21 October 2009

Ecological Literacy & The New Copernican Shift

Excerpt from the beautiful blog, The Butterfly Generation* [9 billion people. Expanding economies. A finite planet], 18 October 2009

*The Butterfly Generation is a blog exploring the cultural change required for sustainability. Moving from an era of "bigger" to an era of "better" might be the central challenge of our time. What will a culture commensurate with that challenge look like?

'You can’t talk about cultural change without mentioning Copernicus – the guy who, with his hypothesis of a sun-centered solar system, nearly single-handedly launched the scientific revolution, pulled the rug out from under a stagnant church, and pushed forward the Renaissance’s period of rapid cultural change...

Copernicus’s work was a threat to then-contemporary church doctrine because it dethroned humans as centers of the world, placing us instead as less-significant nodes in a wider cosmic network.

The sustainability challenge...asks us to do nearly the same thing: overhaul the notion that our societies and economies exist outside of ecological systems, and re-establish ourselves as citizens within those systems. Driving the former...is the cultural belief that capitalism can wriggle its way around environmental limits via technology. There’s enormous need for that wriggling– but it has to be undergirded by a culture that understands itself as a privileged resident within a larger, nongrowing, global ecological system.

The physicist/writer/systems theorist, Frijtof Capra, calls that shift “ecological literacy.” I’ve been thinking of it lately as the “New Copernican Shift”– the cultural dethroning of our economy as an autonomous system capable of anything to a system housed within a larger ecological system...

Capra argues that sustainabilty has begun to require those of us used to thinking purely about social systems to begin thinking about physical systems, too. That’s the New Coperican Shift: like the Earth in the solar system, social systems (like our economy) always were embedded in physical systems – it’s just time we realized it.'

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