Reflections from the Monday theme plenary session “C3: Biosphere stewardship across scales and knowledge systems”

One wouldn’t necessarily think there would be a riveting, packed discussion centered around bringing indigenous spirits to the center of western-centric global biosphere and climate change stewardship discussions. However, this session with Terry Chapin of the University of Alaska, Fairbanks, and Rosemary Hill of CSIRO presented a phenomenal and sometimes surprising discussion of bringing indigenous views to the forefront of cultivating a collective biosphere stewardship and ethic.

There are of course, the traditional ways of cultivating stewardship, which is quite western-centric. That is, pretty much what we all (mostly) know and try to do: reduce unnecessary consumption and waste, adapt to changes, and try to avoid things like fossil fuels. But, this very western scientific view is anchored in reductionism. That is, we can explain everything by breaking ‘them down to the smallest components and by understanding all aspect of ‘them’. That way we can completely understand the system.

And this very scientifically reductionist view of the biosphere is quite the antithesis of how indigenous knowledge worldviews work, which is inherently holistic and takes each component into consideration within the context of relationships to the broader system, whilst rooted in a strong ethical code for biosphere stewardship and thinking of future generations. As Chapin stated during his presentation: “for the indigenous cultures, they are not stewarding the land – the land is stewarding them; the land talks to them and tells them what to do.”

Biosphere stewardship is a way of linking goals to practice and we need to think carefully about integrating religion and ethics into our future endeavors.  Our various worldviews are not adequately considered within scientific decisions.

Think of our brain as a filter.  We are constantly taking in information and we need a way to synthesize the data.  We use our experiences and worldviews to distill that data down to a manageable chunk of “all the things” such that we can make an informed decision.  Our filter is our worldview.   If we are to broaden western science such that it includes ethics and indigenous knowledge, then we need to bridge our worldviews; we need to expand our view to include other knowledge areas.  This means sometimes getting a little bit uncomfortable with uncertainty and pushing the boundaries of our own worldview.  But when we do find that common ground, communication improves across scales and knowledge bases. In doing so, we can obtain a more dynamic perspective of our worldviews as part of the science and science decision making process, not only for our collective plant, but our future generations, as well.

Your Resilience2017 correspondent:

Kelly Siman is a Biomimicry PhD Fellow at the University of Akron. Her research focuses on the social-ecological resilience of Ohio’s Lake Erie shoreline, adaptive management and polycentric governance structures, and biomimetic applications that support long-term system resilience, moving away from “random acts of restoration” to a holistic, data-driven approach to management. Kelly is a Project Drawdown Research Fellow with Paul Hawken, a member of the Resilience Alliance, and Resilience Alliance Young Scholars and is passionate about a healthy environment for future generations, communicating climate science and data to decision makers, and applying resilience thinking.

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