Community Coalition Against Mining Uranium (CCAMU)
Inquiry on the Impacts of the Uranium Cycle
by Andy Fisher, PhD
My name is Andy Fisher. My wife, Jill Dunkley, and I live in the community of Brooke, just to the east of here. I’m grateful for the opportunity to share some words with you today.|
I want to speak here as a theorist in the field of eco-psychology—a field which studies the relationship between the human soul and the soul of the more-than-human natural world. Ecopsychology, as I conceive it, is a psychological movement aimed at building an ecological society: a society that lives within its ecological limits and that cares for the flourishing of all life, both human and other-than-human. As a movement, ecopsychology therefore asks: what kind of psychology governs our current ecologically-destructive society and, correspondingly, what kind of psychology might govern an ecological society?
These are big questions, but I hope to demonstrate briefly how the answers we give to them bear on the issue of uranium mining and the nuclear industries.
There are many traditions or schools of thought we could draw on in considering the psychological character of our society, but I am going to turn to some Buddhist psychology here—because I find that simple Buddhist ideas quickly offer a great deal of insight. Buddhism holds that humans tend to be self-centred, which means that they are prone to greed, hatred, and delusion or ignorance. I hardly need to say that we see the effects of this everywhere in our world today. Buddhist practice, then, is based on converting these three poisonous qualities into their opposites: greed into generosity, hatred into compassion, and delusion and ignorance into wisdom. These virtuous qualities—generosity, compassion, and wisdom—are said to define our true nature as human beings; but they are realized most fully only through a process of psychological and spiritual development or maturation.
What this simple Buddhist framework helps us see is that our existing society has developed institutions based largely on the qualities of greed, hatred, and delusion—qualities of the immature mind. The structures of capitalism, for example, effectively institutionalize greed as a moral good, and engender hatred of all that stands in the way of profit-making. Our governments operate, moreover, in profound ignorance of the basic ecological principle of the interdependence of all life, and pay little heed to the limits that this principle imposes on us if we are to spare the earth from destruction. In a word, then, we live in an ecologically immature society.
An ecological society, by contrast, would foster ecological maturity, and be governed by the qualities of generosity, compassion, and wisdom. These are qualities that have traditionally been most embodied by elders, for elders are the members of a society who have achieved the highest degree of maturity or ripeness as human beings. Another way to define an ecological society, then, is to say that it is one that listens to the counsel of its elders, and organizes its public affairs accordingly. It is of course hard to find genuine elders today, for the very reasons that I have been discussing. They do exist, however. And in considering such a grave matter as the disturbance and use of uranium, I feel they must be sought out and consulted.
So, who are the elders we can turn to here? I believe we will be hearing from Harold Perry in a moment.
Bob Lovelace, we all know, is in jail.
I would also like to mention the Buddhist scholar and activist Joanna Macy.
Macy has spent much of her adult life introducing what she calls deep-time practices. These are practices to help people see their lives in the context of a much larger time-frame than the one currently employed by our make-a-buck-quick society. By thinking in short time-frames, says Macy, our society has lost touch with “the company of our ancestors and the claims of our descendants.”
A narrow-minded society such as ours, with little wisdom or ability to delay gratification, also commits a terrible folly by digging up uranium. As part of her own deep-time practice, Macy therefore helped found the Nuclear Guardianship Project, a citizen group committed to keeping radioactive materials out of the biosphere. This Project advocates not only for the cessation of uranium mining, but also the creation of a body of citizens or guardians that would carefully monitor existing nuclear waste storage facilities in perpetuity, in order to protect present and future generations from harm.
Joanna Macy and other elders thus counsel us to leave the uranium in the ground, to let it sleep. At this point, we don’t really need the testimony of scientists—we need the wisdom of such elders. For the issue before us is less about the characteristics of atoms than it is about the character we share as a people.
I want to give the last word to one final elder, the Kentucky farmer Wendell Berry—by way of a poem he wrote in 1977. The poem is called “A Vision.”