The purpose of this "blog" is to make my essays that have been
published online accessible in one place. Current essays are on
top and older pieces farther down, though they are not presented
in strict chronological order. The postings or "blog archive" list
serves as a kind of index. Since most of my essay links were posted
at once in May of 2009, click "2009" under the blog archive column
and a list of essays will appear. Each essay is briefly described and a
link provided.

My formative writing experiences were as a grassroots organizer
and activist in campaigns to make polluters accountable. I wrote
newsletters, pamphlets, press releases, op-ed pieces, and statements
to be read at hearings, debates, and panel discussions. I did hundreds
of interviews for outlets as diverse as NPR, CBS, BBC, and CNN.

During this time I was also a library manager and administrator.
Although one might not suspect so, the role of the librarian and
the role of the activist share much in common. Effective activists
provoke public dialog. Effective librarians invite such dialogue.
Although they employ different methods, the ends are the same.

Eventually, I wrote two books about my political adventures,
Canaries on the Rim: Living Downwind in the West (Verso,
1999) and Hope's Horizon: Three Visions for Healing the
American Land(Island/Shearwater, 2004).

We spent the last two centuries learning how Nature can create wealth.
We will spend the next century learning how Nature creates health.
Ultimately, as we learn to live in reciprocal and sustainable
relationship with the ecosystems that sustain us, we will replace
the cultural language of wealth that both expresses and guides our
behavior today with a new language of health.

I am not talking here about mere words. I mean the way we see the
world, the way we express our values, and the way we make choices
together. The difference between those two ways of seeing and being
in the world are profound.

Wealth says more; health says enough.
Wealth says accumulate;
health says flow. Wealth says compete and win; health says
reciprocate, integrate, reconcile. Wealth says manage and
measure; health says jam and dance. Wealth assigns value; health
assumes it. Wealth adds, subtracts, and divides; health makes whole.

To learn this new language, we begin by listening. When we translate
what we learn into behaviors, we are practicing what I call ecological
citizenship. Ultimately, the health of our natural/physical
environment is directly related to the vitality of our civic
environment. And if you dig deeper, environmental crises are
also about our disconnection from nature and from each other.
And so we confront not only entrenched powers and their
destructive interests, but a culture that enables us, even
encourages us, to think and feel and act as if we live apart from
nature. As I try to explain in the essays that follow, nature is
embedded in us as we are embedded in the ecosystems that sustain us.

Chip Ward

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Mini-Riff: What if Everything We Know is Wrong?

We take for granted that the cornerstone beliefs from ages ago were eventually proved wrong and then abandoned. That’s progress. But do we imagine that when a physician in the Middle Ages applied leaches to sick people to extract “bad humours” he did so confidently and was respected, believed, and obeyed by his fellow citizens? Or skip ahead to the Nineteenth Century when science had made astounding progress. Phrenologists were quite sure they could predict criminal behavior by measuring a person’s skull and they were praised in their day for their cutting edge studies. In every age, the prevailing empire of belief was widely accepted, followed, and honored without hesitation, doubt, or equivocation no matter how flawed it was eventually found to be.

How far back in history do we have to go to find evidence of such wrong-headed hubris? In the 1950’s our knowledge of how the world works was so advanced, that we even harnessed the atom, the building block of matter. Confidently and with authority, uranium miners, downwinders, atomic GIs, and weapon workers were told that the low doses of radiation they received were harmless, maybe even beneficial. In the meanwhile, forest fires were suppressed, keystone predators were hunted and eliminated from the land, and DDT was applied without protest to the crops we ate and the front lawns where children played. Lead was added to gasoline. We built so many nuclear weapons that we could destroy life on earth many times over. Ships loaded with old rusty chemical weapons were scuttled and sent to the ocean floor. Engineers were busy draining the Everglades and re-routing its flow through canals. Emotionally distressed patients were lobotomized.

That was just fifty years ago, a mere blink of history’s eye. But we’ve learned so much since then. After all, we have even unlocked the mystery of DNA and can create new life forms in our labs. We have acquired God-like powers to alter the web of life. Yes, I’m sure all that other ignorant nonsense is behind us and we’re on the right track now…


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