This offers 9 steps that you might take to become more eco-centric. It could help you develop a manifesto for a change in your organisation.
Some of these steps are also found in the resource Be Eco-Entrepreneurs.
- ECO-CENTRIC IS AN EXPANDED PERSPECTIVE
It is about expanding frames of thinking, as widely as possible. Ecocentric can be thought of narrowly as, for example:
- a shift to look outdoors at nature
- a shift to notice the small or niche
- paying attention to what we consume and waste
- neglecting the needs of humans to focus on animal welfare.
This last point relates to the common view that humans and other species are in two separate camps, that only humans deserve the generosity of humans because other species can look after themselves.
As an alternative to this view, eco-centric is a greatly expanded frame that sees humans as part of the mesh of life, completely interdependent with other species.
The ‘centric’ part of the word eco-centric could be imagined as a massive and expanding circle, embracing of human rights and needs. Without an environment we have no life.
Discuss the language you use when you talk about ‘the environment’. What do people associate with the terms you use? Could you come up with an alternative word for ‘environment’ that fits with a more expanded perspective?
2. DRAW ON HISTORY
Arts and museums are inherently about expanding the frame. By bringing together objects, stories or voices from different experiences, times or places they open up our limited worlds.
Choose a particular collection, object, story or place as a talking point. Map out all the ideas and associations that come from it.
How does this give insight into the beneficial interconnections between humans and other species, and/or where the relationship between humans and their environment has gone wrong?
What more could you do to draw on history to be more ecocentric in your thinking and work with audiences?
3. BE ‘POSSITOPIAN’
An eco-centric and expanded view includes anticipating the future in ways that imagine the full range of possibilities, both negative and positive.
It means NOT fixing your position as either dystopian or utopian, NOT obsessing about either catastrophic or idealistic scenarios. Being ‘Possitopian’ means generating lots of scenarios about possibilities that might be extreme, mixes of both, or flipping from one to the other. Pursuing a path towards a preferable future means that every step, every choice, every design and every relationship must be more ethical.
Read this blogpost, based on a talk about how museums can do ‘anticipatory work’. It explains that museums should do this more frequently, more rigorously and more imaginatively, in ways that both work with staff on organisational futures, and with their communities and visitors to envisage possible futures at a time of climate emergency. The same anticipatory approach can be taken by any cultural organisation.
Introduce a team habit of a 15 minute session, once a week or fortnight, perhaps as part of a regular meeting, where you do anticipatory work. Discuss a possible future scenario, and consider how you might need to respond. Ensure that you consider this future scenario in terms of wider global factors (such as climate, economy or technology), in terms of how people relate to each other socially or locally, and in terms of how you might feel or act as individuals. Take it in turns to prepare and introduce a scenario, each time you carry out this exercise. Reflect regularly to make sure that you aren’t being too limited or repetitive.
Keep expanding your perspective!
4. BE PRECAUTIONARY
Rachel Carson was the first to write about the Precautionary Principle. It arises out of the basic moral tenet of Do No Harm. The Precautionary Principle means that if you cannot be absolutely sure that interventions now will not cause harm to future humans or other species, you should exercise precaution. You should carry out small trials to learn more about the risks and benefits, and stop and seek alternatives if harm is evident.
The Precautionary Principle is applied in medicine somewhat, although we can now see the impacts of mass prescription of antibiotics, for example, in depleting our beneficial microbiome and triggering resistance to antibiotics. The Precautionary Principle has not been applied at all when it comes to agriculture, energy, manufacture and transport, leading to a panoply of catastrophic and intersecting impacts on our world.
Take a particular project or decision you need to make. Apply the Precautionary Principle to it. Ask, can we be sure this content/experience/service won’t cause harm in future? How can we minimise any harm it might trigger? How can we contribute to minimising harm to future generations (of all species)?
5. BE INTERSECTIONAL
- Without ECOLOGICAL JUSTICE (or, compassionate, inclusive and systemic thinking that combats Ecocide)…
- …there will be no CLIMATE JUSTICE (or, egalitarian and rapid mitigation and adaptation to the climate emergency)…
- …and without ecological and climate justice there will be no SOCIAL JUSTICE (or, the peaceful coexistence of all peoples by serving needs first of those who are most excluded, exploited or disadvantaged).
An intersectional approach is a systemic (or ecological) way to ensure that people who identify with particular beliefs, struggles, biological characteristics or lifeways are all validated and heard. Individuals may have multiple identifications and these may be either positive or lead to stigma and disadvantage across different contexts.
Humans are part of nature, which thrives on diversity. We assume that nature evolves through ‘survival of the fittest’ but actually mostly it’s aiming for the ‘sustainability of the fitting’. Species are geared to co-exist, peacefully, collaboratively, drawing on their differences (although changes to climate and habitat can disrupt this). Decolonising includes consideration of how humans and other species have been exploited, and how their relationships with each other in their habitable places have been disrupted to enable others to profit.
How can you build on existing work you might be doing to create more inclusive museums and communities? Take the idea of intersectionality and use it to analyse your target audiences or communities. What challenges does this approach throw up for you? Does it complicate or help? Can you define a step or principle for being intersectional in your work with audiences?
6. BE ECO-ENTREPRENEURS
There’s a growing set of movements towards system change for a more regenerative and ecocentric economy. There’s the Circular Economy (production and disposal in a cycle to eliminate waste and externalities), the Sacred Economy (slower, careful and more ethical than extractive capitalism), the Blue Economy (wealth and wellbeing through radical sustainable innovation), and the Regenerative Economy (perhaps an umbrella for all radical green approaches, foregrounding the regeneration of the biosphere). There is also Transition Towns, Commons movements, co-operatives, digital currencies and much more.
An emphasis on economic alternatives is pragmatic and helpful, especially if combined with efforts to shift the underlying cultural paradigms that lead us to consume, pollute and compete.
Take an aspect of your operation such as the cafe, the supply of materials, items sold in the shop, or how you pay freelancers. Brainstorm all the ways this could be transformed by using alternative economic models or by working with groups who are trying these alternatives?
7. EDUCATE FOR LIFE CONTINUITY
Change cannot happen without people learning. Learning is not just about taking in information but embedding it to develop new capacities and wisdom. Our current education systems, formal and informal, are developing capacities to continue business as usual rather than for the wisdom needed to continue the thrivability of life on the planet.
Museums and arts organisations are perfect resources for the extraordinary kinds of learning needed for even the most rudimentary response to a planetary state of emergency.
What eco-centric tweak can you make to a learning programme or project? For example, can you insert a question or an activity that teaches bioempathy as a key human value and future skill?
8. BE CLIMATE-RESPONSIVE
Climate change isn’t the only environmental problem but it is the big one. It’s worsened by, and makes worse, all the other environmental problems. Being ecocentric is not about emphasising biodiversity loss over climate change, but fighting for the continuity of life against all threats.
There are three key ways that more alertness is needed:
- Be alert to how much the climate emergency is advancing faster than even worse case scenarios e.g. in the IPCC reports that informed the Paris Agreement. (This is hard for any of us to face, but anyone in a position of civic responsibility must try.)
- Be alert to the impacts climate change is already having and will have on our communities.
- Be alert to the massive political and cultural influence of the fossil fuel industries, and how entwined this is with erosions of democracy, peace and equality worldwide.
Hold a ‘business continuity’ planning session to practice readiness to respond to environmental uncertainties. Discuss each of the three points on which you could be more alert. What three actions could you take to increase your alertness and readiness?
9. BE AWARE OF PARADIGMS
The systems theorist Donella Meadows proposed that of all the interventions to change a complex system, the second most effective is to change cultures by seeding new narratives, frames or paradigms, and the most effective is to be aware of and critical about these paradigms. You can’t introduce new paradigms without fully understanding existing ones. Cultural organisations can play a lead role in cultivating awareness of the dominant paradigm that encourages exploitation of people and degeneration of nature’s resources.
Select a story or issue that your organisation is dealing with (e.g. via a collection item, an exhibition, production or project). Brainstorm all the different paradigms or frames of seeing this issue, perhaps using different characters to see through different eyes. If you could present or explore this issue through a more eco-centric frame, what would change from your current approach?