Futures with healthy rivers and agriculture — inspired by Indigenous values

It is a sad time in Canada: Our newly elected federal government, who promised to respect First Nations/Indigenous rights as part of their election campaign, recently approved Site C dam on a precious section of the Peace River – directly against the wishes of the First Nations leadership and communities, local farmers, and the many people across our province who care about First Nations, rivers and agriculture. Canada has a long and predatory history of building dams on rivers against the wishes of Indigenous and local peoples at home and around the world. But dams are an old-fashioned technology that belongs the past – not the future.

Dam building is part of a mindset that privileges human’s need for electricity – to power more technology, more buildings, more stuff in urban areas, or to sell for profit – over local peoples and living things (including the river itself).

This Western mindset also privileges what white, urban people/men want over what Indigenous and rural people want. This attitude, too, belongs in the past – not the future.

Most images of the future, whether in film, television, advertising, books, government programs (from the local to the global) depict the future as a singular thing: urban, full of highrises and elevated highways, dominated by white men, and nature is dead. Almost never are Indigenous peoples included in corporatized media images of the future, Avatar and destruction of the Na’vi (non-Earth) homeland notwithstanding (I’ve found one small independent film that includes a First Nations man). And wild nature spaces are almost never shown. Agriculture is never shown.

This singular notion of future as urban is what politicians are responding to when they consistently make decisions to destroy nature and rural landscapes to make way for the built environment. They see ‘progress’ as built – not nature or agriculture.

They see the singular future (and present) as led by white men (and women who are part of the hegemonic systems of power, lady patriarchs, as coined by Ursula Franklin) so they do not respect First Nations leaders.

This idea of a singular urban, white, masculinsed future is old-fashioned, too. It began with the 1927 film Metropolis. And has continued unchallenged since then.

The Canada government recently signed on to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples that outlines cultural, political, decision making, education and land-based rights for Indigenous Peoples, including Article 29: “Indigenous peoples have the right to the conservation and protection of the environment and the productive capacity of their lands or territories and resources”.

And yet, the federal and provincial governments have made the decision to dam this section of the Peace River directly against the strongly expressed views of First Nations that they do not want the dam. The governments’ decision is so unfair to the First Nations that Amnesty International is supporting them to have the decision reversed. And RAVEN is supporting the First Nations with their court case.

This dam has been shown by experts to be unnecessary for power needs, which makes the governments’ decision is especially unkind (not to mention illegal).

Site C dam on the Peace River will be stopped. But it will be expensive, and exhausting for the First Nations and local rural people. Sustainability demands that the world wake up and make decisions differently, and different decisions, with respect for ecological and Indigenous values.

Let’s begin the shift away from the notion of a singular urban future and envision futures of vast human and ecological diversity where we live respectfully, and with kindness, for all people and all non-human species and the lands and waters of our precious, and only, world. Some people in these diverse futures will live in cities – and some will live in rural communities, farms and forests.

It is time for a shift in what our futures will be – to see futures with great diversity of landscapes and peoples.

  • Futures with some people living happily in cities, as they do now, but some people living happily in rural areas and amongst wild spaces, as they do now.
  • Futures where non-human species are valued and their habitats are protected, and where humans learn to live respectfully with other species in their habitats.
  • Futures where humans conduct rural practices mindfully within the web of life, which is alive in the soil and waters.
  • Futures where women and children are actively involved in decision-making that affects the public domain.
  • Futures where electrical power is gained without destruction of the life in rivers and agricultural areas, without the destruction of rural and Indigenous communities way of life.
  • Futures that value Indigenous Peoples — where they are included decision-making across the full spectrum of cultural, ecological, economic and social aspects of society; especially on their territories.

RAVEN Fundraising for legal challenge


Amnesty International


Sierra Club


 UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples


Green Party of Canada


NOT this: Metropolis (1927)Metropolis



THIS: Peace River (2016)

Peace River

Slower futures — not faster? One dog’s approach to community futures

Today’s blog is dedicated to my dog, Isabella, who passed away last week. As a puppy Isabella made me crazy, but not in the usual frantic puppy kind of way. She did everything in slow motion. I should explain: Isabella was an Italian Spinone, the bird retrievers of Italy. Since the Middle Ages Spinones have been one of the dog breeds of the Italian rural gentry, so there are hundreds of generations of dogs who are accustomed to long walks, warm evenings by the fire, and to having their people bringing them delicious meals.  This was true of our modern Spinone, I was treated more like staff than ‘owner’ or companion, and she also she insisted on long slow walks. Slow walks. Slow. I learned to slow down to her pace, even though it did make me crazy sometimes.

Focusing so intently on Isabella in these past few weeks, and thinking about my own process of slowing down under her tutelage, I began to wonder if maybe the whole world needs some Isabella time.

Why is it that we accept so much busyness in our lives? And why is it that when we think about the future it is so often layered with speed? With the assumption that faster is better.  Faster computers, faster cars, faster travel, faster production, faster education, faster meals.  But perhaps as futures thinkers we need to face this assumption straight on.

What if… our futures could actually be slower – not faster?  Does anyone really like doing things fast all time?  I guess, maybe, there are some people who thrive on a fast, multi-tasking, doing everything in as short a time as possible approach to life. But is this good for us, for our work, for those around us?  Carl Honoré, in his book, In Praise of Slow, describes his process in moving from speed reading a bedtime story to his son to a more joyful, leisurely read.

Research is now demonstrating what we all know in our hearts, and have probably experienced in our own lives, that when we are really busy we don’t notice other people’s (or animal’s) pain or needs as well – our levels of care and empathy decrease simply by not noticing or because we don’t have time for another thing in the hour/day.  And yet what our world needs is more empathy not less.  We need more caring, not less.

So as we do our futures-based work or community/organisational processes let’s challenge the speed assumption.  When someone gets all jazzed up about Moore’s law being broken because of even faster change, or some new computer that does things even faster, try responding with: Is that a good thing?  or Why is faster better?  or, Do you know whose bodies and labour is enabling our computers to go faster and faster? or, Do you know how much of the Earth is being mined to enable increased speed?  Perhaps our empathy for the workers of the world, and the body of the world, will be what finally has us question ‘faster is better’.

With consideration for our own bodies, and all that we are learning about sitting disease, maybe slow technology would be better?  For example, what if an internet search, would take 2 minutes, not 1 second, so you have time to enter your search item then stand up and stretch or make a pot of tea or go outside on your balcony, or porch, and say hello to the wind or a neighbour? I know there wouldn’t be immediate uptake on this particular idea, if ever, but you get my drift.  Why does the dominant system demand that we rush though our days in the present? And why do we want/accept more rushing in the future?

Maybe we could begin by being more purposeful in our present time by creating short breaks in the day? The short “pause” as Pema Chödrön and Tara Brach (among others) teach, to bring us back to what is important – compassion, love, caring, kindness –  in the present, and as we create visions for our diverse futures.

One of Futures Studies’ founders, Dr. Eleonora Masini, argued that futures scholars and practitioners need to look past the usual participants and include women and children in their futures-based processes.  I think this is very true. And perhaps we also need to include dogs, and other animals, in our processes?  Certainly it would be easier to envision nature in our futures if there were deer or okapi in the room, or to include non-industrialised farming in our visions if there were chickens or cows in the room.  And dogs could be there to remind us to value companionship, walking outdoors, and a slower pace of life in our futures visioning and action planning.

Isabella showed us that life should be at a pace that allows for kindness and connection. That seems like a great place to start to our futures visioning.

Further reading:

Pema Chödrön.  When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times http://pemachodronfoundation.org/store/buy-books/

Tara Brach.  Radical Acceptance http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w-yF9EMkE88          http://www.tarabrach.com/

Carl Honoré.  In Praise of Slow: How a Worldwide Movement is Challenging the Cult of Speed. http://www.carlhonore.com/


Being visionary even when success isn’t guaranteed

Donella Meadows taught us that visions of desired futures “come from commitment, responsibility, confidence, values, longing, love, treasured dreams, our innate sense of what is right and good”.

Creating new visions of sustainable and just futures will require us to move past all the negative predictions  and business-as-usual planning.  Not that we should disregard the warnings, but rather that we see the projections based in present-day activities as opportunities to make change.  Creating meaningful  change requires us to be bold –  to create visions with passion, emotion, and conviction.  We also need to be risk takers – acknowledging that we won’t necessarily have the answers or processes in place to begin implementation nor guaranteed success.  This lack of guaranteed success can make the effort of creating a positive/desired vision hard to do, especially as there is so much to be concerned about in our world.  But in creating environmentally healthy and socially just communities we need to bravely, and collaboratively, face our despair for what is wrong and state clearly what we desire for our futures.  We may not get the actions right the first time, but the positive vision will guide us towards new paths.

Joanna Macy and Chris Johnston in their new book Active Hope remind us that we don’t have to be optimistic or be assured of a particular outcome to take actions for change. “Active Hope is about becoming active participants in bringing about what we hope for” even when facing the reality that we may not be totally successful.  We need to fly in the face of ‘being realistic’ and be boldly visionary.

The world and all beings need us each to be visionary leaders, in our ways, even small ways.  And when you align with other visionaries it gets joyful.

Look for ways to create fun and playfulness in the actions.  My friend, and community artist, Paula Jardine amazes me with her ability to create parades and beautiful events for our community, on hard issues like a death in the family or salmon habitat loss, that bring people together in loving, joyful ways with live musicians, storytellers, lanterns, and tea in real teacups.  And the DePave Portland folks work hard, but seem to be having lots of fun.            http://depave.org/work/depaved/

Sustainability can be fun!



Resist ‘realistic’. Be visionary. A story from environmental planning.

Why is it that our culture seems to accept (even expect) passion and emotion in a CEO’s visioning work and leadership, but those who are working for social justice, peace or environmental well-being  are expected to be ‘realistic’ within the structures and situations of today.  On a number of occasions during my career as a strategic and environmental planner my visions for ecological change and community health were belittled and referred to as being naïve, idealistic or unrealistic and I was told to tone down my passion for protecting watersheds and community shared decision-making. Luckily, I don’t give in to such limiting direction (well, at least not for long, it is easy to get thrown off one’s vision temporarily). Whenever your ideas are challenged and you are told to be ‘realistic’ — resist! —  we won’t create sustainable and just futures without vision and daring goals.

An example of how a daring and positive vision can directly affect ecological health can be found in a Canadian policy regarding toxic substances.  For a brief time, years ago, Canada had an official government vision of the elimination of persistent toxic substances to aquatic ecosystems, including marine ecosystems, with a goal of “Zero Discharge of Persistent Toxic Substances” in the Strategic Plan for Inland Waters Directorate.  I was part of the strategic planning team that was successful in a collaboration with senior management to support zero discharge and put this vision into our agency’s strategic plan. We envisioned this goal being supported by “the coordination of policy with state-of-the-art hydrological, scientific and technical knowledge… and research”.  We knew the technical ability to reach zero discharge of persistent toxic substances was not yet in place, but we envisioned Canadian research and development teams leading the world in creating the non-polluting technologies that would be required to reach this vision.  It was a BHAG  (big hairy audacious goals – Collins and Porras, 1996). It didn’t have a guarantee of success; it required more than present capabilities; it would have required extraordinary effort; it was visionary.  But shortly after this strategic plan was published, efforts began on Canada’s Green Plan (Environment Canada, 1992). As result of industry interference, and scientists who were “realistic”, our vision was compromised to a goal of “Virtual elimination of persistent toxic substances”.  Wiggle words like virtual, consider, encourage are poison to innovation. Once the commitment to zero discharge was replaced, when elimination became virtual elimination, the government, industry, and academic institutions became distracted by, and focused on, just how much virtual meant.  How much toxic discharge could they get away with – not how to end toxic discharges.  As a result little new knowledge or innovative technology and processes have resulted, whereas the brave, visionary stance of zero discharge would have forced the creation of new, non-polluting methods of production.

So being visionary isn’t flakey. It is necessary to guide and motivate our actions towards a better world.


It’s not ‘unrealistic’ — it’s visionary

Recently I was in my home town visiting family, and after responding to a question about my work including community-based conversations about envisioning a world without weapons (Elise Boulding) or a world without hunger (Donella Meadows), a friend of the family said “that seems unrealistic and idealistic”.  The word ‘unrealistic’ is often attached to ‘idealist’ or ‘idealistic’, in my experience, as a way of dismissing visionary ideas or actions. But has anything really spectacular or meaningful ever been done without envisioning it first? (Well, okay… babies).

And yet, discussions about sustainability rarely include visions of what communities or individuals want their ecological futures to be.  The majority of discussions of ecological or community futures are based on an extrapolation of present trends, they are predictions of the future, usually of situations of loss (species, community, jobs) or hardship (food or water shortages) — not preferred futures or visions that we could work towards that would allow us to avoid projecting harmful present-day trends into the future.

Perhaps we do not see many examples of preferred ecological futures because creating a positive vision of the future might be considered foolhardy when the chance of success is not guaranteed.  Or it may seem too risky for us to create our own vision of a sustainable and just world because others might label it as idealistic or unrealistic.  But Donella Meadows urges us to “occasionally take the social risk of displaying not our skepticism but our deepest desire. We could declare ourselves in favor of a sustainable, just, secure, efficient, sufficient world… even at the expense of being called idealistic”.

We could create ecological visions that will inspire and motivate action.

Once we identify a detailed image of what a sustainable and just community would look like, we can more actively begin to address the hard reality, through critical analysis, of exploring what is not working or the barriers to reaching our vision, identify what is working, and then create strategies and plans for action, including where each individual can contribute their talents and experience.

Who are you to be thinking about the future?

You are the perfect person to be thinking about the future. At least the futures of your community.

Envisioning our futures is not just the job of those with the conventional roles accompanied by institutional privilege or power. It is true, that we will need the politicians, the designers of buildings and cities, automobile and highway engineers, the technology wizards, filmmakers and the media — those who normally get a voice in futures thinking. BUT, if we are to create sustainable and just futures we need to involve a diversity of voices, and especially nurture the voices of women, and children, who are often not included in discussions of futures.

So often thinking about the future falls to those ‘experts’ in what we think of as ‘the’ future – those folks, usually men, who work with technology. But creating sustainable and just futures requires that we all get involved. Diverse futures based in ecological and social diversity, caring for one another, and where justice for all people and beings is honoured, will require all of our talents.  Sustainable and just futures will also demand that we have a strong sense of our community, our home place, including where our water and food comes from,  the natural spaces that require protection or restoration as well as the human assets and the parts of our human community that need attention and compassion.

Creating sustainable and just futures requires many things. As Donella Meadows argued creating sustainable communities begins with envisioning what we truly want, and desire, for our communities.  This visioning demands from us that we take a long, deep look at what is working in our communities — as well as what is not working.  Our vision then guides us in how to protect what is working, create more of that,  and begin actions to change or dismantle what is not working (or at least stop propping it up).

Our diverse futures will not just about high tech wonders, but for some people that will be their life, as it is now. There will also be children and elders to care for, food to be grown in healthy soil, festivals to be planned, beauty to be created, streams and wetlands to be restored, meals to be prepared, learning to happen, buildings to be built, new non-polluting processes to be invented, music to be made, healing to happen, conflicts to be solved using non-violence, democracy to support, and play of all sorts. We will all have a place in creating ecologically sound and socially just futures.

There is a lack of spaces to discuss ideas about the future, especially diverse, just and ecologically sound futures.  I will provide some of my thoughts here, as well as introduce some of the innovative futures thinkers and visionaries who provide pathways to flourishing futures. And I hope that you will contribute some of your ideas (no flying cars, please).


Karen Hurley, PhD is the lead writer on this blog, but the hope is that others will join in the conversation about futures, and what we want them to be, based on love for humans and all beings, and the Earth, including the trees, plants, water, soil, rocks, air.  We shall also keep in front of us,  Dr. Elise Boulding’s, vision for a world without weapons.