4. Understanding how the story you hold about the world really matters for your activism
In the previous sessions, we worked on understanding the stories and narratives we hold about ourselves and others in our activism, and how these impact our change-making. The third and last story we’ll investigate in this course is the story we hold about the world - and why it matters for our activism.
Through the course of humanity’s history, our relationship with nature has changed dramatically. Long ago, we believed that there was no fundamental distinction between the human and the non-human world. On the contrary, there was an important interrelationship. We understood that we depended on ecosystems, on the land, on non-humans for our survival in order to flourish. This connectedness and interrelation created strong moral and cultural barriers, which prevented us from exploiting and polluting the ecosystems we depend on.
However, in recent centuries, this perception has changed dramatically. Today, we often see nature as separate from us. We think of ourselves as unique in having consciousness, mind and reason. Somehow there’s no ethical barrier to the exploitation of nature, as long as we can view it as simply an object without life and consciousness.
We also see this happening in the climate discussions. The
complexity, interrelations and uncertainties of our world are reduced to
one thing: greenhouse gas emissions; in particular, carbon dioxide. While
this is an important element, the result of this ‘carbon reductionism’
is that the solutions derived to tackle the climate crisis merely focus
on reducing this aspect, while failing to consider the complex
relationships, connections and feedback loops of our environment.
To demonstrate the problem, consider the Bujagali hydropower dam on the Victoria Nile in Uganda, completed in 2011. The dam - contested for years in Uganda and internationally - submerged ecosystems and small-scale traditional farms while displacing more than 8700 people. It also had a significant negative impact on local culture. Before the damming, the Bujagali Falls were an important element of one of the traditional faiths of Uganda’s people. Like many other dams still being built in several parts of Africa, India and China, it was constructed to generate renewable energy and cut greenhouse gas emissions. At first glance, the dam achieved what it should. But what about those people who were displaced, resettled and lost their assets? What about the pristine ecosystems that were destroyed? What about the traditions and culture that was lost? Furthermore, it’s unclear whether the dam will actually be able to produce energy and reduce carbon emissions in the future, as climate change has a severe impact on the Victoria Nile. Hence the importance of considering interconnectedness.
To uncover the, often unconscious, story you hold about nature and the impact it has on your activism, we invite you to read two articles proposing different solutions to the climate crisis:
- 'Guyana focuses deforestation prevention efforts on conservation and management'.
After reading them, take some time to reflect on the underlying story about nature prevalent in both articles. Below you can find a few questions that might help you.
What is the purpose of nature for us, our wellbeing and our economy?
What assumptions are we making about the relationship between nature and human beings?
What are the implications of the proposed solution for nature?
Now we’ve had a look at society’s narrative around nature, we should examine our own. Write down the main actions, goals and vision of your activism and think about the underlying narrative around nature. Is it a story of connectedness, interrelatedness and interdependence, or is it one of separation and disconnection?
Questions for reflection
If you want to continue this conversation within your organisation or group, with your friends or family, you can reflect on the following questions together.
What story about nature does your current activism imply?
How could your activism differ from one story to another; e.g. ‘we must save the planet’ and ‘we are nature defending itself’?
What could your activism look like in a different story?
For further exploration
A New Story Of The People: In this video, Charles Eisenstein explores how we can make the transition from the old story of separation, competition and self-interest to a new ‘Story of the People’.
Beyond Climate Fundamentalism: In chapter 2 of Eisenstein’s book ‘Climate - A New Story’, he explores the detrimental consequences of carbon reductionism on the wellbeing of our planet and people.