Human-nature relations in Czech Republic – Part 4

Day 3

Session 7-8 – Own work and presentations. The last day started a bit slow, the students weren’t really sure on what we expected of them. The task was formulated as follows:

“In a short oral presentation of max 5 min, take one problem or big issue of importance and formulate some own principles for sustainability.

Try to formulate principle/s that can address what you can do on a personal/individual level and on a societal level.

What need to be changed in order to address the problem?

We will offer feedback and support and evaluate!”

We had to discuss further what we meant by a principle, but it got clearer during the discussion at the presentations. Typically, what was presented were either stated in negative terms as being against something: “we need to stop…”, “we have to decrease…”, or as solutions to various problems: “if we build…” or “we can invent…” In all cases we pushed them to formulate sustainability principles, not as specific so that they can’t be generalized and not as general so that they became too vague. For example, hyperloops is a proposed solution to transportation problem but the sustainability principle is that transportation systems needs to run on renewable energy, in this case solar panels. The system itself also needs to be sustainably produced, i.e. with circular material flows.

At the presentation we also found the opportunity to introduce another useful tool in the four perspectives or quadrants of the AQAL model. One student had in her presentation already touched upon all perspectives and from that we could introduce the quadrants so they could become a support and confirmation of what she already had found out by herself. If we want to transform a culture it is often necessary to address all quadrants. Therefore, one possible trap with proposed technological solutions is that relying on them doesn’t address what can and should be done on a personal level, e.g. decrease own energy consumption.

At lunch time Stina and I joined with three of the students that showed us a small guerrilla gardening project in the very center of Olomouc! After eating we talked about the results and how to make the final discussion and closing of the course. From a biospheric perspective Stina pointed out that most of the issues, discussions and principles had taken place from an anthropocentric perspective and that this needed to be addressed.

Guerrilla gardening in Olomouc. Photograph: Stina Deurell

Session 9 – Conclusions and closing. The final session started with me writing the course title (accidentally in wrong order):

Earth stewardship or anthropocentrism:

Human-nature relations

First I asked the students what anthropocentrism means?

– Well, when we place ourselves at the center of the world, as the most important thing.

Ok. And about human-nature relation? Why should we care about nature?

– Because if we don’t, we won’t survive! We need to take care of the nature since we are dependent on it!

This is of course correct, some technological solutions that we hear of today, such as artificial and 3D-printed meat or colonization of other planets, can be seen as ways of denying how totally dependent we are on nature to produce its ecosystem services, its half-meter thick layer of fertile soil, the pollinating bees and so forth. We should really acknowledge this fact.

But when we think of it again, isn’t this a purely anthropocentric view? Doesn’t this imply that nature is there for us, for our purpose? What if nature has a value of and in itself and should be respected as such?! In this case we can really have a relation with nature, a respectful one. We don’t talk about animal rights because they will be of better use to us if we treat them better. We do it because we respect them. However, the biologist had a further objection:

– But isn’t this division between human and nature false? We are nature too!

Indeed! From this conclusion we went back to the timeline and traced another theme in our history from stardust to life, to plant, to animal, to conscious human being with a technological, psychological and cultural evolution. The further we have traveled on our journey, the wider the gap seems to have been from us being part of nature to something that is separate. On one hand we seem to again and again have transcended our boundaries and limitations, but we also seem to have lost ourselves and were we came from in the process. In a psychological sense we have transcended nature but not included it.

The way forward that Stina and I argued for, and tried to embody throughout the course, was to emphasize both aspects of the development, the awesomeness of the process that led us here and beyond and the abilities and tools we have cultivated that can aid us, as well as the essentiality to reconnect to our past and the nature in us.

Finally when asked about the meaning of the word “stewardship”, I think that the proposed answer “to serve” best captured the way forward and concluded the course. Nature is not here for us or belong to us, rather, from this perspective we are here to serve nature and take care of that which we at the same time are. Yet one further shift, an even less anthropocentric, is to see nature as taking care of and embracing us, something that Stina explores in her project Wider Embraces (see in below).

A theme from our part was how to balance these perspectives or paradoxes. We needed to get the students understand the urgency and seriousness of the problems we’re facing, but yet give them tools, capacities and empowerment so that they can be effective change agents in an uncertain future.

Stina is enjoying a delicious cheescake after the course was done, and we were pretty done too! Photograph: Kristian Stålne (with Stina’s camera)

We took farewell and parted after a course evaluation and some final reflections. After this last session we went to a café and Stina could have a raspberry cheesecake that was as well-deserved as it was delicious! In the final part I will offer some evaluations and reflections on the process as well as on the outcome of the course.

References and further reading

Can we rely on technological development? TED-talk on the subject matter:

Introduction to the quadrants (and the rest of the AQAL-model):

Charles Eisenstein reasons about how we have differentiated from nature and as Stina and I argues that we should aim for and reintegration or inclusion of nature. This book is also a lot about economy:

Stina Deurell has a project called Wider Embraces that emphasizes the shift from us being there and taking care of nature to us being embraced by nature and the biosphere:

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