making time for change; NGO’s non-profits vs. nature’s time
Have you ever tried to educate others in connecting to cycles of time older or slower than those occupying most of our schedules and visual space (checking your mobile for the time every 15 seconds) but find that the vehicles and models we use to teach about healthy culture are increasingly speeding up? Me too. I write this to advance some partial survival strategies for connecting the social/env dots as we speed along on the e-ngo train, in the hope that you will comment/improve and expand upon this strategy. But first: slow time…
Some partial examples of slower time could include those popularised by non-profit orgs, such as the life-cycles of plants or trees, how many generations have passed since toronto was covered in 2km of ice, geological events (past warming that could predict what a warmer climate would look like here), or even more extreme; the light in the night sky likely to already be extinct.
All of these are familiar concepts and are used to attempt to salve and create compassion for the natural world, to advocate for campaigns to save and protect both nature and the flow of capital into what I have recently heard named the non-profit industrial complex.
This is a rhetoric which I have embodied entirely in years past, and have based many workshops, programs, and education strategies upon: that if you can get someone in touch with nature and its rhythm, then they will slow down consumption, with slow food, cooperative social enterprises, and greener and more sustainable lifestyle decisions which will save the planet.
It should be apparent by now, since being toted as the ultimate and consummate moral guilt, that we must create change in society to reduce CO2 emissions and halt disasterous run away climate change.
With increasing exponential speed the number of e-ngo’s (environmental non governmental organisations) is growing, engaging multitudes of energised and emotionally charged youth, garnering funds from every sector and creating huge numbers of temporary stewardship events, gardens, services and spaces.
The distilled message reads: create change faster.
I write this to anyone who has first hand experience in trying to create systemic change in/with/through the non-profit sector to slow the consumer machine and put some sort of emotional leash on runaway climate change, but has encountered en-route that funding cycles, abstracted deliverables or more plainly the pace of e-ngo change moves much too quickly for plants and trees to come to maturity, or too fast for half a dozen students to watch a seedling sprout, mature and bear seed.
This ability to take the long view is learned in plant and animal husbandry through successive seasons, and if you are trying to educate people there are only so many places to plant perennials; to turn the compost, and with urban space constraints you are left with two strategic options: 1-increase the number of people participating to the max and shorten their exposure to each nature related participatory element to ensure reliable growth of the organisation or 2-observe the land for its potential curriculum already in the earth, including what is the responsibility of people to degraded land, and find a specific group who will yield greatest benefit carrying out the restoration/husbandry curriculum.
This second methodology ensures healthy linkages between education in participant’s lives and resilient restoration of the land which can only be nurtured by taking the appropriate time to allow people, plants, animals and plans to mature.
What are the principal hindrances to slowing down, elongating progress or taking the long view?
Some would say: funding cycles, the non-profit industrial complex, or the unfortunate disease of urbanity whose symptoms include the inability to understand and prioritise nature education as a strategic goal to creating change.
When I travelled back to ruskin mill educational trust in SW england to inquire about strategies for creating a curriculum based on cultivating a relationship with the land I was told: in researching the historical land use going back two thousand years, we selected activities which brought healing to the more recent industrial trauma, like coppicing or fish farming, and developed a four year immersion program for teens with special needs based on those activities.
For us to discover and deliver such depth, here in the don valley in Toronto, we would first have to address the colonial context of such work, ensuring we are not just the most recent people to see grand economic visions on land that is not ours, and then begin, slowly, to find how people in the valley’s past would create fertile soil, would steward the forest, and take care of its creatures. Despite the pace and trajectory of many e-ngo’s today, it is likely that through wilful and slow motion action, there is still room for the kind of progression towards healing that would characterize real change in my opinion. The trick is to pretend that you are participating in the cult of the deliverables enough to keep your job, but not so much that you forget the pace that projects, plants, people, and trees really grow.
P.s. Maple syrup time anyone???