The huge banyan tree in the middle of the postgraduate building at Universitas Sanata Dharma is known as Beringin Soekarno and provides a canopy to several gazebos where students gather for group discussions and conversations.
Pedro Walpole SJ
In today’s world fragmented by struggles of consumption and identity, there is a need to seek the moment of calm, the deep breath, the solace, and gratitude in simply being alive. There is the sense of belonging sought which is to be embedded in community and in the landscape that slows time while deepening relations and meaning.
In an international conference on poverty and environment in September, several presentations shared the challenge in finding a humble relation with the poor, caring for the environment now and for generations to come, and getting the economy to respect the integrity of the ecology towards a true oikos, a true balance in our shared home.
Dr. Iping Liang from National Taiwan Normal University presented on the topic humanities for the environment and shared some beautiful literature reflecting the great wisdom of our time that the youth can easily empathize with and can share. Calling it “littoral literature,” it is a beautiful image of the times and highlights the sense of flux, of tides and of change, of living with vulnerability, and yet envisaging the transition to the land deep in the forest or the depths of the ocean. In this silence, one finds the connectedness of spirit and belongingness with generations that is of assuring endurance and gratitude.
Dr Liang’s presentation also shared the beautiful writing of Jessica J. Lee, a Canadian Taiwanese environmental historian writing on the natural history of Taiwan and the family memories embedded in the island in her 2019 book, Two Trees Make a Forest (see the book trailer video here). Dr Liang shared that this signified a vegetal common between nature and the human, as argued by Dipesh Chakrabarty in his 2009 essay, The Climate of History: Four Theses.
Singer-songwriter and permaculturist Eugenio “Ego” Lemos is Timor Leste’s appointed Goodwill Ambassador for Arts, Culture, and Environment and shared his experiences with the youth to achieve a growing commitment through five-day training programs. Ego is the Director of Permakultura Timor Leste (Permatil) and spoke of the many factors contributing to environmental degradation and loss, seeing the need for greater water infiltration and forest regeneration. As the founder-coordinator of the Sustainable Agriculture Network and Organic Agriculture Movement in Timor Leste, Ego is equally appreciated for his engaging songwriting and integrates all of this with the sound of a guitar in the evening with the youth.
Dr Chitra Sankaran from the National University Singapore took up the topic on “slow violence” as she reminded the history of the Minamata Disease with the release of mercury that affected shellfish and coastal waters of Japan and the people who shared that ecosystem. Similarly, the history of Agent Orange, to which one might add glyphosate, has its human health impacts that come to the surface over time.
Dr Sankaran also talked about Lawrence Summers, an American economist and former US Secretary of the Treasury (1999-2001) who earned a strong reputation for discounting the impacts on the health and environment of future generations particularly in the Global South. As the Chief Economist at the World Bank from 1991 to 1993, he signed off on an internal memo on December 1991 that was leaked to the press. This “toxic memo” stated that “the economic logic behind dumping a load of toxic waste in the lowest wage country is impeccable and we should face up to that.” According to its authors, it was sarcastic, rather than sincere. However this memo is seen, this still seems a callous accounting given the impacts now being reaped and the need for a more strenuous review of high-level policy agreements as to their impact on the poor.
All of this requires an understanding of the real intentions and implications of what is discussed at the costs of climate change, who bears the brunt, and who needs to be held accountable. Dr. Sankaran mentions many great champions of change including those who understood the right to protect life and the interconnectivity with nature. She cited especially the women of the Chipko Movement in India who saw a deeper relation with their forest than the economic exploitation.
The importance of poetry, music, literature, painting, dance, and storytelling are all beautiful ways of expressing the human spirit. With many forced to live in a consumerist society, there are many contradictions in these times when the world is divided and where self is viewed as opposed to nature. Many do not need or do not want to live in this divide and are called to reconcile while acknowledging the need to engage and to change.
The challenge to break down the silos and build the transdisciplinary approaches needed were highlighted in this conference. From such conferences can be drawn the seeds of transformation to be planted in the daily living world, that can become a slower, kinder, and cooler world to share with all.
And in sharing this integral ecology, new identities can be found so all can participate in the youthful growth of a renewing society and landscape, and engaging a more integral governance while cooling the climate.
Pedro Walpole SJ, Ecojesuit Global Coordinator, delivered a keynote address at the the 3rd Asosiasi Perguruan Tinggi Katolik (APTIK) International Conference on Environment and Poverty on 8 to 9 September 2023 at the Universitas Sanata Dharma in Yogyakarta, Indonesia, in response to the key question on what open vision must be worked with in breaking the nexus of environmental degradation and social poverty.