“On a full planet,
we are all islanders.”
We are slowly but convincingly moving away from a delusional, destabilizing, and rapidly deteriorating economic worldview of debt-created virtual-wealth, exploitative global markets, and obsessive GDP growth, she told me.
The current mainstream business culture, featuring toxic incentives for short-term corporate profits, cheap throwaway products, and centralized and concentrated power, and the current global market economy with its irrational fixation of infinite GDP growth on our finite planet will soon give way to more distributed, regenerative, circular, small-scale, local, lean economies that value healthy people, happy places, a habitable planet, and 'a world worth inheriting.'
A new interconnected and interdependent ecological civilization, a global EcoCulture, is emerging that prioritizes the health of living systems over short-term financial (virtual) wealth production and that properly values human and ecological well-being and intergenerational equity over any new re-branded form of mindless economic 'growth.'
In this emerging EcoCulture, self-reliant and self-determining communities become the goal and basic building blocks of society. And face-to-face interactions become, once again, a crucial part of human interaction and flourishing.
These self-reliant communities, like self-reliant individuals, prefer to rely on themselves first. To a large extent, they solve their own problems and find their own unique ways of doing things, with a greater sense of pride, purpose, and autonomy.
They possess self-confidence, optimism, and a wide range of skills and are therefore strong, agile, and resilient.
They react to change with active and informed engagement, not denial, delusion, distraction, or despair.
Relationships in these lean local economies are based on principles of mutual respect, learning, and reciprocity. And technological innovation is encouraged for its effectiveness in enhancing the vitality of living systems and not as a means of boosting a 'billionaire class.'
Most importantly, the core driving principles of EcoCulture enterprises are based on the fundamental and undeniable fact that we are all interconnected and interdependent in a grand, beautiful, mysterious, and fragile web of life — that long-term human prosperity is inextricably linked to a balanced, healthy, thriving planet-wide ecological system.
EcoCulture could also be described quite accurately as ‘island culture,’ she argued, because they are characterized by the same broad and deep ecological intelligence and acknowledgement of clear environmental limits and boundaries.
And both are cognizant of their embeddedness in Earth’s web of life and their direct connection to the natural world — and to its fate.
To an islander, after all, it is quite obvious that the human economy is fully embedded in the closed-loop energy and material flows of the land and surrounding ocean — the local ecosystem — and subject to the same chemical and physical laws of the universe. The physical environment puts obvious constraints on the growth and development of biological subsystems, which in turn modify their physical environment to adapt as best they can to those constraints.
The human economy is clearly a sub-system of the global ecology, not the other way around. So there are clear limits to biophysical throughput of resources from the ecosystem, through the economic subsystem, and back to the ecosystem as wastes. Surrounding biophysical systems are not things we live off of, but places we live within.
Mindful islanders recognize that they are not masters over Nature; they are Nature. They live as part of a beauty-full, wonder-full, living, evolving world. They hold on to ancient wisdom traditions that acknowledged and celebrated human embeddedness in Nature.
They maintain a proper balance between masculine and feminine leadership qualities where compassion and relationships are highly valued.
She believed that these islandy values will save mainlanders from purposeless hamster-wheel lives of endless frivolous consumption and mindless economic growth. EdoCulture will bring about a more desirable and sustainable future for all living organisms on a re-thriving, re-greening, re-generating beautiful blue-green planet.
She described three profound axial shifts — in politics, in education, and in economics — that are quite literally re-aligning our current modes of thinking and operating:
Political battles around the world are becoming less and less between left versus right — as they were in the last century — and more and more between open versus closed societies.
In education, the debate is no longer between public versus private schooling as it is between factory-era, compartmentalized, mechanical learning models of static, passive, rote memorization versus dynamic, active, whole-child, hands-on learning modes.
And our economic discussions are also shifting from large government versus free markets to GDP growth versus sustainable well-being.
Sustainable well-being is development and priorities that meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. It seeks to allow all living organisms to attain their full expected life spans. It emphatically rejects the perverse dominance-based logic that treats many ‘other’ people, things, and Earth's bounty as conveniently disposable resources.
She explained that ecological economics, her chosen area of study, speaks in the language of living systems using terms familiar to biologists and ecologists: balance, biodiversity, closed-cycle, coevolution, complex adaptive systems, limits, organization, thresholds, tipping points, renewal, and resilience.
It values community, compassion, and environmental stewardship.
It heeds the ancestral wisdom of indigenous island cultures living in ecological balance with their local surroundings.
Ecological balance means harvesting renewable resources at a rate that does not exceed the rate of regeneration, controlling waste streams so that they do not exceed the assimilative capacity of the environment, and — for nonrenewable resources — requiring development of comparable renewable substitutes for those resources as they are depleted.
In an eco-literate culture, individual economic actors are no longer simply responding to the narrow profit incentive that, in aggregate, orients the economy towards unbridled growth.
The fiduciary principle applied to the economy as a whole — managing the economy within planetary boundaries in trust for future generations — guides economic actors and individual transactions.
She believed all countries and cultures will ultimately have a part to play in this great EcoCulture metamorphosis that aspires to a future of broad wealth and well-being for humans and for the great diversity of marvelous creatures that inhabit this uniquely life-rich planet.
She insisted that a 'woke' civilization understands that with the gift of human intelligence comes the moral obligation of human responsibility.
“From caterpillar to butterfly, we are leaving behind old and severely limiting ways of being, living, and relating to our world and to each other and moving on to a higher level of consciousness and awareness that places greater value on truth, beauty, balance, play, connection, community, generosity, hospitality, warmth, and wisdom and that seeks a grander destiny for humanity on this good, beautiful, bountiful Earth,”
she told me.
I was profoundly moved by her vision and cheerful optimism,
“So beautifully expressed.”
“Thank you, Mister Rico. But now you’ll have to excuse me as I need to get back to work. Perhaps I’ll see you at your next Community Music Circle over at the green market on Saturday. I’ll stay a little longer next time, if that’s okay.”
“Absolutely! I’d love to have you join us again with your adorable little blue ukulele. And I’ll have you know that I am now — as of this morning — a fellow ukulele player.”
“Great, see you soon then,”
She quickly wiped down my table and headed back behind the pastry counter. At that very moment, it occurred to me that I didn’t even know her name! My god, I was so caught up in what she had to say all this time that I never got around to asking her who she was.
I threw my backpack and ukulele over my shoulder and rushed over to the counter, but she had already disappeared back into the kitchen. I noticed that there were some headshots of a few individuals on the wall behind the pastry case next to the usual assortment of colorful paintings from local artists. Above the photos, the sign read: WorldBeat Café Family.
The pictures were of the owner, management, and staff. Each had their name inscribed in a small golden plaque below with a favorite quote and a nickname scribbled underneath.
My eyes were instantly drawn to the loveliest smile in the group. Being the most recent hire at the café, her picture was the last one in the set, and the only one on the bottom row. It was centered, as if supporting all the others above.
The name inscribed on the plaque right below her photo was:
Below that, her favorite quote:
“On a full planet, we are all islanders.”
And just below the quote, her nickname: