Questions That Inspire Fresh Thinking


“Are humans now overwhelming the great forces of nature?” ask Will Steffen, Paul Crutzen and John McNeill. The foreboding may be familiar. Yet the starkness of the query sets an avalanche of reassessment in motion.

“What then must we do?” rings Tolstoy’s lament, a century later. In Portland, Oregon, a bellwether environmental lecture series devoted its 2008 program to a reflective exploration of: “Why we believe what we believe.”

Over the years, visions of sustainability have taken shape – a Wiser Earth, a Bright Green Future, a Conservation Economy, an Ecozoic Era – in response to which question? To what shall we aspire?

Other writers have probed assumptions or ideologies, asking how this juncture came to pass. Judeo-Christianity’s call for dominion over the earth (White, 1967), modernism’s schism of fact from value (Schumacher, 1973, 1977), and the economic growth imperative (Boulding, 1966; Daly, 1977) have each come in for criticism.

There is of course a pattern. Each critique highlights separations of humans from nature – separations that permeate ideas and institutions. “Discontinuity,” observed Hugh Kenner in his book on Buckminister Fuller, is the “generic twentieth century problem.”

On P&P we ask: What are the ties that draw people together and to place? How have these connections – and our understandings – evolved over time? What social-ecological relationships support a more reliable prosperity? How is meaningful change accelerated?

What sparks your attention, focuses your intention? What are your questions?