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A Declaration of Interdependence

On the eve of this Independence Day holiday, Oregon Tilth Executive Director shares his own Declaration and food for thought.

A Declaration of Interdependence

Chris Schreiner, Executive Director, Oregon Tilth

It’s too easy to call the Deepwater Horizon oil spill an “environmental catastrophe,” the resulting loss of fishery and tourism jobs an “economic disaster,” and the eleven men who died when the Deepwater rig exploded a “human tragedy.” In truth, these are not different things – they are parts of a single reality our culture has created for itself. The sequel to environmentalism must grow out of that recognition, and be rooted in the perpetuation of all life – human and nonhuman. (Orion Magazine editorial, July / August 2010)

So, we must undertake the stewardship of life as an endeavor of the utmost importance. We must nurture this awareness of our role as if our lives depended on it, because, as a matter of fact, they do.

So, we must undertake the stewardship of life as an endeavor of the utmost importance. We must nurture this awareness of our role as if our lives depended on it, because, as a matter of fact, they do.

This is an age of species extinction that is among the largest that life on this planet has ever endured. We are faced with declining water resources, the end of cheap energy, unprecedented weather patterns, economic instability, and a growing population facing increased food insecurity. To say that the issues facing us at this moment in time are a matter of life and death is by no means exaggeration or hyperbole. The truth is the stakes have probably never been higher.

We must accept the inconvenient truth that our culture has created a reality that is predicated on imbalance, extractive and exploitive principles, and ultimately only functions via a growing debt of borrowed time, money and natural resources.

The urgent question before us now is how we transform our culture’s reality from one that faces probable system failure and collapse to one that ensures resilience and durability.

The answer lies in the soil under our feet; it moves with the cycles of water; it transpires in the air that surrounds us; and it tracks the movement of energy and nutrients in the complex web of life, of which we are all an integral part. The answer is in the careful study of and respectful participation with Mother Nature.

Natural systems are predicated on balance, holistic and restorative principles, and ultimately function via a sustained investment of care, stewardship and humility.

Ghandi wisely advised us to be the change we want to see in the world. To enact a shift in the cultural paradigm sounds like a massive undertaking. But like all difficult yet necessary undertakings, the best way to go about this important work is simply to break it down into discrete, manageable steps.

Step 1. Start from within. Gaze closely at your navel and ask yourself, “What consumptive, destructive and wasteful behaviors can I change?” Don’t ask this question from a position of shame, self‐admonishment or guilt. Rather, ask the question from a position of empowerment. Realize that change begins with the individual. Walk or ride your bike instead of driving. Buy less packaged products. Go outside. Watch the birds. Listen to the wind.

Step 2. Actively contribute to a system that promotes and supports biologically sound and socially equitable principles and behaviors. Start composting. Plant a garden. Cook for your family and friends. Share your bountiful harvests with the hungry. Support your local, organic farmer and processor. Cultivate community through meaningful relationships.

Step 3. Engage decision makers, policy administrators and elected leaders. Work from a diverse stakeholder base, and identify a shared ideological space founded upon common ground and common cause. Recognize that the social justice agenda and the environmental health agenda are complementary aspects of the same goal. As such, policy approaches must seek to integrate, rather than separate, these issues in pursuit of holistic and balanced systems. Advocate for standards with integrity, fairness, transparency and authenticity.

Step 4. Share our stories. The good ones and the bad ones. From success stories, we can draw courage, inspiration and wisdom. From stories of failure, we can draw empathy, lessons learned, and humility. Remember to pause and reflect. Acknowledge our achievements as we pursue the next milestone on the journey of continuous improvement. And, most importantly, remember to laugh and celebrate together. Because from our collective strength, skill and spirit, there is always the possibility for positive and transformative change.

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