Ariadne's Thread

Environmental Studies at the University of Essex

Tag: Solutions

Feed the good stuff

by ariadnesthread101

The following parable has been used again and again, in self-help books (don’t let that distract you :P), popular psychology magazines, leadership seminars and parenting classes. It’s about how, if we want to bring about positive outcomes, we need to nurture ‘the good’ and make it stronger.

An old Cherokee is teaching his grandson about life. “A fight is going on inside me,” he said to the boy.

“It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One is evil – he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.” He continued, “The other is good – he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. The same fight is going on inside you – and inside every other person, too.”

The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, “Which wolf will win?”

The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed.” 

I think this is incredibly important for environmentalists of all stripes.

We can either keep our fingers on what hurts (e.g. focus our analytical and emotional attention on the scale and dynamics of the crisis). Or we can acknowledge that there is a crisis, understand it, and pay analytical and emotional attention to what pushes us in the other direction (pushing the curves downwards if you remember Rockstroms’ talk from last week). This doesn’t mean we stop analysing why and how things got to the state they’re in. It just means that we make it our fundamental and primary aim to really push well-considered solutions out into the world. We don’t present problems and hope that politicians and economists will dream up solutions.

Related to this is the idea that  environmentalism can be about creating better lives by engaging with people’s ‘good wolf’. Showing that sustainability doesn’t have to be about fear (we’re all going to die horribly because of climate change!!!) or about arrogance (I’m green, and better than you!!!) or about sorrow. It can be about engaging with the best of human instincts, building them up and using them to build better human lives in a sustainable way. More and more environmentalists are turning to this idea. At the bottom of it is the idea that we really need to know what makes life worthwhile, and feeding that wolf. And, we think, doing so also improves sustainability. Something to think about, an idea to feed, maybe?

Here’s one example. Nic Marks from the New Economics Foundation talks about the Happy Planet Index.

Inspiring stuff. Feed your good wolf this week 🙂 (Start with giving yourself breakfast :P)

[Image by Gunnar Ries (Own work (own photo)) [CC-BY-SA-2.5 (, via Wikimedia Commons]

Looking up!

by ariadnesthread101

Rob Hopkins blogs (amongst many many other things!) on Transition at Yesterday, he posted this great post, asking people to help him identify positive trends in a transition to sustainability. He posted seven examples. And then opened the conversation to Twitter where people can give the examples they know, using the hashtag #transitiontrends.

I thought this would be a super super super thing to keep an eye on and contribute to – what do you think?

Are there examples you can think of yourself?  Would you like to search for some?  Do you think there is anything promising out there (or should we just get into bed and never get out again?!)

Come up with something! ‘Submit’ your responses via the comments function on this blog or on the original post at Tweet using #transitiontrends. Share on Facebook.

Let’s shine a light on things that are looking up!

[Image unattributed online: if it’s yours, please get in touch!]

All things bright and beautiful: How to value and conserve biodiversity

by ariadnesthread101

Noah’s Ark. Edward Hicks, 1846.

Biodiversity is the rock on which civilization is built.

In this talk, Pavan Sukhdev makes visible biodiversity’s contribution to the ‘world system’. He outlines the scale of the challenge and the steps we need to take to begin to meet it.

“When was the last time a bee sent you an invoice?”

And in this next one, John Kasaona outlines a case of community-based conservation in Namibia.

“This is the good news about Africa that we have to shout from the rooftops!”


Have a great week of learning 🙂


How to: Feed the City

by ariadnesthread101

A big sustainability challenge over the next few decades is going to be about feeding people in cities. Soon, more people will live in cities than outside them. For the first time in our history, we’ll be an Urban species. Cities are traditionally considered to be quite resource-hungry, and we will need to figure out how to make them sustainable. Feeding cities sustainably is a challenge. But it can be done. People are figuring it out. Here’s a video describing one way to do this.

This talk woke me right up. By the way, if you’re awake – like really awake – when you watch this (or rewatch it 😉 ), you can literally list important MEG-related concepts, theories and principles from within this video.

“Take these seeds… and the people around you are going to be nourished by the splendor of the garden that you grow”

Happy Monday!

ps: Since the MEG is meeting Agriculture for the first time this week, here’s a paper (full-text for free) you might be interested in. It’s easy and interesting to read, and gives you an overview of the key questions that are important to the future of agriculture.

(Image: Tumblr)

More on ‘Solutions’

by ariadnesthread101

More on ‘Solutions’

I introduced the Solutions Journal in a previous post.  Along similar lines, here’s an article in yesterday’s New York Times by David Bornstein.

In the introductory paragraphs to his article, David writes, “After looking at hundreds of examples of social change efforts, I see a side of reality that goes unreported: namely, that we’re getting smarter about the way we’re addressing social problems. In fact, I would go so far as to say we’re on the verge of a breakthrough — maybe even a new Enlightenment.”  

What do you think?

As an aside: Here’s a note on the Enlightenment from Wikipedia, and another more detailed article is here. I’m sure that at some point in our seminars we will touch on this period and its impacts. 

– Zareen

ps – Speaking of innovative solutions to longstanding problems, here’s one of my favourite examples! Do you have any others to share?


The Solutions Journal

by ariadnesthread101

The Solutions Journal contains freely accessible, peer-reviewed articles on ” seriously creative ideas to solve society’s most pressing problems in an integrated way.”  

In the words of someone I recently met, it goes beyond “putting your finger on the places that hurt” and focuses on making things better.

If this floats your boat and makes you feel fired up and fabulous, register, and you can share your ideas on their forum.  

This month’s issue has a beautiful little article on education for sustainable development. I’m summarising wildly, and adding my own analysis, but in my reading of the article, the authors point to three gaps, and corresponding needs, in education: 

1. ‘There is a single correct answer.’ “This narrow view dictates that knowledge is to be learned, not created, by students.” Instead, the authors write, we should face up to the fact that we live in uncertain times, in a complex world, where there is no one single absolute that is right for everyone at all times. (This is a key idea in my forthcoming lecture on sustainable watershed management in BS702 (for those of you reading this who’re doing that course at Essex).  Related to this, the authors write about how its important to not just consume knowledge, but to also create it: “students—should be given the opportunity to propose, develop, and implement prospective solutions for sustainable development.” 

2. Knowledge v. skills: The authors implicitly point out the difference between knowing a bunch of facts and having deep and broad skills “which will enable them (students) to cope with uncertainty, poorly defined situations and conflicting or at least diverging norms, values, interests and reality constructions.”  (The point about constructions leads me to another key idea that might be of interest, especially to those of you with an interest in the ‘social’ side of things: the theory of the social construction of reality. I don’t think this is explicitly covered in the course, but its’ an important idea that deserves attention.)  

3. Speaking of skills, the authors point out the difference between learning for your CV and learning for life. Jobs and careers are an important consideration, but there’s much more to it than that.  To learn for sustainable development is to learn about ways of living, and that includes being open to examining one’s own life. 

Stay inspired! 

– Zareen