The Map is Not the Territory

“[ …] take seriously the idea that what we do in our own lives is potent but only if what we do is radical in its simplicity and abundant in its real biological and communitarian productivity” ~ David Holmgren co-originator of Permaculture

All responses to the ecological crisis have value in ways that are not necessarily obvious.” ~ David Holmgren co-originator of Permaculture

“Ancient Map” by aopsan from
“Ancient Map” by aopsan from


Earlier this week and as part of a now closing MOOCs I was taking on Disaster Preparedness from the University of Pittsburgh, we are asked to analyze and assess our own response and thoughts to the decisions made by some doctors and nurses at the Memorial Medical Centre in New Orleans when Katrina hit in 2005. The tough, controversial decisions made by some of that Hospital staff showed what the course instructor repeated many times: disasters, by definition, overwhelm all systems in place. And this includes our own “rational and emotional” systems. And more importantly: one thing is “preparing” (the map) and another, very different, is the real thing (the territory)…you never really know how you’ll react, what decisions you’d make or how bad things will really hit until you ARE THERE.

The instructor, Michael Beach, Assistant Professor of University Pittsburgh School of Nursing, Acute Care Nurse Practitioner and responsible for the Trauma and Emergency Preparedness, shared with us many skills and resources, from the practical Disaster Plan to some useful survival skills; but the two most important things I got from this course where his emphasis in Awareness and Attitude.

Without them, Mr Beach said, nothing will save us…

As David Holmgren, co-originator or Permaculture said in today’s post, Shades of Green(Lifestyle) Awards Reflection, all shades of commitment may have value. But as he says in the same post, “what we do in our own lives is potent but only if what we do is radical in its simplicity and abundant in its real biological and communitarian productivity” (bold and italics are mine)…

Until now, some of us have “played” with small or big changes; from ditching paper napkins and “recyclable” tableware to embracing women cloth pads, all changes count. Some of us have explored potential community and outreach involvement to spread awareness in different ways, from teaching to building to actively protesting what’s wrong and unsuatainable…

But with the many things happening at once and from all corners, such as threats to our freedom of speech and activism from Bill C-51; CO2 levels eclipsing prehistoric highs; health cost burdening health care systems due to illnesses and conditions developed by consumption of chemicals present in foods; seabirds dying on our coasts;  sea lion pups stranded and dying; NASA warning of a Mega Drought looming and the announcements in raising food prices in 2015 (as a result of the already existent and pervasive droughts in California and the shift on BC’s farmers to grow for export instead of growing what we eat here)…I could go on forever: Bank of England warning about carbon bubbling since last year, NOAA announcing we will probably have an El Niño event this year which will make warming even worse and major surges are predicted (and for those now shaking of cold, remember that climate change impacts on the different regional climates in different ways, not necessarily making everything equally warm, and we have impacts such as a warming Arctic and Alaska while other regions suffer from freezing temperatures)

Tolling bells are everywhere, such as the severe drought hitting Brazil for three years in a row now as a result of the increasing cutting of the Amazonian rainforest for beef and soy production, among other things

Playing is the best way humans (and all animals) have to “prepare” for the real thing: children play roles and make believe to prepare for adulthood; pups do similar things when learning to hunt and survive on their own…

We now grow potatoes and lettuce in our balconies, backyards and community gardens, harvest rainwater, compost, bake, can and look for creative ways to reduce energy and stuff consumption while increasing our inner, family and community resilience…but for many of us, we are still playing: at least here in North America (and this applies to most middle classes around the world), taps still carry drinkable water; switches still bring up light, heat or air conditioner; supermarkets still carry lots food and household supplies; weather (with some exceptions) doesn’t kill people or life in mass; cars continue filling up the streets and highways; hospitals treat people; malls are visited everyday and government and NGOs are there to help those in need (with flaws and limitations)…

Most of all, we still have some sort of “peace” (hey, in certain parts of the world!) where life goes on and (most of the time and when you decide not to pay attention to news) things look like “business as usual”…yes, there are disruptions here and there, some huge, some small, but things go back to “normal” pretty soon.

We even have access to what John Michael Greer author calls “Peak Meaninglessness”: the numbing and distracting “entertainment” that leads us to think we have “progressed” because now we have lots of prosthesis at our reach to access and do things we used to do with our own healthy limbs and senses…

But if you intentionally pay attention, you’ll see things escalating: a slow-motion huge disaster in the making, like boiling a frog.

What could have prepared the doctors and nurses at Katrina’s Memorial Hospital? What could have saved the life of those patients who were put to die?  Better training in triage? Better support from the government and FEMA? Would they have survived the evacuation? What would have you done if in those doctors and nurses shoes?

You don’t really know. I don’t know either. None of us were there. The map is never the territory…but helps you to understand it better than facing it anew without any warning or planning.

Unlike those facing Katrina as well as those facing Sandy (who were encouraged to rebuild in the same zones where studies have already shown hurricanes will hit again); those of us who still have access to unsustainable systems and BAU may need to speed up and radicalize the engagement that leads to inner, household and community resilience and self-reliance…

Awareness and attitude, along with a well developed plan, more than the stuff you put on your bug-out or stay-and-survive kits, are the things that make a difference when disasters hit.

It’s time to stop playing and get serious.

Walking on the coast
Walking on beautiful Sunshine Coast, BC

Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot,
Nothing is going to get better. It’s not
.” ― Dr. Seuss, The Lorax

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