How the spotted owl can save us
  • What does it mean for an environmental organization to work expressively, to live out the values of sustainability and deep ecology in its day-to-day work? Most environmental organizations striving to be coherent focus on behaviour. Do we recycle? Do we compost? Do we use energy-efficient light bulbs? Do we reduce our use of water and paper? Do we bring our own mugs?

    Sustainability is not this tame. Sustainability requires astonishment. At the exaggeration. At the audacity. At the outlandish impossibility of taking it all in.

    Horsehoe bat. Stubfoot toad. Girdled lizard. Hairy armadillo. The hidden pathways of water and air. The slow growth. The flash flood. Loach. Damselfly. Pleated gibbon. Slow loris. Roufus-headed ground roller. The gnats and thistles and burrs. The eyeless creatures living deeper than we can go. What is molten. What is frozen. What is oozing and what is parched.  The fact that you don’t understand it and never will. The thousand things. The million things. The hint that maybe it is not a million things at all, but one thing with a million preposterous disguises.

    So how do you live that? An expressive approach to social change is never primarily about behaviour, it is about experience. How can we experience sustainability, not just physically, but viscerally, intuitively- the awe, the interconnectedness?

    We thought about this question during a conversation with Karan Kashyap from the Indian Youth Climate Network (IYCN). Karan came to a workshop we did in Delhi about a year ago. He was quite enthusiastic about expressive change, particularly the idea of the giving field because he felt that he had received so much from his work with IYCN. He told us he had been personally transformed by his experience there. We stayed in touch and recently we asked him to tell us a little bit more about this change.

    Karan said that he had come into the work focused on how he could raise environmental awareness among young people in India but quickly found his own awareness shifting. It wasn’t just that he was wasting less, recycling more and buying different kinds of products. His overall mindfulness and sense of connection to the world increased. He became much more attuned to the impact his actions had. He became much more reflective about his own life patterns, much more curious about the hows and whys of things that formerly seemed quite distant to him. He lost weight. He gained confidence. He became increasingly excited by his own learning, by what he calls his “upward journey”. He says, “I do not know if IYCN is guiding me in my life or I am guiding it in its life.”

    Organizations like IYCN can help us re-connect to the roots of sustainability, not just intellectually but experientially. Our love of nature begins to seep into our work spaces. We begin to see that the patterns and relationships that sustain the natural world “out there” are mirrored in our organizational lives. We become more attuned to growth – others’ and our own. We become more comfortable with the unpredictable and unexpected. We recognize that our work is not a continuous linear process, but one that contains dips and peaks and periods of creative destruction, even death.  Our failures become compost. We begin to appreciate the wildness of being human.

    More importantly, we become more reverent toward diversity. We become grateful for the differences in others that used to baffle or annoy us. Many of us remember the spotted owl controversy that unfolded in the Pacific Northwest of the U.S. in the late 80s. Landowners and timber companies filed a lawsuit against the government’s decision to preserve millions of acres of forest in order to protect the habitat of the rare and endangered spotted owl. Hundreds of timber workers took to the streets in protest, chanting “families first, owls last”. Why should so many people lose their jobs for the sake of a few birds of dubious value? Dozens of similar controversies have erupted over the years.

    Why do all these strange little species matter? One of the great gifts of the environmental movement has been to help us see that not only do all species have intrinsic value but they they are all interconnected. The movement has taught us to be humble in the face of the awesome, if often unseen, dependence all species have on each other. We matter to each other, even if we can never fully understand just how much.

    We will know we are starting to live out the core values of sustainability in our organizations when the peculiar awkward colleague at the desk in the corner becomes just as important to us, just as loved and mysteriously necessary, as the spotted owl is to the forest.

    October 1st, 2012 | Warren Nilsson & Tana Paddock | 14 Comments

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Warren Nilsson & Tana Paddock

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14 Responses and Counting...

  • Cameron Stiff 10.01.2012

    absolutely beautiful and true. this is exactly what i have experienced, what has been the remarkable dance of my journey towards sustainability, my own and the worlds…. as always, Tana, thank you!

  • About the spotted Owl, It is not endangered, it’s sort of rare but logging in the owl habitat had little measurable impact on it. The spotted owl controversy is a perfect example of “runaway environmentalism”. An example of saving something that was not endangered in order to advance a political agenda. Those persons who lead the charge to save the owl have been manipulated into this by the advancement of false information about the owl. How does it feel to be responsible for the destruction of so many livelihoods?

  • what is ‘endangered’ my dear friend?

    who defines it?
    and then who measures the actual figures to decide that the organism is NOW endangered?

    and… are we going to start working on conserving, ONLY after a species reaches near extinction… till that time working away in a way to see that it ‘runs’ towards annihilation?

    poaching was also a legitimate livelihood once.
    should we legalise it again so that we, the supreme species, can have all the money to fill our homes with things we don’t need?

  • I think it’s time to move beyond sustainability to “thrivability”. Sustainability is boring. We have the capacity to be creative and thrive, not just sustain. As I heard someone say in Cradle to Cradle, “If someone asks you how your love relationship is and you say ‘sustainable’ it doesn’t say much for that relationship.” We need to develop a more loving relationship with the Earth.

  • The problem I am talking about is reflected in your comment ” supreme species”. The problem includes all those members of our species that when given a bit of information think they know all there is to know about it. After reading all that is written, listening to all who lecture about that subject, when there is nothing more to study they might think that they understand it. Admittedly they are then a good student. They are then subject to hire and to collect wages about what they have heard others say.

    If a person shouts loud enough and long enough others will concede to their point just to get some quiet, even if what is said is not based in fact.

    If one grows up hearing a thing from infancy repeated over and over they learn to accept it as truth.

    Some persons seem to feel the need to have a cause to shout about, the need to make a difference, to do good in public so others can see it. Need a cause to fight for. To change things for the better. To have the high ground in a argument.

    The value of knowledge is not measurable in aspects of the knowledge itself but rather by the use made of it.

    Politics is the art of manipulation by deception.
    This matter of the Spotted Owl, is metered deception with little fact.

  • Beautiful post!

  • Thank you Farmerdave for your comment. Our intention in writing this post was not to debate the specifics of the spotted owl case, but to use it as a more general illustration of the core principle of interdependence that is at the heart of the environmental movement. Your frustrations seem to highlight the main point we were exploring- which is how can environmental organizations more deeply embody the principle of interdependence in the way that they approach their work? How might they bring the same reverence they have for the interdependence between species into their way of organizing within the societal eco-system?…recognizing that the various human “species” involved in such controversies- loggers, politicians, government departments, local residents, businesses, environmental orgs- are also dependent on one another. Easier question posed than answered for sure : )

  • Thanks, Cameron : )

  • Here, here!

  • Thanks Ria!

  • by GARY CHITTIM / KING 5 News
    Bio | Email | Follow: @gchittimK5

    Posted on October 26, 2012 at 5:49 PM

    Updated yesterday at 5:50 PM

    It was a stressful three months for spotted owl researcher Stan Sovern. He watched forest fires ravage Kittitas County where he lives and works, and he worried about his neighbors and his outdoor laboratory.

    A place he could depend on for years to find and study spotted owls was in the Table Mountain Fire footprint. On Thursday, he finally got to hike in a see how it fared.

    The site suffered a mixture of heavy and light fire damage, but there were still plenty of stands to support owls. But there are other problems facing the spotted owls. He counted 120 of the threatened birds in that district in 1992. At last count, there were only 20.

    The number of this species of owls is declining by about 6 percent a year, and a larger cousin gets part of the blame. Barred owl populations are growing as that species migrates west from the eastern states and Canada.

    Sovern and other scientists believe the barred owls may be chasing off the smaller spotteds, and in some cases the two species are interbreeding, producing a hybrid “sparred owl.”

    Either way, the future is very blurry for the spotted owl even after massive amounts of forest lands were closed to logging to protect it.

  • Tana I agree with the need to protect our biosphere and bio diversity. I only wish to provide different perspective to the sometimes inflexible environmental movement. You said, “Our intention in writing this post was not to debate the specifics of the spotted owl case, but to use it as a more general illustration of the core principle of interdependence that is at the heart of the environmental movement.” I merely expand on that thought. The environmental movement and “claimed” government authority has caused the destruction of many things in the name of what is certainly a good cause. Hours of research and thought cannot foresee the effects of manipulating our society. Providing education, awareness, knowledge are the only type of influence that is not destructive to society. Forced compliance like has occurred with the spotted owl fiasco did not and cannot benefit “we the people”.

  • This post made me think about Meg Wheatley’s equating diversity to creativity and then, ultimately, to play. Sustainability stimulates play and vice versa. It’s gotta be fun or I don’t want to be part of it.

  • That’s cool. Do you have a link to Meg’s piece or was it in a book?

    It reminds me of a post that Megan Thom (one of the Millenium Scholarship participants) wrote for Organization Unbound a while back…not sure if you read it:

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