PLANET EARTH AS A BIOLOGICAL LIVING TRUST
No person, institution, or nation has the right to participate in activities that contribute to large-scale, irreversible changes of the Earth's biogeochemical cycles or undermine the integrity, stability, and beauty of the Earth's ecologies-the consequences of which would fall on succeeding generations as an irrevocable form of remote tyranny. — David Orr
The difficulty with utopias is not that they are imagined perfection, but rather that they are imagined cures for imperfection, and therein lies the problem. Namely, a solution is conjured in an attempt to move away from an unwanted negative circumstance rather than moving toward a desired positive outcome. Put another way, instead of moving toward the ideal, most solutions attempt to cure an imperfection by moving away from it, an action that is neither physically nor psychologically possible.
To heal and protect our home planet in an ecologically sustainable condition, we must have a destination in the form of a vision toward which to journey. The ideal can then help define an agenda that rests firmly on the bedrock of a shared vision, one that incorporates the collective wisdom, personal courage, and political will needed to inspire true social progress. Despite the usual elusiveness of Utopia, treating Planet Earth as a biological living trust is within the realm of human attainability, should people choose to make it so. It is, after all, only a choice and the will to carry it out.
Here I ask you to remember that success or failure is a crisis of the will and the imagination, not of the possibilities. To me, the only real failure is not to risk trying. For clearly, there can be no gain without risk. In fact, success or failure is not the event in itself, but rather an interpretation of the event, as illustrated by story of Flambeaux:
Flambeaux left Cut Off, Louisiana, and moved to De Berry, Texas, where he bought a donkey from an old farmer for $100. The farmer agreed to deliver the donkey on the following day.
The next day, the farmer drove up and said," I'm sorry, but I have some bad news … the donkey died last night."
A BIOLOGICAL LIVING TRUST
As we nurture Nature back toward ecological sustainability for all generations, we heal ourselves. As we heal ourselves, we heal our society—one person, one community at a time. As we heal society, we heal our environment. As we heal our environment, we begin to understand what it really means to be a compassionate human being entrusted with the care of Planet Earth. — Chris Maser
Although most people speak of land "stewardship," I personally prefer the concept of "trusteeship" because "stewardship" does not in and of itself have a legally recognized "beneficiary"—someone who directly benefits from the proceeds of one's decisions, actions, and the outcomes they produce. Although a "steward," by definition, is someone who "manages" another's property or financial affairs and thereby acts as an agent in the other's stead, there is nothing explicit in the definition about a legal beneficiary. For this reason, "stewardship" is a much more wishy-washy term than "trusteeship" because the fiduciary responsibility of a "steward" is to the shareholders; whereas the fiduciary responsibility of a "trustee" is to the beneficiaries, none of whom need to be physical shareholders.
A "living trust," in the legal sense, is a present transfer of property, including legal title, into trust, whether real property (such as land) or personal property (such as livestock, jewelry, or interest in a business). The person who creates the trust (such as a landowner) can watch it in operation, determine whether it fully satisfies his or her expectations, and, if not, revoke or amend it.
A living trust also allows for the delegation of administering the trust to a professional "trustee," which is desirable for those who wish to divest themselves of managerial responsibilities. The person or persons who ultimately receive the yield of the trust, for better or worse, are the legal beneficiaries. The viability of the living trust is the legacy passed from one generation to the next, which means we must think in terms of "potential productivity" instead of constant production.
Because the Earth is a living entity, it can be thought of as a "perpetual, biological living trust," (hereinafter referred to as "biological living trust") in which individual people—as well as their relationships among one another, Nature, their communities, and generations—have value and are valued, as are all living beings.
I had been asked to examine a forest in eastern Slovakia and give the people my counsel on how to restore its ecological integrity after years of abusive exploitation by the Communists. During the process, I worked with employees of the Slovakian Federal Forest Service. One man, the Chief Forester, then near the end of his career, had been in charge of the forest during the days of the Communists. As I was about to leave Slovakia, the Chief Forester took me aside and said, with great emotion: "Chris, if I learned one thing from you, it is that the forest is sacred—not the plan. Thank you." With that, this man reversed the thinking of his entire 40-year career. I have seldom encountered such courage, humility, and dignity.
We all need such courage, humility, and dignity if we are to be worthy trustees of Planet Earth as a biological living trust. But before trusteeship and the precept of a biological living trust can be fruitfully discussed as means of caretaking Planet Earth, you and I must be able to understand and integrate two perspectives of time, that of a clock and that of an hourglass.
Time as measured by the ticking of a clock is constant in tempo. With a clock, you see the hands move from second to second, minute to minute, and hour to hour—as 'round and 'round the clock's face they go. While to a child time seems to drag, even stand still, to an older person time seems to fly, despite the fact that watching a clock's hands make their appointed rounds belies both the impatience of youth and the sensation of time as fleeting in old age.
Contrariwise, if you measure time through the functioning of an hourglass, you have the distinct impression that time is "running out," like the sand pouring to the beck and call of gravity from the top of the hourglass, through the small hole in its middle, to the bottom. Most adults view time with a growing sense that theirs is running out, so they must grab all of life they can before their time is "spent," a fear of loss that champions material acquisitiveness in the supposed "safety" of the status quo. This sense of impending loss as time "runs out" causes people to avoid, as best they can, the inevitable admission of change.
In reality, of course, time does not run out; our bodies expire instead. And it's precisely the dual sense of time running out and the demise of our bodies that causes many people to seek a way to continue their sense of being in the world, like the continual ticking of the clock. One way to accomplish such continuance is through a living trust.
If we have the courage and the willingness to adopt and implement the concept of a "biological living trust," we are practicing social-environmental sustainable in which ever-adjusting relationships—ecological, social, and economic—become the creative energy that guides a vibrant, adaptable Planet Earth through the present toward the future. After all, trusteeship constantly opens the mind with growing conscious awareness because the social-environmental sustainability of tomorrow will be created out of the inspirations, discernment, choices, decisions, and activities of today. In addition, social-environmental sustainability honors the integrity of both society (intellectually, spiritually, and materially) and its environment, thereby fulfilling the concept of a biological living trust in that it maintains positive outcomes for both the Earth as a dynamic system and the beneficiaries who depend on the Earth for their well-being.
A biological living trust is predicated on systemic "holism" in which reality consists of an organic and unified whole that is greater than the simple sum of its parts. That is to say, the desired function of a system defines its necessary composition. The composition, in turn, defines the structure, which allows the functional processes to continue along their designated courses. Consequently, wisdom dictates that we must learn to characterize a system by its function, not its parts. The basic assumptions underpinning a biological living trust (all externalities within the current economic framework of the global economy) are:
In a biological living trust, the behavior of a system depends on how individual parts interact as functional components of the whole, not on what each part, perceived in isolation, is doing. The whole, in turn, can only be understood through the relationship/interaction of its parts.
Hence, to understand a system as a functional whole, we need to understand how it fits into the larger system of which it is a part. This understanding gives us a view of systems, supporting systems, supporting systems, ad infinitum. Consequently, we move from the primacy of the parts to the primacy of the whole, from insistence on absolute knowledge as truth to relatively coherent interpretations of constantly changing knowledge, and from an isolated personal self to self in community.
At this point, you might wonder if Planet Earth can be a living trust in the legal sense. The answer is, "Yes."
PLANET EARTH AS A BIOLOGICAL LIVING TRUST
A new consciousness is developing, which recognizes that we are one species. Our loyalties are to the species and the planet. Our obligation to survive is owed not just to ourselves, but also to that cosmos, ancient and vast, from which we spring. — Carl Sagan
All we have to offer our children and the generations of the future—ever—are choices to be made and some things of value from which to choose. Those choices and things of value, both biological and social (= legal), can be held within Planet Earth as a living trust, of which we, the adults of the current generation, are the legal caretakers or trustees for the next generation. Although the concept of a trustee or trusteeship seems fairly simple, the concept of a trust is more complex because it embodies more than one connotation of "trust." Consider, for example, the Earth as a legal living trust.
Even so, the administration of our responsibility for the Earth as a living trust has been progressively delegated throughout history to professional trustees in the form of elected or appointed officials when and where the land has been, and is, held in legal trust for the public. In so doing, we empower elected or appointed officials with our trust, our firm reliance, belief, or faith in the integrity, ability, and character of the person who is being empowered.
Such empowerment carries with it certain ethical mandates, which in themselves are the seeds of the trust in all of its senses—legal, living, and personal:
How might this work if we are both beneficiaries of the past and trustees for the future? To answer this question, we must first assume that the administering agency is both functional and responsible. The ultimate mandate for the trustees, be they employees of an agency or otherwise, would then be to pass forward as many of the existing options (the capital of the trust) as possible.
Should the officials and/or professionals fail to fulfill their obligations as trustees to our satisfaction, their behavior can be critiqued through the judicial system, assuming the judicial system is functional. In this way, the carefully considered effects embodied in our decisions as trustees of today could create a brighter vision for the generations to come. In order for this to happen, however, the notion of a biological living trust must become a "big idea."
A BIOLOGICAL LIVING TRUST AS A "BIG IDEA"
Real learning—the remembrance of things forgotten and the development of things new—occurs in a continuous cycle. Learning encompasses theoretical and practical conceptualization, action, and reflection, including equally the realms of intellect, intuition, and imagination. Real learning is important because overemphasis on action, one part of which is competition, simply reinforces our fixation on short-term, quantifiable results. Our overemphasis on action precludes the required discipline of reflection, a persistent practice of deeper learning, which often produces measurable consequences over long periods of time.
Many of today's problems resulted from yesterday's solutions, and many of today's solutions are destined to become tomorrow's problems. This simply means that our quick-fix, social trance blinds us because we insist on little ideas that promote fast results, regardless of what happens to the system itself. What society really needs are "big fixes" in the form of systemic ideas that promote and safeguard social-environmental sustainability, e.g., a collective vision of Planet Earth as a biological living trust—or at least our portion of it.
Where, asked the late publisher Robert Rodale, are the "big ideas," those that change the world? They probably lie unrecognized in everyday life since our culture lacks sufficient free spaces for unregulated, general thought.
A "big idea," according to Rodale, must:
A biological living trust seems to meet all of Rodale's requirements. It also helps people to understand that life is not condensable, that any model is an operational simplification (a working hypothesis) always ready for and in need of improvement. When we accept that there are neither shortcuts nor many "hard" facts, we will see how communication functions as a connective tool through which we can and must share experience, invention, cooperation, and coordination.
When people speak from and listen with their hearts, they unite and produce tremendous power to invent new realities and bring them fruition through collective actions. While today's environmental users with narrow, special interests will not be around by the end of this century, all of the environmental necessities will be, and that makes "trusteeship," critically important.
Remember, to protect the best of what we have in the present for the present and the future, we must all continually change our thinking and our behavior to some extent. Society's saving grace is that we all have a choice. Accordingly, whatever needs to be done can be—if enough people want it to be done and decide to do it, and that, too, resides in the realm of possibility based on choice.
Note: I have posted a similar piece, but one referring specifically to forests in the United States, on my Forestry page, under Forest Trusteeship.
To leave the world a bit better... To know even life has breathed easier because you have lived... This is to have succeeded. — Ralph Waldo Emerson
The western tanager is a US Fish and Wildlife Service photograph taken many years ago by my departed colleague, Jay Gashwiler.
©Chris Maser 2006. All rights reserved.