Rosemary Morrow, New South Wales Regional Meeting.



“It is, perhaps, the greatest failure of collective leadership since the first world war. The Earth’s living systems are collapsing, and the leaders of some of the most powerful nations – the US, the UK, Germany, Russia – could not even be bothered to turn up and discuss it. Those who did attend the Earth summit last week solemnly agreed to keep stoking the destructive fires: sixteen times in their text they pledged to pursue ‘sustained growth’, the primary cause of the biosphere’s losses.”

This was the opening paragraph by George Monbiot, in the Guardian, (25 June 25 2012) <<>> at the end of the Earth Summit convened to rescue all life from global climate change and other degradation. Those of us who follow the science feel dismayed.

Yet it has left us with only one path, that of ahimsa, nonviolence and almost certainly civil disobedience. As with M. Gandhi’s struggle for independence, we must be prepared to break the laws. We must disregard those who have no care for Nature and Life as we know it. We must abandon any sense that we will be saved by others. We must act as Earth’s residents to restore Earth’s living systems: impelled by kindness, compassion and conscience for Nature.

Quakers hold that peace and social justice, and now a new relationship with Nature, are the responsibility of humans working together with the Divine. For some Quakers, Life and the Divine are interchangeable. Whatever people’s beliefs, one of the graces shown in Nature and by the Divine is mercy. Mercy is required of humans towards the natural world.

We know the damage to the natural world could be mortal for Nature as we know her. Yet the natural world is resilient and merciful. New Life will be created even if we destroy most species, but it will take an estimated ten million years to restore new species, and the stability and complexity we inherited. Nor will it be the same complexity with which we have evolved. We are living very dangerously indeed.

On 21 June 2012, Vandana Shiva wrote on this site <<>> about critical threats to the world’s food. She spoke of the nonviolence tradition and path, and the urgent need to take back food growing and Earth-care into our own hands.

I go further. I believe there is only one issue for all humans: to restore Earth’s ecosystems in partnership with Nature. It is too late for sustainability, which implies maintaining a status quo. It is too late because too much has already been lost.

We must restore soils, water, biodiversity, traditional food systems, habitats, soil-water, rivers and aquifers, forests and woodlands. Restoration requires always putting back more than we take out. If we cut a tree, we must replant ten; harvest beans, put back compost; remove soil-water, replace it with humus. All elements are restorable and Nature responds generously to being treated mercifully.

I believe there is only one imperative: that we humans accept responsibility for our own lives and those of our children. As permaculture expert Bill Mollison has said, “The only ethical decision is to take responsibility for our own existence and that of our children. Make it now.” With this imperative there is a requirement for humans to behave knowledgably, compassionately, and consciously in the natural world.

Many cultures have worked harmoniously in relationship with nature, on lands that others would consider marginal. Some of these are the Bishnoi of the Rajasthan Desert, Australian Aborigines and the Konso on the edge of the Rift Valley in Ethiopia.  They all considered their environments benevolent and bountiful, and their lands remained productive and resilient.

There is one path: as a nonviolent people’s movement to reclaim and restore land and natural systems. Wonderful attitudes are important. However, without nonviolent direct action we will drift into a destructive whirlpool of unpredictable living systems. That is terrifying.

Risks are no longer local but global and precarious. There are no technical problems to prevent us sustaining life-only politics and human knowledge. Actions and attitudes are limiting.

We must limit our appetites, take a stand, accept responsibility for our own food, water, soil quality, the repair of rivers, and reforestation. In Quaker terms, this demands “right action, right ordering and right livelihood”. These are qualities that must become permanent, embodied and non-negotiable.

Individuals and communities everywhere must learn how to restore Earth’s systems: climate, plant and animal; and build a partnership with Life. It is not enough to “reduce, recycle and repair”. It is critical to begin restoration. This is easy to measure, to demonstrate outcomes, and to see positive results. In the face of a system under collapse, in the face of despair, restoration offers real hope.

By severely restraining our use of non-renewable resources we can buy time for restoration. We must slow down destruction and speed up restoration. For example, invest diminishing oil, gas and coal supplies in developing renewable energies. We can restore degraded lands, instead of cutting old growth forests and the Amazon to grow crops for oil to fuel cars.

We have enough knowledge to do this. The permaculture discipline offers the most complete pallet of restoration. It begins with the ethics of care, and has global principles, regional strategies and techniques. Permaculture requires, and is predicated on, land restoration.

Permaculture is:

• conscious ethical design of “cultivated” ecosystems that have the diversity, stability, & resilience of natural ecosystems;

• harmonious integration of people into the landscape in such a way that the land grows in richness, productivity, and aesthetic beauty, and is ecologically sound & economically viable.

Permaculture systems provide for their own needs, do not exploit or pollute and so are sustainable. It returns hope and motivation, and is appropriate to all cultures, perspectives and scale. It has proven results.

When accepting responsibility for restoration, we accept that:

• We will have to curb our appetites.

• We may suffer to live fugally.

• We may be ridiculed.

• We may have to relinquish some of the ‘good things’ in life.

We accept that we need to stay small in life and close to the soil.

The future of life on Earth is precarious. Nature requires us to be merciful. Soren Kierkegaard once said, “Purity of heart is to will one thing”. We are urgently being called to address one issue, one imperative, and follow this one path, that of partnering with Life and restoring the ecosystems on which all life depends.


EDITOR’S NOTE: Rosemary ‘Rowe’ Morrow, a native of Australia, is an internationally respected permaculture practitioner, teacher and author. For almost 40 years she has taught sustainable living, and agriculture techniques, to farmers and villagers in Africa, Central and South East Asia, Eastern Europe, and most recently East Timor. Working with Quaker Service Australia, the international aid initiative of the Australian Society of Friends, Rowe worked extensively in the war-torn nations of Vietnam, Cambodia, Bosnia, and Afghanistan teaching permaculture, assisting with healing both the Earth and local communities traumatized by conflict. Her book, The Earth User’s Guide to Permaculture, <<>>is now in its second edition. She is co-founder of The Blue Mountains Permaculture Institute <> west of Sydney. Recent projects include the production of the book and DVD, A Good Home Forever, outlining the retrofitting of a typical suburban house into a home prepared to meet the social and ecological challenges of the 21st century. In 2011 Rowe delivered the Backhouse Lecture, A Demanding and Uncertain Adventure to the Yearly Meeting of the Australian Society of Friends in Wollongong.

Reprinted with permission of the Satyagraha Foundation for Nonviolence Studies

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