“Big Change is Coming” – New Leaflet Launched!

On Saturday afternoon, April 22nd 2017, members of the Llanfyllin Transition Project team and recent Sector39 permaculture graduates from Chester and Reading launched a new leaflet in Llanfyllin in celebration of Earth Day and in solidarity with the global march for climate science.

The leaflet gives some basic information about the Paris Climate Agreement, which we feel is a great incentive for local communities to come together to plan their own futures.

If you would like to distribute some leaflets yourself, a PDF version is available from the link below. Please feel free to share widely:

Earth Day 2017 Paris Accord Leaflet

In other news, we were extremely pleased to see that the Advertizer (April 18th 2017, p. 18), featured a short write-up about our work with photography students at Llanfyllin High School. We are really looking forward to seeing the images that the students produce to communicate the need for a cultural shift towards ecocentrism if we are going to meet the challenge of climate change!

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From Paris to Llanfyllin

The Paris Accord is our chance, we must take it. When Trump announced that he wanted the U.S. to withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement this month even the US coal industry advised him against it. ‘We need to be at the table, not out in the cold’ they told him. 195 countries signed the ground breaking global treaty in December 2015 and to date 142 countries have ratified it. It must be the single most important piece paper ever signed.

So what does it say? At the Llanfyllin Transition project we have been stopping people in the street and asking them what the Paris Agreement means to them. It is revealing that very few have heard of it enough to know exactly what it says or what the huge ramifications are as we begin to implement it.

The core ideas are this: every region, city, state and nation needs to work on its own carbon reduction plan. We have until 2020 to develop these ideas and be ready to implement them.

paris targets
This is the path laid out by the Paris Agreement

Between 2020 and 2030 we are required to halve our CO2 emissions.

Then we need to do exactly that again the following decade and then again. By 2050 our emissions need to be close to zero and not only that but farming, one of the most significant sources of green house gasses needs to move from being a big emitter to a net carbon sink. Yes, we have to transform agriculture into a carbon sequestering process, one that also protects biodiversity and feeds a rising population. It is a huge challenge and one that will over-ride all our other concerns or objectives as the seriousness of the encroaching climate crisis bights ever deeper.

Will this save us? Science gives us a 66% chance of avoiding run-away climate change if we achieve these targets. That is like playing Russian Roulette with 2 rounds in your 6 shooter, it is still far from safe. Every day we delay facing up to this challenge is a day wasted and a day our children and grandchildren will live to regret.

Before you all get too gloomy I have to say I think this is a fantastic opportunity.

Achieving our Paris commitments has the potential to rejuvenate our economy, creating numerous opportunities for the next generations in a way that will revitalise our communities at the same time. Facing up to this requires a complete transformation of food, energy, farming, transport, housing and economy. The era of economic growth at all costs and throw-away consumerism is already over. The evidence is all around us, solving climate and biodiversity challenges will require new economic models and new thinking creating a whole raft of opportunities.

Greening local Politics

With the encouragement of colleagues and I friends I have put my name forward as a Green Party candidate in the local elections on May 4th, not least because I believe we need to register our recognition of the new directions required. My work with the Llanfyllin Transition Project and in permaculture education means that on a daily bases I am immersed in the reality of the challenges we face as well as the many responses and strategies at our fingertips to set us in a new direction. I am convinced this is a change we can embrace and benefit from. We are gong to have to!

Join us, we are organising on-going events and publishing regular articles on our website and blog.

Steven Jones
steve@dragons.cymru
www.llanfyllin.sector39.co.uk

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Image attached: Paris targets graph

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Animism and the Personhood of Ecosystems

“I am convinced that in the somber decades to come, the end of the world ‘as we know it’ is a distinct possibility…when this time comes (it has already come in my opinion) we will have a lot to learn from people whose world has already ended a long time ago – think of the Amerindians whose world ended five centuries ago, their population having dropped to something like 5% of the pre-Columbian one in 150 years, the Amerindians who nonetheless, have managed to abide, and learned to live in a world which is no longer their world ‘as they knew it.’ We soon will all be Amerindians. Let’s see what they can teach us about matters apocalyptic.” (Eduardo Viveiros de Castro, 2014).

If we are to take heed of Eduardo Viveiros de Castro’s suggestion that we might be able to learn something about ecological sustainability from the life-ways of our ancestors, as well as from the cultures of indigenous peoples around the world, we are inevitably going to bump up against animist worldviews. The term animism derives from the Latin root word anima, meaning soul, and in its scholarly usage has referred to the belief that the world is populated by ‘spirits,’ or, to use a more recent (and somewhat more encompassing) term, ‘other-than-human persons’ (both empirical/physical and non-empirical/physical). For an animist the world is alive, so that rocks, trees, animals, plants, mountains and rivers could all posses personal attributes, desires, fears and needs, just like human persons. From an animist perspective, ecosystems can be understood as complex communities of persons in dialogue with one another, and we are participants too.

Sir E.B. Tylor

Animism was first popularised as a scholarly category by the anthropologist Edward Burnett Tylor (1832-1917), who saw the belief in spiritual beings as the very earliest expression of religious thought. Indeed, for Tylor there was little distinction between traditional indigenous religions and the major world religions – he considered that all religions, from tribal religions to Catholic Christianity, could in their essence simply be defined as the ‘belief in spiritual beings.’ Tylor’s version of anthropology, however, was closely wedded to a form of social evolutionism known as Developmentalism, that was particularly popular during the latter half of the nineteenth century (Stocking Jr, 1982, p. 97-100). According to this view, European (and especially British) culture was understood to be the pinnacle of social and cultural development, while other non-western and indigenous cultures were seen as somewhat backward, irrational and misguided, but that nevertheless had somehow survived into the modern day. Sadly, such a view ultimately distorted Tylor’s perception of the animistic worldview(s) he wrote about in his books, and it wasn’t until much later that scholars began to re-engage with animism without such a developmentalist (maybe even colonialist) attitude.

In his 1960 publication ‘Ojibwa Ontology, Behavior and World View,’ the American anthropologist Alfred Iriving Hallowell (1892-1974) described how for the Ojibwa people of central Canada the world is populated by persons ‘not all of whom are human.’ Hallowell famously gives the example of his conversation with an old Ojibwa man:

‘I once asked an old man: Are all the stones we see about us here alive? He reflected a long while and then replied, ‘No!’ But some are’ (Hallowell, 1960)

The old man’s answer to Hallowell’s question had a lasting impact on the anthropologist. The old man’s response suggests that for the Ojibwa people, stones have the capacity for life – their worldview leaves open the possibility that stones, trees, mountains and so on can be persons, and as such ought to be granted the same respect as a human person, just in case. Interactions with features of the landscape, therefore, must be understood as interactions between persons, as relationships.

Dr. Graham Harvey

More recently, scholar of religions Graham Harvey has taken up the themes of Tylor and Hallowell’s work (amongst others), with the formulation of his ‘New Animism.’ New animism differs from Tylor’s ‘old’ animism firstly through not assuming a social developmentalist perspective that sees animistic beliefs as symptoms of primitive and irrational thinking, and secondly by shifting its focus away from the somewhat problematic notion of ‘spirits,’ towards the much more encompassing idea of ‘persons,’ which may include persons who are ‘other-than-human.’ Harvey writes:

“Animists are people who recognise that the world is full of persons, only some of whom are human, and that life is always lived in relationship with others. Animism is lived out in various ways that are all about learning to act respectfully (carefully and constructively) towards and among other persons. Persons are beings, rather than objects, who are animated and social towards others (even if they are not always sociable). Animism…is more accurately understood as being concerned with learning how to be a good person in respectful relationships with other persons” (Harvey, 2005, p. xi).

The underlying relational philosophy of the new animism (which is only ‘new’ to academia), represents the antithesis of the materialistic-industrial-consumer philosophy that has dominated Euro-American attitudes to the environment for the last 200 years, and would seem to offer a route towards the kind of ‘Deep Ecology’ advocated by Arne Naess.

Many in our post-industrial society are likely to feel uncomfortable with the notion of attributing personhood to the various components of our ecosystems, but we can take a hint from the Ojibwa and treat ecology as if it possesses personhood, without necessarily believing that it does. If we were to adopt a relational attitude, and interact with rivers, streams, trees, animals, soils and so on as if they are persons, our behaviours and actions would also necessarily be altered as a consequence. We wouldn’t want to pump sewage into another person, for example, or destroy the home of person, or abuse, misuse or exploit another person. When we think in relationships, we realise that we need to develop good relationships with the other persons in our ecosystem – prosperous, mutually beneficial relationships. Much as in systems thinking, a relational worldview makes us aware of our own interconnected and interdependent relationship with the world around us. So, even if we don’t believe that the tree in our garden is a person, or the river in our village, or the sky above our heads, we can still behave as if they are – our actions can be informed by a relational ecocentric perspective, rather than a purely anthropocentric one.

Granting Personhood Status to Ecosystems

An interesting recent development is the gradual granting of personhood status to key ecosystems by some of the world’s governments. For example, the Whanganui River in New Zealand, known as Te Awa Tupa amongst the indigenous Maori people, was the first river to be granted the legal status of personhood. The Maori people, whose lives are dependent on the river system, and who have always thought of the river as an ancestor, have been fighting for the last 140 years for the river to be treated with the respect that it deserves as an ancestor and living entity, a request that was finally granted on Wednesday 15th March 2017. Gerard Albert, the lead negotiator on behalf of the Whanganui tribe explains:

“We can trace our genalogy to the origins of the universe, and therefore rather than us being masters of the natural world, we are part of it. We want to live like that as our starting point. And that is not an anti-development, or anti-economic use of the river but to begin with the view that it is a living being, and then consider its future from that central belief.”

What this means for the Whanganui River is that, as a legal person, any damage inflicted on it is equivalent to damaging a human being. What if we could do this for our own rivers, forests and mountains? What impact would it have on our relationship with our local ecosystem? Might it help us to achieve the goals laid out by the Paris Climate Agreement? Would it encourage us to behave more responsibly? To change our use of chemical fertilisers, for example, which may leach into the river from farmlands? I think it would.

Whanganui River

Within days of the New Zealand government’s decision to grant personhood status to the Whanganui River, a court in Northern India ordered that the sacred River Ganges, and its primary tributary the Yamuna, also be granted the legal status of personhood, as well as glaciers and other ecosystems, precisely so that they can be protected and preserved for the benefit of future generations, and for our global system as whole.

Briefly turning to the theme of our local folklore, we might be surprised to find that many of our most familiar landscape features have already had their personhood recognised by our ancestors. Bala Lake, just over the Berwyn mountains, for example, is inhabited by the great monster Tegid, and the River Severn was known by the Romans as the goddess Sabrina. What about Afon Rhaeadr, Afon Tanat and Afon Cain? Are these persons too? If so, have we been treating them with the respect they deserve? Could animist principles be a catalyst for the change in thinking required by the Paris Climate Agreement? Perhaps we should consider lobbying to have our rivers recognised as persons, and our ecosystems as complex communities of these ‘other-than-human persons,’ just as the Whanganui tribe have been doing for the last 140 years.

Afon Tanat

References

Hallowell, A.I. (1960). ‘Ojibwa Ontology, Behavior and World View.’ In G. Harvey (ed) (2002) Readings in Indigenous Religions. London: Continuum. pp. 17-50.

Harvey, G. (2005). Animism: Respecting the Living World. London: Hurst & Company.

Stocking, G.W. (1982). Race, Culture, and Evolution: Essays in the History of Anthropology. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Tylor, E. B. (1930). Anthropology: An Introduction to the Study of Man and
Civilization. London: C.A. Watts and Co. Ltd.

Viveiros de Castro, E. (2014). ‘Who is Afraid of the Ontological Wolf?’

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/mar/16/new-zealand-river-granted-same-legal-rights-as-human-being

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/mar/21/ganges-and-yamuna-rivers-granted-same-legal-rights-as-human-beings

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Are you ready? Big change is coming!

This is the Paris Accord,

  • 195 nations signed the Paris Accord
  • If we follow path it sets out the planet gets a 66% chance of avoiding run-away climate change
  • The accord says we have to halve our emissions in the next ten years
  • Then halve them again and then again in the following two decades
  • It also says we need to find really creative ways to take carbon from the air and put it back into the ground.

This is the Paris Agreement

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Ex High School student wins Grow Wild grant for Llanfyllin

grow wild
Grow wild, is a project by Kew Gardens to support wild plants and landscapes across the UK

Protecting Wales’ wildlife and biodiversity is an essential part of fighting climate change. Plants trap carbon from the atmosphere and build it into fertile soils where it becomes an asset rather than a danger.

Cae Bodfach is a community space for exercise, recreation, fun and specialising but it is also planned as an essential part of protecting and enhancing biodiversity in the area. It contains more than 50 heritage fruit trees as well as many more support plants, willow coppice and now ex Llanfyllin High School student Grace has secured funding from Grow Wild to add more dye plants, herbs and meadow species to the field.

Many of our wild plants can be sued as dyes as well as being good for nature and wildlife.
Grace at Cae Bodfach pruning fruit trees back in February

What was once a ‘green desert’ monoculture of rye grass is slowly turning into diverse rich space that can help feed the community and the surrounding wildlife. This is great news and a big credit to those who drafted and submitted this application, congratulations!

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‘It is not an investment if it is destroying the planet’

Yet here in Wales we are still proposing new roads that destroy increasingly rare habitat.

The M4 relief road key points:

The Welsh Government wants to build a £1.1bn six-lane motorway to the south of Newport.

The 14.23m (23km) highway will be between the current M4 junction 23A at Magor to junction 29 near Castleton.

The Welsh Government plans to begin construction in 2018 and open the new road in 2021.

The Welsh Government said the current M4 around Newport, opened in 1967, “does not meet modern motorway design standards”.

Environmental campaigners and local residents claim the scheme will devastate the ancient marshlands of the Gwent Levels and four sites of special scientific interest.

There have been 335 formal objections, compared to 192 letters of support.

A public local inquiry is expected to last five months.

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