Native American Solutions for Global Warming Capstone Project

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Native American Solutions to Global Warming

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The world faces a crisis of unprecedented proportions, one which threatens not only our future economic, social, and political well-being, but the very life force of the planet itself. Beyond the now well-known threat of global warming, we face a mass extinction the likes of which have not been seen for hundreds of thousands of years, one precipitated by our unceasing exploitation of the environment. The current response to these crises while noble and well intentioned, are usually the products of a combination of ignorance and optimistic naivete. This is because the problems we face are not simply the result of bad economic choices, they are a natural outgrowth of a particular way of looking at the natural world, and indeed all of existence, which arose out of the particular cultural and historical experience of Western Europe. It is only by understanding this orientation towards reality, that we can truly grasp not only why we got into the current situation in the first place, but also what we can do to get out of it. Given that, this essay will begin by examining the philosophical and cultural influences that paved the way for the modern exploitation of nature. It will then proceed to outline the means by which to move away from that approach and redefine our relationship to nature and reality itself. The essay will draw upon the insights and experiences of Native Americans and other indigenous traditional cultures, to show that humanity need not see nature as a base resource to be extracted, refashioned, and consumed. It will argue that we should adopt these insights and build them into our essential approach to nature

TOPIC: Capstone Project on Native American Solutions for Global Warming Assignment

When modern environmentalists and activists in general look at the problems facing our global ecological systems, and the oppressed and marginalized people of the world, they tend to see only greedy corporations and negligent governments as the cause. Yet while it is true that the capitalist economic paradigm is a big driver in terms of producing environmental damage, especially the neo-classical approach which seems dominant today, the reality is that the problem began long before modern corporations were even formed. The analysis and recommendations put forth today concerning the environment and things like rising income inequality around the world, tend to focus on the symptoms rather than the real cause. A good example of this lies in the consideration of anthropogenic global warming. Most thinkers on this subject, including its most famous advocate, Al Gore, tend to see the problem in terms of raw CO2 emissions from sources such as automobiles, coal and oil electricity generation, deforestation, and industrial agriculture. While these are indeed factors in the direct relationship between economic activity and greenhouse gas emissions leading to climate change, they are not the root issue at hand. Unfortunately, it seems that many activists and even scientists see them as such, and thus their recommendations are based on the assumption that simply addressing these specific things will somehow solve the problem. Reducing CO2 emissions worldwide, through a variety of programs may indeed cut back on global warming and prevent its most catastrophic consequences in the next hundred years, but it will only delay the coming reckoning with the environment that our very orientation towards nature inherently produces. If we consider things like our need to continuously expand farm land for crop production, our need to extract important minerals from the Earth, our need for fresh water, and a whole host of issues relating to the environment, it is clear that stopping global warming will only delay our eventual stripping of the Earth and the resulting global cataclysm for humanity and all life within it. It is therefore important to understand why exactly we are doing this to the Earth, and to look at other potential ways of looking at the world that does not necessitate our continual exploitation of it.

In order to get at the heart of the matter, it is necessary to examine our basic assumptions concerning our relationship to the natural world. This must be done not only in the cursory sense, where we examine present attitudes towards the environment, but in a deep philosophical sense, looking at the first principles from which we build our entire orientation to reality. While many tend to regard the modern social, economic, and political system as being organized along capitalist the reality is that capitalism itself is influences by a far more fundamental assumption, one that originates in the 17th century. Following the decline of the Catholic Church's temporal power after the end of the Thirty Years War and the Peace of Westphalia in 1648, the influence of religious restraints on the evolution of intellectual through became less pronounced (Gellner, 1992). This, combined with the scientific revolution and the influence of thinkers such as Francis Bacon and Pierre Simon Laplace, the conceptual understanding of the relationship between humanity and the rest of nature began to change radically (Hahn, 2005). Before this time, which many have seen as the dawn of the modern age, human beings regarded themselves as being constrained by powers far beyond their control and understanding.

Whether they were capricious gods or goddesses, a monotheistic God, spirits, or simply the force of existence, these powers seemingly controlled the ultimate fate and direction of human history, as well as the various natural forces that could produce either calamities or prosperity. Furthermore, under this orientation towards reality, humanity may be privileged or blessed, but it nonetheless remains under the grip of cosmic forces beyond its control. We see this understanding expressed in tribal cultures all over the world, who retain the closest link to our earlier days as primarily hunter-gatherers. Within such cultures, a "shaman" is normally needed in order to mediate between the larger cosmic forces, and the needs and wishes of human beings. Virtually all of the natural world, due to its immense power over life and death, is seen as having spiritual dimension, one which must be constantly placated with offerings, sacrifices, and prayers (Moro et al., 2006). Beyond that, resources consumed by human beings are seen as sacred, because of the benefits they provide without which life would not be possible. Care is taken to use only what is needed, not only because it would threaten the ability for the tribe to survive, but also because it could offend the spirits and bring their wrath upon the community. In many ways, this resembles a kind of delicate diplomatic relationship with all of nature, one where the idea of full scale exploitation and manipulation is not contemplated (Cajete,2000). Even as most societies on Earth adopted agriculture and developed large civilizations, the fear and respect towards nature remained. Of course, the more human beings began to understand the world around them, and the more they found ways of utilizing nature, the more they were able to loose that fear and respect. But because things like science and technology were not systematic in nature, and a belief in higher powers remained, no society seemed to be able to cross the threshold into thinking itself capable of remaking the entire world.

Yet in Western Europe, a series of interconnected events culminating with the aforementioned loss of Church authority and rise of scientific experimentation, produced a unique situation in which human beings contemplated the possibility of manipulating nature and having complete control over it. This sentiment is echoed in the words of Francis Bacon (1627) himself:

"The end of our foundation is the knowledge of causes, and secret motions of things; and the enlarging of the bounds of human empire, to the effecting of all things possible"(p.35)

The above is from Bacon's "New Atlantis," a Utopian story about what could be possible if science was used to obtain knowledge of the inner workings of all of nature itself. In many ways his book was highly prophetic, alluding to many of the amazing technological achievements made by mankind in the last four centuries. Yet this has come at the cost of an ever expanding "human empire" which seeks nothing less than systematic control over all of nature. As one scientific development led to another in the decades following Bacon, this possibility seemed more an more plausible, leading to a hubristic quest for even more knowledge. Thus over the course of the following centuries, Europeans essentially became convinced of their ability to push progress beyond previously conceived limits and proceeded to do so in every way possible. This led to consequences reaching far beyond the confines of the environment, such as the exploitation and conquest of the Americas, Africa, and parts of Asia. The idea of European culture representing the pinnacle of man's knowledge and power meant that European powers had the responsibility and mandate to spread their culture all over the world, whether indigenous people wanted them too or not. We see at this point the rise in seeing other cultures as sub-human, and that such assertions could be proven… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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