Earth Elders: An Invitation

by Fred Lanphear

Although recently diagnosed with ALS, I do not fear my impending mortality, but I do fear for the fate of our home, Planet Earth, and for future generations whose lives will be impacted by the consequences of climate change, species destruction, and the general decline of the health of the planet. I ask myself, what can I do? It is out of my hands. This is an issue that the next generation must address.

To the contrary, our generation has been a major contributor to the actions that are compromising the health of the planet and we must be accountable and do all that we can to correct the disastrous trajectory we are on. As an elder, who has 70+ years of experience and observation, I have a unique perspective to share with my peers and more importantly, with the generations that will follow me. I have decided to take on the mantle of Earth Elder, one who speaks and cares for Earth and future generations.

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In my lifetime, science has begun unraveling the amazing story of the universe. We now know that it began about 13.7 billion years ago and that it is still expanding, evolving, and that as a species, humans have become a major force in the unfolding process. The impact of population and technology are critical factors in this phenomenon. This story has changed my reality, or my perception of the way life is.

Many of my earlier assumptions have been challenged and radically changed. In the past I arrogantly believed that science and technology would ultimately provide solutions to all our human needs. The focus on human needs without consideration for other species and our common habitats is the contradiction that we are finally recognizing. We are integrally connected and can no longer isolate or elevate ourselves apart from other life forms.

As an agricultural scientist I once contributed to the development and promotion of pesticides. Since discovering the consequences of continual use of pesticides, I have now dedicated my agricultural practices to being totally organic. I continue to discover that many practices that I considered sacrosanct are now of questionable value. It is particularly challenging to be faced with your past errors of judgment, but also freeing to be able to accept what has happened and take action to correct and/or change those practices. As Earth Elders, we can help others do the same.

With the new understanding of our interconnectedness with all things that has come from the prophetic voices of honorary Earth Elders Thomas Berry and Joanna Macy, I have come to recognize and renounce the anthropocentric bias that has dominated our economic, political, and cultural values and practices. The time has come to acknowledge our proper place in the universe. As a species we are the universe becoming conscious of itself and the sacred journey it has been on. With this new understanding of our integral relationship to all of our universal connections we must re-examine our ancient assumptions and change our ways of knowing, doing, and being. It is the great work that we have been called to perform.

As an Earth Elder, I invite you to join me and others who are learning, appropriating, and telling the great story of the Universe, who are facilitating celebrations of the evolutionary epic, who are mentoring others on the journey, and who are advocates for the care of the Earth.

  Fred Lanphear died on September 9, 2010, at the age of 74. "His life was a lesson in wisdom, generosity, and conscious wholeness," as Randy Morris, who dedicated the Fall 2011 issue of Itineraries to him. Fred worked for 20 years with the Institute of Cultural Affairs (an NGO), empowering villagers in remote African and Asian communities to participate in and direct their own development. On his return to the U.S. in 1989, he became president of the Northwest Institute of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine. He lived his remaining years with his wife, Nancy, at Songaia, a cohousing community in Bothell, WA, which he helped co-found. (See his commemorative web site.

One leaf left on a branch
and not a sound of sadness
or despair.  One leaf left
on a branch and no unhappiness.
One leaf left all by itself
in the air and it does not speak
of loneliness or death.
One leaf and it spends itself
in swaying mildly in the breeze.

David Ignatow