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Maude Barlow: Hope and Real Action in the Face of Ecological Disaster
Amanda Reed, 19 Oct 10

One of my personal heroes, Maude Barlow, recently gave a great speech at the Environmental Grantmakers Association entitled: We are Facing the Greatest Threat to Humanity: Only Fundamental Change Can Save Us. The full speech is a long, but moving read, about the challenges the world faces and what we can do. It has been published in full online at AlterNet. Here are two excerpts:

Part of the problem:

The global water crisis is the greatest ecological and human threat humanity has ever faced...I do not think it possible to exaggerate the threat to our earth and every living thing upon it. Quite simply we cannot continue on the path that brought us here. Einstein said that problems cannot be solved by the same level of thinking that created them...From the perspective of the environmental movement, I see two problems that hinder us in our work to stop this carnage. The first is that, with notable exceptions, most environmental groups either have bought into the dominant model of development or feel incapable of changing it. The main form of environmental protection in industrialized countries is based on the regulatory system, legalizing the discharge of large amounts of toxics into the environment...The second problem with our movement is one of silos. For too long environmentalists have toiled in isolation from those communities and groups working for human and social justice and for fundamental change to the system.

Part of the solution:

The global water justice movement (of which I have the honour of being deeply involved) is, I believe, successfully incorporating concerns about the growing ecological water crisis with the promotion of just economic, food and trade policies to ensure water for all. We strongly believe that fighting for equitable water in a world running out means taking better care of the water we have, not just finding supposedly endless new sources...Similarly, a fresh and exciting new movement exploded onto the scene in Copenhagen and set all the traditional players on their heads. The climate justice movement whose motto is Change the System, Not the Climate, arrived to challenge not only the stalemate of the government negotiators but the stale state of too cosy alliances between major environmental groups, international institutions and big business – the traditional “players” on the climate scene...

I deeply believe it is time for us to extend these powerful new movements, which fuse the analysis and hard work of the environmental community with the vision and commitment of the justice community, into a whole new form of governance that not only challenges the current model of unlimited growth and economic globalization but promotes an alternative that will allow us and the Earth to survive. Quite simply, human-centred governance systems are not working and we need new economic, development, and environmental policies as well as new laws that articulate an entirely different point of view from that which underpins most governance systems today. At the centre of this new paradigm is the need to protect natural ecosystems and to ensure the equitable and just sharing of their bounty. It also means the recovery of an old concept called the Commons...

A central characteristic of the Commons is the need for careful collaborative management of shared resources by those who use them and allocation of access based on a set of priorities. A Commons is not a free-for-all. We are not talking about a return to the notion that nature’s capacity to sustain our ways is unlimited and anyone can use whatever they want, however they want, whenever they want. It is rooted rather in a sober and realistic assessment of the true damage that has already been unleashed on the world’s biological heritage as well as the knowledge that our ecosystems must be managed and shared in a way that protects them now and for all time.

Barlow continues talking about solutions with sections on "Inspiring Successes Around the Globe" and "What Can We Do Right Now?" She ends by citing another of my heroes, JRR Tolkein, with a quote from the Lord of the Rings:

This is Gandalf speaking the night before he faces a terrible force that threatens all living beings. His words are for you.

“The rule of no realm is mine, but all worthy things that are in peril, as the world now stand, those are my care. And for my part, I shall not wholly fail in my task if anything passes through this night that can still grow fair, or bear fruit, and flower again in the days to come.

For I too am a steward, did you not know?”

Read the full speech here.


(Thanks to Jay Walljasper for the tip!)


More stories about or from Maude Barlow in the Worldchanging archives:

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