At the inaugral Architects Declare Conference, where architects gathered to be inspired and to inspire each other on their collaborative journey to help avert the Climate Crisis, author Jeremy Lent illustrated his observation around an underlying pattern that The West is largely responsible for the devastating destruction of indigenous cultures around the world and our current global rush towards possible climate catastrophe.
Lent used the example of two C15th explorers: Admiral Zheng and Christopher Columbus.
Admiral Zheng, a Chinese sailor who commanded 317 ships and 27,000 men and over a period of 30 years sailed around much of Indonesia and the Indian Ocean. In the many places he visited (India, Africa, the Arabian Gulf and Indonesia) Zheng sought to establish trading partners, invited emissaries to return to China and through diplomacy, created a successful network of collaborators who all benefited from mutual trading arrangements.
Compare this with the way in which Christopher Columbus. Who sailed 3 ships, a 10th of the size of Admiral Zheng, to discover the New World with only 70 men. On meeting the indigenous peoples he reported back to his sponsors in Spain (I am paraphrasing) ‘They are friendly and will give you anything you ask, they would make great servants or slaves back in Castile, with a limited force of 50 people we could take over and run the place’. Hmm, sounds like a slightly different attitude.
But what has this got to do with Climate Change? Well, the western Christian philosophy as evidenced by Columbus regards man in a position of duality, separate from the cosmos and god, separate from nature and as a result of the separation, able to regard the other as something to be conquered, or exploited to his own end. Zheng on the other hand represented the Chinese philosophy of the time, that considered the world as a harmonic web of life, including man, where balance wasto be restored.
Over time, the western attitude has become the dominant position, so no wonder we are in the state that we are in regards biodiversity challenges and climate chaos. Despite this, Jeremy Lent is optimistic. World views change (although not always for the better as the Chinese position since the cultural revolution demonstrates) and as a result of the narratives that inform our culture and the values which result, it is not unimaginable that we might start to consider ourselves a part of the interconnectedness of life, nature and everything else helping us to move from a wealth based paradigm to one based upon life. Let’s hope so!