisms were dead, more chemical fertilisers were needed. In 1970, he and his wife, Gwen, decided to try and develop a system of farming in sympathy with nature and the environment. They turned most of their pastures over to lucerne. This is a deep-rooted perennial plant, similar to much of the original pre-European vegetation of the area, which recycles nutrients and brings moisture to the soil surface. They found that once lucerne was established, there was no need to use chemical fertilisers. They have been able to maintain their yield with far smaller expenses than they used to have. The best fertilisers are plants, Bill says. 'We need all the native species - plant, animal and insect - to create a balanced system. Lose one and it starts an ecological chain reaction. Farming in harmony with the environment is not only more economic in the long run, but full of personal rewards.' As the farm has changed, so has Bill. He used to be self-righteous about his approach to farming. Now, rather than 'convert' people, he is more interested in showing the practicality of his methods. His satisfaction comes from adapting nature's way to the farming operation.

Libby Boxer, Australia

Most of us live in cities. Western cities are largely designed for the car. This has a huge effect on our society. The car has given us immense freedom to travel. As a result, our cities have sprawled out and vast acreages have been turned into roads. We have traffic congestion and smog. And our suburbs can be lonely and difficult for the elderly and others who cannot drive.

Some European and American cities have established urban villages to answer these problems - areas of attractive townhouses and flats, intermingled with shops and offices, from which cars are excluded. They have built light rail systems - multiple-carriage trams which transport people in comfort, and with little of the pollution and noise of cars and buses. They have applied traffic calming (measures to slow cars in residential areas) which has made the streets more accessible to pedestrians and encouraged community life. A well-known advocate of these methods is Professor Peter Newman of Murdoch University in Western Australia. He started putting new ideas into practice in his home city of Fremantle. Its city centre was full of derelict 19th century buildings, which some city leaders proposed demolishing. Newman and others saw the potential to create a really attractive city centre. Today the buildings have been restored and turned into markets, offices and museums. Pedestrian precincts and street cafes have been established. And people flock to Fremantle on weekends.

Cultural Environment - shared traditions and values...

Break down people's cultural environment and you destroy community, identity and purpose for living.

Nagaland is a border state in the North-East of India. As it encounters different cultures, so its socio-political problems rise, eg., drug addiction and the influences of Western satellite TV. Many prospective students are frustrated by the lack of local opportunities. There is a continual search for identity, values and acceptance. Nagas have a strong sense of freedom and adventure. As with any overseas student, I saw Australia as a place of opportunity. I thought it would give me what my own country could not. I was right. It has added meaning to my life. Now I understand people a lot better. I am re-discovering my own culture and realising how beautiful it is. This is the result of being immersed in a totally different cultural environment.

Achüno Peseyie, Angami Tribe, Nagaland, India

Internal Environment - what we feel and think...

When the world suffers, we suffer. We avoid identifying with environments beyond our own to evade this suffering.

Likewise, when we suffer, the world suffers. Our inner state influences our surroundings and how we view them. We will only be satisfied when we achieve harmony with the external world - our ultimate classroom. As author Mary Lean says, 'What happens inside people is a key to what happens around them'. Individuals leading balanced lives are more likely to create a stable world environment.

Political Environment - ideology, freedom, equality...

Disharmony between the various environments can lead to catastrophes such as war. Only when threatened does the importance of our holistic environment become evident. Lenka Gudac is a Croatian student working for peace in former Yugoslavia. In August her father and uncle went to fight in the war. She writes of her heritage and hopes.

Since the 7th century we have had many Kings - some nice, some not. One, King Zvonimir, sold part of Croatia's coast to the Republic of Venetia and was killed for it. His final words were, 'May Croatia not be free or independent for another 900 years'.

Croatia has been ruled by other powers ever since. In World War II we supported Hitler. The Resistance struck back and Croatia joined the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia led by Tito. In the years which followed, Croatia became a popular tourist destination. Its people, however, lost their official identity and human rights. Many were forced to leave the country and change their names.

When Tito died in 1980, Yugoslavia started to fall apart. In 1989, 900 years after Zvonimir's curse, Croatia reclaimed her independence. In 1991 war broke out. Many monuments, churches and houses have been destroyed; a generation of young men have been killed or wounded. This war has weakened the trust between people but there is still hope - the hope that love and understanding will replace hatred and fighting.

Lenka Gudac, Croatia

Social Environment - people and how they relate to one another...

'The battle for the survival of the planet will be won or lost in the cities', says Maurice Strong, Secretary-General of the UN Conference on Environment and Development. There are no easy solutions to the problems of our cities - homelessness, drug-abuse, crime. All communities are needed in the search for solutions. But often the hurts of history stop this happening.

In America, the racial divide between black and white is still deep. Two years ago citizens of Richmond, Virginia, decided to try and overcome this for the sake of their city and the many other American cities with deep racial divisions. Richmond is significant in the racial history of America; it was a port where slaves from Africa were unloaded and sold, and was the capital of the Confederacy during the American Civil War - a war which focussed the issue of slavery. In 1993 Richmonders, black and white, organised a conference, Healing the Heart of America. Its high point was a five-mile walk through the city, stopping at the unmarked sites of the uglier aspects of the city's history - the slave markets, the site of a massacre of native Americans - and the well-known places. Five hundred people took part. For many white Richmonders it was a rare chance to understand what black Richmonders had gone through in their city. Black and white began to find common ground and have set to work to answer the city's problems. They have had considerable impact. Other cities have become interested. In Chicago this month, church leaders, city councillors and leaders of many ethnic communities will come together to get to grips with their city's problems in a similar way.

Four Laws of Ecology:

  • Everything is connected to everything else.
  • Everything must go somewhere.
  • Nature knows best.
  • There is no such thing as a free lunch.

(B Commoner, Ecologist)

Compiled by the Editors
with thanks to Deane Belfield

Last update: 2000-02-12 17:20:20 (EEST).
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