David Haenke’s ‘A Total Ecology Program/Platform: Earth’s Own Ecology Movement’

A guest post by an elder of bioregional regeneration (Part 2 of 3)

The article below was written by David Haenke over many iterations starting in 1986 around the time when he helped to organise the first North American Bioregional Congress. It has not just historical but more importantly conceptual and practical significance to the growing impulse of bioregional regeneration around the world today. In a recent interview (see videos below) with David I spontaneously offered to ‘host’ three of his most important pieces of writing on my Medium blog as a means for him to share them more widely with an interested audience. Enjoy! — Daniel Wahl

July, 2010 version. I have been working on this piece through various iterations for nearly 25 years, and it still remains a work-in-progress…

- David Haenke

[Preface: For our species and all species, reality on Earth, particularly functional reality, is ecological in nature. A thing is sane, ethical, intelligent, and workable — to the degree that it is ecologically informed, resonant and applied as such. By contrast, to the degree that it is ecologically uninformed, a thing is functionally deficient in sanity, intelligence, and ethicality, may not belong on Earth, and probably will not long remain.]

A Total Ecology Program/Platform: Earth’s Own Ecology Movement

(and a Template for Political Ecology) © David Haenke, 1986

29 Branches… One Tree…

29 Pillars… One Pillar…

A Great and Necessary Confluence… Kindling the Green Fire

We go as deep as we can into an understanding of the Earth and how it works in all of its billions of years of refined, miraculous magnificence, and utterly functional practicality in the conduct of life in any and all forms, including our own species. These are the Earth’s own operant ecological laws and principles. The goal: To do all things ecologically, everywhere.

Out of this discernment we translate an all-inclusive ecological program moving humanity into full cooperative alliance with the Earth and its immanent laws, principles, and processes as our pathway out of the ecocidal/suicidal end-game that humanity is presently engaged in.

The first stage of political action is the development of strong consensus on the text of the translation of Earth’s ecological laws and principles into human language and practice, the summation of which is the eco-political program. The first examples of this process that I am aware of were the bioregional congresses that took place in North America in the 1980’s and early 90’s, first in the Ozarks (Ozark Area Community Congress — OACC) in 1980, and starting in 1984 on a continental level with the first North American Bioregional Congress (NABC I).

Most of the elements and content of this program can be applied in the design or re-design of the human complement of any given community, city, or bioregion at virtually all levels of function and experience. Whenever we want to find out or test an element of the program, we ask this question: What would the Earth itself design for us and give us if it could?

Everything that we would affirm we subject to as complete an ecological audit as we can. For anything that cannot pass this audit we must ask, does it belong in this program? Does it belong on Earth?

We don’t have to invent this program, only identify its extant elements, invoke them at the most effective scale, and catalyze the elements’ natural bent toward synthesis and integration. The elements of the program are not just ideas and principles, but whole, living, vibrant ecologically based movements and disciplines that already exist in varying stages of development, each with their own sets of variously evolved principles, ideologies, practices, techniques, history. Each component movement or discipline has adherents ranging in number from thousands to millions.

This I see as the purpose of my work on Earth: to help begin the process of identifying, consciously linking, and then synthesizing the salient program elements, all around the world, in into one great Movement — or “Movement of movements — that I am calling “total ecology.” At the same time, I also refer to the collective principles, values, and practices of this Movement as the program of “total ecology.”

This first explication of the program lists a number (but certainly not all) of the significant elements in convergence. (Add your own, each one hopefully having an ecological orientation or the possibility of it.)

Each element or “pillar” of the program is a fully functioning movement, discipline, philosophy, or belief system. Each has a present or potential foundation in — or orientation to — ecological consciousness, practices, and values.

It is important to work within each one to strengthen its ecological base, towards catalyzing the synthesis of all of them. In listing each one here I invoke its complete reality: i.e., its entire constituency, and conceptual and practicing content.

For example, by listing “ecological agriculture” as a pillar, I am saying that:

  1. The whole body of knowledge, practice, and values known as “ecological agriculture” constitutes the program/platform element relating to agriculture;
  2. The millions of people who practice or relate favorably to ecological agriculture are potential members of the larger total ecology movement which integrates their beliefs on agriculture into a context;
  3. The ecological agriculture movement, getting steadily more aware of its ecological center, and ideally would be moving towards convergence with all the other elements, into what I am calling the total ecology movement/program. The same general assumptions are made, in their content areas, for each of the 29 other pillars of the program.

Even though I list 29 pillars, [they are all elements of the primary] [JD edit]: ECOLOGY.

Ecology = the Earth, Gaia. Ecology is the trunk of the great tree from which all the other branches stem. All elements flow from, move back toward, are interconnected and synthesized by this one, the central organizing principle of Earth. Here exists the real heart of sustainability. Here exists the baseline, the benchmark of sanity, true intelligence, overarching spirit. I will say it again: True intelligence and sanity are ecologically-defined and resonant in thought and practice.

Ecological Movements And Disciplines

(I’m not saying this list is definitive; there are more, certainly.)

[Simultaneously, in the context of this writing, these can be described as:

Program/Platform Elements, Pillars/Branches, Elements of The Movement of Ecological Movements, Elements of Total Ecology]

The List

  1. Ecological Economics/The Photosynthetic Economy (Eco-Development -Business -Enterprise — eco-currencies/money; ecological investment)
  2. Ecological Technology / Appropriate Technology
  3. Ecological Energy (Solar, Renewables)
  4. Ecological Politics / Political Ecology / Eco-Governance (eco-democracy; eco-decentralism)
  5. Ecological Engineering
  6. Ecological Bio-Technology (as in Todd’s “living machines”)
  7. Ecological “Waste” Management / Composting / Recycling/Bioremediation
  8. Industrial Ecology (Industrial eco-systems)
  9. Ecological Restoration / Restoration Ecology
  10. Ecological Agriculture / Organic Agriculture/ Permaculture
  11. Ecological Forestry
  12. Eco-Cities / “Green Cities” (Ecological Regional and Urban Planning)
  13. Eco-Communities
  14. Ecological Architecture
  15. Ecological Land Tenure
  16. Traditional Land Based Native/Indigenous/First People’s Rights
  17. Biodiversity & Genetic Diversity Preservation/ All-Species Rights
  18. Eco-Theology (Earth-Based and/or Earth-Honoring Religion and spirituality)
  19. Eco-Centrism
  20. Ecological Philosophy
  21. Eco-Defense / Environmentalism (Environmental Defense, Conservation, Preservation)
  22. Ecological Health (Ecological approaches to health)
  23. Eco-Psychology/Eco-Therapy
  24. Ecological Law
  25. Ecological Auditing
  26. Ecological Culture & Arts (Earth-Based or Earth-Honoring Culture and Arts)
  27. Ecological Education (Ecological bases for general education at all levels)
  28. Social Ecology (Ecological approaches to Peace and Social Justice; generic, non-sectarian)
  29. Ecological Burial/Natural Burial/Green Burial 30…(your additions…)

(ALL SUMMED UP IN…) BIOREGIONALISM (or ecological decentralism)

I sum up and end the list with bioregionalism because bioregionalism is: applied total ecology in the context of ecologically/Earth-defined areas, i.e., bioregions, which completes the total ecology equation, is its ultimate application. At the same time, total ecology can be implemented anywhere, on any scale of human organization from a village to a nation to international structures, to provinces, states, counties, or any geo-political unit of scale. Bioregionalism can also be called “ecological decentralism/decentralization”, a term that may be more broadly usable.

The serious and broad scale application of bioregionalism is long term evolutionary work, possibly taking hundreds of years to realize, so thoroughly and systemically does it turn inside out our usual ways of thinking, acting, and being.

For one thing, the implementation of bioregionalism requires a consensual majority of people to think and live eco-centrically/non-anthropocentrically, and unfortunately this will probably be a long time coming. Eco-centrism/non-anthropocentrism has been much maligned as being anti-human. Indeed some who have promoted it have been anti-human. This is unfortunate, and a negative interpretation of a belief system that is not only not anti-human, but in realty the most pro-human philosophy in existence. In point of fact, the human species cannot survive without living eco-centrically. Eco-centrism is an essential element of a survival/thrival strategy for our species. We have no choice but to see ourselves as one cooperating species among all the rest, and that we utter rely on all the other life forms for our existence. This has been said over and over, but no matter, it has to be the mantra of our species. It can never be said or lived enough. A number of the 29 movement/pillars have yet to come to an eco-centric position. I believe that eventually they will have to if they are to remain viable and vital.

[We need to] integrate seminal bodies of work, and for major ecosystem types: Grasslands/Holistic Management; Forests, Carbon Farming and Biochar; Permaculture; John Todd;

It is my belief that anthropocentrism is the most dangerous idea on Earth. The relentless multiplying of the human advantage over all other life is a root cause of the destruction of other species and ecosystems, and therefore of the self-imperilment of the human species as well. To bring humanity back into a state of cooperative co-equality with the rest of the community of life is one of the most pro-human things we can do: it is a life-enabling strategy for the human species that we cannot do without. An expression of our love for ourselves, one another, and the rest of life.

Before total ecology can be implemented bioregionally, the interim strategy is implementation within existing, accepted geo-political units though the process of electoral politics using the strategic element Political Ecology/Ecological Politics.

I suggest that this program is a beginning outline of a viable future for humanity. Altogether, in the confluence and integration of these constituent program elements, what our species can do positively and constructively in consonance with the Earth is potentially much greater than what we have done in our rapacious destructiveness of the Earth.

Through their ecological commonalties, each of the pillars is in hologrammatic (or holomorphic) relationship with all the rest, and with the whole content of the emerging meta-movement. To go into depth in explaining the meaning and impact of any one is to — either directly or by inference — bring in the whole of each or any of the others, and the whole that they are coalescing into. Put another way, from each element the whole of any or all of the others can be generated. This is a great strength of the total ecology paradigm. Among its salient dimensions, total ecology is a potent platform for political movements and parties anywhere on Earth.

At present, the leadership and constituencies of these 29 movement/pillars are generally not aware of how closely interrelated they are with one another through the integrating and synthesizing capacities of ecology. It is vital to educate movement people about these interrelationships, and what total ecology can mean for their survival, and the enrichment — at all levels from the most pragmatic to the most spiritual — of their lives. When we total the number of people who are represented by the 29 pillars, we are talking about many millions. In fact, I suggest that there is a mainstream movement beginning to take shape here, if its nascent reality can be clearly and effectively articulated.

Total ecology could become a majoritarian movement if:

  1. We really want it to be, and are not afraid of, (or even somehow unconsciously opposed to) success;
  2. We keep our language and actions free of non-essential content that alienates or confuses mainstream people, thus not marginalizing the movement;
  3. Our close strategic allies are people and organizations that are honest, accountable, in service to something more than just themselves, and honoring of the Earth and humanity;
  4. We are able to extend initial points of agreement with one or more of the 29 pillars into agreement with all of them and their synthesis.

In the context of point number four — each person (I would go so far as to say each person on Earth) has an access point with at least one of the pillars in terms of their beliefs, interests, and particular skills. In this way, each can find out how they can best work in service to the Earth, and therefore themselves, their children, the future of the human species, and all other species. From this, they could see the great Earth/ecological context and the inspiring mega-movement within which they are serving. I call this the “Strategy of the Six Billion” (or seven billion, or however many billion people are on Earth today). [See how many there are today: https://www.worldometers.info/world-population/ ]

The eventual success of total ecology can, and indeed has to mean a sane and healthy transformation of the very nature and role of human beings on Earth. It can return us to what we have lost and cannot live without. It will not take from us anything essential that we have gained on the long human journey. Through it we can come home again to the whole communities and families of life, to end our prodigal alienation. To honor, defend, and heal the Earth… (And therefore ourselves.)

© David Haenke, 1986; revised, 1995, 2000, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010 (I published this guest post on my blog to help David share this work more widely. Watch the last 15 minutes of second video below if you want to see the moment in which we decided to share his work in this way.- Daniel Wahl)

Here are two conversations I had with David Haenke in February 2021:

If you like the post, please clap AND remember that you can clap up to 50 times if you like it a lot ;-)!

Daniel Christian Wahl — Catalyzing transformative innovation in the face of converging crises, advising on regenerative whole systems design, regenerative leadership, and education for regenerative development and bioregional regeneration.

Author of the internationally acclaimed book Designing Regenerative Cultures

Please consider supporting my ongoing work by becoming a patron:

Catalysing transformative innovation, cultural co-creation, whole systems design, and bioregional regeneration. Author of Designing Regenerative Cultures