Critics have panned Alex McKay’s film Don’t Look Up – where two scientists fail to raise the alarm about an imminent comet strike that will destroy life on Earth – as being over the top, exaggerated, over-acted, heavy handed, condescending and depressing. Yet climate scientists say that the film mirrors the terrifying non-response to the mounting evidence of our ecological crisis; which will extinguish life on this planet if we cannot look up to face the onrushing future.
By way of encouragement, the last two years of the Sars Covid 19 crisis, have demonstrated that C19 is as much a social as it is a physical disease. To contain a virus spread through social contact we have learned to change how we conduct ourselves in social relationships. Similarly. the climate crisis is a social and political challenge as well as being an ecological and a biodiversity emergency. Moving from “ego to eco” means re-inventing the ways we live together on the earth (Latour 2021) as well as resolving the physical problems of global heating, pollution, species loss etc.
In our call for contributions to this Special issue of the AMED Journal, we invited responses to this relatively sudden realisation that we must make major changes in human behaviour, including how we organise ourselves. The Anthropocene – where human impact on the planet has already begun a new geological era – demands a fundamental shift of mind in order to inhabit the earth more sustainably.
Our invitation was influenced by three related ideas:
Anthropocentrism. We have perceived the world as humancentric, focussed on ourselves. The Anthropocene is a consequence of human exceptionalism, defined as “a belief in humans and their existence as the most important and central fact in the universe” (Cambridge Dictionary). Momentous human achievements in arts, sciences and human rights have been accompanied by the exploitation of the planet in our own interests, with little regard for the rights of other forms of life.
As a philosophical perspective, Post-humanism can help us to reintegrate with each other and with other forms of planetary life. As well as seeing animals and plants as having their own beings and rights, Post-humanism addresses the imbalances of power and justice between humans and other humans. Inequalities in income and health and forms of oppression such as racism, slavery and patriarchy affect individual and collective wellbeing and make responding to the climate emergency immensely more difficult (Wilkinson & Pickett 2009).
Eco-consciousness. The necessary shift has been described as moving from Ego-consciousness to Eco-consciousness – care for the well-being of all, of our global communities and planetary eco-systems (Scharmer & Kaufer 2013:2). In the Modern era we have moved far away from cultures seen as “primitive” and their close connections with earth and nature. Now we need to re-learn to see ourselves as inseparable from the natural world (Senge et al 2008).
A note about the cover:
The cover shows two pictures of “eco”. One is a lovely rural scene, with nature in harmony with itself. The other is of Little Amal, a twelve-foot tall puppet of a nine-year old girl, representing refugees – other victims of ego-thinking, as we see only too clearly in Ukraine as we go to press.
Amal walked from the Syrian border with Turkey to Manchester and then on to COP in Glasgow. In this picture she is in Sheffield, where she was welcomed by a dance group of which Tom Boydell was a member. Her journey was organised by Good Chance, an arts-based organisation that supports refugees and asylum seekers – https://www.goodchance.org.uk/
We greet Amal with eco-conscious love, and we strive to find creative and constructive ways to channel our anger at ego-consciousness – including of course our own.
A brief look at the contributions
This assembly of contributions is emblematic of the theme, being wondrously diverse and yet entangled and intertwined, one piece with another. Unlike the usual response to a call for papers, contributions have continued to come in, so that we could have carried on collecting, and have only been stopped by running out of time. Whilst styling ourselves curators rather than editors, standing back to review what we’ve got is inevitably partial and incomplete.
As there was no starting order of contents and with no obvious arrangement arising from a preliminary review, these 25 offerings are presented in a random sequence. Beginning with the order in which the files were listed in the desktop folder, the numbered list of contributions was converted via a random numbers table to produce the final running order.
Again, in no particular order, here are brief outlines of the contributions to this AMED Special Issue: From Ego to Eco: Organising in the Climate Emergency Era:
In his Eco-Leadership Explorations, Simon Western sets out to encourage us as individuals, teams and organisations to be “more located … more embodied and more at home in ourselves (in order to) become relational beings. … We can then focus less on our anxieties and insecurities, become less ego-centric, anthropomorphic and narcissistic, … (and) … find our place in the ecosystems in which we live”. Thus, we can take our place in “the Assembly of All Beings” (Snyder 1990: 121).
Joining with the assembly of all beings finds echoes in other contributions, including Rosemary Cairns, whose What’s Next? The small stories that are shaping a new sustainable narrative uses pictures, stories and a two loops model to show how the sharing of many small stories of sustainable achievement can build up into a bigger picture of both the old era which is dying and that which is newly emerging. The sharing of stories leads to conversations about the transitions from the old to the new, and what that means.
Similarly concerned to find “maps to guide us through the planetary crises we face”, James Barlow, Jake Farr and Kirstin Irving’s This is an emergency. We must slow down describes their work and their belief that “the massive improv act we are all engaged in during these disrupted times benefits from radical collaboration between diverse actors”. James, Jake & Kirstin aim to build a more consciously interconnected society participating in an experiment in organising for a regenerative future.
Nick Heap’s Ego to Eco. A joyous and enriching journey expresses his belief that learning to live in harmony with the earth and each other can be joyous and fun. He offers some simple and practical actions for developing listening, imagining, connecting, organising, fulfilling, happiness, hope and appreciation with each other, together with links to accompanying resources on his website.
Facilitating out of the four walls ceiling by Nadia MacArthur is a brief account of Nadia’s transition from working in conventional corporate settings to “nature-led facilitation”. Meeting in natural settings, working on the same tasks, but without the white board, the premium coffee, and other comforting facilities, helps to produce an unpredictability, emergence and synchronicity not found indoors.
Hope is the key word for Julie Allan. In Practical Hope: the most vital resource? Julie argues that hope is of even more importance in times of great difficulty, especially that hope which is active and engaged. This short contribution contains a video link which introduces a personal reflection activity on practical hope.
Bev Morris is one of several contributors who have turned to poetry to express their thoughts. Her Empathy or Die begins with poems on the elements of water, fire, air and earth before turning to the challenges presented by the Anthropocene. Bev also reflects on the irony that – to encourage a shift away towards Eco - we can only work out of Ego.
By contrast and drawing on the premises of logical positivism, critical realism, pragmatism and social constructionism, John Burgoyne’s concise Surviving and Thriving offers a philosophical justification for moving from Ego to Eco. To do this we have to both adapt to the environment and also change it: “humans survive and thrive though a process of co-evolution with the environment as part of an increasing unit of survival”.
In Re-balancing Nature’s Inclusional Dance, Louie Gardiner rejects the binary notion of Ego & Eco, offering instead a more inclusional view that we are nature and that saving the planet is saving ourselves. Using extracts from her poetry, which can be heard as well as read, Louie guides us through the “self-centring praxis of Presence in Action (PIA)” to develop “personal and collective response-ibility”.
In Defence of Humanism: Why humanism is a solution, not the problem is Paul Harrison’s challenge to the premises of post-humanism and a plea for retaining the humanist worldview as offering the best opportunity for solving our current problems. He argues that humanism makes strong commitments to animal welfare and that of all living creatures and the natural world. Where humans and organisations are concerned, humanism implies the support of human rights, democracy, and the equal dignity and treatment of everyone – including the commitment to ending racism, sexism, and LGBT+ discrimination.
In his paper, Steps to an Ecology of Agency: Organising to live well together – a ‘grammar’ of collective well-being(s), Chris Blantern draws attention to the importance of cultural relational practices, including language-in-use, in forming human identities, actions and organising. This paper introduces the important notion of the “social grammars” or social norms, which are often unnoticed and taken for granted, yet constitute the “cultural ecologies” which position social actors to live well together – or not. For example, “otherness” positions other people, other living beings and the planet as different from (and less than) “us” – causing fragmentation and division and propagating hierarchy, inequality, exploitation and injustice. However. we can choose to cultivate grammars that support agency, solidarity, equality and collaboration.
Chris’ additional contribution, Three Ways to Manage, serves as a concise exemplar of how different social grammars generate particular cultural practices that affect managing and organising.
Also emphasising how we talk about ourselves and to each other, Margaret Gearty & Steve Marshall’s Towards Everyday Activism(s) – making the ‘eco’ move: how reflexive video-making is helping us connect to an ecologically orientated practice is an experiential inquiry that draws on Kenneth Gergen’s notion of “Poetic Activism”. Margaret & Steve’s “everyday activism” provides a means of finding an ecological stance to guide their daily practices of working and living. Central to these practices is the awareness that how we talk and interact with each other can either reinforce or challenge “the rules of the game”.
In Colonialism and Extractivism: A Tale of Two Commodities, Anna Fairtlough proposes that it is our fundamental commitment to “extractivism” that is the greatest challenge for human beings and our relationship with the earth. Using the examples of coal and tea in Colonial India, Anna traces the practice and ideology of extractivism which brought about the transition from ‘eco’ to ‘ego’ via the direct extraction of material resources and indirect extraction through the exploitation of human beings’ labour, culture and knowledge”. Climate injustice, whereby those in the Global South who have contributed least to the emergency suffer most from its effects, is an enduring legacy of colonialism. With its close cousin capitalism, colonialism normalises and celebrates the extraction of short term ”surplus value” from land, animals and humans alike, with little thought for longer-term consequences. Making the reverse shift from Ego to Eco means changing this fundamental stance.
Christine Abbott’s “Dear Jen” begins as a Christmas letter and continues as an extended meditation on the activities and place of ants in the natural world. Quoting the biologist E.O Wilson’s dictum that “it is the little things that run the world”, Christine draws parallels on how to “run organisations and communities that don’t overrun our planet.”
Tom Boydell’s contribution – which started as a short call for papers – took on a life of its own and is now included as a five-part serialisation of From Ego to Eco: Where are we? Where are we Trying to Go? In Part 1 he looks at the difference between the human separations of ego-consciousness and the oneness of eco-.
He then explores the three separations suggested by Shiva and Shiva (2019). In Part 2 he considers that oneself from oneself, in terms of a framework of development of ways or Modes of being in, relating to, the World. He then focuses on the separation of humans from nature (Part 3), from each other (Part 4) and from each other again in the ways we run organisations and politics (Part 5).
Peter Bernays’s A Vocabulary for an Age of Community Sustainability is an A to Z of words and phrases in support of “mapping community” and developing community practices. From Ableism to Zooniverse, including terms not normally found together, such as Exoplanets, Exotic Flours Pancakes & Expanded Cinema or Nonprofit Organisations, Nonviolent & Compassionate Communication & Nyckelharpa, this intriguing glossary for living in community is sure to amaze and delight.
Ian Andrew Before it became land, Tom Boydell In Pandemic Voice and How can I walk on by? Mike Pedler Being Ecological and Chris Blantern From Eco to Ego all contribute stand-alone poems which speak for themselves on ecological themes.
Readers will make their own connections and draw their own conclusions, but here are some of the things that we noticed:
Language & media.
The importance of language and culture, in particular of how we speak and think about ourselves, each other and other living beings, is clear in a number of these contributions. A variety of forms is employed by contributors to give voice to their concerns and hopes: videos, interviews, activities, meditations, stories, images, poems as well as the more familiar written forms of papers and articles.
There is a lot of poetry here: stand-alone poems from Ian Andrew, Chris Blantern, Tom Boydell and Mike Pedler, and poems embedded as illumination, touchstone or prompt in papers from James Barlow, Jake Farr, Kirstin Irving, Louie Gardiner, Margaret Gearty & Steve Marshall and Bev Morris. What might explain this reaching after poetry to address these particular questions? Perhaps, in awareness of the Blah, Blah, Blah! of so much climate emergency discourse, these contributors are reaching for something more potent than prose. Poetry deals with powerful feelings, imaginings and possibilities not glimpsed through reason and logic, and whilst it uses everyday words, it orders and patterns them differently to find novel ways of seeing things:
It is difficult
To get the news from poems
Yet men die miserably every day
Of what is found there.
(William Carlos Williams “Of Asphodel, That Greeny Flower,” 1962)
Love and Rage.
This battle cry of Extinction Rebellion, founded in October 2018 in the UK, signals the need for both of these moving forces. It is perhaps inevitable in a collection like this that love is better represented than rage. We are after all people who work with others on human and organisational development. And yet, and yet…… we should surely be angry about the continuing dominance of “extractivism”; we should truly be angry at the extent of the denial, the refusing to see and the “greenwashing” of “business as usual”. Whilst we really need much love more to bind us together and to help us collaborate as never before, is love alone enough to shift us? We doubt it.
Optimism and Pessimism.
Similarly, we are an optimistic community, working in the hope and belief in better futures. Does this “professional deformation” blind us to the stark realities of the data and the increasing evidence of irreversible damage done to biodiversity and climate? In his Prison Notebooks, the Italian revolutionary socialist Antonio Gramsci combined a pessimistic analysis of the growing authoritarianism of the 1930s with an optimistic commitment to the potential for bringing about a socialist society. His famous motto, calling for a “Pessimism of the intellect; optimism of the will”, combines a sceptical, questioning of what is presented as “fact” or “evidence” with a belief in the human capacity to rise to challenges, and learn from the experiences of acting upon them. However, perhaps so far at least, Gramsci’s pessimism has arguably been a better predictor than his optimism.
Who are “we”? And who is included in “us”?
These two related questions surface or lurk around at many points in these Special Issue contributions. Most, if not all, of the contributors see the need for us humans to change ourselves in the face of these challenges. Most if not all proffer ways to bring this about. But whilst it seems clear that we must adapt and develop new skills, those contributors who talk about how we are divided, not just as humans vs. other living beings, or humans vs planet, but as humans vs humans across a plethora of differences, are sounding a different note. How can we learn to be more inclusional, as one contributor terms it? How can we unlearn our addiction to the dividing and othering that causes so much pain and suffering? Until we are able to do this, we will never succeed in grasping our full collective potential. Perhaps this is only possible by rejoining the Assembly of All Beings:
“When an ecosystem is fully functioning, all the members are present at the assembly. To speak of wilderness is to speak of wholeness. Human beings came out of that wholeness, and to consider the possibility of reactivating membership in the Assembly of All Beings is in no way regressive”.
Gary Snyder (1990) quoted by Simon Western in this volume
Scharmer, O and Kaufer, K, 2013. Leading from the Emerging Future. San Francisco: Berrett-Kohler
Senge, P, Smith, B, Kruschwitz, N, Laur, J, and Schley, S. 2008. The Necessary Revolution: How Individuals and Organizations are Working Together to Create a Sustainable World. New York: Doubleday
Shiva, V and Shiva, K, 2019. Oneness vs the 1%. Shattering Illusions, Seeding Freedom. Oxford: New Internationalist Publications
Snyder, G. (1990) The Practice of the Wild. San Francisco, CA: North Point.
Wilkinson, R and Pickett, K, 2009. The Spirit Level: Why More Equal Societies Almost Always Do Better. London: Penguin
Williams, W C (2001) The Collected Poems of William Carlos Williams. Vol. 2: 1939-1962. Ed. Christopher MacGowan. New York: New Directions
First, of course, we want to acknowledge the contributors to this, the final edition of e-O&P, who have responded to our fairly “loose” – perhaps “open” would be a better word – call for contributions with such richness of topic and medium. It’s great to have a diverse mix of well-known members of AMED and those for whom this is their first contact with us. You are all very welcome and we hope that we will be able to keep in touch within whatever form AMED takes in the future.
As guest editors, we are very grateful to Bob MacKenzie and David McAra for their never-ceasing encouragement, patience and tolerance, exercised with an amazingly facilitative style not always associated with roles such as theirs. Bob encourages and allows free rein with suggestions and ideas that at times might have seemed a little bizarre. David, who puts the text together in its final form, exercises immense formatting skills combined with endless patience and tolerance for difficult layouts, numerous footnotes and uncooperative tables, keeping calm regardless of the sound of deadlines whizzing past. Which is a cue for apologising for the late appearance of this edition, caused entirely by one of our contributors – namely, Tom Boydell – who was constantly seeing just another couple of pages that were asking to be included. I am sorry for all the pressure this has caused David and Bob, and for the frustration of all the other writers, who delivered well on time and have been wondering if their work would ever appear in print. Now, here it is at last!
We’d also like to express our thanks to Linda Williams, AMED’s Office Administrator, for all the backroom support that she willingly and cheerfully offers. We must also acknowledge the encouragement, support and critical friendship of Triarchy Press over the years. In no small ways have they all made a distinctive contribution to the quality and freshness of the articles that have appeared under AMED’s aegis. Thanks also to Ned Seabrook for his customary work of separating out individual complimentary pdf copies for contributors following publication.
Between them, Linda, Bob and David have over many years enabled e-O&P to be lively, informative, provocative and attractive, not only in content, but also in form and presentation. What other publications can claim the same? We hope that its spirit will live on in some form of reincarnation in the future, and that this special edition will contribute in some small way to the essential and existential project of saving our planet.
Mike Pedler lives at Hathersage in the Peak District National Park and is a member of Hope Valley Climate Action. He has been a manager, an adult educator, a teacher in Higher Education and a consultant on managerial and organisational learning. Since a meeting with Reg Revans in 1976, he has worked especially with the action leaning idea.
Tom Boydell writes
When I turned 80 I was advised to go part-time. So I’m now a part-time management development consultant, a part-time writer, a part-time actor, a part-time singer, a part-time poet, a part-time weaver and a part-time gardener. I’m glad I’m only a part-timer, otherwise I’d be worn out.