Monday, July 08, 2013

This Is the Way It Is!

I do hope y’all might thoroughly read, digest and reflect on:

Science, energy, ethics, and civilization” by Vaclav Smil  (This is a sobering, no-nonsense, easy-to-read chapter/paper … based on real science and written by a hard-working, straight-shooting intellectual of integrity.)

Also,  I’d love it if you do the same with the piece below    even though it was produced with much less intellect, research and discipline.  (This is a paper  I gave at a “Local Development”/Geography Symposium at a Catholic University, Campo Grande, Mato Grosso do Sul in 2003.    The actual presentation, & PowerPoint (in Portuguese), had considerable focus on sufficient use of currently available “appropriate” technologies vs. our crazy chasing after and developing more and more efficient technologies (a largely “inappropriate” process).  The presentation seemed to be a hit with my fellow panelists and the audience, particularly a systems ecologist from France and an agricultural economist from Cuba.


 Paul B. Martin*,  Kevin Schantz**,  Peggy Sechrist***

*Assoc. Professor–Natural Sciences Department, St. Philip’s College, San Antonio, TX
** Coordinator, Community Service Learning, St. Philip’s College
*** Certified Educator, Holistic Resource Management of Texas, Fredericksburg, TX


Lowering human population growth and our unsustainable consumptive processes are necessary for positively ethical applied community ecology. In particular we need to focus on the poor with appropriate resources and socio-political/spiritual support. Sustainable Livelihoods, Holistic Resource Management, Natural Systems Agriculture, and Conservation and Development of Sustainable Community seem to be front-running approaches toward achieving sustainable Local Development in a positively ethical and ecologically-sound manner.

Key Words
Conservation, Sustainable, Community


A positively ethical applied ecology approach to quality life for as many genetically diverse species as possible for as long as possible, involves the appropriate integration and balance of social, political and economic sectors at the local and global level. Basic ecological principles guide effective and ethical social values focusing on the poor with equitable resources and sustainable livelihood policies which move us toward efficient participation by all (individuals) of species, and ecological economic models that include measurement and evaluation of ecological footprints/carrying capacity, energetics, material flow (in, through, and out) of communities and human appropriated net primary productivity. And although there many efforts that document the ecological problems caused by we of the dominant species, systematic/scientific efforts at ecologically-sound, socially - just and humane decision-making processes are much scarcer. In this paper we report on: 1) significantly promising efforts at “sustainable” decision-making in local communities, 2) some major players in these processes, and 3) our efforts at St Philip’s College, Alamo Community College District, in the San Antonio area of South Central Texas.

Materials and Methods

We are reporting herein on research of the literature, searches over the Internet and from experiences in limited cultural/ecological travels to communities, universities, experiment stations, and non-governmental organizations ... that have spanned about 35 years. Key individuals that have influenced us in this search and our interpretation of the results included: Miguel Angel Altieri, University of California-Berkeley; David Orr, Oberlin College, Ohio; David Pimentel, Cornell University; H. T. Odum, University of Florida-Gainesville; Chuck Francis, University of Nebraska; Wendell Berry, Kentucky; Wes Jackson, The Land Institute, Salina, Kansas; William R. Catton, Washington State University; John Ikerd, University of Missouri; G. Tyler Miller, Jr.; James Beebe, Gonzaga University, Spokane Washington; Helmut Haberl, Vienna, Austria; and Sergio Ulgiati, Italy.

Results and Discussion

Sustainable Livelihoods. One of the most exciting processes toward sustainable community currently being developed is termed sustainable livelihoods and is being developed by the British Department for International Development and the United Nations, among other entities. It is “a way of thinking about the objectives, scope and priorities for development in order to enhance progress in poverty elimination” (Anon. 1999). Core principles for this poverty-focused developmental activity are that varied development approaches should be: 1) people – centered, 2) responsive and participatory, 3) multi level (local with people support from higher-level policies and institutions), 4) conducted in partnership (public and private), 5) economically, institutionally, socially and environmentally sustainable and 6) flexibly dynamic with long-term commitments.

Sustainable Livelihoods uses rapid assessment techniques (including triangulation from various methodologies to establish validity) and it is employed within a framework of components including: a) vulnerability context, b) livelihood assets, c) policy and d) institutions and processes livelihood strategies and livelihood outcomes. Major principles of livelihoods analysis are:

  1. identifying and understanding the livelihoods circumstances of marginalized and excluded groups,
  2. accounting for important social divides – e.g., gender, aged groups, “race”, cultures, etc.,
  3. building upon people’s strengths and resourcefulness,
  4. embracing the idea of dynamism and avoiding the taking of infrequent snap shots, and
  5. recognizing that there is never a set recipe toward local sustainable community and that flexibility is a key to success in reaching the poor with adequate sustainable resources.
Holistic Resource Management. Holistic Management (HRM) is a decision making process largely developed by a southern African, Allan Savory and embraced by progressive members of ranching communities Savory (1999). It employs a focused and structured guidance model, and a holistic system focusing on major ecosystem components, management tools, testing and management guidelines, and planning procedures. Initially the community whole under management is established along with a holistic goal that has three parts:

  1. quality of life desired,
  2. production needed in order to
  3. sustain this quality of life, and
  4. a description of the resource base (landscape/Land) needed for far into the future.
Emphasis is on ecosystem processes of energy flux, hydrological and mineral cycles, and succession – and rest, fire, and organismal and technological tools to manage them. In deciding which tools to use and how, HRM uses “conventional” testing guides -- and more novel management guidelines. Finally, HRM emphasizes total local community involvement of a continuous process of “planning –monitoring – controlling – and re-planning”.

HRM seems to be one of the more palatable, digestible, usable and doable decision -making processes for sustainable local communities that is available. As alluded to earlier, its usage is primarily spreading through ranching and agricultural communities. Nevertheless, it has tremendous utility in helping all local communities move toward sustainability.

Natural Systems Agriculture. The mission of the Land Institute in Salina, Kansas has been to honor natural systems and mimic them to some degree. One of the reasons for their driving efforts though an ecological paradigm is a core belief that if we fail in achieving sustainability in agricultural systems, then it will not happen anywhere. Moreover, agriculture is fundamentally ecological, and it has as a basis the science of ecology, which is devoted to learning more about how ecosystems work.

The research of the Land Institute uses nature as the measure to develop mixed perennial grain/legume/oil crops. Its Natural Systems Agriculture, research and outreach efforts truly employ an ecological economic approach that should have positive socio-political impact on local communities.

Conservation and Development Of Sustainable Community. The Bruntland (1987) Commission adopted sustainable development as a major positively ethical applied ecology concept in its report Our Common Future. As defined in this monumental report, development is sustainable if it “meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generation to meet their own needs.”

Others and we have tweaked, molded and modified this concept and use the phrase “Conservation and Development of Sustainable Community” (CDSC). We feel that relatively sustainable (though dynamic) communities should perhaps involve relatively low inputs of fossil energy--that are well-planned and viewed as supplemental or augmentative to “current” solar energy inputs (e.g., those captured by productive climax /fire-climax grassland/ savannah communities of a region like South Central Texas). Moreover, these relatively sustainable communities should have a goal of long-term quality of life for all people and should include community programs involving--balanced education, leadership development, empowerment and inoculative financial assistance. These community assistance programs should especially focus on individuals and groups with limited resources.

One of the better definitions concerned with CDSC describes a sustainable community as one that can evolve indefinitely toward greater human utility (including reference to students, family, teachers, support/ maintenance staff, administrators, information “diffusers,” curriculum developers, researchers, policy-makers, etc.—as a whole), greater efficiency of resource use (e.g., South/Central Texas savannah or the Cerrado), and a balance with the environment that is favorable to humans and most other species (Harwood 1990) The beauty of this definition is that, practically no one can be against CDSC in an abstract form that includes conserving valuable resources and allowing lasting development toward quality of life for all.

It is also useful to think of CDSC as a process of communicating, learning, and beginning to effectively apply that knowledge (the most difficult part)– and of building toward sustainable communities in the broadest sense. Effective discussion and subsequent understanding of the concept and proposed practice of CDSC by educators and others would ultimately demonstrate to them that CDSC is familiar and perhaps even friendly to the education community. For instance, “holistic participation and ownership” are key components of CDSC as is the case with an effective educational process. 

CDSC can be considered a composite of ecological, economic, sociological, and political spheres -held together in varying degrees by energy influx and ethical behavior in communities.  With reference to a common goal of sustainability, weak areas/links in these spheres seem to be:

  • a lack of comprehensive/intensive education in ecology,
  • the absence of adequate economic measurements of sustainability (perhaps they are available, but they are not effectively employed),
  • a tendency or prevalent attitude of squandering of fossil energy, and
  • the ineffective sharing in: effective grassroots-participation, decentralization/site-based management, long-term policy making consensus-building, and values-sensitization.  
Related programs that have been developed challenge communities to:

(1) get involved in the process of CDSC–ecologically and economically of course, but also in a socio-political sense – at the local community level,
(2) focus on the poor in policy-making, research, extension, production effort,
(3) question the short-term, inadequate economic measurements we often make in our development efforts and become knowledgeable about and participate in the efforts towards ecological economics, and
(4) strive to develop institutions in a way that will sustainably move us toward CDSC vs. inordinate exploitation of our human and other natural resources. The CDSC process is not intended to make anyone in community feel guilty, but rather intended to stimulate thoughtful, meaningful, productive (long-term) dialogue–including “with self”, to educate, and to enable (empower), and to mobilize effective applied ecologists into their local community.

Applied Ecology Activities at St. Philip’s College.  There is an admirable and ambitious effort at St. Philip’s College–and in the Alamo Community College District San Antonio, Texas as a whole–toward addressing global issues in a locally sustainable fashion. These are necessarily connected to our Environmental Science Program, a Mitchell Lake Project (a core component focusing on a “Pantanal microcosm”-wildlife refuge maintained with treated sewage effluent), community service learning, Honors Program, and everything we do to create more transdisciplinary generalists who are connecting with local people in other parts of the world through middle schools, 4-H, etc., etc. and addressing the needs of ALL life–present and future.  

St. Philip’s College interprets global education as a lifelong growth in understanding–through study, analyses, and participation–of the world community and the interdependency of its peoples and systems–ecological, social, economic, and technological. Therefore a globally competent student has knowledge of world’s history and events, understands global environmental, political, and economic responsibility and interconnectedness, is able to effectively communicate cross-culturally, understands differences and similarities of trans-cultural human experiences and respects Local Development, and is able to use computer and telecommunications technology effectively.

It seems that we are also beginning to recognize a need to make more ethically globalized holistic applied ecologists who:

1. recognize that “all education is environmental education” (Orr 1992)
2. are well-rounded (liberal arts graduates?) “Renaissance persons”/generalists/transdisciplinarians,
3. are well-versed in the principles and processes of ecology,
4. use a holistic process employing energetics and system models for decision-making,
5. can communicate effectively (languages, mathematics, computer, etc.) and are willing to learn new languages, traditions, and customs, and try to understand all other cultures,
6. work hard at getting participation by the poor in decision-making processes,
7. are open-minded, humble persons who act tentatively and cautiously–yet when
(deemed) necessary can take quick, decisive action,
8. are prudent risk-takers,
9. consume relatively little and tread lightly on the Land,
10. are tolerant and compassionate and respectful–except against thoughtless
destroyers of our resource of our resource base/”nature”,
11. think and act globally and locally and
12. are skeptical. (They question new technologies/management systems.)

In addition to the problem of the fast pace and clutter of current socio-political/economic systems, four characteristics of current society that hinder development of globalized learners at St. Philip’s College (and at similar institutions all over the world):

  • our limited knowledge of nature and ignorance of ecological principles/processes,
  • a blind faith in the current socio-economic/political systems which perpetuates status quo vs. a change toward conservation and development of sustainable community,
  • rampant greed, and
  • the uncontrolled hubris in those who have power–(existing to the point that they would hardly take the time to read and reflect on words such as those written herein).

Globalized students would be involved in a process to clean up the pollution and stop:

- the spreading desertification as a result of the agricultural/industrial revolution,
- the mass production and usage of the artificial biocides of the chemical age,
- the energy demands and clutter (“entropy”) of the information (computer) age, and
- the myopia within biotechnology.


The recognition of innumerable socio-political/economic and environmental (ecological) problems in the ecosphere have resulted in numerous responses attempting to stave off these problems. Herein we have discussed a few initiatives that we believe might be particularly promising to pursue in the effort to make local development sustainable -- ecologically – sound, socially just and humane. The senior author is not as impressed by or excited about some efforts which have received considerable press and publicity and/or have developed a cadre of followers or practitioners, such as permaculture, organic agriculture and sustainable agriculture.  

However, even though these movements mentioned last in the previous paragraph, may be culturally myopic, high-input and exploitive of natural and human resources and/or co-opted by conventional extractive economies -- when used with the mindsets and guidelines of Sustainable Livelihoods, Holistic Resource Management, Natural Systems Agriculture, and Conservation and Development of Sustainable Community, these aforementioned approaches can offer exciting and very useful appropriate technologies and paths toward sustainability. We do have hope that the major decision-making and policy-setting processes and calls-to action discussed herein will result in an increased slow-down in human population growth and rampant per capita consumption by the “developed” world.

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