Strengthening Our Voice

A human being is a part of the whole called by us universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feeling as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.

-Albert Einstein

Some Thoughts as We Move Forward into the New Year

Can we envision a global future in which humanity is in
right relationship with the commonwealth of life?

Early in December I attended a conference on “Envisioning and Creating a Moral Economy.” This dynamic gathering was hosted by Pendle Hill, a Quaker conference and retreat center just outside of Philadelphia and brought together many people who are actively involved in creating an economy that is life enhancing rather than driven by the need for growth and profit. Speakers and subjects covered were excellent; and I include some links to recorded presentations below.

During one of the sessions we broke into small groups to envision what a moral economy would look like in a community setting. The group that I participated in self-selected a town of around 30,000 people in which to fashion our economy. We talked about the need to live sustainably, growing local organic food, using solar and other non-fossil fuel generated forms of energy, reusing and recycling. Much of our conversation was centered on communication and the need to create relationships that respected diversity yet at the same time recognized our interdependence and the importance of working cooperatively for the greater good of the whole. We envisioned town hall meetings and smaller gathering places where genuine meeting and conversation could occur.

It was during this part of the exercise that I spoke up, asking: Who represents the voice of the Earth? I thought that we were doing really well at making sure the human voices were heard but, what about the living ecosystem that holds humanity as a single part of a very complex system.

We all understood that there isn’t a clear voice of the Earth. It is up to us humans to do our best to listen and give voice.

The Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh was once asked what we need to do
to save our world. “What we most need to do,” he replied,
“is to hear within us the sounds of the Earth crying.”


  There are, of course, many active environmental organizations working to grow awareness about the toxic nature of our current growth and profit oriented economy. What they fail to address, though, is humanity’s long standing habit of private ownership of land. Private ownership treats land and its resources as commodities to be bought and sold to the highest bidder without consideration of the needs of the larger community or the ecosystem that the parcel inhabits. This creates haves and have-nots among the human population, leading to fences and walls, borders, exclusion and separation, exploitation, competition, conflicts and wars. It also supports the exploitation of resources without regard for long term consequences inflicted on the Earth and its inhabitants. How can we expect community to survive under such pressure?

This is why the community land trust model is so needed! This form of land tenure shifts humanity’s relationship with the Earth from private ownership to community stewardship. Community stewardship provides access to land for human use while at the same time honoring and supporting the integrity of the ecosystem the land occupies. Deep listening, systems thinking (such as permaculture), community collaboration, and community care over many generations ensure the conditions that place humanity in right relationship with the commonwealth of life.

In order to make the voice of the community land trust strong and advocate for a new way of relating with the Earth, I continue to build membership. In writing a grant proposal or talking with government officials it makes a big difference if you can show the people’s support behind an organization or project. You can help! Please join if you’re not already a member. If you are a member, please renew your membership when it’s time and help me to reach out and encourage others to join.

The closing session of the conference brought home a very important message for me. The presenter was George Lakey, a long-time Quaker activist. His message:  In times of great polarization – like we are entering now as our newly elected leaders try to dismantle all of the social and environmental programs that help keep our world safe – we are in danger of losing everything if we simply go on the defensive and try to hold on to the programs we support. Now is the time to go on the offensive and demand the programs that will really create right relationship with the commonwealth of life. Our voices must be strong and we need to be willing to sacrifice. You can help me strengthen our voice by becoming a member of AzCLT.

We, as human beings, cannot continue to stand separate from the commonwealth of life and treat the Earth as a commodity. For a healthy planet, we need to shift our relationship to one of interbeing and stewardship – that relationship embodied in the community land trust model.

Richard Starling

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