Saturday, December 31, 2016

Lessons from Leonardo

Leonardo's union of art, science, and design demonstrates the thinking needed to create sustainable societies.

What We Can Learn From Leonardo

When it comes to connecting art, science, and design, there can be no better inspiration than Leonardo da Vinci.

He was the great genius of the Renaissance, who not only connected these three disciplines but fused them into a seamless whole in a unique synthesis that has not been equaled before, nor afterwards. I have studied Leonardo's synthesis for many years. I published a book, The Science of Leonardo, in 2007; and I have now written about three quarters of a second book, in which I go deeper into the various branches of his science.

Most authors who have discussed Leonardo's scientific work have looked at it through Newtonian lenses. This has often prevented them from understanding its essential nature, which is that of a science of organic forms, of qualities, that is radically different from the mechanistic science of Galileo, Descartes, and Newton. And this is precisely why Leonardo's science is so relevant today, especially for education, as we are trying to see the world as an integrated whole, making a perceptual shift from the parts to the whole, objects to relationships, quantities to qualities.

The Empirical Method

In Western intellectual history, the Renaissance marks the period of transition from the Middle Ages to the modern world. In the 1460s, when the young Leonardo received his training as painter, sculptor, and engineer in Florence, the worldview of his contemporaries was still entangled in medieval thinking.

Science in the modern sense, as a systematic empirical method for gaining knowledge about the natural world, did not exist. Knowledge about natural phenomena had been handed down by Aristotle and other philosophers of antiquity, and was fused with Christian doctrine by the Scholastic theologians who presented it as the officially authorized creed and condemned scientific experiments as subversive. Leonardo da Vinci broke with this tradition: 

"First I shall do some experiments before I proceed farther, because my intention is to cite experience first and then with reasoning show why such experience is bound to operate in such a way. And this is the true rule by which those who speculate about the effects of nature must proceed."

One hundred years before Galileo and Bacon, Leonardo single-handedly developed a new empirical approach, involving the systematic observation of nature, reasoning, and mathematics — in other words, the main characteristics of what is known today as the scientific method.

Leonardo's approach to scientific knowledge was visual; it was the approach of a painter. "Painting," he declares, "embraces within itself all the forms of nature." I believe that this statement is the key to understanding Leonardo's science. He asserts repeatedly that painting involves the study of natural forms, and he emphasizes the intimate connection between the artistic representation of those forms and the intellectual understanding of their intrinsic nature and underlying principles. For example, we read in a collection of his notes on painting, known as the "Treatise on Painting":

"[Painting] with philosophic and subtle speculation considers all the qualities of forms…. Truly this is science, the legitimate daughter of nature, because painting is born of nature."

Nature as a whole was alive for Leonardo, and he saw the patterns and processes in the microcosm as being similar to those in the macrocosm. In particular, he frequently drew analogies between human anatomy and the structure of the Earth, as in the following beautiful passage: 

"We may say that the Earth has a vital force of growth, and that its flesh is the soil; its bones are the successive strata of the rocks which form the mountains; its cartilage is the porous rock, its blood the veins of the waters. The lake of blood that lies around the heart is the ocean. Its breathing is the increase and decrease of the blood in the pulses, just as in the Earth it is the ebb and flow of the sea."

Systemic Thinker

Leonardo was what we would call, in today's scientific parlance, a systemic thinker. Understanding a phenomenon, for him, meant connecting it with other phenomena through a similarity of patterns. When he studied the proportions of the human body, he compared them to the proportions of buildings in Renaissance architecture; his investigations of muscles and bones led him to study and draw gears and levers, thus interlinking animal physiology and engineering; patterns of turbulence in water led him to observe similar patterns in the flow of air; and from there he went on to explore the nature of sound, the theory of music, and the design of musical instruments.

This exceptional ability to interconnect observations and ideas from different disciplines lies at the very heart of Leonardo's approach to learning and research, and this is something that is very much needed today, as the problems of our world become ever more interconnected and can only be understood and solved if we learn how to think systemically — in terms of relationships, patterns, and context.

While Leonardo's manuscripts gathered dust in ancient European libraries, Galileo was celebrated as the "father of modern science." One cannot help but wonder how Western scientific thought might have developed had Leonardo's notebooks been known and widely studied soon after his death.

Leonardo's Legacy
Leonardo did not pursue science and engineering to dominate nature, as Francis Bacon would advocate a century later. He abhorred violence and had a special compassion for animals. He was a vegetarian because he did not want to cause animals pain by killing them for food. He would buy caged birds in the marketplace and set them free, and would observe their flight not only with a sharp observational eye but also with great empathy.

Instead of trying to dominate nature, Leonardo's intent was to learn from her as much as possible. He was in awe of the beauty he saw in the complexity of natural forms, patterns, and processes, and aware that nature's ingenuity was far superior to human design. "Though human ingenuity in various inventions uses different instruments for the same end," he declared, "it will never discover an invention more beautiful, easier, or more economical than nature's, because in her inventions nothing is wanting and nothing is superfluous."

This attitude of seeing nature as a model and mentor is now being rediscovered in the practices of ecological design and biomimicry. Like Leonardo, ecodesigners today study the patterns and flows in the natural world and try to incorporate the underlying principles into their design processes. This attitude of appreciation and respect of nature is based on a philosophical stance that does not view humans as standing apart from the rest of the living world but rather as being fundamentally embedded in, and dependent upon, the entire community of life in the biosphere.

Today, this philosophical stance is promoted by the school of thought known as "deep ecology." Shallow ecology views humans as above or outside the natural world, as the source of all value, and ascribes only instrumental, or "use," value to nature. Deep ecology, by contrast, does not separate humans — or anything else — from the natural environment. It sees the living world as being fundamentally interconnected and interdependent and recognizes the intrinsic value of all living beings. Amazingly, Leonardo's notebooks contain an explicit articulation of that view: 

"The virtues of grasses, stones, and trees do not exist because humans know them.… Grasses are noble in themselves without the aid of human languages or letters."

In view of this deep ecological awareness and of Leonardo's systemic way of thinking, it is not surprising that he spoke with great disdain of the so-called "abbreviators," the reductionists of his time:

"The abbreviators do harm to knowledge and to love.... Of what use is he who, in order to abridge the part of the things of which he professes to give complete knowledge, leaves out the greater part of the things of which the whole is composed?… Oh human stupidity!... Don't you see that you fall into the same error as he who strips a tree of its adornment of branches laden with leaves, intermingled with fragrant flowers or fruit, in order to demonstrate the suitability of the tree for making planks?"

This statement is not only revealing testimony of Leonardo's way of thinking, but is also ominously prophetic. Reducing the beauty of life to mechanical parts and valuing trees only for making planks is an eerily accurate characterization of the mindset that dominates our world today. This, in my view, is the main reason why Leonardo's legacy is immensely relevant to our time.

As we recognize that our sciences and technologies have become increasingly narrow in their focus, unable to understand our multi-faceted problems from an interdisciplinary perspective, and dominated by corporations more interested in financial rewards than in the well-being of humanity, we urgently need a science that honors and respects the unity of all life, recognizes the fundamental interdependence of all natural phenomena, and reconnects us with the living Earth. What we need today is exactly the kind of science Leonardo da Vinci anticipated and outlined 500 years ago.

This essay is adapted from lectures delivered by Fritjof Capra at the Center for Ecoliteracy's seminar "Sustainability Education: Connecting Art, Science, and Design," August 16–18, 2010.

New Lessons from Leonardo

In order to reconnect to the natural world today, Fritjof Capra suggests we need to embrace the same elements Leonardo outlined 500 years ago.

New Lessons from Leonardo
This essay is adapted from a talk in which Fritjof Capra discusses some of the findings described in his latest book, Learning from Leonardo: Decoding the Notebooks of a Genius (2013: Berrett-Koehler Publishers).

Leonardo da Vinci, the great genius of the Renaissance, developed and practiced a unique synthesis of art, science, and technology, which is not only extremely interesting in its conception but also very relevant to our time.

As we recognize that our sciences and technologies have become increasingly narrow in their focus, unable to understand our multi-faceted problems from an interdisciplinary perspective, we urgently need a science and technology that honor and respect the unity of all life, recognize the fundamental interdependence of all natural phenomena, and reconnect us with the living Earth. What we need today is exactly the kind of synthesis Leonardo outlined 500 years ago.

A science of living forms
At the core of Leonardo's synthesis lies his life-long quest for understanding the nature of the living forms of nature. He asserts repeatedly that painting involves the study of natural forms, of qualities, and he emphasizes the intimate connection between the artistic representation of those forms and the intellectual understanding of their intrinsic nature and underlying principles. In order to paint nature's living forms, Leonardo felt that he needed a scientific understanding of their intrinsic nature and underlying principles, and in order to analyze the forms of nature, he needed the artistic ability to draw them. His science cannot be understood without his art, nor his art without the science.

The quest for the secret of life
I have been fascinated by the genius of Leonardo Lea Vinci and have spent the last ten years studying his scientific writings in facsimile editions of his famous notebooks. In my new book, I present an in-depth discussion of the main branches of Leonardo's scientific work — his fluid dynamics, geology, botany, mechanics, science of flight, and anatomy. Most of his astonishing discoveries and achievements in these fields are virtually unknown to the general public.

What emerged from my explorations of all the branches of Leonardo's science was the realization that, at the most fundamental level, Leonardo always sought to understand the nature of life. My main thesis is that the science of Leonardo da Vinci is a science of living forms, radically different from the mechanistic science of Galileo, Descartes, and Newton that emerged 200 years later.    

This has often escaped earlier commentators, because until recently the nature of life was defined by biologists only in terms of cells and molecules, to which Leonardo, living two centuries before the invention of the microscope, had no access. But today, a new systemic understanding of life is emerging at the forefront of science — an understanding in terms of metabolic processes and their patterns of organization; and those are precisely the phenomena which Leonardo explored throughout his life, both in the macrocosm of the Earth and in the microcosm of the human body.

In the macrocosm, the main themes of Leonardo's science were the movements of water, the geological forms and transformations of the Earth, and the botanical diversity and growth patterns of plants. In the microcosm, his main focus was on the human body — its beauty and proportions, the mechanics of its movements, and the understanding of the nature and origin of life. Let me give you a very brief summary of his achievements in these diverse scientific fields.

The movements of water
Leonardo was fascinated by water in all its manifestations. He recognized its fundamental role as life's medium and vital fluid, as the matrix of all organic forms: "It is the expansion and humor of all living bodies," he wrote. "Without it nothing retains its original form." This view of the essential role of water in biological life is fully borne out by modern science. Today we know not only that all living organisms need water for transporting nutrients to their tissues, but also that life on Earth began in water, and that for billions of years, all the cells that compose living organisms have continued to flourish and evolve in watery environments. So, Leonardo was completely correct in viewing water as the carrier and matrix of life.

Throughout his life, Leonardo studied its movements and flows, drew and analyzed its waves and vortices. He experimented not only with water but also investigated the flows of blood, wine, oil, and even those of sand and grains. He was the first to formulate the basic principles of flow, and he recognized that they are the same for all fluids. These observations establish Leonardo da Vinci as a pioneer in the discipline known today as fluid dynamics.

Leonardo's manuscripts are full of exquisite drawings of spiraling vortices and other patterns of turbulence in water and air, which until now have never been analyzed in detail, because the physics of turbulent flows is notoriously difficult. In this book, I present an in-depth analysis of Leonardo's drawings of turbulent flows, based on extensive discussions with Ugo Piomelli, professor of fluid dynamics at Queen's University in Canada, who very generously helped me to analyze all of Leonardo's drawings and descriptions of turbulent flows.

The living Earth
Leonardo saw water as the chief agent in the formation of the Earth's surface. This awareness of the continual interaction of water and rocks impelled him to undertake extensive studies in geology, which informed the fantastic rock formations that appear so often in the shadowy backgrounds of his paintings. His geological observations are stunning not only by their great accuracy, but also because they led him to formulate general principles that were rediscovered only centuries later and are still used by geologists today.

Leonardo was the first to postulate that the forms of the Earth are the result of slow processes taking place over long epochs of what we now call geological time.

With this view, Leonardo was centuries ahead of his time. Geologists became aware of the great duration of geological time only in the early 19th century with the work of Charles Lyell, who is often considered the father of modern geology.

Leonardo was also the first to identify folds of rock strata. His descriptions of how rocks are formed over enormously long periods of time in layers of sedimentation and are subsequently shaped and folded by powerful geological forces come close to an evolutionary perspective. He arrived at this perspective 300 years before Charles Darwin, who also found inspiration for evolutionary thought in geology.
The growth of plants
Leonardo's notebooks contain numerous drawings of trees and flowering plants, many of them masterpieces of detailed botanical imagery. These drawings were at first made as studies for paintings, but soon turned into genuine scientific inquiries about the patterns of metabolism and growth that underlie all botanical forms. Leonardo paid special attention to the nourishment of plants by sunlight and water, and to the transport of the sap through the plants' tissues.

He correctly distinguished between the dead outer layer of a tree's bark and the living inner bark, known to botanists as the phloem, which he called very aptly "the shirt that lies between the bark and the wood." He was also the first to recognize that the age of a tree corresponds to the number of rings in the cross-section of its trunk, and — even more remarkably — that the width of a growth ring is an indication of the climate during the corresponding year. As in so many other fields, Leonardo carried his botanical thinking far beyond that of his peers, establishing himself as the first great theorist in botany.

The human body in motion
Whenever Leonardo explored the forms of nature in the macrocosm, he also looked for similarities of patterns and processes in the human body. In order to study the body's organic forms, he dissected numerous corpses of humans and animals, and examined their bones, joints, muscles, and nerves, drawing them with an accuracy and clarity never seen before. Leonardo demonstrated in countless elaborate and stunning drawings how nerves, muscles, tendons and bones work together to move the body.

Unlike Descartes, Leonardo never thought of the body as a machine, even though he was a brilliant engineer who designed countless machines and mechanical devices. He clearly recognized that the anatomies of animals and humans involve mechanical functions. "Nature cannot give movement to animals without mechanical instruments," he explained, but that did not imply for him that living organisms were machines. It only implied that, in order to understand the movements of the animal body, he needed to explore the principles of mechanics. Indeed, he saw this as the most "noble" role of this branch of science.

Elements of mechanics
To understand in detail how nature's "mechanical instruments" work together to move the body, Leonardo immersed himself in prolonged studies of problems involving weights, forces, and movements — the branches of mechanics known today as statics, dynamics, and kinematics. While he studied the elementary principles of mechanics in relation to the movements of the human body, he also applied them to the design of numerous new machines, and as his fascination with the science of mechanics grew, he explored ever more complex topics, anticipating abstract principles that were centuries ahead of his time.

These include his understanding of the relativity of motion, his discovery of the principle now known as Newton's third law of motion, his intuitive grasp of the conservation of energy, and — perhaps most remarkably — his anticipation of the law of energy dissipation, the second law of thermodynamics. Although there are many books on Leonardo's mechanical engineering, there is as yet none on his theoretical mechanics. In the longest chapter of this book, I provide an in-depth analysis of this important branch of Leonardo's science.

The science of flight
From the texts that accompany Leonardo's anatomical drawings we know that he considered the human body as an animal body, as biologists do today; and thus it is not surprising that he compared human movements with the movements of various animals. What fascinated him more than any other animal movement was the flight of birds. It was the inspiration for one of the great passions in his life — the dream of flying.

The dream of flying like a bird is as old as humanity itself. But nobody pursued it with more intensity, perseverance, and commitment to meticulous research than Leonardo da Vinci. His science of flight involved numerous disciplines — from aerodynamics to human anatomy, the anatomy of birds, and mechanical engineering.

In my chapter on Leonardo's science of flight, I analyze his drawings and writings on this subject in some detail, and I come to the conclusion that he had a clear understanding of the origin of aerodynamic lift, that he fully understood the essential features of both soaring and flapping flight, and that he was the first to recognize the principle of the wind tunnel — that a body moving through stationary air is equivalent to air flowing over a stationary body. This establishes Leonardo da Vinci as one of the great pioneers of aerodynamics.

In his numerous designs of flying machines, Leonardo attempted to imitate the complex flapping and gliding movements of birds. Many of these designs were based on sound aerodynamic principles, and it was only the weight of the materials available in the Renaissance that prevented him from building viable models.

The mystery of life
As I have mentioned, the grand unifying theme of Leonardo's explorations of the macro- and microcosm was his persistent quest to understand the nature of life. This quest reached its climax in the anatomical studies he carried out in Milan and Rome when he was over sixty, especially in his investigations of the heart — the bodily organ that has served as the foremost symbol of human existence and emotional life throughout the ages. He not only understood and pictured the heart in ways no one had before him; he also observed subtleties in its actions that would elude medical researchers for centuries.

During the last decade of his life, Leonardo became intensely interested in another aspect of the mystery of life — its origin in the processes of reproduction and embryonic development. In his embryological studies, he described the life processes of the fetus in the womb, including its nourishment through the umbilical cord, in astonishing detail. Leonardo's embryological drawings are graceful and touching revelations of the mysteries surrounding the origins of life. 

Leonardo knew very well that, ultimately, the nature and origin of life would remain a mystery, no matter how brilliant his scientific mind. "Nature is full of infinite causes that have never occurred in experience," he declared in his late forties, and as he got older, his sense of mystery deepened. Nearly all the figures in his last paintings have that smile that expresses the ineffable, often combined with a pointing finger. "Mystery to Leonardo," wrote the famous art historian Kenneth Clark, "was a shadow, a smile, and a finger pointing into darkness."


Saturday, June 18, 2016

Wake Up Schools

"Education is not information. It’s not just understanding technology, but how to be a human being." ~ Brother Phap Luu

Phap Luu: In the 1960’s, our teacher in his country had an idea to plant seeds for Wake Up Schools. His program was to help in the countryside with groups of young people (10,000 young people) who went to villages to help peasants with medications, build first aid service, as well as teach children. They trained young people with the mindfulness practice to breathe consciously, learn how to calm down their mind and body, and be completely in the present moment. When they came to the villages, they had no electricity or schools because there were no social services, and no one could play with children or be present with children who had no school. The children were only in the streets.

Later the peasants realised that when they were busy in the countryside growing rice, they were very grateful for these young people to be with their children. The young people also had soy milk without money and with good will. The peasants offered their homes for school. After a few months, they established their own school. In this manner since 50 years ago, our teacher had already started this initiative. In this aspect, he founded the first university with western aspects in Ho Chi Minh City named Van Hanh University with the intention of teaching in different way about what’s happening with humanity in general, how we can be human beings for one another, and touch our real nature.

This university was there for many years to teach the western aspects, but now it no longer follows this western program. Our teacher exiled to France for war reasons and Thay wanted to carry this path to the country. So he’s taught more than 50 years, but with a western emphasis.

We can benefit from his path. Now we want to teach in a fundamental way to change the direction of education toward the race of human beings. How we can live in our body and mind with more peace, more understanding, and deal with our emotions, such as how to manage a strong emotion that arises. For us, this is the basis of our education. If our children and we ourselves as teachers don’t know how to manage strong emotions with mindful breathing and be in the present moment, then how we can say that this is not education?

Education is not information. It’s not just understanding technology, but how to be a human being. This the basis for Wake Up Schools. 

Radio Presenter: This learning should be an additional course in an university curriculum or this should be an universal teaching.

Phap Luu: What surprises many professors is that no other thing is needed to be added to a course, but our presence, our way of being is how we teach to be present. In our retreats, the basis is how each one of us can incorporate the mindfulness practice. We always start with the professors, not techniques on how to teach children. The professors always come for technique. They want another certificate, but when they come to a Wake Up Schools retreat, they are a little surprised that it’s their own transformation which is the most important. They learn how to stop because in life we are always running in the future or we have regrets about the past. So we are lost in our thoughts.

With the mindfulness practice, we learn how to stop ourselves and be here in the now with our breathing. It’s always here. For example, when I’m breathing in, I’m aware that I’m breathing. Breathing out, I’m aware that I’m breathing out. We follow our breathing with all our attention. When our attention is gone, we can return to our thoughts with love and not punish ourselves because we lost my focus on our breathing. With love, you return and your concentration increases; the capacity of not being dragged down by daily life but to return in any moment in only 2-3 seconds. This can be done, but the practice is missing. So we can do this for ourselves, our students, and people outside to be more present. This is the biggest gift we can give ourselves and our loved ones.
Pilar: The retreat is organised together with the University of Barcelona and Plum Village community. We had the opportunity to bring Thich Nhat Hanh in 2014. A lot of professors around the world came to the retreat to see the teacher, and now we have the opportunity for Plum Village to come back here for all the teachers in Spain who can take advantage of the Plum Village monastics’ teachings. These retreats are for the mindfulness practice to help nourish us.

Like Brother Phap Luu said, to live with more peace, to nourish these seeds of well being and humanity of others. And later, they can spread these seeds of humanity in their careers, personal and professional lives. I think mindfulness helps us to be more present, to be able to live in more peace and be capable to live our own essence in life. When we are at peace, whatever we do with our family, neighbors, or our work, how do we acknowledge the others about how we have the ability to communicate with ourselves and others, to be more aware at the wonder of the present moment and all the wonders we have in the here and now. The happiness of people and know how to live with more joy and enjoy the present moment.

Radio Presenter: And this can be learned in the university. This is all revolutionary, no? Little by little, the conventional education system begins to be more open-minded to these new school of thoughts, those new ways of living as human beings that we have forgotten : attention and compassion, especially with respect to the children. 

Radio Presenter: I have another question for Phap Luu. Maybe there are people who are listening to us are a little afraid or are turned off because they think it’s a religious program or it’s a program to change children’s faith. For those who think that way, how would you respond?

Phap Luu: It seems the word “religion” is something that has brought these people with a lot of history in Europe with the Catholic church and the state. In Asia, the church is a little distinct. It doesn’t have much to do with religion, but it’s how to live life. Education and the religion in Buddhism always go together, so I wouldn’t say that Buddhism is exactly a religion. It’s more applied psychology. It’s to touch in the present moment and let go of any ideas or point of view. That is the basis of Buddhism, including Buddhism itself. It’s to be there bare in the world in the present moment.

This is the basis of the practice Buddha proposed. He didn’t want to create a religion, but he wanted to help people suffer less. So we are doing the same with our life and people around us. If there’s something that makes us suffer, we have to ask ourselves why is it suffering us?

The children, including the ones are committing suicide, have a strong emotion that they can’t deal with: the pressure of exams, social pressure, to have a job, to live in a world with so many desires and so much advertising around us that want to sell them things, and they don’t know how to manage all of this pressure. We don’t give them a way with conscious breathing to understand why they are suffering. It seems to be an error on our part in our education system. It’s interesting that so many scientists are now interested in this practice that comes from the Buddhist tradition because they see it’s a tradition that has a scientific method of experimenting with the fruits of our practice, and they don’t believe in Buddha.
Any person can put this into practice in their lives and see how it goes. When we talk about confidence in some of the practices in our tradition, this confidence comes from ourselves. It’s the same with scientists. That’s why there’s a loving and very mutual relationship between the scientific world and Buddhist tradition because we are learning from each other.

Also in our community we have, for example, many Christians who are very devoted to their faith and there’s no conflict because Christianity and Buddhism. One comes from the region with religious aspect, and the other comes from the everyday practice of breathing. Furthermore, there are many Christians who say they can go deeper on their paths through mindfulness. So I don’t think there is any conflict, and schools and institutions are learning about this. They are more open-minded now about this vision.

Radio Presenter: This was like a mindfulness question, about the past and the future. We have four minutes left. I was wondering if you could share a little meditation practice that people could learn.

Phap Luu: Well, in whatever situation you encounter – in a car, kitchen or where you are listening this program – you can directly return and pay attention completely to the breathing.
Breathing in, I know I’m breathing in.
Breathing out, I know I’m breathing out.
In, out.

(sound of the bell)
I follow all my attention, breathing in and breathing out.
I let go of all the thoughts, the future, the past.
Breathing in, I am aware of all my body.
Breathing out, I relax all my body.
I let go of any tension.

(sound of the bell)
I’m aware of the tension in my body accumulated over the years. Across my thoughts and worries.
I’m aware of them and I breathe freely.
I let go of any tension.
Breathing in, I touch within myself the joy of being alive. It’s a miracle to be on such a beautiful planet.
Breathing out, I smile to life.
Breathing in, I’m aware of the wonders of being alive.
Breathing out, I smile.
(sound of the bell)


Sunday, May 22, 2016

Hope for a better world (Ebook - online)

Hope for a Better World
A fresh approach to the creation of a truly viable society in this time of war, religious strife, stifling bureaucracy, and urban decay.

Start Reading


Saturday, May 21, 2016

Clean Energy Agents programme - a free 2-month online course

Apply now for the Clean Energy Agents programme, a free 2-month online course to start the clean energy revolution in your school or university!

Deadline for applications: May 22nd.

This is one of Climate Strike's contributions to ‪#‎breakfree2016‬


Sunday, May 15, 2016

Ecovillage: 1001 Ways to Heal the Planet (Ebook)

Ecovillage: 1001 Ways to Heal the Planet full pdf book download from Ursula Noamech

Kosha Joubert and Leila Dregger (editors)
"What a beautifully, lovingly constructed book! It conveys not only the variety and ideals of the ecovillage movement, but the heart of it as well. Kosha and Leila's book affirms the importance of ecovillages not just as an inconsequential alternative in the margins, but as an invitation to transform every place into an ecological collaboration between humans and the rest of nature."  - Charles Eisenstein

During the GEN 20+Summit in Findhorn Kosha Joubert and Leila Dregger presented the new GEN book about ecovillages worldwide, which they had written with the help of many longterm ecovillage members who contributed their very personal stories, thoughts, experiences, adventures, failures, learnings and successes. The book can now be ordered. Everybody interested in social and ecological change and building a global alternative should know this source of experience and wisdom.
This book introduces a selection of ecovillage projects from all over the world. The editors have aimed to give a taste of their richness and diversity with examples from Europe, Latin America, Asia, Africa and North America. Most of the chapters are based on interviews with founders or long-standing members of ecovillage communities; while a few chapters are about regional or national networks of ecovillage transition. The book sets out both to honour successes, but also to learn from difficulties and failure.

As well as serving as an inspiration to its readers, the book is also intended as a learning resource. At the end of each chapter, the editors have given a few keywords, listing some of the best approaches used by each ecovillage, for example, in developing a water treatment facility,  building a straw bale house or supporting groups of people in their endeavours. You can find out more about these solutions in the GEN Solution Library - there are  links in the book.
“Ecovillages have long served a vital function as the laboratories of a resilient future, where solutions are tested, tweaked, adjusted. Sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t, but it’s in the “what if?” spirit that their genius lies. Kosha Joubert and Leila Dregger’s new book celebrates the remarkable diversity to be found in the eco-village movement, and their insights resonate far beyond the ecovillages themselves”. - Rob Hopkins, Founder of the Transition Network
“Your heart will soar as you revel in this treasure trove of evidence that a new and better future is not only possible but happening NOW all over the world where ordinary people have taken matters into their own hands, building vibrant, loving, sustainable communities... even national governments are beginning to take them seriously enough to support their growth... You will be filled with new inspiration and implementable ideas, so spread the book itself as far and wide as you can!”
- Elisabet Sahtouris, PhD, evolution biologist & futurist, author of Gaia’s Dance
Nowadays, ecovillages are widely accepted as living and learning centers, as lighthouses for social and ecological sustainability in their regions, as alternative to the destructive mainstream lifestyle that has brought the planet to the edge of extinction. However, 20 or 30 years ago, nobody knew the word ecovillage. Many intentional communities that existed were regarded as dropout groups, hippie oases and they were, here and there, just beginning to cooperate with other sectors of society such as politics, economy or media. It took some time before the world acknowledged the many solutions that the pioneer generation has been testing in their remote places. It also took a while before the communities, with their different approaches to an alternative lifestyle, started to regard themselves as a global movement - diverse, with different experiences, but with the same aim and principles.
It needed people in the projects who were ready to look at the bigger, the global, picture and not only their own philosophies, situations and challenges. The communities had to come together and start to form community amongst themselves: to share, to learn from each other, even correct each other and form a common platform.

The concept of ecovillages first arose in the late 1980s, with the intention of offering an alternative to a culture of consumerism and exploitation.  Combining a supportive and high-quality social and cultural environment with a low-impact way of life, they have become precious playgrounds in which groups of committed people can experiment to find solutions for some of the challenges we face globally.  Ecovillages are now part of a worldwide movement for social and environmental justice and have become regional and national beacons of inspiration for the social, cultural, ecological and economic revival of both rural and urban areas.


Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Climate Smart Agriculture

 This site is your gateway to implementing climate-smart agriculture. It will help you get started and guide you right through to implementation on the ground, connecting you with all the resources you need to dig deeper.


Friday, May 6, 2016

UN-REDD: Registration open for free REDD+ online course

Thursday, May 5, 2016


Disobedience is a new film about a new phase of the climate movement: courageous action that is being taken on the front lines of the climate crisis on every continent, led by regular people fed up with the power and pollution of the fossil fuel industry.

Disobedience is the story of the struggle to save the world.

Disobedience tells the David vs Goliath tales of front line leaders around the world risking life and limb in the fight for a liveable climate.

Interwoven with this riveting verité footage are the most renowned voices in the global conversation around social movements and climate justice for a series that is personal, passionate and powerful.
The stakes could not be higher, nor the missions more critical.


Thanks to Kjell Kühne for sharing this information!

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A million students for the climate. We will face humanity's greatest challenge. Together.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

5 Fundamental Shifts That Would Happen in A World Without Money

By Chemory Gunko

What would a world not driven by money look like? 

Money is a powerful driver in the modern world, and for the most part, we’ve elevated it to the point of necessity. However, we do not need money to live healthy, fulfilling lives on this planet. The current structure of society is reliant on the constant trade of money; to get rid of money would mean a complete restructuring of how we interact with society.

If we could shift into the mentality of inner connected communities that exist harmoniously around the world; then the need for money truly disappears.

1. Work Becomes Play

garden-handsWhen we’re all focusing on living off the earth, the idea of a ‘job’ ceases to exist. We don’t need people waking up to clean up waste, do accounting or govern cities. The people become the government and the work we do is in support of each other and the planet. 
Many of the jobs at this level would be supportive – water supply, growing food, maintaining, and literally building the structures of the new earth.
For many people nowadays, career choices are all about the social ranking of what they do and the potential for earning. Without these drivers, many people would choose only to do their menial chores for society and focus their time on family or other creative and learning pursuits.

2. People will do what they Love

Where people do choose to go into fixed vocations, you’ll find that it is because they love and are drawn to this work.o-HAPPY-facebook
Without the financial and social status drivers behind them, you’ll find healers drawn to healing and medicine, teachers drawn to teaching and the spiritual placed back into temples where they can uplift the community at large and contribute meaningfully.
In addition, we’ll more than likely see huge surges and advancements in these fields, because the people operating here no longer have limitations like ‘does the client want this’ or ‘can the client afford this’?
Take away the financial limitations of each person and you have a medical field that can pull out all the stops to save the lives of every person who needs help – not just those that can afford it.

3. More time for family

family-playing-tennisThe endless treadmill that most of us are running on daily leaves us very little time to enjoy the families we clothe and house.
When survival is taken off the table as an issue, you’ll find that you have more energy to spend with your family – more time to enjoy them in your life.
Likewise, your working time contribution will be much more limited than what it would be in a free economy, which will give you more time to spend on your family – instead of all the time you dedicate to trying to make ends meet at the moment.

4. The majority of your stress disappears

How much of your modern stress is made up of survival issues? How am I going to pay the bills, buy food, pay rent, pay my creditors?relax_your_mind1
Take away the survival issues and all you are left with is your health, relationships, spirituality and how much you will grow and express yourself creatively going forward.
How much easier would your life be if you never had to worry about money, food, medication or a roof over your head? How much happier would you and your family be?
How many of the other stressors in your life are driven by the money/survival issue as well? What other areas of your life would become easier?

5. Education becomes Real

Subjects schools could teach to improve educationWithout the mad scrabble for wealth and social standing – as well as securing your future – we wouldn’t place half as much emphasis on education. 

Education becomes a shared experience with everyone of all ages. Incredible learning can happen outside the classroom that only experience can teach.

When everyone becomes a teacher, then everyone is a student of each other. Learning doesn’t become impossible for them many who can’t afford to go to school. It is a birth right for all of us.


In defence of ecovillages: the communities that can teach the world to live sustainably

Associate Professor, Centre for Urban Research (GUSS, RMIT), RMIT University

What types of communities do the best job of living with a minimal impact on the planet? I asked myself this question when I read a recent article on The Conversation, which argued that even if everyone on Earth lived in an ecovillage we would still be using too many resources.
I am more optimistic — some ecovillages provide a much better blueprint than others.

As a 2013 study of 14 ecovillages by US political scientist Karen Litfin shows, ecovillages can be regarded as “pioneer species”. They show people how to improve their sustainability: the ecovillages Liftin studied used 10–50% fewer resources than their home-country averages and, being whole communities, were more influential than a single sustainable household.

Litfin’s assessment took in a wide range of factors – ecological, economic, even psychological – but one example of how ecovillages show the way forward is in power consumption.

Mainstream households tend to rely on national or regional supplies of gas or electricity, with no (or little) control over their sources. In places like Victoria, which has a very emissions-intensive power sector, this can make it difficult to make sustainable choices. However, ecovillage neighbours who have banded together to access renewable energy, say solar or wind power, can make off-grid environmental savings.

While there are financial (and other) barriers to setting up environmentally sound residential neighbourhoods, there are useful rules of thumb. In general, small is beautiful and sharing is efficient. One simply cannot fit as much “stuff” into a smaller house, and sharing accommodation often economises on consumption of goods and services.

Some ecovillages shame others in reducing their environmental footprint. Where ecovillages re-inhabit and renovate old buildings, they save on resources. A good example is the postcapitalist eco-industrial Calafou colony, northwest of Barcelona, which houses some 30 people in an old textile factory complex.

Members of another community that I have stayed at, Ganas in New York City, live in renovated residential buildings and operate several second-hand businesses at which residents work. Residents at Twin Oaks in Virginia, where I worked for three weeks, have a surprising level of collective sufficiency, with residents working on farming and making hammocks and tofu to sell, the proceeds of which are shared between the group.

Such experiments can be scaled up, settling residents in ex-commercial and ex-industrial premises — effectively shrinking cities by encouraging higher-density, more sustainable collective communities.
Crops and solar panels at Twin Oaks in Virginia. Author provided

The global village

This feeds into the idea of “planned economic contraction” or “degrowth”, which as Samuel Alexander argued on The Conversation is necessary in order to live sustainably. But I don’t share his pessimism about the ability of ecovillages to show us a way towards this sustainable life.

An analysis of Findhorn ecovillage in Scotland showed that an average resident travels by air twice as much as an average Scot, yet their total travel and overall ecological footprint was half the Scottish and UK averages.

Residents of Findhorn and of another UK ecovillage, Beddington Zero Energy Development (BedZED), make significant savings in terms of car travel. It follows that just by avoiding air travel, these residents would have even more environmentally sound practices.

Managing without money?

Members of ecovillages such as Twin Oaks not only share “one purse”, but also complement their efforts at collective sufficiency with minimal use of money. (Avoiding money is part of the culture of squatters generally.) Members of Calafou put in money to the community on the basis of their individual capacity but share governance and benefits equally. Here social and environmental values dominate.

In contrast, money is the principle on which capitalism revolves. If we reduce consumption — and we will need to, to become sustainable — then production has to be reduced. But capitalist producers have no successful operating systems for shrinking. Most often, when consumption decreases it results in unemployment and austerity, rather than orderly degrowth.

Money pressures us to opt for more rather than less, or else risk poverty and powerlessness. Thus it applies a systemic pressure to expand. Growth is not simply a result of people’s greed – even not-for-profit cooperatives aim to create a monetary surplus. How would you run a business or your household using money income in a shrinking market? What would happen to prices and savings?
Many suggest a guaranteed minimum income, but the value of the currency will prove unstable in such conditions and, anyway, what really matters to us is what we can purchase with that income (meaning that prices matter).

Such questions lead us to the conclusion that strategies for degrowth must leap not only beyond capitalism but also beyond money. This is the strength of Litfin’s focus on ecology, community and consciousness, incorporating skills which we need to replace production for trade on the principle of money.

In the future, collectively sufficient ecovillages could operate environmentally efficiently on the basis of direct democracy and arrange production and exchange within the commons they lived off without the use of money. Instead, ecovillagers would make non-monetary exchanges, where necessary, on the basis of social and environmental values.

Thus we could reduce our footprint and stay within Earth’s capacity.


Sustainable, sharing communities explored in Karen Litfin’s book ‘Ecovillages’

The fields of Konohana Ecovillage all lie under the watchful eye of Mt. Fuji (Image courtesy of Karen Litfin).

After twenty years of teaching global environmental politics at a major research university, watching the state of the world go from bad to worse, I became increasingly curious: “Who is devising ways of living that could work for the long haul?” My research led me to ecovillages: communities the world over that are seeding micro-societies within the husk of the old. I traveled to 5 continents, living in 14 ecovillages and doing in-depth interviews with their members over the course of a year, and publishing the results in Ecovillages: Lessons for Sustainable Community. My sampling reflects their diversity: rural and urban; rich, poor and middle class; secular and spiritual. I was also curious to know what, if anything, unifies the astonishingly diverse Global Ecovillage Network.

I learned that “sustainability” varies with context. Ecovillagers in the Global North focus on reducing social alienation, consumption and waste, whereas those in the Global South focus on village-based employment, gender equality and food sovereignty. Los Angeles Ecovillage, for instance, is an island of frugality in the heart of Southern California’s consumer culture, whereas Colufifa, a Senegal-based village network, is primarily concerned with hunger prevention. Yet both are drawn to bicycles and permaculture, suggesting that ‘sustainability’ has some common ground in east Hollywood and west Africa.

Most important, I found evidence of an emerging common worldview in the global ecovillage movement, including these basic tenets:
  • The web of life is sacred, and humanity is an integral part of that web.
  • Global trends are approaching a crisis point.
  • Positive change will come primarily from the bottom up.
  • Community is an adventure in relational living—ecologically, socially, and psychologically.
As a consequence of these beliefs, ecovillagers are unusually sensitive to the consequences of their actions, both near and far, and unusually open to sharing. If I had to choose one word to express the essence of ecovillage culture, it would be sharing. Because ecovillages in the Global North share material resources, both their consumption and incomes are quite low compared to their home country averages. At Earthaven in North Carolina and Sieben Linden in Germany, for instance, members had annual incomes of less than $12,000. Despite being far below the poverty line, they described their lives as “rich” and “abundant.”

Material factors like self-built homes and home-grown food tell only part of the story. A more encompassing explanation is the prevalence of sharing—not only of property and vehicles, but of the intangibles that define community: ideas, skills, dreams, stories, and deep introspection. Ecovillagers consistently reported that human relationships are both the most challenging and most rewarding aspects of ecovillage life. “Being here is like being in a fire,” said one. “Your lack of trust, your anger, your family neuroses—everything that separates you from the world comes out here!” Ecovillages are, as much as anything, laboratories for personal and interpersonal transformation.
In many ways, my global journey was a paradoxical one. As an international relations scholar acutely aware of the global nature of our problems, why was I touring micro-communities in search of a viable future? Even including the 15,000 Sri Lankan member villages in Sarvodaya—by far the largest member of the Global Ecovillage Network—less than 0.05% of the world’s population lives in an ecovillage. Time is far too short to construct ecovillages for 7 billion people but not—as the book’s final chapter, “Scaling It Up,” suggests—too short to apply their lessons in our neighborhoods, cities and towns, countries, and even at the level of international policy. Given that some of Earth’s life-support systems may have passed the tipping point, success is far from guaranteed. What is guaranteed, however, is a sense of shared adventure and worthy purpose—qualities I found in abundance in ecovillages.
This post was written by Karen Litfin, Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Washington. You can read the first chapter of her book Ecovillages: Lessons for Sustainable Community here.

News and Information

The forest provides firewood for the 40,000 Tamil villagers who live around Auroville, founded in 1968 in South India. Auroville is now home to Auroville is home to 2,000 people from 43 different countries and is one of the few places on Earth where biodiversity is actually increasing.
The forest provides firewood for the 40,000 Tamil villagers who live around Auroville, founded in 1968 in South India. Auroville is now home to 2,000 people from 43 different countries and is one of the few places on Earth where biodiversity is actually increasing.
Karen Litfin is a University of Washington associate professor of political science and author of the book “Ecovillages: Lessons for Sustainable Community.” She answered a few questions about the book, and her work, for UW Today.
Q: What is the main message of “Ecovillages”?
A: After teaching global environmental politics for two decades and watching planetary conditions deteriorate, I grew disenchanted with top-down solutions. I also grew tired of making my students anxious, depressed and guilt-ridden. If our ways of living are unraveling planetary life-support systems, then we must answer the question: How, then, shall we live?
My search for models led me on a one-year journey around the world to ecovillages, intentional communities aspiring to live sustainably. Living in 14 ecovillages on five continents taught me that not only is another world possible, it is already being born in small pockets the world over.
"Ecovillages: Lessons for Sustainable Community" was published in December 2013 by Polity.
“Ecovillages: Lessons for Sustainable Community” was published by Polity.
The point, however, is not that we all should live in ecovillages; rather, we need to learn from them and scale up their lessons to existing social structures, from the household to our neighborhoods to our cities, nations and even to the level of global governance.
Q: How did you choose which ecovillages to visit?
A: I took a year to map my journey and arrange the logistics. I selected for “success,” which I conceived as an amalgam of factors including longevity, size and reputation. Most communities I visited, for instance, had a 10-year history with at least 100 members.
Because I wanted to understand the movement’s global character, I also selected for diversity: rural, urban and suburban; global north/global south; rich, poor, and middle class; secular, religious and spiritual: high-tech and low-tech. Across this enormous diversity, I then looked for the common strands.
Q: You write amusingly that the term “ecovillage” may conjure images of “shabby rural outposts populated by long-haired iconoclasts,” but that you found them less easy to pigeonhole. How instead would you describe them, and what do they have in common?
A: I saw a few scruffy shacks but for the most part, I found tidy, smallish homes that reflected a kind of organic beauty. I also found unusually capable and articulate people committed to integrating the four dimensions of sustainability: ecology, economics, community and consciousness.
I learned that “sustainability” varies with context. Ecovillagers in the global north focus on reducing social alienation, consumption and waste, whereas the global south focuses on “sustainabilizing” traditional rural villages. Los Angeles Ecovillage, for instance, is an island of frugality in the heart of consumer culture, whereas Colufifa, a Senegal-based village network, works to prevent hunger.
Yet both are drawn to bicycles and permaculture, suggesting common ground between east Hollywood to west Africa.
Most important, I found ecovillages embrace these basic tenets:
  • The web of life is sacred and humanity is an integral part of that web.
  • Global trends are approaching a crisis point.
  • Positive change will come primarily from the bottom up.
If I had to encapsulate ecovillage culture in one word, it would be sharing. Because ecovillages share material resources, both their consumption and incomes can be far below their home country averages.
Material factors like self-built homes and home-grown food tell only part of the story. More important is the prevalence of sharing — not only of property and vehicles, but of the intangibles that define community: ideas, skills, challenges, and celebrations.
One year, 14 ecovillages:
Auroville — India
Colufifa — Senegal, the Gambia
Crystal Waters — Australia
Damanhur — Italy
Earthhaven — North Carolina, USA
EcoVillage at Ithaca — upstate New York
Findhorn — United Kingdom
Komohana — Japan
Los Angeles Ecovillage
Sarvodaya — Sri Lanka
Sieben Linden — Germany
Svanholm — Denmark
UfaFabrik — Germany
ZEGG, Center for Experimental Cultural DesignGermany
Q: How does the ecovillage movement, if we can call it that, differ from “back to nature” trends of previous decades?
A: Ecovillages are far more integrated into society and many of them are in cities. Rather than separating themselves, ecovillages tend to be educational centers; their members tend to be socially and politically engaged. The Global Ecovillage Network, for instance, works with the United Nations and the European Union.
Q: You note people saying, “That’s all fine for those lucky ecovillagers, but what about the rest of us?” How do you reply?
A: We should understand that being an ecovillager is more a consequence of inspiration and hard work than luck. And, because sustainability is the nonnegotiable precondition for inhabiting Earth over the long haul, “the rest of us” would be wise to learn from ecovillages.
Q: This has been a very personal journey for you. How has this work changed you?
A: First, the journey gave me a strong sense of grounded hope: I have seen and touched some seedlings for a viable future. Second, while ecovillages are not for everyone, some people yearn for the intimacy, focus and integrated solutions of ecovillage life. I learned that I am such a person.
Third, I wanted to write a book that would be both emotionally and intellectually engaging, which required learning a whole new way of writing — and therefore thinking.
Q: Based on what you’ve learned, what suggestions would you offer to people looking for sustainability in everyday life?
A: Beyond the green practices that most of us are familiar with —conservation, recycling, minimizing fossil fuel consumption, etc.— I would emphasize the social dimension of sustainability.
The stronger the sense of community, the more we are willing to share. Beyond our households and neighborhoods, we need to scale up the lessons to every level of governance.