Books / Environment / Inspiration

‘Believing Cassandra’, an excerpt on sustainability

I just cannot put off writing about this book any longer. It is just too good!

For more than a week now, I’ve been reading Alan Atkisson’s ‘Believing Cassandra’ (it’s the first in a trilogy. The second book is ‘The Sustainability Transformation’, which I’ve read and partly reviewed a few weeks ago in this post: Helping competitors for the greater good).

Who is Cassandra? In the Greek mythology, Cassandra was a beautiful woman whom Apollo (the son of Zeus) fell in love with. To seduce her, he gave her the gift of prophecy. Her fickleness prompted her to reject him, which made Apollo very spiteful. So, like all spurned Greek gods out for revenge, he cursed her. Cassandra will always foresee tragedies but no one will ever believe her. Cassandra, later, through her visions saw the destruction of Troy (remember the Trojan Horse?) but, no one believed her, and thus, that was the end of the story. In the book, the environmentalists are Cassandra, and now, we are not listening to Cassandra.

Image by Enokson via Flickr

Ever wonder why despite the warnings issued by scientists dating back to the 1970’s, we still continue with our business-as-usual growth spurt? Look at the increasing energy demand, increasing human populations, increasing carbon dioxide emissions, and I dare you to say that we are not in a growth spurt. And, to those of us who feel that we want to do something but are unwilling to sacrifice our luxuries that we now consider necessities (e.g. electronics, take-aways, our own personal cars), what can we do? Then, this is a must-read book for you.

Of course, this book has become a classic on sustainability. Sustainability consultants put this book on their shelves right beside James Lovelock’s ‘Gaia’ series and ‘The Limits to Growth’ among others.

Anyway, I’m now on Chapter 6: Armageddon, Utopia or Both?. I came across these few paragraphs, which talks about humanity and our growth in the World and our relationship with Nature. He describes the absurdity and complexity of the relationship in such short, sweet, and succinct passages. I just have to share them.

The following paragraphs are an excerpt from page 101 of Alan AtKisson’s latest edition of ‘Believing Cassandra’:

For the environmentalist, the challenge is to be pro-Nature without being anti-World. For the champion of ending poverty and injustice, the challenge is to love the poor and oppressed without hating the rich and powerful. It is possible to develop Gandhian compassion for people as they are, including people who seem to oppose your values, without indulging in self-righteousness.

If you want to change the World, you must first accept the fact that some aspects of human nature are fundamentally unchangeable – or at least, not changeable in time to create a massive cultural transformation that results in quasi-monastic, Nature-friendly, loving-kindness lifestyles worldwide. For now, we humans are restless, acquisitive, fearful, greedy and easily manipulated by promises of love, power and sex. We are desirous of comfort and luxury and prestige, and we occasionally kill each other. We have many more noble qualities besides, of course, and individuals vary widely in their level of depravity, from Mother Theresa to ___ (fill in the name of the person you think of as most symbolic of our least saintly qualities). But even the saints have shadows.

Here’s the bottom line: bemoaning humanity’s faults, or prophetically condemning our species to extinction because we are not picking up on Nature’s warning signs, will not save the World, or Nature, or you.

I think this is a great book. Personally, I think it calls out to me. His personal anecdotes of his experience in the States, Malaysia, and now, Sweden; his experience with the inspiring people he met; his songs. He’s just so real and so authentic in his compassion for Nature.

For now, this book is promising to be one of the greatest books I’ve read in months, if not, in my life. Will this be my vocation? Will this be yours? I don’t know. I just know that I really like reading this book!


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