Beyond Sustainability Blog

  • I spy, with both my eyes, something that is more sustainable: Two-eyed seeing

    Contributors: Liette Vasseur, Catherine Longboat and Jocelyn Baker.


    How do we see the world? This is a question of enigma and reflection: Do all of us see the world and the knowledge that we acquire in the same way?

    Throughout human civilization, the way to acquire knowledge has changed. For hunter-gatherers, most of their knowledge came from nature, including understanding seasonal changes, the tracks of animals, etc. When humans later became sedentary and started pursuing agriculture, they began to derive knowledge not only from nature, but from their own experience with crops, and gradually, with livestock.

    With this, in the Western world, humans began to take more control over nature, leading to devaluating the value of nature. Humans instead began to see themselves as the predominant force upon the Earth’s ecosystems. This period of human history also led to the development of many religions which viewed humans not as part of nature — but as superior to nature. With the development of new technologies and the transition to the industrialized world came the use of fossil fuels and the era of science. The sciences have brought benefits that were not imagined in times past. With modernization also came an increasing need for more resources, which lead to competition, instead of collaboration, between countries and corporations. Under such a system, trade and the economy have increased. The sciences also became a major focus in academic institutions and research centres and new “discoveries” and technologies have become a must in society, while simple things, such as a having a walk in nature, are becoming increasingly obsolete.

    This nonstop race for new knowledge has led to the belief that only scientists know the answers and can solve problems. This human hierarchy has pushed aside contributions from certain groups of peoples, as their knowledge was felt to be unfit for resolving issues. Indeed, some of their principles, values and beliefs may interfere with market production. This is how Indigenous knowledge became relegated to the margins of colonial living and the Western capitalist system. Indigenous knowledge was therefore not included as Western scientific knowledge.

    With a gradual acknowledgement that technology cannot fix everything, and the increasingly dire situation of the degraded Earth, humans have started to realize that other forms of knowledge may be better suited to solving the problems that humanity faces, such as biodiversity loss, land degradation, and climate change.

    This is where Indigenous knowledge becomes important to acknowledge and respect. Indigenous knowledge is based on a different worldview than modern Western society. In Indigenous cultures, humans have a strong relationship with nature and are thus one among many other species. There is no question that mutual respect and reciprocity is foundational for understanding relationships on Earth and beyond. The Indigenous traditional knowledge is based on the natural world and information that has been transmitted from generation to generation over millennia. What is wonderful is that in recent years, there has been an increased will to embrace these two types of knowledge — scientific and traditional knowledge — into what has now been called “Two-Eyed Seeing,” or Etuaptmumk in Mi’kmaw.

    This concept of Two-Eyed Seeing was introduced by Mi’kmaw First Nation (Cape Breton, Nova Scotia) Elders Albert and Murdena Marshall as a means to bridge Western science and Indigenous knowledge1. Two-eyed seeing promotes using one eye to see the strengths of Indigenous knowledge, the other eye to see the strengths of mainstream knowledge, and both eyes together when fully ‘seeing’ the world around us1. The goal is to create cross-cultural collaboration. Two-eyed seeing is underpinned by the belief that there are many ways of understanding the world, some of which are derived from Western sciences and others by various Indigenous knowledge systems. What is important is that both knowledges are seen as equitable, embracing the idea of having cultural respect for any action and not changing the other without agreement.

    The goal of two-eyed seeing is to bring awareness of alternative ways of knowing (where diverse perspectives can work together) with the aim of creating equity, where no one perspective has domination over the other 2.  Using both eyes together creates alternative ways of addressing solutions as afforded through different ways of seeing, by offering opportunity to look through a different lens and create solutions that may not be perfect or without flaws 2.  An important aspect of two-eyed seeing is the framework for a plural co-existence of worldviews 2. The important consideration, especially for the natural world, is remembering that all systems are interconnected, and human systems are to work in conjunction with the natural world in order to support and complete the whole ecosystem.


    1. Bartlett, C., Marshall, M., & Marshall, A. (2012). Two-eyed seeing and other lessons learned within a Co-learning journey of bringing together Indigenous and mainstream knowledges and ways of knowing. Journal of Environmental Studies and Sciences, 2(4), 331-340. doi:10.1007/s13412-012-0086-8

    2. Broadhead, L., & Howard, S. (2021). Confronting the contradictions between western and Indigenous science: A critical perspective on two-eyed seeing. AlterNative: An International Journal of Indigenous Peoples, 17(1), 111-119.

    Categories: Beyond Sustainability Blog

  • We can’t protect our planet without radically transforming our worldview — is it possible?

    Contributors: Liette Vasseur, Catherine Longboat, and Jocelyn Baker.


    Everyone has a worldview, a conception of what the world is like. Also referred to as a philosophy, a worldview is a collection of beliefs, values, attitudes, interpretations, and stories about the world around you. Worldviews inform your thoughts, behaviour, vision, relationships, knowledge, and actions. It is your picture of reality. Your worldview represents the reality of the world in which you live, your perception and your interconnectedness (on a physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual level).

    Throughout history, human populations have developed a multitude of diverse ways to view themselves and the world around them. Worldviews have different origins, stemming from various social, cultural, religious, political, and economical systems that have developed over millennia. These different origins can inform and create similar worldview realities shared by different groups of people and societies.

    As humans developed neo-liberal ideas and developed different systems, civilizations, religions, and economic and political structures, humans began to believe they possessed a superiority to all other organisms on the planet. Many of these systems operated with the worldview that all organisms and resources on this planet are to be used and exploited for the benefit of human societies. For example, one of the predominant worldviews in the western world today is neoliberal capitalism, which describes one’s desire for a free market, largely unregulated by governments, based on trade, stock market and infinite economic growth. The current utilitarian mentality is, however, causing the degradation and depletion of most of this planet’s vital resources — including water, mineral resources, and organisms.

    There are many cultural frameworks and worldviews practiced by Indigenous Peoples around the world that differ greatly from this current western worldview, and many of which respect the earth as a Mother upon which all beings are expected to co-exist for their on-going sustainability. They live according to a set of ethics that reflect their obligation toward their relations whether considered animate or inanimate. Thus, protocols and processes for co-existence are about acknowledgment of balance and harmony. Acknowledgment of sacrifices and willingness to support one another are complex and inter-relationships include others than human beings. Unlike the neoliberal capitalism worldview, this worldview is not based on the importance of accumulating wealth and material goods.

    Most Indigenous worldviews involve humans striving to live in co-existence with all other beings. This is rooted in their understandings of various Creation stories that are passed down from generation to generation. While these stories vary, they all explain, from the very outset, that there is an interconnection that exists between all life. Notions such as interdependency, balance, and harmony are prominent, and the duty to care does not hinge on the human as master, but rather, on the two-legged co-existing as an equal being amongst all others, aiming for peaceful coexistence. In North America, the Haudenosaunee Thanksgiving Address, for example, addresses 17 aspects of Creation to be recognized, including ‘the people’ as being given the duty to live in balance and harmony with each other and all living things.1.

    With the increasing urgency to advance reconciliation and find solutions for the survival and sustainability of our planet, accepting and respecting multiple knowledges, worldviews, and ways of knowing are crucial. We can, and should, learn from sources outside the dominant neoliberal-capitalist system. There is an urgency to review how such systems are destroying the environment necessary for human existence.

    There is an urgent need to change the current western worldview, which is unsustainable for the future of human existence. The continuous economic and population growth of human societies should not come at the expense of nature. We need to radically transform our relationships with the natural environment and the focus for that change must include knowledges that perceive nature and humans as inter-connected, inter-related, holistic, balanced, and in harmony.

    Transformation of the western worldview calls for rethinking humans as being the most important, superior, and dominant creatures on the planet, and the natural world as subservient to human benefit. Most Indigenous worldviews share commonalities, where humans are not the most important creatures, relationships and community are at the heart of decision making, and all life is seen as sacred and interconnected.2.  Indigenous worldviews are holistic and recognize the interconnections between all peoples and all other beings. They also look back to their ancestors for guidance while simultaneously looking, at a minimum, seven generations forward into the future.2.

    Re-embracing a worldview that genuinely reflects Indigenous ways of knowing may serve to transform our relationship with nature and bring about a more sustainable social-ecological system for all beings on Earth.


    1. Stokes, J., & Kanawahienton Benedict, D. (1993). Haudenosaunee Thanksgiving Address: Greetings to the natural world (english version). Retreived from: https://americanindian.si.edu/environment/pdf/01_02_Thanksgiving_Address.pdf

    2. Marshall, A., Beazley, K. F., Hum, J., Joudry, S., Papadopoulos, A., & Zurba, M. (2021). “Awakening the sleeping giant”: Re-indigenization principles for transforming biodiversity conservation in Canada and beyond. FACETS, 6, 839-869.

    Categories: Beyond Sustainability Blog

  • Is it time to move beyond sustainability and begin thinking about radical transformation?

    Contributors: Liette Vasseur and Jocelyn Baker

    Access to clean, healthy water is essential for all life on Earth. As the world population continues to rise, natural ecosystems are becoming increasingly vulnerable to the threats of land conversion, invasive species, and the consequences of accelerated climate change. This has resulted in the loss of biological diversity. When an ecosystem functions correctly, it can provide enough food, shelter, water, and other goods and services required for all of the species within it. As soon as an ecosystem is degraded, however, it can lose its integrity, reducing or stopping the provision of services — including clean water.

    The major and enduring impacts of ecosystem destruction can be seen most prominently in the planet’s wetland systems. The livelihoods and overall survival of most cultures on Earth depend on the functions and benefits of wetlands for the purposes of food provision. Rice, for example, is grown in wetland complexes and is the staple diet of nearly half of the people on Earth. Most commercial fish and invertebrates, including crabs, lobster, and shrimp, also depend on wetlands for all or part of their lifecycle. The long-term global loss of all wetland types is estimated to be between 54 to 57 per cent, with the rate of losses four times higher in the last century than in previous centuries 1,2.  Inland wetlands have seen a 35 per cent decline since 1970, with 87 per cent total loss since 1700 3. Despite comprising only 3 per cent of the Earth’s total surface area, wetlands are estimated to contribute more than 40 per cent of all global ecosystem services, providing an estimated US $55 trillion (in 2020) annually to global economies 1,2.

    The sustainability of these ecosystems is therefore of great concern, but what is it that we are trying to sustain? Are we simply aiming to stop further wetland losses, being satisfied with the status quo? Or is it time to move beyond sustainability and begin thinking about radical transformation? The continuous growth of human populations and economies should not come at the expense of nature. At some point, nature will not be able to sustain people and maintain its contributions to all of us. It is critical that we rethink and transform our relationships with one another and the natural world. We need to change the current worldview because our current capitalist-neoliberal way of life is unsustainable. Pursuing infinite economic growth and resource exploitation — when we have a finite planet — is simply not working.

    Societies must also think differently about themselves and their relations with the natural world that supports them. As an example, the Western Humanist (or western human way of thinking) views humans as the most important species on the planet. With this worldview (a set of beliefs and values about one’s reality) comes the idea that humans have dominion over the natural world with the right to exploit all of its resources (including plants and animals) as they wish. Does this make sense? What does adherence to this worldview mean for the generations to come? Any decision we make leads to consequences, and the children of the future will pay for the degradation and overexploitation of today. What will happen when the water stops flowing and all the fish in the oceans are gone?

    Radical transformation is needed in order to rethink the way that humans live within the natural world; we are part of it, not superior to it. Maybe when we embrace this way of thinking, a more sustainable future will be waiting for us.


    References:

    1. Baker, J., Dupont, D., & Vasseur, L. (2021). Exploring Canadian Ramsar Sites Ecosystem Governance and
    Sustainability. Wetlands, 41(1), 1-11.
    2. Davidson, N. C., Van Dam, A. A., Finlayson, C. M., & McInnes, R. J. (2019). Worth of wetlands: Revised global monetary values of coastal and inland wetland ecosystem services. Marine and Freshwater Research, 70(8), 1189.
    3. United Nations Environment Programme (2021). Becoming #GenerationRestoration: Ecosystem restoration for people, nature, and climate. Nairobi.

    Categories: Beyond Sustainability Blog