Activism’s Paradox Mountain

11-07-Bass450

Thinking about activism sometimes calls to mind the metaphor of climbing mountains, or even climbing one particular mountain, with repeated assaults on it so continuous and steadfast that, over the course of a career — if I may use that word to indicate not the trade of time and skill for money but, rather, surrendering the fat sweet middle of one’s life, the marrow years — the activist comes to learn intimately the essence and being of that mountain.

It comes to the point where a kind of clairvoyance is created, with every contour of the mountain so known to the climber that the shape of the climber’s brain begins to reflect the shape of the mountain. The mountain’s rhythms and pulses become the moods of the climber, and transfer to the climber a different sort of logic. By learning ever more about the systems, responses, and processes of that mountain, the activist comes to learn things of the mountain’s past, present, and future that could not be known otherwise, and for which no record or testimony might exist.

Like a hunter long familiar with his or her woods, who comes somehow to know where the quarry might be taking refuge, and who wanders a seemingly convoluted path that nonetheless eventually takes him or her to the exact place where hunter and quarry will intersect with such synchronicity that in retrospect the confluence will seem foreordained — the hunter sometimes even dreaming the night before of the manner and circumstances of the kill, so that the next day, or the next, it is not the dream that seems like life, but life that seems like the dream — the activist, too, can envision success, but simply does not know what path will lead to that end, nor how long the journey will be.

Still, the hunter — the activist — knows things: interior, unmappable things.

Sometimes he or she can see clearly in his or her own mind the dream fulfilled — the summit reached — yet if too much time elapses, the dreamer can be stranded like a mountaineer in the fog, existing too long in the dream and not enough in the real world. You know the mountaintop is up there, yet you cannot quite find your way, even though in your dream life you have already been there for many years, on top of that mountain looking down at the beautiful sweeping valleys below — some of which appear green and lush, others of which remain shrouded beneath early morning rivers of silver and blue fog.

In that middle land — long possessing the knowledge and vision of the summit, while not yet having gained it — you can panic, can become forever lost, can burn out, spending that most valuable of commodities, passion, uselessly in the fog, wasting it on dead ends, and on the kindling and nurturing of fires that were in the end irrelevant in finding any of the paths, or the one path, that would have led to the summit. And in that confusion things can seem suddenly inverted, so that you might perceive that up is down, and that there are a thousand ways to fail, while there is only one way to succeed, although all your life previous to this point you understood the opposite to be true — that the only way to fail was to quit, and all one had to do to succeed was to keep climbing, for in the face of such sustained passion all paths would ultimately converge at the top.

In this climbing-the-mountain model, there comes a point, usually mid-journey, where it seems that one slogs through the proverbial frustration of two steps forward and one step back, or two steps forward and two steps back, and then even, for long stretches of time, one step forward and two steps back, until it begins to appear that all the previous ground one had gained has been lost. There will even be those dark and discouraging days when one suspects, and then is convinced, that the cause would have been better off had the activist never engaged it in the first place.

How then does one proceed, with passion and energy waning and the clock winding down? Having given the cause your very best shot and still having come up empty, and knowing not just of your ridiculous failure — your heart was wrong in its youth, you could not save the world, nor could anyone — but knowing also of the terrifying sandcastle collapsings of the crowded, fevered world?

**********

Back in the fieriest part of my life, the black-hole anger-sump of watching one clearcut after another march across the Yaak Valley of northwestern Montana where I live, I wrote an angry book critical of that destruction. Mills began closing around the region not long after The Book of Yaak was published. The book had nothing to do with the mill closings; it was simply synchronous with the destruction wrought by unsustainable logging and the awakening breath of what is referred to euphemistically as “the global market” — a polite term for other countries beginning to liquidate their wildlands at the same pace with which we once liquidated our own.

But as the mills in Lincoln County began to topple, I found myself, for reasons not fully understood, pulled into the efforts to try to keep them alive — particularly the local independent mills. Perhaps it was my oil-man’s background, or my hunter’s background, or my status not just as an environmentalist but as a consumer of resources. For how could I, who lives in a wood house, and who has cut firewood for money, as well as for my own use, and who has logged for hire — contracting, at various times, half a dozen different loggers — turn away from the human consequences of my actions, my voice, and my needs? How could I offer criticism without proposing alternatives?

To me, it was not the criticism that reeked of hypocrisy — for none are pure — but instead the failure to dream or imagine a solution. The failure to dream at all.

Still, some people have expressed confusion upon learning that I used to be a petroleum geologist working on private lands in the Southeast, or that I hunt deer and elk and wild birds, or that I support logging in certain places. I sense that these folks would be much more comfortable if someone less imperfect were laboring to protect as wilderness the Yaak’s last fourteen little roadless areas — pristine yet tiny gardens, really, in the larger scale of things, but vital, still, to the larger ecosystem. Well, hell, I’d like to have someone less imperfect doing the work, too. I — we — really could use that kind of person. But I fear such a person may not exist. Not yet, and maybe not ever.

What gall is it for any of us, really, to don or convert to the heart of a conservator and then to allow ourselves to continue participating in the overwhelming consumption of resources to which we have become accustomed? I can find little sustainability in our condition. We are huge, ravenous, and destined — for as long as we survive — to displace other living things, to disrupt or even eradicate other life processes. We do, however, get to choose to some extent what to honor in our clumsy and consumptive journey, what to preserve as we plow through the world, and how to behave. Which is, I think, where the environmentalism comes in.

I try not to get too high-minded about it, given my own awful and immense complicity in the sinking, or the burning, of the Earth. With regard to my own personal mountain — my goal of protecting the Yaak’s last roadless lands as wilderness — I still play hard, even as I remember daily, hourly, how impure I am in these matters, and in all matters, really.

**********

Maybe it is a kind of giving-up and sticking-one’s-head-in-the-sand for me not to dedicate all my days to battling the energy lobby that is camped out in Dick Cheney’s bunker, or to working in sub-Saharan Africa, or with population and birth control advocates in China, or civil rights activists anywhere, and to instead retreat to home, even as, increasingly, the battle seems to be advancing on that same home, with so many of the ills of the world, ills that we once viewed as foreign injustices, now present everywhere among us.

It’s the question for any young person of passion: where do I find my meter in this incredible and exciting journey? The passionate young person may have met his subject — her mountain — at an early age, or the subject may have found the young person, no matter; but the real question is the meter, the dispensation, the burning of one’s days, and — always the trickiest part — the balancing of passion and intellect, logic and intuition, emotion and strategy. No wonder so few, if any, ever make it all the way to the top. Little wonder that the only worlds that ever get changed are the ones inside us and — sometimes — the worlds of those nearest to us.

But first, one’s self. Sometimes it is a matter of holding on to the raw innocence and power and uncompromising intolerance of injustice that one possessed as a young person, but tempering all that with kindness learned along the way. Other times it is a matter of losing those things and then, mid-journey, having to go all the way back and look for them again — and hopefully being able to find a place and time where such things still exist.

I don’t mean to suggest that in retreating to the refuge of my garden — the tiny million-acre island of the Yaak, which exists like one powerful shining cell in the bloodstream arterial of the once-upon-a-time wildness that stretched, and might still stretch again, from the Arctic tundra down to the farthest reaches of Yellowstone and beyond, hundreds of millions of acres of sanity, logic, and the radiant and uninterrupted grace of wild things — I have yet learned balance or meter, nor have I found or attained personal peace.

I still lobby on citizens’ energy week fly-ins, still tread (while our democracy yet allows this earned right) the halls of Congress, despite not having the increasingly requisite briefcase full of dollars. I’ve been working on community conservation projects in Namibia and British Columbia, and on mining issues in the Cabinet Mountains. I haven’t yet found a fully logical rhythm and focus, and I still find it easier to say yes than no when a friend or associate asks if I would like to ride off to war with him or her. I do it partly for the friend and partly for the issue — the rhino, the salmon, the bears — and partly because I sometimes feel it would harm something in me far more to say no and walk away than to weather whatever damage the war itself might inflict.

But I do it less and less now, for it is increasingly vital to me that my girls, in their growing-up years, know a father who is somewhat at peace. It is increasingly important to me, in their growing-up years as well as my advancing own, to regain at a personal level a little of that bright space around me. It is a task that becomes harder each year.

**********

More and more I sense that my real daemon or fit in the world is not fighting for the last mountains and the last grizzlies. The plight of those things is merely an injustice I happened upon along the way. What should have been a six-month diversion, or at best a year’s, has become a life. My real passion was, and some days I sense still is, writing fiction, and yet year after year and now decade after decade — nearing the beginning of the fourth decade of my personal war up here — I am kept from it by the endless meetings, endless strategizing, and endless, frail connections of thin hope, dogged hope, and faith that this thing can be done.

And despite the maddening nearness of the goal, the moderation of the ask — to protect as wilderness the last little roadless areas in one little million-acre Eden — and despite the frustration of one connection and possibility always leading to another, ripplelike, I suppose the eternal limbo of a seemingly infinite array of connections that have never added up to anything is better than the benumbed alternative: the fragmentation defined by disconnectedness and the absence of hope.

Still, even as we continue to make connections in the strange and often frantic world of activism, the connections beneath us drift ever apart, as if on shrinking ice floes: the populations of autumn-run westslope cutthroat trout becoming separate from the populations of grizzly bears, which are becoming separate from the populations of whitebark pine, which are becoming separate from the populations of Clark’s nutcrackers, and so on. Then it occurs to me that the populations and communities of man are also alarmingly, maybe irrevocably, adrift, due to the usual contributing factors, fear and its byproduct, anger — even blind hatred — and that is a most troubling problem indeed, one that I think makes the protection of our last wilderness areas all the more critical.

Why wilderness?

Time and again I come back to one simple answer: it is the source of my passion, the shape of my mountain, and it is my home.

Wilderness areas are a place to walk into, while I am still able, and rest; a place where the ever-dramatic and ever-increasing problems of the world are always gently and miraculously placed back in their divine and proper scale, and upon my re-emergence, I always feel better equipped to deal with them.

If I go into them joyous, I return joyous. If I go into them fretful or angry, I return becalmed. What magnificent alchemy is this? Given that each of us is here for only a very short time, what huge value is this? Surely it is immeasurable.

**********

If I really stopped to ponder it, I could easily find myself hypnotized by indecision, given my role as both a defender of the Earth and a contributor to its plight. Still, it has never occurred to me to question my authority — indeed, my obligation — to work as an environmental activist. Somehow, I rise each day and go on loving and defending — and using — the natural world. And even as I am laboring, thus far with futility, to protect those farthest forests from the appetites of man, I find myself turning back to those lands we have already logged, already zipper-stitched with roads, and while I see, on every walk I take, public lands that can and should be restored to wildness, I also see forests that are injured, crippled, compromised by their affluence: young forests, typically, from which the cleansing, nutritive, recycling benefits of fire have been excluded.

In the old days, nature was allowed to be selective, burning some trees but leaving others. Insects, too, would pass through in waves, setting up the next fire, as would windstorms. Such movements, like the orchestral sweep of music, were tempered, conducted, logical. They possessed the grace of wilderness. But forty or fifty years ago, someone came into some of those forests, mowed them down, then walked away; and in the old forest’s place, weeds sprang up.

Maybe it is simply my oil-man’s background, but just as it bothers me — makes me edgy — to be in a remote piece of backcountry and to know it is not protected, so too does it bother me to be standing on the outskirts of town and see small trees, which should still be growing, dying instead, because there are too many trees and not enough water. So I am not just an activist who uses wood, sometimes knowing where it came from and how it was harvested and how its harvest fit into the community from which it came — the community not just of men, women, and children, but of trout and elk and bears — other times, not knowing. I am an activist who wants the logging to continue, who at times looks at the forests near a community — not in the wilderness — and thinks like an extractor, like a consumer: “Okay, I’d take that tree, and that one, and that one.” And then I imagine, with pleasure, the subsequent increase in resources available to the remaining trees, the increased access to ever-requisite moisture in an ever-drying, ever-warming world.

When I see those dying trees, I believe in using wood to build homes and to heat them — whether for ceremony or because no other means exists — and to make paper and books, recycling those materials, of course, for as long as is possible. I believe the zero-cut folks are wrong.

I like the contrary logic, that logging — securing usable wood from the frontcountry — can help protect the farther backcountry. But then I see the government taking good science and corrupting it and I want to throw up my hands and say, Forget it, if you can’t log it right, don’t log any of it. Even the mildest logging, if not done with exceptional care, can tear up the soil and bring in weeds. Forget it, I sometimes want to say, just leave the woods alone, let them all die, let them all burn. Things will probably balance out again in a few more thousand years.

But each year, for whatever reasons — stubbornness, or the wretched spark of hope — I am lured a little farther on, daring to dream for just one more season, one more year, that we can still cobble together a workable plan. Each year, the solution seems so close, so graspable. And each year, the Congress, or this-or-that appointee within the Forest Service, retreats, lies, obfuscates, reverses. And every year there are short stories that go unwritten by me and a life passes by.

**********

I love the scent of the gas-oil mixture as I funnel it into the saw in preparation for a day’s work — the shuttered shafts of gold light spilling down through the forest. I love the slow syrupy dolloping of bar oil into the crankcase.

I love the snug fit of the sawtool over the hex bolt, love the muscular resistance of the starter cord and the burble of the engine catching. I love the selection, the belief that what I am doing will improve, rather than harm, the area where I am working.

I love the humility that attends the taking of a tree’s life, knowing you may be making the wrong choice, but that you have thought about it and are doing your best.

Later on, in the mill, I love the scent of sawdust, and even the shrill sound of the buzzsaw ripping and planing. I love the clatter of boards being stacked, the new-cut wood brighter, before it begins to oxidize, and never seeming more filled with potential than in those first few days after being milled.

Don’t get me wrong. I love trees — standing trees — and a giant old rotting snag riddled with woodpecker holes, with a marten peering out from one of those cavities, and with its base apron-scorched from past fires — or even fallen on its side, onto a bed of lush, emerald carpet — is the very best; but I like a board now and again, too, and I like a tight-grained floor of one-inch strips of fir polished smooth underfoot in the kitchen.

It may seem as if there is a paradox here, but I do not see black-and-white contradiction. It’s okay to be an environmentalist and use wood; it’s okay to consume oil, but to be humble in one’s consumption, and to remember to seek out, and demand — and use, whenever possible — alternatives. It’s okay to eat food, seeking out and choosing the healthiest meat, healthiest vegetables. It’s okay to be alive.

What isn’t okay is to fail as stewards to protect a piece of the world’s great puzzle: a still intact, still wild ecosystem like the Yaak. And although there is no place in the world exactly like the Yaak, I suspect that there are other places where similar desire, similar paradox, and similar opportunities still exist.

I believe intuitively — and the more I learn, the more I believe scientifically — that any creative solution to the tasks and challenges presented to us in this century must have as one of its components the permanent protection of the last, wildest gardens-within-the-gardens — those remnant and ultimately ungovernable sparks of wildness that, like the purity or passion of a young person, will hopefully always inform our other actions, and the people and communities we are always on our way to becoming. And in such gardens and from such gardens might we, and our ponderous hearts, be better suited, in that tiny solace and brief rest, to reconsider, and to address with greater resolve and with greater strength and creativity, some of the more vexing problems of the world, such as where we get our energy and — perhaps interconnectedly, perhaps not — how we treat our neighbors, not just our neighbors across the sea, but our neighbors down the road.

In such relatively intact places, we can not only witness but sometimes briefly participate in the ancient standards of grace and logic, even as we, so often and so spectacularly, fall short in the pursuit of those qualities in our daily lives. We can experience what I believe are two of the primary charges of life: to live deeply, and to hope.

It is good to step back now and again to glimpse the larger silhouette of the peak. And then, in the morning, to go back on the mountain and decide, step by step, which route to take. It has not yet occurred to me to stop climbing, and when I am on the face of the mountain, I try not to look back too often at my, or anyone else’s, imperfections, but instead to keep striving toward the vision of where I want to be, and what I need in order to live.

Rick Bass is the author of twenty-two books. His first short story collection, The Watch, set in Texas, won the PEN/Nelson Algren Award, and his 2002 collection, The Hermit’s Story, was a Los Angeles Times Best Book of the Year. Bass’s stories have also been awarded the Pushcart Prize and the O. Henry Award and have been collected in The Best American Short Stories.

Comments

  1. His conclusion is, I think, that the goal is the trying.

  2. I’m with Deb Carey(#1); she’s put the whole thing very succinctly when a lot of us have trouble putting what we want to say into words. The problem is so intimidatingly huge, that we are too inclined to say the hard choices won’t accomplish the goal. But let’s not go out without giving it our best shot.

  3. As a passive solar pioneer, living in sunny central SW Virginia, I am saddened by the lost opportunities of the last thirty years, when the enormous quantities of fossil carbon might have been used to make the transition finally being envisioned globally. I was a design consultant to some 400 projects, mostly homes, in the early ’80’s, then nothing for 20 years, and only a few in the last three years. However, I see the choice as keeping on keeping on, living one’s passion for the earth and her creatures, while somehow maintaining the capacity to function in this crazy world, or choosing to accomodate to the demands of this crazy world and tsk-tsking in an arrogant way at its insanity, as if the awareness of its insanity alone is redemptive. I think the inability to live perfectly on every front is what has been described as the human condition or original sin. I also think beating oneself up for one’s failure to live perfectly squanders the energy for effective action and compassionate and productive living. I also think we are wonderfully unique and that every effort lived out of love is effective in empowering more such effort, as an example and in some universal karmic mystical way connected to the underlying structure of reality unacknowledged by our modern scientific perspective. I’ve enjoyed immensely Rick Bass’s fiction and count among my friends Alan Weltzien, a literary scholar specializing in Rick Bass’s work. I’ve discovered the crucial importance of community, and the necessity of its cultivation as an important component of staying the course. A seminal text for me on this cultivation is Ivan Illich’s Tools for Conviviality.

  4. In many ways it comes down to a simple statement by John Muir, “Come to the woods for here is rest”.

    While the problem may seem large…the benefit is larger when we continue “keeping on”. My deepest, most fervently held inspiration is that what I do for conservation may at some point allow my two sons, 5 and 8, to see what I have seen and feel what I have felt here in the deep North Maine Woods.

  5. When I asked E. O. Wilson why he kept on being an activist when he already knew the depressing facts, his answer was “What am I supposed to do? Sit back and eat pizza?”
    Says it all, I think! We can’t give up…

  6. Could Sally Zaino explain “…the fiction … ?

  7. Economy: its relationship to physical reality; Economy: a human construction of something ‘real’?

    Perhaps a path to the future……

    It appears the predominant culture in the world, with its leviathan-like global economic engine, has a pernicious, inadvertent impact on biodiversity. Would you agree that if our culture chooses to keep growing the global economy as we are doing now, then the future for global biodiversity will eventually be jeopardized, perhaps massively extirpated?

    The current organization of the predominant culture and its planful expansion, one that results in the rampant economic globalization we see today, also appears to give rise to something else that is unintended, extremely unfortunate and potentially ruinous.

    If you will, please examine how the grotesque hoarding of wealth by millions of people leaves billions of people in the family of humanity hungry.

    For a fortunate few people with obscene riches to conspicuously consume limited resources, while millions of unlucky children go without adequate food to eat, is a structure worthy of modification in a timely fashion.

    Inequity is sad enough; grotesque inequity will one day be intolerable, I suppose.

    If our predominant culture chooses to modify the way the currently unbridled global political economy grows and the way it distributes Earth’s resources, then perhaps we will find reasonable and sensible ways to assure a good enough future for our children as well as for the future of biodiversity.

    I am assuming that we can all agree that the endlessly expanding scale of the global economy in a finite world with make-up and size of Earth will eventually, perhaps sooner rather than later, reach a point in human history when the global economy becomes patently unsustainable, resulting in some kind of unimaginable colossal wreckage.

    Comments are welcome.

    Sincerely,

    Steve

    Steven Earl Salmony, Ph.D., M.P.A.
    AWAREness Campaign on The Human Population, established 2001

  8. Humanity is in clear & present danger of losing the exquisite value to be found in one of God’s gifts to humanity: the carefully and skillfully developed science on climate change.

    Is it possible that the standards for determining what is real and true in our culture today are these: whatsoever is widely shared, consensually validated and judged to be ecomonically expedient, politically convenient, socially agreeable and religiously tolerated is true and real……….. the biophysical conditions of the natural world notwithstanding?

    At least to me, it seems that good science is ignored, countless distractions presented or else silence allowed to prevail whenever reasonable and sensible evidence comes into conflict with what culture prescribes as real and true. Perhaps science does present culture with evidence of inconvenient truths.

    Steven Earl Salmony, Ph.D., M.P.A. AWAREness Campaign on The Human Population, established 2001

  9. We have passed the line of no return. I have been an activist for many years. I remember when Ralph Tory, around 1986, came back to canada from a conference in washington, where there was a discussion on what to do about the environmental degradation. According to his reporting, people made the suggestion that business would have to cap growth. The members of the business communities were all against it. Nothing got done, in the mean time lots of environmental groups became co-opted. Lots of activists are paid to be activists. Poverty, wars and environmental degradation has achieved an all time high. Academic types took over the environmental movement completely. The token non-whites are rare and far in between (in North America). Voices are silenced, by death (Corbin Harney – Shundahai Network) or by disillusion (my own).
    Actions are pathetically stupid (write letters of protest or fly to Bali to demonstrate about an agreement that will not be implemented (remember Kyoto?, Remeber the Waste Trade agreement done in Basel? ask Jim Vallette what happened to the Basel agreement?)
    The environment news of record is the Rachel’s weekly has records of all the above.
    So we can be saddened by the loss of opportunities, or we can try to re-bild community, but the main stuff is not touched with a ten or 1000 foot pole: consumption and corruption.
    Now that the dollar is loosing its value sooner than we all might think, everyone slumbering will have to get up and do something that they never prepared themselves for: face reality and think up solutions for :
    1 – water shortages – e.g. Tennessee, Georgia and California (invading canada for it or using NAFTA chapter 11 will not do);
    2 – Storms, fires, floods, earthquakes;
    3 – a huge population of uneducated by design; violence fed, by design; marginalized by design and exploited by design; not knowing or having experience in how to deal with lack of their favourite junk food joint (the only place where s/he can find a meal they can afford to pay for, with the meager wage they make.
    4 – the backlash from all the lies that will be uncovered and how frustrations will be dealt with.

    Do I need to go on?
    So all of you that are writing in this discussion are having a 1980’s conversation, while the tanks are at the door, the drought is at the doors, the concentration camps inside of the us have been built, the floods and weather storms are at the door (World Watch predicted long time ago). Your conversation should not be intellectually driven. All of the above done in your name. Who cares about Rick Bass? Great he wrote. Well what have you all done with what he wrote? How his writing get us all off the shithole we find ourselves in?
    Not happy to make a disaster of the us and north america, american military is making a mess out of other parts of the globe and destroying our home – the earth-.
    What are you doing about stopping the obliteration of Gaia?
    There are more than a million scientists, intellectuals, writers, philosophers, university educated people in the us alone; you all know about the problems. What keep you from working together in getting this mess clean up?
    Pretty soon we will not have time for compassionate and productive living: survival will be the big stake.
    My suggestion:
    Call on citizens to design a plan of action to deal with the major issues in your community. Call it adhoc commission on surviving the crunch.
    Place in the agenda all the problems.
    Prioritize the ones that are most important e.g.
    a- drink water (where does it comes from. Is it secure for the population.
    2 – Food – where it comes from? Is it secure for the population? If it is not how do we make it secure? What actions do we need to put into place to secure food, water and heat for the winters. Who has the heirloom seeds, where are the orchards and the gardens?
    3 – Community building: What are our assets? How inclusive? How much of the population is marginalized and how to change that? People that are included don’t steal from you.

    So you get the drift.

    If we don’t get back to basics and start building the future now, there will not be any time left for the organizing that is needed for the transition to be smooth.
    If this is not done soon, it will be bloody.
    Harris

  10. Bass is correct. there are no alternatives for an almost 50 year old fart, except to pick himself up and try again. The mountain “bleibs Stehen”. However, because it waits does not mean that the dynamics does not change.
    See Y’all in Hell.

    Have a good day, Tschuss.
    Zack Xsi
    Berlin

  11. A RUNAWAY TRAIN AT THE END OF THE TUNNEL?

    Does how “I feel” or how “we feel” or how anybody else “feels” about the predicament involving the human-induced global challenges that are already visible on the far horizon have any meaning or value? So what?

    There is a light in the offing at the end of a tunnel covering the “primrose path” we have set out for our children to march along to reach their future. I think magically and also remain somehow wishful for the children’s long-term wellbeing, for environmental protection and preserving Earth’s body; however, please understand that deep within me is a keen sense of foreboding for the children because the light at the end of the tunnel, at this very moment, appears to be moving toward all of us…………fast.

  12. Dear Friends,

    Are we fiddling while ‘Rome is burning’ and Earth is overheating?

    Are we communicating as if we are living in a modern day Tower of Babel? Is our spectacular failure to communicate reasonably and sensibly about whatsoever is somehow real, and to widely share adequate understandings regarding both the family of humanity within the natural order of living things and the limitations of the planet we inhabit, in evidence here and now.

    Perhaps the human community is indeed in a serious predicament, but only in part because of the objective biological and physical circumstances defining our distinctly human-driven predicament. The global challenges in the offing are further complicated by our incredible failure to communicate effectively about the potentially pernicious results derived from having recklessly grown a soon to become patently unsustainable, colossal global economy, one that we have artificially designed, conveniently constructed, and unrealistically expanded without regard for the requirements of biophysical reality.

    Could it be that the current gigantic scale and unchecked growth rate of the global economy is unsustainably driving both per human over-consumption and unrestrained human population growth toward the collapse of Earth’s ecology?

    Sincerely,

    Steve

  13. Very best for 2008 to all in the Orion Community,

    Thanks for faithfully distinguishing scientific facts from the specious ideological factoids which are foisted upon us by a noticeably small group of shrill vendors of conflation, manufactured controversy and confusion.

    Much of the world as we know it could be irretrievably gone and irreversibly damaged by what my elder generation is self-righteously counseling and, perhaps, selfishly doing.

    According to some of our leaders, the world is on track to have its first trillionaire before long and, yes, a tiny minority of the projected and fully anticipated 9+ billion people on the planet by 2050 will be “richer,” much richer. Yesterday’s millionaires have been replaced by today’s billionaires and today’s billonaires will be overtaken by tomorrow’s trillionaires, I suppose.

    According to some of our leaders, there is no end to the globalization of economic activity, to increases in per capita consumption of resources, or to the number of people who can live on a planet with the relatively small size, frangible ecosystem services and limited resources of Earth.

    Please know that what all of you report in many places is clear, coherent and reality-oriented. Thanks especially are due Scott Walker for his support of many expressions of fidelity to science and his willingness to eschew ideology.

    Let us consider how daunting global challenges could be posed to humanity by the unregulated consumption, production and propagation activities of my rapacious, not-so-great generation of elders.

    Although an unwelcome one, perhaps the time is right to deliver a message that is effectively transmitted to the human community’s richest, most powerful and famous leaders–the ones directing the talking heads in the mass media, organizing public opinion, formulating government policy and implementing action plans–so the word goes out and is widely shared that the time for ubiquitous, self-limiting behavior change is at hand. Consider that now is the time for human beings to acknowledge and accept human limits and Earth’s limitations, and to act accordingly.

    Unrestricted consumption, unbridled production and unrestrained propagation activities of the human species, now occurring on a gigantic, soon-to-become patently unsustainable scale worldwide (the very human activities that appear in the main to be giving rise to ominous, potentially pernicious changes in Earth’s ecology) can be reasonably and sensibly managed, modified or otherwise changed, as necessary….. the ill-advised and relentless expansion of economic globalization activities notwithstanding.

    The human community can choose different behavioral repertoires: for example, capping per human consumption, reducing large-scale industrialization activities, and approving humane and voluntary reproduction limits.

    Hopefully, too much time has not been foolishly wasted, too much of the environment degraded, too many species extirpated, many too many resources rampantly dissipated and too much of the world we inhabit utterly compromised, in large part, because leaders are willfully denying the causes and the consequences of our ravenous consumption, reckless production and feckless propagation activities in these early years of Century XXI.

    Sincerely,

    Steve

    Steven Earl Salmony
    AWAREness Campaign on The Human Population

  14. Excellent piece. Live life responsibly and deliberately. Don’t be resigned to martyrdom.

  15. I thought the article was very honest, and it really covered alot of territories, in the life of the activist. The earth and everything on it, is sacred, living things.
    We should never lose hope, in thinking we can not save the planet. Nature has a right to survive on the planet, and I love the trees, I hope we are careful how we chop them down, which we have not. PEACE!

  16. Muir: Comre to the woods for here is rest is a self indulgence (at this point).
    Sit back is not an option, but continuing doing what is been done is not enough.
    We are going to get out of the old pattern of activism and get engagin others (the least middle class, least beautiful, least educated, least resource accessed ones in our communities.
    Just observe how activists works: They go to the college campus, university campus and they work with the most affluent ones.
    Where is activist working with the downtrodden? I was working for a big activist organization and was told that we are not here for the poor or the colored folk. Who donate money to us are middle class and up. We do what they want.
    And that has been the goal.
    Academic types getting oput of their way to offer active concern for the less privileged?
    Are you kidding? Dogs get better treatment.
    The less privileged (millions of people every where) are of no concern, because as someone already mentioned in one post – overpopulation is a problem. So according to Buckminster Fuller we could have many more people on the planet if we had another economic format.
    The first thing is to get off our buts and dismantle all the multinationals.
    In order to do that we need to create the conditions to bring that forward. Educate, educate, educate.
    Then go from there.
    We are loosing precious time.

  17. Dear Harris Pohl,

    Thanks for your uncommon perspective.

    If it is all right to do so, I would to pose a handful of questions for consideration that are related to the ominous potential for mass devastation that could result from human-induced climate change between now and 2025.

    Is it somehow harmful to ask direct questions regarding good scientific evidence of the potential for either apocalyptic climate change or pernicious impacts from the rapidly growing, colossal presence of the human species on Earth?

    Are willful blindness, hysterical deafness or elective mutism ever acceptable “defenses” for scientists who choose to deny evidence derived from good science?

    Is there some reasonable, sensible or moral foundation upon which faithful scientists can stand upright and say, “I refuse to acknowledge carefully and skillfully gained scientfic evidence if I cannot refute it?”

    Are scientists who present good evidence of climate change and human population dynamics, even though their research is plainly unforeseen and surely unwelcome, entitled to have their evidence openly discussed by professional colleagues with established expertise?

    If the global challenges looming before humanity are as formidable as the best available scientific evidence indicates, then is the family of humanity not well-advised to begin widely sharing in open discussions in the mass media, not just in blogs like this one, what is to be done in order to avoid whatsoever is unmanageable, while managing and mitigating everything else?

    Steven Earl Salmony
    AWAREness Campaign on The Human Population,
    established 2001

  18. As E. O. Wilson said to me personally, when asked why he continued despite knowing what he knows: “What am I supposed to do? Sit back and eat pizza?”

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