The Nature of Things

Notes of a planet watcher



                owlTUCSON (A-P) — Some humans have an interest in the nature of things—in life, the universe and everything. Some share that interest. David Suzuki is one. He was a scientist with a special interest in genetics (fruit flies) but the use to which science and technology was being put, and his involvement, was problematic. If doing science was contributing to the trajectory of the modern growth culture and its consumption of the planet, science remained the best tool for understanding the issues. Through understanding there is the possibility of being delivered from our trajectory (Plan A).

He was an early adapter to the medium of radio and TV, using it, as Carl Sagan and others would, to share his love of understanding the what-is. The Nature of Things is a Canadian television series of documentary programs that debuted in 1960. The series documented nature and the effect that humans have on it. The program was one of the first mainstream programs to present scientific evidence as it relates to environmental issues.

Suzuki started with a TV show for children, Suzuki on Science, in 1971. He originated a popular CBC (Canadian) Radio series, Quirks and Quarks in 1974 and hosted it until 1979 when he became host of The Nature of Thing. He became the first and only scientist to host a science documentary series on mainstream media, which he did for over 30 years. In 1989 he hosted the five-part radio series It's a Matter of Survival, and it is. He was also host of the eight-part A Planet For The Taking on CBC-TV which also aired on PBS. His TV series for the BBC and PBS, The Secret of Life, was internationally praised, as was his five-part series The Brain, on the U.S. Discovery Channel. His most recent radio endeavor was the eight-part series, From Naked Ape to Superspecies, on CBC Radio, and released in book form. His honorary degrees exceed two dozen, so it's not like those who know stuff think he doesn't.

While making his It's a Matter of Survival series in 1988 he interviewed "more than 150 scientists and experts from around the world [who] made it clear that humans were destroying the very life-support systems of the planet on a grand scale, at an alarming rate." Over 16,000 listeners wrote letters (pre-email) asking what they could do to turn things around before it was too late. He could only say, sorry, “I’m just the messenger,” and did, but Tara, his wife, said that wasn’t good enough, that it was time to talk about what to do. They started the David Suzuki Foundation in 1990. For 26 years the Foundation has endeavored away, some progress made, but — "the pace of planetary destruction has not slowed" (per email he sent on his 80th birthday, March 24, 2016).

David's message, that we are collectively heading full speed ahead toward a wall, is common knowledge among many scientists and students of science, especially among those who are biologically literate, having an interest in Earth's systems science. A 50:50 chance of extinction in the 21st century is not unthinkable . David's message does not sell well, however, in the oversold society of consumers without borders. It is not possible to inquire into the nature of things without thinking things that others will parse into political terms. This allows them to reject anything claimed, no matter how evidence-based, as political opinions are firmly held beliefs that demand respect and to which everyone is entitled. If claims that are based merely on reason and evidence differ from one's political views, then one merely has to see the claims as politically motivated to dismiss them as false because you firmly believe them to be false. “People would rather believe than know.” ― E.O. Wilson

If Suzuki (or any scientist) suggests that global warming is anthropogenic and that there will be adverse consequences (with the implication that action be taken), well, they are making a politically motivated claim and since their politics are wrong, committed political animals who disagree feel free to differ. Questioning growth for its own sake (and unearned mega profit for some) is an order of magnitude greater offense than claiming business-as-usual has something to do with global warming, so Suzuki (Mr. Science) is not universally admired by the 7 billion growthers on the planet. To speak of "environmental issues," or more recently "sustainability issues," is to be viewed by the majority as having a political bias or agenda that can be dismissed at will. Many, perhaps most of those who don't dismiss, do so per ideological inclination because they align themselves with the "other side" and not out of a science-based grasp of the issues.

The problem is that there are always issues (environmental, sustainability, fairness) and none are political in nature, none have anything to do with political ideology or ideologues that solemnly pretend to have "solutions." Of course every issue is parsed into political speak by most people, for or against, which helps to account for our collective fragile grasp of reality, our agnotology. Consider the possibility that political and other forms of ideological thinking are cognitive pathologies. For a better understanding of environmental issues (or any issues?), try science. New laws and policies are always needed, or in need of tweaking, but they need to be built on data, not politics, to maybe 'work' or be real solutions. The skill set needed to interpret data and aquire it is science. Suzuki thinks science matters. Those parsing every issue into a political issue means science doesn't matter to them, whether supporters or detractors, who go with the science only if it happens to support their conclusions, which amounts to a pervasive anti-intellectualism.

Force of Nature: The David Suzuki Movie won the People's Choice Documentary Award in 2010. Force of Nature looks at the events that shaped David Suzuki's life and career. The film weaves together scenes from the places and events that shaped Suzuki's life with a filming of his 'Last Lecture', which he describes as "a distillation of my life and thoughts, my legacy, what I want to say before I die."

We collectively would do well to hear what he has to say, but it seems to be the nature of things that humans don't want to be told what they don't want to hear. Most of those who do hear seem to use slight-of-mind tricks to not see the implications for life as they know it. Nothing, in the long run, may be more important than hearing what we don't want to hear and thinking what we don't want to think.

In terms of what humans need to consider, his A Planet for the Taking, in 1985, was a 2x4 up against our thick blindered heads, an attempt to get public attention focused on matters that should be of interest to a species wishing to thrive in the long-run (not to mention survive). The series is arguably more important for our species to consider than any series ever produced. It begins:

"This is the first of a special series of eight programs that examines our attitudes to nature and asks questions about the impact of our science and technology on both ourselves and the world we live in. We share this planet with the creatures of the water, of the land, and of the air. We share a common origin, and a common living space. But one species has overwhelmed the earth—the human species. How have we come to see everything on the planet as a potential means to our own ends? What makes us want to tame nature or turn it into a circus? Why do we feel the need to keep testing our mastery, or to ritualize our fear of one of the few things still beyond our control—our mortality? Each of the world's religions tries to extend human life beyond the earth—life after death, and every culture has its own way of wishing long life to each new arrival. But a technological culture does more than wish. It monitors and manipulates, creates special environments which shapes everything—assuming a man made world will answer all our needs. But what if it won't? This is the world we dominate, a world increasingly of our own making. When our species appeared some 50 thousand years ago, we lived in small bands of hunters and gatherers, and our impact on the environment was insignificant. Now [1985] we number 5 billion, and with our powerful science and technology we are dramatically changing the face of the planet, and along with it we are changing ourselves. And that's what this series is about. It's about changing directions, asking questions about ourselves and our place in nature. How our perceptions are shaped, how they are changing, and how they will have to change if we and the rest of life on Earth are to survive." [emphasis added]

Youtube offers much. A sex ed documentary gets over 45 million views with How to Have Sex in a Car meriting over 80 million views (Taylor Swift is better than sex at over 1 billion views). Of the 30 top most watched Youtube videos, with over 27 billion views, three are not music videos (e.g. Charlie bit my finger). Okay, so is there a point to consider? With Rome it came down to bread and circuses, but for us it will be so totally different, you know, like, it'll be gasoline and music videos.

Suzuki's A Planet for the Taking averaged more than 1.8 million viewers per episode and earned him a United Nations Environment Programme Medal. His message: "We have both a sense of the importance of the wilderness and space in our culture and an attitude that it is limitless and therefore we needn't worry." He called for a major "perceptual shift" in our relationship with nature. A Planet for the Taking, with episodes 4 and 8 (the last) missing is on Youtube and the first episode has had over 400 views with over 100 people making it to the second to the last one. The two missing episodes are apparently unavailable. Good luck finding them elsewhere (they're not even on Netflix, Amazon Video, bittorrent, private trackers, public FTP sites, file shares, Usenet, eBay...). No transcripts are available. One can but wonder what Suzuki had to say that was of such disinterest (I don't recall).

The David Suzuki movie, Force of Nature, is on Pirate Bay with one seeder and no downloaders (it's not even on Netflix, Amazon Video....). When he signed on to do Force of Nature, he imagined an epic, eight-hour film with Avatar-like CGI to conjure up how humans live and could live in the ecosystems of the planet. "We are the environment," he says as science, our tribal ancestors, and today's first peoples agree. What he hoped would be a James Cameron-like film that might make a difference, turned into just a recap of the inconvenient truths he (Mr. Science) has mentioned before to standing ovations that amount to nothing insofar as our "changing directions" or living as "if we and the rest of life on Earth are to survive"

The focus was too much on him and not what his finger has been pointing to. It's an old story. Someone is enthusiastically pointing, "Look, look! it's a finger pointing at the moon!" The evidence is that while many people, especially in Canada where he is an icon and household name (voted 5th greatest Canadian ever) admire him, they admire the icon, his impressive curriculum vitae, the way he speaks, but not so much the implications of what he says. Even those who have read his 52 books, like moths to a light, have difficulty transitioning to the no-bright-lights world to come. Such is the nature of things.

The following excerpt, for those who don't torrent, is his last lecture to the world, the things he wanted to say before he died, as clipped from the film, Force of Nature.


So, best guess: over 7 billion of Earth's 7.4 billion humans are moth-like growthers (perfectly normal imperfect humans) who will continue to swam any detectable light until only Sun, Moon and stars remain to shine upon an Earth that has been all used up. Virtually the only humans having a "we are the environment" culture are those currently clinging to their vestigial pre-growther indigenous cultures. They will be at the forefront of the transition to come, not the upper-middle class, educated, environmentally sensitive consumers without borders who support the idea of transitioning (resiliently of course) and are enthusiastically ready to be oversold on sustainable development, services, and products. Giving Suzuki a standing ovation or reading his books is not enough.

mothsTo repeat, perhaps more loudly, for clarity, "So you think humans are like moths?" Yes: They are natural, normal animals—both. I am absolutely, unequivocally saying that we human animals should consider becoming unnatural and abnormal in living our lives. Unlike moths and other animals, we have the potential to do so. Flying into the light may feel good but involve existential concerns assuming a bit of 'foresight intelligence' (unnatural) is used. Central to the 'ecolate view' or systems science view, is 'to think it through', to ask 'and then what?'

It is as absolutely natural to exploit opportunistic resources, pulsing even unto overshoot and collapse (or extinction), as it is for moths to be attracted to bright lights. Moths, lacking prior evolutionary experience with artificial lights, keep flying around and around, bashing themselves into them unto death. Doing so is perfectly natural and normal for moths. One can imagine a thoughtful moth asking why they were bashing themselves into a hot glowing piece of glass unto death. Her friends would say, "because it feels good." Human drug users give the same answer. Some 80% of Americans can no longer see the Milkway at night from where they live due to the always on glow and only 1% live in areas without light pollution.

Human power-and-speed addicts also think that consuming the vat of planetary fossil fuels feels good (and it does), and if it feels good, that they should do it. Again, perfectly natural and normal. In industrial areas cars are the leading cause of death for humans over three years of age (direct cause for aged 3 to 34 and indirect for those older secondary to activity intolerance). In the US cars kill over 300 million vertebrates and over 30 trillion invertebrates each year and more humans than guns or all forms of violence, including legal, combined (excluding suicide).

A human who rides a solar bicycle across the USA, packs it up for shipping and flies home, who takes over a dozen products she has been paid to promote (such as a blender, personal care products, clothing, dietary supplements, $1,200 worth of unneeded electronic gadgets, proprietary solar panel) is normal. To pedal a bit over 4 hours a day averaging 17 mph to go from hotel to motel to bed & breakfast while eating in restaurants to promote "health" and "alternative energy" as a "sustainability advocate" is to be perfectly normal and universally admired for the way she flies into the light. E-bikes are starting to look like a new growth industry and the moths are gathering.

The best of all possible worlds to come may be a fusion of science and indigenous peoples who have retained some connectivity with nature and ability to live in it. Native land huggers provide the love of this Earth and the things of it; science provides the understanding. Human exceptionalism is a core growther value. The history of science has been an unfolding of the realization that humans are not the center about which the universe spins nor even exempt from nature or natural laws (nor protected by supernatural entities). We are star stuff powered by a nearby star living in a thin film.

First Peoples also have the potential to be attracted to artificial lights. The cultural values needed to live in nature and with nature has been evolved into those who were not able to dominate nature. We, who for a time (~300 years) have had dominion, need to adopt adaptive values our pre-growther ancestors learned the hard way and today's First Peoples can help teach us. This does not imply an uncritical endeavor to "go native." Tribal cultures have much to learn as well. For example, they demand Kennewich Man's 9,000 year old remains be given a tribal burial based solely on a deeply held belief that he is one of them. Belief-based thinking is native to primary cultures too, and is a cognitive malfunction.

Posterity would do well to value all cultures, not merely the one they were born into, and embrace what is best in each. Science is needed for sanity, not because it is said to be but because its value is demonstrative. The First Peoples' connection to nature is the needed antidote to exceptionalism. All cultures that have been subsumed by the growth culture can recover and share what is best in them that remains. Individuals must be free to learn what is true, good, and beautiful through inquiry without being told. Telling (or "teaching") children what to think, value, or how to live needs to be seen as abuse by those who were themselves similarly abused.

"It doesn't give me any satisfaction to think that my concerns will be validated by my grandchildren's generation. I would love to be wrong in everything. My grandchildren are my stake in the near future, and it's my great hope that they might one day say, 'Grandpa was part of a great movement that helped to turn things around.'" — David Suzuki

I would say the same, dittohead that I am, though my "great hope" would differ. His is a possible future but it may not the most likely. I can envision my grandchildren saying many things, but none are likely to think of a great movement that turned things around because I see no evidence and have no reason to think things will (probably) be turned around before the wall cometh. The worm may turn, but humans will most likely do what they have done before. We could have hit the brakes before hitting the wall (maybe if we had slammed them on in the 1970s), but no past empire has. Even now we could slam on the brakes to not hit the wall quite so hard, but why should we be different? A prosperous descent is obtainable for the price of an effort informed by love and understanding as alternative to chaotic collapse.

Denial reigns. Still, post-peak, when humanity is looking over the precipice, with an increasing number of the intelligentsia realizing that the chaos about them is closing in, that the dominant narrative of "growth is good" is no longer believable, then perhaps, if they remember that those who could think more than a decade ahead had told them so, perhaps they and their public will have a teachable moment. Perhaps those in a position to say, "we told you so", will have prepared a credible alternative based on system laws and biophysical reality. An Ecolate Party self-organizes with one mandate: to vote in enough candidates to end the Business-as-usual Party in all countries and replace all parties, countries, and humanocentric laws with a Federation of Watersheds obedient to the Nature of things, to natural laws.

It is entirely possible to imagine that among all past empires, among the Egyptian, Indus Valley Civilization, Hittite, Canaan, Minoan, Mycenaean, Macedon, Cimmerian, Assyrian, Chaldea, Babylonian, Scythian, Sumerian, Akkadian, Achaemenid, Elam, Median, Zapotec, Lydian, Aramean, Seleucid, Parthian, Sassanid, Shang, Chou, Umayyad, Carthage, Abbasid, Greco-Roman, Median, Medes, Harrapan, Mauryan, Gupta, Khmer, Jōmon, Zhou, Han, Tang, Song, Chavín, Nazca, Quimbaya, Moche, Olmecs, Tiwanaku, Mayan, Wari, Teotihuacan, Monte Alban, Great Zimbabwe, Rapa Nui (Easter Island), Pitcairn Island, Cahokia, Tairona, Pueblo (Anasazi), Hohokam, Mogollon, Patayan, Fremont, Sinaqua, Paquimé, Mimbres, Pueblo Grande de Nevada, Tang, Srivijaya, Cara, Rashidun, Norse Colony (Greenland), et al. and unknown empires/chiefdoms large and small, that there were some who foresaw things to come and attempted to alter course. In all cases those with a vested interest in "staying the course" did so. For the most part there is no evidence of a learning curve (possible exception, precolonial Tikopia and perhaps traditional Hopi.) The only clear evidence of a learning curve are the Kogi, our Elder Brothers, a functioning remanent of the Pre-Columbian Tairona civilization. The current Euro-Sino Empire is likely to repeat the damn-the-learning-curve, full speed ahead pattern, but no biophysical laws would be violated it foresight intelligence were to prevail.

The difference this time is that the empire is global. We may think that we, like some corporations, are "too big to fail," but other bubbles have been rudely burst as history and pre-history has repeatedly shown. That a few humans may seek to avoid repeating the pattern has so far proved irrelevant.

Our best hope to avoid repeating the pattern of raise and fall (Plan B) is to be ready to install a different operating system after the blue screen appears. Develop the OS now ("information package") and expect that when there is no course to stay and growther promises are so obviously false that even the avidly oversold can't buy into them, that those grandchildren still living will have a teachable moment and be willing to upload new memes. Would a Federation OS be sellable now? No. Inconcivable. Most humans will continue to use Windows. Trying to sell Linux Mint for free won't work. But when Windows comes up with a blue screen saying, "Please transfer $1,433,666 to Microsoft Corp. payable in bitcoin. Press any key to continue," then an alternative OS might be sellable to the 99%.

What prevents humans from transitioning to sustainable prosperity is the default believing-mind operating system. Alternative is the inquiring-mind OS. Humans are not born with belief systems, either of a political or religious nature. An ideological world (alas, there are many competing ones, e.g. ISIS) is a dysfunctional alternative to the real one, aka Nature. Living a connected, loving life is possible. Understanding the world is a loving act. To boil it down: love and understanding are the core values. The endeavor to understand what-is (science/scholarship) is alternative to ideological conceptologies (belief systems). The transition involves freeing inculcated minds and not imposing conclusions, especially firmly held ones, on children. There is a pervasive need for belief therapy. Believer heal thyself.

So my hope is not that I will be remembered for my part in the great movement that turned things around to avert catastrophe. Next best would be a descendant (memetic or genetic in 10-50 years) who is sitting with friends by a wall providing shade on a planet that had been taken and used up, and somebody wonders why their grandparents couldn't have seen what was coming and done something? One guy, who typically rarely spoke, says, "Well, my grandpa did. I went to Big City last year and went to the library which still has the internet thing. I used the Wayback Machine and found his web sites. If I could go back and tell him what happened, he wouldn't be surprised. He linked to many others who wouldn't be either. I saw one dude lecturing thousands about what was coming down and what needed to be done, and thousands gave him a standing ovation. Some of them could've been your grandparents or they must have heard what the others were saying. So they knew or could easily have known, but they did nothing. They cared more about things than about us. I'm thinking we should be different, that we shouldn't do as they did or live as they lived. This time we'll march to a different drummer. I've been reading and I've decided to start a new world order. I'm calling it the Federation. You can't join, but you can be Federation, and here's how....."

Unfortunately, evidence is that most humans are incapable of accepting limits, much less embracing them, at least not before hitting the wall of biophysical limits. They are programmed, along with all other lifeforms, to embrace growth. That doing so may have a bad outcome, including species extinction, is irrelevant. Humans as social animals collectively have brains predisposed to think in terms of rights and obligations—what one is permitted, obligated, or forbidden to do, which leads to a violation-detection strategy: people look for cheaters or rule-breakers and support the default norms. Such deontic thinking focuses on norms in terms of for or against which are neither "true" nor "false" in terms of how science parses the words. Normal humans are thus "political animals."

When reasoning about the true/false status of claims about the world, normal people spontaneously adopt a confirmation-seeking strategy. Beliefs as conclusions come first and are selected on the basis of what feels good. The guiding dictum is, "If it feels good, believe it." Only confirming evidence is cited and reason is used to support the conclusion. Those with extremely high IQs, though delusional or perhaps because delusional, are especially adept and valued. Normal humans are thus "true believers."

Science does not wallow in either mode of thinking, though on occasion all scientists, qua humans, do. Science matters because it alone allows humans to understand limits and embrace them. Most humans may not be able to understand limits (e.g. the exponential function). They literally may not have the capacity for it no matter how high their IQ. Some political animals with near off-the-scale IQs may embrace the concept of limits to growth or consuming less, but remain political animals unable to see the (negative) implications. They may be sold on the idea that growth is unsustainable, that being a "growthbuster" is both thinkable and good (superior), but they still feel compelled to avoid "negative" thinking about limits such that "transitioning" to sustainability can only be envisioned as "preserving or enhancing" their quality of life. In the normal public universe of discourse, a marketplace, only positive visions sell. Only appealing products sell and overselling sells more/better. Normal humans are thus "acquisitive consumers."

In the current scheme of things (the human old world order), being none of the above — not being a politico-believer-consumer, means three strikes and you're out. The endeavor to find things out, however, is best done by not being normal. Survival may be a matter of science becoming de-marginalized.

Contrary evidence, disconfirming to above, is imaginable, even if non-existent. Reverend Billy & The Stop Shopping Choir have been very effective in getting their message out there. Millions have heard and been entertained. Some resonate with the message and loudly declare their support, even donate money or at least buy his books. But without a choir, strong activist community support, a website, money or talent, what could Reverend Billy do? What if all he could do was walk the streets and pretend he had a soapbox? Likely all he could expect would be a 72-hour psych-hold at tax-payer expense. Still, he has thousands of avid supporters. The research question for the grad student is: Do those who most ardently agree with his stop shopping message actually shop less? Is it possible, using the finest honed research techniques available, to detect a difference in behavior between the militant non-shoppers and a control group of equally committed consumers? Inquiring minds want to know.

To beat the Ruskies in a space race, Americans got all pro-science, still appreciate it " for the milk and cheese and profit it brings" them, but in vast numbers growthers remain committed anti-intellectuals suspicious of and ignorant of that science thing that is currently not a cultural norm. Science as a way of knowing remains marginalized but still tolerated as long as it keeps the prestige and profits coming. This could be a cultural thing and not a human genome thing. The only chance we may have of selling limits (reality) is to await a "teachable moment" when most humans will be open to embracing limits as alternative to unimaginable horror or pending extinction. They may then allow a new OS, Humanity 2.0, to be installed, as a memetic transition, which would become the new norm. A global management system for the planetary commons (a naturoarchy) would depend on specially trained humans to make it functional by focusing on doing good science, on telling the most likely stories to provide the firmest grasp of reality possible.

Imagine Suzuki on Easter Island during the height of the monument building. He's walking about among all the prosperous people and asks, "So when the last palm tree is cut down, then what?" The island is run by political/religious animals, true believers and acquisitive consumers committed to "staying the course," to continued "business-as-usual." A few people listen to Suzuki, agree, may form small groups eager to hear and applaud him, but they can't bring themselves to effectively oppose the greater powers that be. Some may have organized protests, started a Palm Preservation Movement, and maybe a Palm Preservation Park was created (for recreational use). But.... neither archaeological nor historical evidence survived to suggest Suzuki, or one like him, existed. But it verges on the inconceivable that no one saw the last palm tree being cut down and failed to see where "progress," business-as-usual, was heading. That no one survived who could read the rongorongo script may be viewed as a bad outcome, a far greater loss than if all 887 statues had been reduced to coarse sand by the survivors in protest.

Science literacy isn’t just how much you know, but how much your brain is wired for thought. If science had been taught that way, I’m pretty sure you couldn’t, as an adult, cherry pick scientific results according to your political, cultural, religious, economic, or social philosophies, because you won’t see it as a body of information that you’ve attached yourself to. You’ll see it as a way of thinking. — Neil deGrasse Tyson

We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them. — A. Einstein

The people of Easter Island disappeared, leaving only their monuments as an example to the world of what happens when culture cannot downsize to fit its environmental production. — Howard T. Odum


A David Suzuki Reader:

david suzukiIf we want to address global warming, along with the other environmental problems associated with our continued rush to burn our precious fossil fuels as quickly as possible, we must learn to use our resources more wisely, kick our addiction, and quickly start turning to sources of energy that have fewer negative impacts.

We have much to learn by studying nature and taking the time to tease out its secrets.

An educational system isn’t worth a great deal if it teaches young people how to make a living but doesn’t teach them how to make a life.

My parents survived the Great Depression and brought me up to live within my means, save some for tomorrow, share and don't be greedy, work hard for the necessities in life knowing that money does not make you better or more important than anyone else. So, extravagance has been bred out of my DNA.

Education has failed in a very serious way to convey the most important lesson science can teach: skepticism.

The medical literature tells us that the most effective ways to reduce the risk of heart disease, cancer, stroke, diabetes, Alzheimer's, and many more problems are through healthy diet and exercise. Our bodies have evolved to move, yet we now use the energy in oil instead of muscles to do our work.

The human brain now holds the key to our future. We have to recall the image of the planet from outer space: a single entity in which air, water, and continents are interconnected. That is our home.

Just as fossil fuels from conventional sources are finite and are becoming depleted, those from difficult sources will also run out. If we put all our energy and resources into continued fossil fuel extraction, we will have lost an opportunity to have invested in renewable energy.

If we pollute the air, water and soil that keep us alive and well, and destroy the biodiversity that allows natural systems to function, no amount of money will save us.

We can't blame children for occupying themselves with Facebook rather than playing in the mud. Our society doesn't put a priority on connecting with nature. In fact, too often we tell them it's dirty and dangerous.

Rapid population growth and technological innovation, combined with our lack of understanding about how the natural systems of which we are a part work, have created a mess.

I can't imagine anything more important than air, water, soil, energy and biodiversity. These are the things that keep us alive.

We must reinvent a future free of blinders so that we can choose from real options.

The voluntary approach to corporate social responsibility has failed in many cases.

We need love, and to ensure love, we need to have full employment, and we need social justice. We need gender equity. We need freedom from hunger. These are our most fundamental needs as social creatures.

Some argue we should get coal, oil and gas out of the ground as quickly as possible, build more pipelines and make as much money as we can selling it here and abroad. Their priorities are the economy and meeting short-term energy needs so we can live the lives to which we've become accustomed.

Over and over, we hear politicians say they can't spend our tax dollars on environmental protection when the economy is so fragile.

Now there are some things in the world we can’t change – gravity, entropy, the speed of light, the first and second Laws of Thermodynamics, and our biological nature that requires clean air, clean water, clean soil, clean energy and biodiversity for our health and well being. Protecting the biosphere should be our highest priority or else we sicken and die. Other things, like capitalism, free enterprise, the economy, currency, the market, are not forces of nature, we invented them. They are not immutable and we can change them. It makes no sense to elevate economics above the geobiosphere, for example.

Ecology is the study of home, while economics is its management. Ecologists try to define the conditions and principles that enable a species to survive and flourish. Yet in elevating the economy above those principles, we seem to think we are immune to the laws of nature. We have to put the ‘eco’ back into economics.

Human use of fossil fuels is altering the chemistry of the atmosphere; oceans are polluted and depleted of fish; 80 per cent of Earth’s forests are heavily impacted or gone yet their destruction continues. An estimated 50,000 species are driven to extinction each year. We dump millions of tonnes of chemicals, most untested for their biological effects, and many highly toxic, into air, water and soil. We have created an ecological holocaust. Our very health and survival are at stake, yet we act as if we have plenty of time to respond.

People…especially people in positions of power…have invested a tremendous amount of effort and time to get to where they are. They really don’t want to hear that we’re on the wrong path, that we’ve got to shift gears and start thinking differently.

The environment is so fundamental to our continued existence that it must transcend politics and become a central value of all members of society.

The way we’ve set up corporations, even a majority vote of stockholders cannot demand that a corporation’s policies reflect the public good or preserve the environment for future use. That’s because profit is the one and only motive. It’s up to government and it’s up to people to protect the public interest. Corporations are simply not allowed to.

Human beings are often at their best when responding to immediate crises — car accidents, house fires, hurricanes. We are less effective in the face of enormous but slow-moving crises such as the loss of biodiversity or climate change. When the crisis is environmental and global.

Benjamin Franklin, said: “Money never made a man happy yet, nor will it. There is nothing in its nature to produce happiness. The more a man has, the more he wants. Instead of filling a vacuum, it makes one.” 

Corporations easily bully governments by threatening to deprive even democratic nations of their wealth. If we try too hard to control them, they say they’ll leave and take their jobs with them.

A balance between sustainable ecology and sustainable human life, on the one hand, and the unfettered drive for profit, on the other, is just an oxymoron.

The economy — and the need to keep it strong and growing — has somehow become the most important aspect of modern life. Nothing else is allowed to rank higher. The economy is suffering; the economy is improving; the economy is stable or unstable — you’d think it was a patient on life support in an intensive-care unit from the way we anxiously await the next pronouncement on its health. But what we call the economy is nothing more than people producing, consuming and exchanging things and services.

The media have indeed informed the public about threats to our air, water and food. Ever since 1962, when Rachel Carson published Silent Spring, more and more information has been made available. And the public has responded. About fifteen years ago, public interest in the environment reached its height. In 1988, George Bush Senior promised that, if elected, he would be an environmental president. In the same year, Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney was re-elected, and to indicate his ecological concern he moved the minister of the environment into the inner Cabinet. Newly created environment departments around the world were poised to cut back on fossil-fuel use, monitor the effects of acid rain and other pollutants, clean up toxic wastes, and protect plant and animal species. Information about our troubled environment had reached a large number of people, and that information, as expected, led to civic and political action. In 1992, it all reached its apex as the largest-ever gathering of heads of state in human history met at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro. “Sustainable development” was the rallying cry, and politicians and business leaders promised to take a new path. Henceforth, they said, the environment would be weighed in every political, social and economic decision. Yet only two weeks after all the fine statements of purpose and government commitments were signed in Rio, the Group of Seven industrialized nations met in Munich and not a word was mentioned about the environment. The main topic was the global economy. The environment, it was said, had fallen off the list of public concerns, and environmentalism had been relegated to the status of a transitory fad.

At first you are awed by the splendour, by the beauty, of the planet and then you look down and you realize that this one planet is the only thing we have. Every time the sun comes up and goes down… and for us that’s sixteen times a day… you see a thin, thin, thin layer just above the surface, maybe 10 or 12 kilometres thick. That is the atmosphere of the Earth. That is it. Below that is life. Above it is nothing. — Julie Payette, Canadian astronaut, as quoted by David.

If we humans are good at anything, it’s thinking we’ve got a terrific idea and going for it without acknowledging the potential consequences or our own ignorance.

Every breath is a sacrament, an affirmation of our connection with all other living things, a renewal of our link with our ancestors and a contribution to generations yet to come. Our breath is a part of life's breath, the ocean of air that envelopes the earth.

I see a world in the future in which we understand that all life is related to us and we treat that life with great humility and respect. I see us as well as social creatures, and when I began to look back and say, ‘what is the fundamental bottom line for us as social creatures?’I couldn’t believe it because it seemed so hippy dippy, but it was Love. Love is the force that makes us fully human.

Conventional economics is a form of brain damage. Economics is so fundamentally disconnected from the real world, it is destructive.

How you imagine the world determines how you live in it.

The question is whether we're going to start taking the steps now to avoid the really big jumps that are in store if we don't do something now.

I  once asked the great ecologist E.O. Wilson how many people the planet could sustain indefinitely. He responded, "If you want to live like North Americans, 200 million." [Achieveable via a 97% depopulation.]



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