Underground Ecosystems and the Subconscious:
Their Neglect and Potential to Save Us
(presented in honour of leading soil scientist and humanitarian Professor Fred Bentley at the University of Alberta, Canada; 18 October 2007. Fred and his extended family attended the lecture; he died on 12 April 2008, aged 94)
Too often it is ‘the bits that we don’t see’, and are unaware of, that enable most systems to function. Yet society tends to focus just on the most attractive visible bits, neglects the rest, and is frequently surprised by the increasingly common expressions of system breakdown. This may be recognized at every level, from the individual to the biosphere, and from the local to the global. Examples of soil within terrestrial ecosystems and the subconscious within the human mind, and the complex interrelationships between them, are used here to illustrate this. Because such neglected resources (in fact, most of what is!) offer enormous opportunities for improved use, the future may be much more hopeful than is generally imagined. This potential may only be realized, however, through a radical paradigm shift in our thinking – indeed, only by taking the next step in our psychosocial evolution as a species: from an economics-obsessed, socializing (manipulative, controlling) culture to a higher values-based, life-enabling one. The late Australian farmer P.A. Yeomans’ ability to ‘create an inch of topsoil in three years’ is used here to illustrate the potential of such a change. Benefits may include genuinely sustainable managed ecosystems, conservation of biodiversity and maintenance of ecosystem services, wellbeing and meaning, non-violence and peace, and climate amelioration. The challenge facing us all at this time is how to best enable such a cultural transformation: from the ‘letting go’ of the fateful familiar, to the ‘letting come’ of the emerging new unfamiliar and often paradoxical ways of understanding and acting. This presentation covers the theory and practice of such a cultural transformation, with special reference to soil and psyche. It focuses on the processes involved in change, from the personal (psychology), to the environmental (ecology), to the socio-political (human, social and cultural ecology); and on small, meaningful initiatives that each of us can take in our various areas of influence in support of such a cultural transformation.
Professor Stuart B. Hill is Foundation Chair of Social Ecology
at the University of Western Sydney
School of Education (includes previous School of Social Ecology & Lifelong Learning)
University of Western Sydney (Kingswood Campus),
Locked Bag 1797, PENRITH SOUTH DC, NSW 1797, AUSTRALIA
Co-Editor: Journal of Organic Systems http://www.organic-systems.org/index.html
Co-Creator: Australian Society for Sustainable Business http://societyforsustainablebusiness.org/
Professor Stuart B. Hill is Foundation Chair of Social Ecology at the University of Western Sydney. At UWS he teaches units on Qualitative Research Methodology, Social Ecology Research, Transformative Learning, Leadership and Change, and Sustainability, Leadership and Change.
His PhD was one of the first whole ecosystem studies that examined community and energy relationships (1969); and it was the earliest such study conducted by a single researcher. For this he received the awards for Best PhD Thesis and Best PhD Student. In 1977 he received a Queen’s Silver Jubilee Medal for his community and social transformation work.
In 1972, in Canada, he produced a report for the New Brunswick Government on Energy and Agriculture that detailed many of the resource, environment and climate issues that are at last being recognized today. Since then he has produced many more cutting edge reports, and has been an advisor to several ministers.
Prior to 1996 he was at McGill University, in Montreal, where he was responsible for the zoology degree, and where in 1974 he established Ecological Agriculture Projects, Canada’s leading resource centre for sustainable agriculture (www.eap.mcgill.ca).
His last PhD student at McGill was Ann Dale, who was on leave from the Privy Council Office, and who had played a major role in the establishment of the first ‘National Round Table for the Economy and the Environment’. Her thesis, which has been published as a book (At the Edge: Sustainable Development in the 21st Century, UBC Pr, 2001) examines what is needed for governments to deal responsibly with sustainability.
Hill has published over 350 papers and reports. His latest books are Ecological Pioneers: A Social History of Australian Ecological Thought and Action (with Dr Martin Mulligan; Cambridge UP, 2001) and Learning for Sustainable Living: Psychology of Ecological Transformation (with Dr Werner Sattmann-Frese; Lulu, 2008).
More recently he has contributed groundbreaking chapters to five books: Enabling redesign for deep industrial ecology and personal values transformation, in Industrial Ecology and Spaces of Innovation (2006); Redesign as deep industrial ecology: lessons from ecological agriculture and social ecology, in Industrial Ecology: A Question of Design? (2006); Social ecology as a framework for understanding and working with social capital and sustainability within rural communities, in A Dynamic Balance: Social Capital and Sustainable Community Development (2005); Learning Ecology: A New Approach to Learning and Transforming Ecological Consciousness: Experiences from Social Ecology in Australia, in Learning Toward An Ecological Consciousness: Selected Transformative Practices (2004); and Autonomy, mutualistic relationships, sense of place, and conscious caring: a hopeful view of the present and future, in Changing Places: Re-imagining Australia (2003).
In Canada he was a member of over 30 regional, national and international boards and committees. He is currently on the editorial board of five international refereed journals, and until 2004 he represented professional environmental educators on the NSW Council on Environmental Education.
Stuart has worked in agricultural and development projects in the West Indies, French West Africa, Indonesia, The Philippines, China, the Seychelles, the UK, Canada, New Zealand, and Australia. His work in the Seychelles to make a whole coralline island completely self sufficient in food and energy is particularly significant.
His background in chemical engineering, ecology, soil biology, entomology, agriculture, psychotherapy, education, policy development and international development, and his experience of working with transformative change, has enabled him to be an effective facilitator in complex situations that demand collaboration across difference and a long-term co-evolutionary approach to situation improvement. These skills were used extensively in his recent role as Provocateur for the Victorian Government (for DPI & DSE: 2004-5).
Recent Keynotes at National Conferences include the following:
Hill, S.B. 2006. Engaging Us: Ecological Thinking as a Basis for Community Change. Keynote to Enviro 06 Conf. & Exhibn.: Building Sustainable Cities [Melbourne; 11 May]
Hill, S.B. 2006. Taking Appropriate Next Steps to Progressive Change: Building on the Past and Risking Deep Transformation Towards More Sustainable Communities. Keynote to APEN ‘06 Int. Conf.: Practice change for sustainable communities: exploring footprints, pathways and possibilities [Beechworth, VIC; 6-8 March]
[web; 18 pp: www.regional.org.au/au/apen/2006/keynote/4003_hills.htm]