Altar Call for True Believers

Photo: Mark Tomalty / Masterfile
Photo: Mark Tomalty / Masterfile

If I ever preached to the choir, this luncheon was it. The sixty people in the room were professed environmentalists, all of them on the advisory council of an earth center at a college that advertises itself, rightfully, as strongly committed to environmental responsibility. Seated to my right was a friendly but road-weary woman who had arrived minutes before from Chicago. She had rented a car at the airport and driven straight here.

“When will you return home?” I asked.

“I’ll go back this afternoon,” she said.

My white cloth napkin lay folded in my lap. Two silver forks waited to the left of my plate. In minutes I would rise to speak at a meal for which and only for which one woman had flown from Illinois to North Carolina. In fact, I was speaking about the climate crisis. Could anything I said be worth those 750 pounds of carbon dioxide blasted into the atmosphere? Fifty-nine other people had journeyed here by various conveyances. Surely I was in part responsible.

That afternoon, on a panel at the same college, I was asked to discuss “walking the talk.” As invariably happens in the company in which I often find myself, someone referred to the audience as “the choir” and to us panelists as “ministers” — “What can we do to quit just preaching to the choir?”

By “choir” I assume the person meant the already converted, the dedicated, the environmentalists, which implies that somewhere out in the big world there are people who have not yet seen the light, or have seen the light but have not accepted it as their savior, and that our job might more necessarily be to bring those people into the fold. Another person raised her hand and talked about how the uneducated firefighters at the station where she volunteers drive F-150s and employ chemicals to green their lawns. “Where are those people today?” she asked.

As missionaries, the choir member implied, we are failing.

I looked around the room, trying to find the so-called choir. I have been trying to find the choir for a long time, and even more importantly, have been trying to join the choir. From where I stand, even the choir seems to be failing. Or as my friend Dave Brown put it, the choir may be much smaller than we thought.

MANY YEARS AGO A MAN I REVERE, a forest ecologist who has done more than anybody I know to promote his home ecosystem, revealed to me that he shoots hawks. He and his wife love the birds that flock to their butterfly gardens; they love to watch them through a floor-to-ceiling bird window. Yet my mentor loves the colorful songbirds more than he loves the raptors they attract, and in this conflict of interest the ecologist kills hawks.

This private confession of a forest ecologist caused a great turmoil in me. Whitman, of course, said, “Do I contradict myself? Very well, then, I contradict myself.” But I’m a purist. I like black and white. I like hawks.

I fear what this choir — the one I attempt to sing in and occasionally preach to — actually looks like.

At risk of appearing a fraud, I want to admit my own culpability right up front. I live in a comfortable house in the small city of Brattleboro, Vermont. My husband and I cut trees to heat our home, and some of them are alive when we fell them. On the coldest days we turn to fossil fuels to keep the house above sixty degrees. We drive vehicles that consume fossil fuels, and we have raised a son who also now drives a gasoline-powered vehicle. We even own a motorboat. Our home uses electricity that, in part, is produced by the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant. I fly regularly. Never having been to Europe, I’d like to take my family there someday, and chances are we’ll fly.

A portion of the food we buy is trucked or flown to us from a shocking distance. We have three dogs, demanding their own portions of the Earth’s resources. Somehow my desk holder is always filled with disposable pens. I shave my legs, and I don’t do it with a straight edge. I’ve purchased clothing at times that was surely made in sweatshops. So, perfect I am not. In fact, my part in the destruction of nature is both serious and shameful.

Yet many times a day, I move ever toward a more sustainable life, learning to weigh the implications of my actions. To measure sustainability, I often refer to Jim Merkel’s definition, which is human consumption based on biospheric production or, using the Earth’s resources at a rate slower than they regenerate. Step by step I creep toward a life that is easier on the planet, eating locally as much as possible, buying secondhand goods, using manual technology instead of electric. For over a year my husband and I saved to buy a hybrid car before purchasing a used one at list price from a friend. A state grant allowed us to exchange every incandescent bulb in our home for a compact florescent. Each spring our vegetable garden expands.

These conversions toward sustainability may be easier for me than for some. I was raised very poor — on a junkyard, in fact. I learned almost from infancy to recycle, to make do or do without, to keep needs separate from desires, to waste not. Living within our means taught me to live within the Earth’s means. Growing up in a fanatically religious family, too, I learned early that “putting your money where your mouth is” was more than an adage. My family practiced what my father preached.

Still, I am far from saved. My footprint is surely too large for me to enter the kingdom of sustainability heaven. If sustainable living is a continuum, from excessive waste to zero waste, then I too am not where I want to be on it.

However, I gaze out across the continuum and see people — environmentalists! — much farther behind than I expect.

A few people I know who consider themselves environmentalists have purchased new cars recently, ones that run on internal-combustion engines and get less than thirty miles to the gallon. One friend, a global-warming scientist, told me he decided not to buy a hybrid “until the kinks get worked out.”

Three other environmentalist friends have built new homes. Full of love and admiration for my friends, I have enjoyed these beautiful homes, all artfully designed, comfortable, well-heated, well-lit, and more than 2,500 square feet in size. All of the houses are connected to the power grid, although one also has solar panels. Another was described to me by my friend, the owner, as “sustainable,” by which she meant that some passive solar techniques were employed in its construction and that natural stone was used for the mammoth fireplace. That particular home has a pool and a hot tub.

I watched another friend buy a pint of blueberries from a farmstand and accept a plastic bag offered by the cashier. The minute we got to the car, he removed the blueberries from the bag and we started to eat them. I was brought face to face with a plastic bag whose lifespan was less than five minutes (but whose slow death in a landfill may take more than a thousand years).

Every day, in thousands of actions large and small, we who profess to love the Earth are making decisions that destroy it. Some of these choices are unavoidable, to be sure. But in many cases we could easily choose less harmful options and not suffer measurably, if at all.

PERHAPS THE HARDEST THING FOR ME IN LIFE is contradiction. There is an ancient enmity between deed and creed, it seems. Knowing the complexity of the human psyche, my own included, I never expect the two to align perfectly. Nor are contradictions easy to recognize in ourselves. However, when words and actions are obviously incongruous, I start to feel crazy, and in the face of new and startling evidence of environmental catastrophe, the contradictions are almost too much to bear.

A global-warming speaker is invited to a village ten miles from Brattleboro to speak. She accepts. There is no effort made to organize a carpool or a bus, and as might be expected, most of the people in the audience, including myself, have motored from town. Or, eighteen hundred land-trust advocates gather in Nashville. I am among them, grimly imagining the jet fuel, gasoline, and oil burned to get eighteen hundred people to a single location.

Some of the contradictions are less dramatic. Last Thanksgiving we ordered a locally grown, organic turkey. When I called, the farmer said that I would need to pick up the turkey on the Sunday prior to Thanksgiving at her farm, located thirty miles away.

“Is there no other way to get it?” I asked. “Do you not deliver to town?”

“The only way we distribute is at the farm.”

“I’m very worried about climate change,” I said. “Could I have someone else from town pick up my turkey? I’ll send a check.”

“Listen,” she said. “I have ninety turkeys to distribute. I don’t have time to find someone who will bring your turkey to you.”

“Not necessarily to my door,” I said. “I could meet the person in town. If you give me a few numbers, I’ll call around and find someone.”

“Sorry,” she said, annoyed. “I can’t give out the names of my customers.”

There I was, caught between eating locally and driving sixty miles to pick up a turkey.

And that’s the conundrum we all should be facing. Every day we should be weighing even the minutest decision and asking ourselves, Which action causes the least harm? Should I travel these miles? Will my gains in knowledge and inspiration offset my damage to the planet?

In the case of the turkey, I found two other families who’d ordered birds and we rode together to the farm. In the end, the benefits of that particular Thanksgiving fowl still outweighed the costs associated with the mass-produced, store-bought option, but even my share of the miles traveled to fetch it left a bitter taste in my mouth.

WE CHOIR MEMBERS ARE WELL-EDUCATED. We’ve read Field Notes from a Catastrophe and The Long Emergency and The Omnivore’s Dilemma. But are we committed enough to really make change? Are we part of being change, or are we just talking about change? Do we consider every decision we make? Do we analyze our own impact and work to decrease it, day by day? Do we continually strive to get by with less?

Or are we, too, alongside the unenlightened multitudes, living in denial, turning our heads from the true consequences of our actions? Are we still living safely, properly? Are we unwilling to give up our memberships? Are we unwilling to look different, to act different, to stand behind our beliefs even if we might be considered eccentric or even losers by the dominant culture? Are we granting ourselves exemptions? Do we justify harmful actions because they’re done on behalf of the Earth? Or worse, do we justify them because we think we’re already doing enough?

And, having been taught so well to act — to be activists — are we able to see that the best decisions may not look like action? That the right action (as with the Chicagoan) may be staying closer to home?

Many times I have attended some gathering or other to speak about environmental issues, and when the final word has been delivered, the final question debated, refreshments are served on plastic plates and in plastic cups. I prepare my remarks. I take a deep breath, step in front of the crowd. I rant, I rave, I weep and open my heart. I preach fire and brimstone, and the punch is served in plastic cups. I cannot tell you the horrible feeling that envelops me.

Now, when invited somewhere to speak, I send a sheet ahead of time asking organizers for an environment-friendly event: paper instead of plastics; no Styrofoam; if possible, real flatware and dinnerware; at least biodegradable flatware; recycled paper in fliers and press releases; services provided by local businesses; locally grown and organic food preferred for meals or receptions; receptacles for recycling; carpooling encouraged. These guidelines, with many more that you or I have yet to imagine, are ones that we need to employ every hour of every day. We have to believe with our bodies what we know in our minds to be true. We have to accept the solutions to our environmental problems as personal and start applying them personally, and then all around us.

Given that our government won’t ratify the Kyoto Protocol or take steps to limit production of carbon and other greenhouse gases, we choir members have to sign the Kyoto treaty individually, or take a pledge to reduce our personal emissions 30 percent in the next two years and 80 percent by 2050. We also have to keep applying pressure to government, and holding our elected officials accountable. If we’re not doing it, who is?

Living a lie destroys the spirit. It is a kind of mental illness, a schizophrenia. It also undermines our credibility. That’s why An Inconvenient Truth disappointed me. The night the film premiered in Brattleboro, my husband and I bicycled to the theater and waited in line for tickets. Afterward, we were uplifted: we knew millions of people would watch the movie and would change. I remain grateful for the film and the effect it’s having, but what I remember most now are its contradictions. In scene after scene, Al Gore gobbles up fossil fuels: he’s behind the wheel of an SUV, he’s going through customs, he’s on a plane, he’s being driven through a city. Even when demonstrating a graph about rising temperatures, Mr. Gore doesn’t climb a ladder affixed to the wall. No, he mounts a hydraulic lift.

I HAVE BEEN ACCUSED OF BEING JUDGMENTAL. Lean in instead of leaning out, I’ve been told. Judge not that ye be not judged. But I wonder if judgment is really a bad habit — or if the social taboo against passing judgment simply allows us to feel safer in our own hypocrisy.

Whether we be heads of state or directors of organizations or worker bees or armchair cheerleaders, we in the choir are leaders and role models. We, of all people, have to show that life can be lived differently, and that the reimagined life can be beautiful, functional, and overflowing with rewards none of us expected.

So the question becomes: what should the choir look like? And: what do I have to do to belong?

We can look to Susana Lein for part of the answer. Lein runs Salamander Springs Farm near Berea, Kentucky. She spent the better part of the 1980s as a landscape architect in the Boston area, then seven years living in her husband’s native Guatemala, learning to live simply, making do. When her marriage ended, she returned to the United States, bought ninety-eight acres with friends, and began to live on the land in a tent. She farms six acres without tillage or chemicals of any kind. A designer and alternative builder, she is also a person determined to live within her means and the means of the Earth. She built a rough house by raiding dumpsters for building supplies and trading labor with friends. She uses a composting toilet, a spring for water, solar energy.

I heard Lein speak at a Northeast Organic Farming Association conference. What attracted me to her talk was its title: “Creating a Farm and Homestead on Marginal Land (While Penniless).” Humble and unassuming, private and down-to-earth, Susana Lein was the most inspiring person I’d seen in a long time. Without a doubt she walks the talk.

We also need to recognize that others in the choir may not look the way we expect them to. My father the junkman belongs in the choir, although he would never call himself an environmentalist. He’s never flown in a passenger jet and rarely travels by car beyond his home county. He lives simply, makes do. That he never went to college, never read Aldo Leopold, and may not have heard of carrying capacity matters not. Now is as good a time as any to shed our preconceptions about what an environmentalist looks like, and to recognize that the most unlikely people are going to be allies in the quest for sustainability.

The good news is that I’m starting to see more determination and more personal accountability. Recently I spoke to environmental educators in North Carolina during an eco-picnic in a longleaf pine grove on Fort Bragg. The day was sunny and gorgeous. Lois Nixon, who organized the event, made sure that picnic lunches were served in reusable cooler bags, that napkins were cotton washcloths, and that most of the lunch was local and organic. She distributed compact fluorescent bulbs (donated
to the group) to offset some of the carbon generated by travel.

A Covington, Georgia Montessori school sponsored a reception after a reading I gave at the local public library. The hors d’oeuvres were bowls of cherry tomatoes and carrot sticks, grown by local gardeners — no brownies from a box, no cheese sticks. By using porcelain plates and cloth napkins, the group met its goal of zero waste.

At the Farmers Diner in Vermont, where we ate on my birthday, there was not a paper towel to be found in the restroom. On the sink sat a basket of white hand-towels and underneath, a basket for used ones.

Of course, no matter how many paper cups or napkins I decline, the fact remains that I fly around the country in a direct negation of my mission. To scale back this personal gluttony of fossil fuels, I have been accepting fewer invitations, scheduling multiple events in one area, and combining business with social visits and research. At home, I bike and walk a lot. A lot is not enough, I know. I am working toward leaving home on my bike more often than in my car, until maybe there’s no longer any use for the car.

And when my son goes off to college next fall and I can be away from home for longer periods of time, I intend to put a moratorium on air travel. I’ll be taking the train and the bus, which means that I’ll think long and hard about going to Arizona for a two-day conference when the journey itself is two days each way. I’ll miss some of the travel, but I look forward to the unsurpassable joys of staying close to home — and that joy is the key here, because I’m not preaching a life of deprivation. I’m talking about bringing our actions into better alignment with our aspirations for the Earth.

I want to see our communities get more and more localized, with more local food produced and consumed, more local goods bought and sold. I want to see local entrepreneurship and craftsmanship encouraged. I want a renaissance of the hands, so that we use fewer electrical gadgets and motorized tools.

I want to hear of an organization that decides, because of the climate crisis, to cancel its annual conference. I want to see us relying on the mail and conference calls and e-mail for corresponding with distant colleagues, and engaging more deliberately with our neighbors. I want to see us using petroleum as if it were precious, which is to say sparingly and wisely, driving shorter distances and less often; in fact, I want getting in a single-occupancy vehicle to be a last resort.

I want us to get radical. I want us choir members to make even the hardest decisions while holding the Earth in mind.

I want us to raise the bar for ourselves.

This article, along with other landmark Orion essays about transformative action, are collected in a new anthology, Change Everything Now. Order your copy here.

Janisse Ray is a writer, naturalist and activist. She is the author of five books of literary nonfiction and a collection of nature poetry. Her first book, Ecology of a Cracker Childhood, recounts her experiences growing up in a junkyard, the daughter of a poor, white, fundamentalist family. Her recent works include Wild Card QuiltPinhook, The Seed Underground: A Growing Revolution to Save Food, and Drifting Into Darien: A Personal and Natural History of the Altamaha River. Ray has also been a contributor to Audubon, Orion, and other magazines, as well as a commentator for NPR’s Living on Earth. An environmental activist, she has campaigned on behalf of the Altamaha River and the Moody Swamp.


  1. I enjoyed Janisse Ray’s thoughtful “Alter Call for True Believers” in the September / October 2007 issue. She lays out her frustrations about the impossibility of ever doing enough. I would share her anxiety except for some recent discussions with my son, a Vermont schoolteacher who rides his bike 28 miles round trip to work and back home two days a week, and really works at cutting down consumption and keeping things balanced and within his local economy.

    After reading Bill McKibben’s “Deep Economy” and Paul Hawken’s “Blessed Unrest” he had concluded that we can’t just stop living but need to decide how we want to live our lives . . . and then do as much as we can to be the part of the solution instead of the problem. I read both books and was moved by the thinking and the report of positive activity going on around the country and the world.

    It is impossible to just stop living but we can live more thoughtfully . . . buying things we need but buying less, buying our food from local supply sources, keeping our homes tuned and using less energy, keeping our cars and yard tools tuned and using them more thoughtfully, walking or riding our bikes instead of driving, dining out at local restaurants and supporting local merchants, buying products with less packaging, cutting down on plastics, using fewer paper paper products, using paint and cleaning supplies that don’t do harm, recycling, working with our phones and computers more rather than traveling to more meetings, and encouraging family, friends, neighbors, companies and political leaders to do the same.

    My son and I were having this discussion at our family cottage in northern Michigan. We noted that this was the third summer that we had been using a 20′ pontoon boat with an efficient, cleaner burning 50 hp 4 stroke gas outboard vs a 16′ ski boat with a 90 hp 2 stroke gas / oil mix outboard. The pontoon boat carries up to 10 people and two dogs just sipping gas while the ski boat carried 5 people and two dogs really sucking gas. (The pontoon boat uses the same amount of fuel in 5 months that the ski boat did in 2 – 3 days pulling skiers.) We have not ended our boat use, our carbon fuel use is not perfect, but a lot better.

    I been part of a “Taking Grace Green” stewardship effort at our local Episcopal church to begin working more thoughtfully with the environment. There is a lot of enthusiasm and energy among people wanting to change and be doing things better. It isn’t going to be perfect . . . but is a start to making things better. And, if we get up to speed like some of Paul Hawken’s examples of new grassroots action in “Blessed Unrest”, we will help to widen the movement and be a part of the change that needs to happen. And we will start living better, more responsible lives on a healthier planet.

    Bill Mendenhall
    Holland, MI

  2. I begin with a salute to Janisse Ray. And a deep, deep sigh….

    How ironic that the FIRST step to ‘walking’ must be to move to a city. Yup. Too bad, but of the many folk I know who have realized the American ideal of the remote-small-town-rural life, all are inevitably stuck in a lifestyle that of necessity will continue to be wasteful.

    Unless one does sell the car and tear up the speaking-tour invites.

    The village is fine. It developed around the nexus of resources, security, and focus of human activity. When one’s activity requires extended travel, the being in other places, then it can only be concluded that the right ‘village’ is one that concentrates, and makes less impactful, the resource requirements one’s work invoke.

    Bob Tyson
    Turin, Italy

    A VERY nice city for its culture, its people, and for the bicycle. I ‘measure’ my success by how infrequently I buy a packet of bus tickets. I’m presently working on one I’d picked up in May….and by looking down into the courtyard to admire the space reserved for my car. Empty.

  3. I think it’s important to distinguish between what we as a society must to do to avert the worst possibilities of carbon dioxide pollution, and the personal steps we take to demonstrate our concern about the problem, and to point towards a sustainable future. As individuals, we only need to solve part of the problem- to make our best effort, and show that the changes we’ll all need to make in the future, are, in part, manageable today. As a society, we have a few decades to stop emitting CO2. This is a manageable technological challenge, provided we committ ourselve to doing it. The political task of getting our society to make this committment it will be much easier if we keep our language and focus positive. We need to emphasize that the changes we need to make to stop emitting CO2 are compatible with a life style that has advantages compared with our present way of life.
    The kind of struggles Ms. Ray had with her turkey farmer are just the kind of thing that can help along the changes we need if they are carried out in a positive spirit: by taking steps to change her own life, she’s realized that there are aspects of her economy that are incompatible with a less energy-intensive life style. When she communicates this to her turkey farmer, she may not solve the problem immediately, but she creates an awareness in him that may blossom into action when a few more people make similar requests. The key is to see these frustrating exchanges as one of the main goals of our personal choices: to educate others about how society needs to change in a carbon-constrained world. For this to work well, though, I think an optimisitic and confident attitude is crucial.

  4. Instead of travel, what about videoconferencing? It’s not that great yet, but it may be less energy intensive than flying.

    And yes, take the train. I was waiting for the train to be mentioned. The Vermonter just resumed service after stopping for tunnel revamping (a tunnel the train goes through had its lower surface dropped 3 feet so that more freight CAN TRAVEL BY TRAIN, i.e., ie, double decker cars). The Downeaster (goes through ME) just added a 5th trip and ridership has increased. Something people can do is push for more passenger rail (Bush has tried to kill Amtrak every year of his Administration), push for more efficient rail & high speed rail and push for accessible stations that also have plenty of space for bicycles as well as space for bicycles on the train. The Talgo trains that travel the OR/WA route do so (although currently the Talgo cars are being fixed and the temporary substitutes cannot handle bicycles).

    And as the other poster said, keep asking for a less energy consumptive way of doing things. Push for rail, push for more bikepaths, safe/dry places to lock bikes at shops/malls, etc. Push for “edible schoolyards” and local buying of food by residential colleges in your area (if Yale did it, so can other schools). It’s worth noting that there have been a number of essays/opinion articles attacking the validity of “eating locally”–it proves that the MSM, industrial ag is concerned enough to be paying pundits to attack the idea, even though the % of people eating “locally” is so small.

  5. I would just like to thank Janisse Ray for her excellent piece. It touched me and I know and have felt that great discomfort and have been tagged with the “judgement” label.

    I especially appreciate ending the article with talking about being radical, a word I use more and more often. I am proud to be a radical, though I still have contradictions that I ferret out day by day.

  6. Hello!

    Many thanks to Janisse Ray for a wonderful meditation on the question which engages many of us every day – “What must we do to ‘walk the talk’ in our own lives?”

    It seems to me that there are a few implicit assumptions in Ms. Ray’s essay and I thought it might be useful (or at least interesting to me) to tease them out.

    First, there is an assumption that true believers should behave in a way that actually restores ecological and community damage instead of simply reducing the level of new damage done. Under such an assumption, it wouldn’t be enough to demonstrate that one’s actions were less destructive than the most egregious excesses of others. One’s behavior must produce an active good, not just avoid adding to the burden of bad.

    Yes from me.

    Second, there is an assumption that personal resource use and pollution/waste generation, and contribution of greenhouse gasses to the atmosphere are acceptable ways to assess how well we are “walking the talk”.


    Third, I gather an assumption that true believers can reasonably come to agreement on “how much is enough” and “how much is too much”. That is, even true believers don’t simply say that the answer is always to just use less – or reduce one’s footprint more – regardless of how well one is already doing. To use a religious analogy, one might have serious admiration for those who have chosen the monk’s life of radical simplicity, but one doesn’t require that level of drastic action from everyone in the community of faith. At the same time, one doesn’t let people off the hook just because they have good intentions and feel guilty when they fall short. Actions count. Results count.

    Yes a third time.

    Fourth, there is an assumption that an acceptable level of resource use can actually be measured, such that individuals can make choices and tradeoffs with some sense of how their own behavior evens out in the end against the acceptable standard.

    You bet. I agree.

    Fifth, I sense an assumption that certain kinds of behavior are recognized by the community at large as being generally “good” or “bad” if one is seeking to achieve the agreed upon standard. So, even though we can’t always be sure what trade-offs individuals are making, we all know it will be harder to achieve the standard over time if we engage in certain behaviors at all. We come to agree that some specific behaviors are generally to be avoided by the community of faith, including airplane trips, homes over a certain size, power boats, using nondisposables, cars with poor gas mileage, excessive car travel in general, diets full of nonlocal, traditionally grown foods, and so forth.


    By extension, certain other behaviors are generally looked on as good, with an agreed upon understanding that they reliably lead to achieving the standards we implicitly all want to reach. So, we applaud those who walk or bike, those who live in smaller quarters, those who eschew air travel, use the canvas bag at the store, eat local, organic food, install energy and water efficient appliances, etc.

    Finally – in my world at least – there is also the assumption that active participation in the social and political life of the community is one of the standards that we aim for, and that there is (as with resource consumption and pollution generation) an acceptable standard of participation below which true believers cannot fall if they claim to be serious. The community of faith is a *community* and not just a group of people striving for personal achievement against a personal standard. The community also understands that there are many actions which can only be taken successfully from larger groups of people collectively. Walking the talk requires you to show up and pitch a certain amount of time or be judged accordingly.

    I’m on board with that one.

    So – other than providing me with lots to think about on an morning off from work – where does this leave us?

    It seem to me that our current moment requires us to get serious *with* each other about our community standards *for* each other. It may have once been good enough for all of us to simply ask each other to “do better”, or to routinely show the flag through symbolic actions that demonstrated our place in the community of believers. We could let each other off the hook under the assumption that we are “trying*, or we are “doing the best we can”.

    What is interesting about environmentally sound living, however, is just how amenable it is to actual measurement, with appropriate adjustments to different places. (For example, decreasing water use by certain amounts would be a critical measure in some places, and not in others).

    If we could come to agreement on a reasonable standard of personal contribution to greenhouse gasses, for example, would we really care which combination of actions our friends and neighbors take to stay below the standard? Conversely, if there was such an agreement, would we congratulate ourselves for the occasional visible symbolic action (driving a Prius) if we knew that our cumulative score was over the limit?

    The idea here is to focus less on daily behaviors, taken daily, and more on achieving final results against agreed upon standards over time – including those standards which require our participation in collective action.

    In this kind of community, we could regularly check in with our fellows with questions about how well they are doing against an agreed upon standard of results. Precisely because it was agreed upon, we would feel more comfortable calling each other to account when they (or we) don’t measure up.

    For myself, I’m on the lookout for people and organizations who are proposing measurable standards that I can use to measure my own level of ecological and community restoration, even if I fly on a few jet planes every year as part of my work.

  7. The underlying issue here is that the structure of our society is founded on methods of exchange “business” which fragment our relationship to ecology and community. Most businesses are structured like pyramids. People and resources are used to benefit those at the top who set policy to achieve maximum profit. This narrow focus, mandated in publicly held companies by the law of our land, has turned our basic human need for exchange into a destructive pattern. This will change because it is not sustainable, but this type of change and what might emerge can only be imagined in a mythic context. We are part of that story though we cannot see the larger picture.

    We have to find ways in each of our worlds to create cohesive circles of interdependency based on fair and equitable exchange with each other and the eco system. We need to create circle based modes of economy. I call this approach the circle manifesto. (

    To consider whether to take a positive or negative approach is too superficial for me. And to be too results oriented can be pointless. No one is wise enough to know whether our species will survive this transition or not. The point is that we have to do the work in our own world as a requirement to live ethically and responsibly. We do the work for ourselves and for the great and beautiful web of life.

    Living in the ethical gray areas of turkeys is an authentic place to be. Even if it is terribly uncomfortable, it is still an opportunity to deepen our own spiritual path. Perfection should not be the enemy of the good.

  8. This article is fantastic!
    Mirrors some of my own meditative thinking.
    Many of the ‘environmentalists’ in my community have come to be known as earth nazi’s for berating those who throw away recycleables, bashing those with larger homes than they need, etc. Some of these same ones have large SUV’s that run on biofuels.
    I find that I want to distance myself from them, even though I am considered one of them!
    Each of us should have the opportunity to make our own choices, but should be held at least responsible for those choices.
    Negative reinforcement doesn’t necessarily encourage us to be more responsible, it encourages us to act from fear. Using resources better does not mean that we get to use more.
    I have my own guilt associated with the way that I live, however, uping my standard, often means spending more money. (Buying a home to live in a walkable neighborhood, organic/local foods, prius’, etc.) Spending more money means that I have to work more hours at my non-profit environmental jobs. Working more means more travel and a greater chance of burn-out. It is a dizzying array of choices. It is easy to become overwhelmed.
    I think the answer lies in what John Seed is calling Despair and Empowerment. We have to have the moments of despair, which are true understandings of the state of the world. We also have to have empowerment which mostly occurs from a feeling of community with others on the same path. If we alienate each other by being nazi’s we will get nowhere. However, inviting community to join together (virtually or in person) to discuss these issues, repairs the guilt glitch in all of us.
    Thank you for this communication from Janisse Ray and my ability to rant on my own personal guilts!

  9. This is a wonderful article that captures my feelings exactly. I work part time in a heath food store and one of my big frustrations is all the plastic. Plastic bags that we repack all those organic goodies (candies, dried fruits, etc.) everyone loves, plastic gloves we must wear to make a deli sandwich. Plastic garbage bags. Plastic bubble wrap supplements and other breakables come in. Styrofoam peanuts – those things should be outlawed. It really irks me when books and other nonbreakables come way overpackaged in plastic and styrofoam. At home I have more control over plastic. But I still use some, though much less than even a year ago.
    I may be wrong, but I believe my biggest personal contribution to climate change is my car, a 1996 Honda that gets about 32 MPG but is old and so therefore has dirtier emissions, or so I’ve been told. But I can’t afford a new car and don’t know when I’ll be able to. I live seven miles from town, fourteen miles from my job, and there’s no small store nearby to pick up even a paper. I’ve lived in a rural area all my life and don’t like cities. Ideal would be a house in a small town so we could walk at least for some things. (Problems with legs and back make bike riding not a great idea for me at this point in my life, nor would it work for my disabled sister, though she can walk just fine.) We are thinking of selling and moving to just such a location but the housing market right now isn’t great here and places in town cost way more than we can afford. Contradictions are crazy-making especially when so much is at stake. But I do garden, do buy as much local food as possible, the store where I work is a great, community-centered place (plastic notwithstanding), and there are days when I don’t have to drive anywhere. They are the best! And thanks to the rising cost of fuel and everything else, we buy much less ‘stuff’ than ever before, and don’t miss it at all. I love flea markets, antique stores, and yard sales. I have learned over the years not to judge because because it feels bad and changes nothing. And since I’m far from perfect, I figure if I don’t judge you, then hopefully you won’t judge me.

    I have taken to asking customers at the store if they “need” a bag (and I always use paper unless they specifically request plastic or, better yet, have their own) rather than if they’d “like” a bag, and I think that small word change does make a difference.

  10. Since I had posted, gruffly, comment number two, it really does seem my role must be that of the ‘Grinch That Stole Christmas’.

    Ms. Ray’s monologue is soooo predictable. She does us a service, maybe, in that I know too many earnest folk who monopolize every conversation as if they had Ms. Ray’s article soldered into their brains, as script! Nice to have it all right out here, to parse a little further…..

    Two realms stand out to this writer, and are illustrated by points in Ms. Ray’s article and in some of the responses in other comments.

    Recall from the article, and from several comment posts, where the writers have chosen actually to live. Lifestyle choices matter: a poignant subtext here might go ‘but…I like my country life…’ Fine, but don’t you think before you join the choir that you might examine the costs your preference imposes on the rest of us? If you simply must drive a car to get to town because of where you like to rest your head, and thus you ‘can’t afford’ a less-impactful model, why shouldn’t you consider how you are burdening us all with the consequences of your free choice?

    These are unpleasant hints of a sort that seethe over the heads of every choir and one reason I dread sermons, whether on the transmitting or the receiving end.

    And, ah yes, the turkey paradox.

    Ms. Ray, in a hurry for the sake of her own convenience, badgers the farmer, at the peak of HER most frantic season, to extend the further service of delivery. And at the same price, one wonders…

    Where in Ms. Ray’s article, nay, in her mind, was an inspiration to network among her neighbors and friends, to organize a turkey pickup, or for next year, a turkey relay into town, adding value and subtracting impact at one swoop? Goodness. The pickup crew could even stop off at some other farms along the way — pumpkins, squash, a bit of fall color for the mantle. Idle chit-chat with locals maybe.

    Oh– but THAT takes time and energy. It’s dreary, making those calls, hoofing it around town — not to speak of getting into town in the first place, o lucky country-dwellers, we!

    We may pat ourselves on the back for right-thinking but the buck does stop when we get up and act. OR were those nods to ‘walking’ and ‘talking’ mere ornamentation? Vote. Badger mercilessly your elected reps. Form coops. Move to town.

    So sorry about that last. Here’s one man’s vision of a low-carbon utopia: live where informal working alliances for practical ends (i.e. getting turkeys delivered) are as hard to start as stepping out the door and chatting with the two nearest neighbors. Groceries? Should be available within a 5 minute walk, preferably a 1 minute walk, where one carries in one’s empty bag, fills it, and comes home. Minimal waste, maximal use of time, a bit of exercise thrown in painlessly.

    And the optical boutique, when new glasses are in order for screen-squinting? Right around the corner, the other side of the shoe store, the jewelry shop, the hardware boutique, and the post office…but be careful if you are headed out into the next block. You’ll pass through the bi-weekly street market, a minefield of every gadget and article of clothing known to humankind, plus garden-fresh vegetables, flowers, artisan cheeses, meats…oh, the horror of it. The humanity.

    Getting rid of the waste? Across the street on the curb, let’s see. Brown equals compost. Green, glass and cans. White, plastic, and gray, paper and cardboard. The rest of course goes in ‘undefined’ — the mid-sized box. Once a month if there’s something bigger or odder, it can sit next to that bin and will be spirited away.

    Used batteries, compact fluorescents, computer parts? Check the return slots at the market for that, too.

    Ah. Utopia. Italy is no paradise, but all of what I’ve described is exactly what is in place, now, in every town and city. Where there’s a will there’s a way.

    Grinch says: will you? When?


  11. Hey Mr. Grinch,

    I agree with everything you’ve said. And it is no secret, at least among progressives here in the U.S., that Europe is way ahead of us (even a model in some respects). Changing societal habits in the U.S. is happening – there is more momentum in the “no” direction than ever before. I think the greatest hurdles for American society is how to caste off our cultural habits and paradigms with regard to issues like private property and community.

    Competition is so much a trained and ingrained trait in American culture, that it takes an event of critical tragedy before people actually experience what “community” really feels like. Currently, given a few exceptions, Americans are more inclined to avoid contact even with immediate neighbors rather than to associate. I bring this up because, as important as individual action is, community is our real issue.

    All the little acts we need to do for a healthier, greener world are obvious to many Americans, but those things are not yet “Common Sense” because we have very little example, training or experience in “sense of common-unity”. Americans are typically more inclined to assert (at almost any cost) their separateness. It is a kind of dysfunctional individualism that prohibits the formation of healthy local common sense.

    There is an awful lot of bad common sense in our culture. We’re working on it. Building “local economies” is not a new idea, but it is hard to wean the kid off the teat.


  12. I guess Mr Grinch and all his followers have it all figured out. But I am still behind asking questions. Is it really more energy efficient for everything to be delivered into the city than for me to grow everything I can in my country garden? I work only 3 days a week because my country life is so affordable. The rest of the time we spend on our land, gardening and walking and visiting neighbors and of course communicating on the net and by phone and even letter.
    Is his city life really all that superior? Where does his sewage go compared to our composting toilet and use of grey water? There are many issues and I think more than one right answer. An attitude of arrogance and self smugness is what turns many people off to the environmental movement. Is that the best approach? Or could we begin to look at things with an eye for understanding and cooperation? We have young family members in Atlanta who dont even bother to recycle because they feel so overwhelmed with their life of full time work and parenting young children. I can feel very judgmental about their choices. But where does that get us? Or I can try to think of ways to make their life a bit easier or to model a happy life that does not depend on so much consumption. These are complicated questions that do not lend themselves to stock answers. At least that is how I see it.

  13. Well! A Rose is a Rose! Let me ask Mr. Grinch to let you know if — or when — he gets it all figured out.

    Figuring. About 30 people live in my apartment building. There mare about 28 or 30 such apartment buildings on this city block, so that makes maybe 700 or 800 people. How many composting toilets is that? May we move in next door to you? (And what does a two story composting toilet look like? Five stories? Eleven?)

    No — still not speaking for Mr. Grinch — I don’t have it all figured out. Please remember the example which I addressed was merely the ‘one person one turkey’ problem. These are not simple equations — AND the nascent MBA in me wants to know from Ms. Rose much more about the economics of her life in the country and above all how the math comes out that she need work just 3 days a week to get by. Salutary, given contemporary land cost and debt service realities, not to mention pay-back on the investment for a composting toilet. If it’s really so, may we bottle that solution and distribute it widely? Royalties to Ms. Rose, of course. Or is there more here than meets the eye, what my mother always remarked as NVMOS — some kind of No Visible Means of Support — at work? One is struck that in his writing Wally Stegner usually followed the word ‘hippy’ with the phrase, ‘on trust funds’. Do forgive me for this, but I’ll bend with Ms. Rose’s ‘arrogance’ and ‘smugness’ (seems a trifle strong, that) if she’ll tolerate what she sees as mine. In an ‘it takes one to know one’ spirit, if that’s what it is.

    But I hope not. I have ‘had-it-to-here’ with abuses of land and abuses of people, of us. That is what drives me. Sorry if anyone takes my rougher edges the wrong way, but kindly know that if this observer spots the grail, he will pounce and pass it back along, quicker than quick.

    On with the search.

    I was more than touched by the later passage from Ms. Rose, invoking her family who do struggle, energies at the limit, in classic contemporary career-task mode. Those are ‘realities’, many will testify. Manifestations of HABIT. I write not to judge, but to uncover, if I can, those traces of habit. I was disappointed in Ms. Ray’s article, (though not with her sense of the danger before us, which I share) and I’ve expressed that already. Earlier I responded to her example of the turkey from her article, and now to Ms. Rose’s comments.

    A joyful sight anywhere is a well-loved garden. I’d so like to believe in the dream of the self-sufficient garden economy. But here Ms. Rose herself notes that she must perform paid labor several days a week, along with tending her garden. So GARDENS help enormously. But I doubt that COUNTRY LIVING, if I may suggest a distinction between the two, will solve much on the national, let alone global, scale. Where would that crowd on my one city block live, really? Especially the many who would be lost without the social, economic, and cultural structure the urban fabric provides. Not everyone can be happy watering the garden and turning the compost dawn to dark. In fact it might be argued that only a small minority, things being equal, would choose the relative isolation Ms. Rose sketches over the densities of experience in the city.

    In my dreamier, idealistic moments I imagine that here in Italy the very best solution might be to live in one of the smaller towns. The surrounding forests and croplands would be at hand, and quiet. A town is a social place above all, and in it one finds all those things one uses day to day, as I noted in my earlier post, in easy walking range. There’s sewage and gray water of course, but you can see where it goes and keep an eye on things being done right. You know the person who tends the valves and switches because you bump into her often enough in the bar or the post. But the large city, too, has a grace that fosters a good life, reflection, creativity, and a serenity of spirit. If we deny that, we’ll be tossing the baby with the (gray) water. As an aside, I’m regularly surprised at how many little vegetable gardens there are, stuffed in where any bit of unused land can be co-opted for a few tomato or melon vines. I suspect the water for some that I’ve seen is gray, to boot.

    Changing habits calls for learning new new ones, AGAINST the flow of intuition. This counter-intuitive learning is the most difficult of all. If the whole picture of moving to the country and installing a composter is truly the answer (or even one of the really big ones) then the ‘reason’ for that isn’t obvious. It’s counter-intuitive. So, how would one — how would I — learn differently?

    That’s the real question. I can speak to this in concrete terms in relation to bicycling, because so many people — also here in Italy — respond to the mere mention that I use a bicycle at all by repeating their pet anxieties about danger, sweat, discomfort, effort, traffic, and so on. I myself ‘know’ that these objections are not ‘valid’. I also know that repeating the ‘truth’ I have discovered is futile. So there’s the question. How does one make that jump? My own search to answer that is ongoing.

    And one thing more, though for country-dwellers who are perfectly content with life as it is, may stop reading here.

    When I walk to La Scala to see Don Giovanni, or bike or take the bus or the metro or the train across town or out to Rivoli to see an exhibition at the Castello, or to teach my photo classes — and so on, I’m glad for being in the crush of the city. When I want to add a really good prosciutto crudo, or artisanal cheese, or some variety in the peperoni I like, to my larder, it’s nice to know that the deli around the corner, or the street market a few blocks down will have lots of temptations. I’m not ‘against’ country life, but I’d not counsel valuing it above the city, for a whole host of human and cultural, as well as engineering and practical reasons. I hope the country dwellers can accept that, too. And do the math, the engineering analysis, honestly. I think they would be shocked in many cases at the true costs of their dream, and unnerved at the relative actual economies implicit in the city alternative.

    Until someone can show us how all of my city-block neighbors and I, and ten-thousand more blocks like us, can share fields, pastures, and composting toilets gracefully, I’ll posit we still need cities, sewage, gray water, and all.

  14. I’m sorry, but I have to say this – what Americans call environmentalism a large part of the world calls moderation, and, laying a guilt trip upon oneself isn’t going to help solve the problem.

    A naturalized citizen from the U.K.

  15. Mr Tyson, (no relation to the turkey factory, I assume)
    Your remarks about “trust fund hippies” shows that you have put me in one of your standard categories appparently reserved for people who live in the country. I am a nurse and have been for over 25 years. In case you don’t know, it is pretty hard work most of the time. My mother cleaned houses for a living and saved enough to send me to college. I wanted to point this out not to chastize you for this categorization but just to point out that all of us do this. What if we all did less of this and more of really listening to each other. Perhaps we could solve problems more easily.
    I know that there are huge contradictions in my life style when it comes to the environment. I would love to see them clearly and weed them out as much as I can.
    Your city life sounds really good for you. But it too has some contradictions. That is all I want to point out. Thank you and Janisse Ray for bringing it all up. Like Susan Meeker who sees the insanity in the use of so much plastic in her Natural Food job and Drew who cousels us to look to community for solutions, we are all adding a piece to this puzzle. I just wish the whole world was working on it. I really do thank you and all the others who live their lives with intention to walk lightly on this Earth.

  16. This is Grinch, back having pulled a fast one on Mr. Tyson — who says he did feel properly chastised by Ms. Rose and knows he probably deserved it.

    Both he and I wish our UK half who weighed in with a pithy reminder of how the other half lives would expand a bit on the thought. We agree with her that self-flagellation, guilt-tripping, don’t help.

    Maybe the kicker is in the banner for this comment column: ‘It is time (Ms. Ray says)…to get serious about leading by example.’

    Ms. Rose’s example is so appealing that it kills us to say it, but we imagine the conditions that made it possible for her to establish herself as she has are much harder to come by these days. We both tip our hats to her endeavor and her hard work, all the same.

  17. I. Making the case for a reduction in absolute global human population numbers.

    2007 World Population Data:

    II. Making the case for a reduction in per human consumption of limited resources.

    The Wealth Report: Living Large While Being Green —- Rich Buy ‘Offsets’ For Wasteful Ways; Noble, or Guilt Fee?

    24 August 2007

    The Wall Street Journal

    It’s not easy being green — especially if you’re rich.
    With their growing fleets of yachts, jets and cars, and their sprawling estates, today’s outsized wealthy have also become outsized polluters. There are now 10,000 private jets swarming American skies, all burning more than 15 times as much fuel per passenger as commercial planes. The summer seas are increasingly crowded with megayachts swallowing up to 80 gallons of fuel an hour.

    Yet with the green movement in vogue, the rich are looking for ways to compensate for their carbon-dioxide generation, which is linked to global warming, without crimping their style. Some are buying carbon “offsets” for their private-jet flights, which help fund alternate-energy technologies such as windmills, or carbon dioxide-eating greenery such as trees. Others are installing ocean-monitoring equipment on their yachts. And a few are building green-certified mansions, complete with solar-heated indoor swimming pools.

    Some people say the measures are a noble effort on the part of the wealthy to improve the environment. Eric Carlson, executive director and founder of the Carbon Fund, a nonprofit that works with companies and individuals to offset emissions, says the wealthy are taking the lead in alternative-energy markets such as solar technologies just as they take the lead in consumer markets.

    “Obviously these people have different lifestyles from yours or mine,” Mr. Carlson says. “At the same time, they’re not obligated to do anything. We praise those who are doing things. We’re trying to get to a market where the superwealthy are leaders in reducing their [carbon dioxide] footprint and playing a major role in changing this market.”

    Others say the efforts are little more than window-dressing, designed to ease the guilt of the wealthy or boost their status among an increasingly green elite. Environmentalists say that if the rich really wanted to help the environment, they would stop flying on private jets, live in smaller homes, and buy kayaks instead of yachts.

    “Carbon offsets and these other things are feel-good solutions,” says Lester Brown, founder and president of the Earth Policy Institute. “I’m always interested in people who buy a carbon offset for their jet to fly between their four big homes. These kinds of programs postpone more meaningful action.”

    Either way, an increasing number of companies are launching programs designed to help the rich live large while staying green., a private jet service, plans to start a program in early September in partnership with the Carbon Fund. After they take a trip, customers will get a statement on their bills telling them how much carbon dioxide their flight emitted and what it would cost to buy offsets from the fund.

    The offsets are a bargain compared with the flights: A round-trip private-jet flight between Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and Boston costs about $20,000. The offsets for the 13 metric tons of carbon dioxide emitted would cost about $74, the company says.

    V1 Jets International, a jet charter company, rolled out its “Green Card” program that it says accentuates “the positive effect your flight emissions will have on the environment.” The company calculates the total emissions from the trip and then buys a carbon offset from the Carbon Fund. “From a jet perspective, we have a responsibility to look after the damage that these planes do,” says Andrew Zarrow, V1’s president. The company also has created technologies designed to make flights more efficient by selling seats on “deadleg” trips — flights that are returning empty from one-way trips.

    Yacht companies also are getting into the act. Trinity Yachts, a Gulfport, Miss., builder, this month announced it will pay for part of the cost of installing special oceanographic and atmospheric monitoring systems in all of its new boats.

    The system, called the SeaKeeper 1000, measures water temperatures and salinity, as well as air temperature and wind speed. The data are sent to scientists who monitor the earth’s oceans. Trinity’s program is in partnership with International Sea-Keepers, a nonprofit marine conservation group founded by a group of yacht owners concerned about the environment.

    “The caliber of client we have is very aware of what’s going on in the environment,” says William S. Smith III, vice president of Trinity Yachts. Still, the system doesn’t reduce emissions from the yachts themselves, which can burn hundreds of gallons of fuel a day.

    Some wealthy people are going green with their houses, too. The U.S. Green Building Council has certified at least three mansions for being leaders in environmental design, including one owned by Ted Turner’s daughter, Laura Turner Seydel, and her husband, Rutherford, in Atlanta. The 7,000-square-foot-plus house, called EcoManor, is equipped with 27 photovoltaic panels on the roof, rainwater-collecting tanks for supplying toilet water, and “gray water” systems that use water from the showers and sinks for the lawn and gardens. The top of the house is insulated with a soy-based foam that is more efficient than fiberglass. The home has 40 energy monitors and a switch near the door that turns off every light in the house before the family leaves.

    Mr. Seydel says the couple’s energy bill is about half that of comparable homes. While he acknowledges they could have built a slightly smaller house, he said all the space is well used, between kids and visiting friends and in-laws.

    “The wealthy have always been the early adapters to technology,” he says. “I’m hoping that we can pave the way and show that you can have something that’s luxurious that also makes a lot of sense from an energy and convenience point of view.”

    III. Making the case for a reduction in the seemingly endless economic globalization activities of BIG BUSINESS now overspreading Earth.

    In Praise of Mother Nature
    By Bret Schulte

    Posted 7/15/07

    US News & World Report

    Science writers generally don’t do whimsy, particularly those who have witnessed the aftermath of Chernobyl or the plundering of Latin America’s resources. But in his provocative new book, The World Without Us, Alan Weisman adds a dash of fiction to his science to address a despairing problem: the planet’s health. Weisman wonders how Earth would fare if people simply disappeared. With help from experts, Weisman discovered that, untended, humanity’s achievements would stand little chance against Mother Nature, even in her weakened state. Sans electric pumps, the New York subway would flood within days. Pretty flowers would quickly crack sidewalks. And the life span of your house? About 50 years. Weisman spoke to U.S. News.

    Environmental books are often depressing reads. Does framing a message around a hypothetical make it more approachable?

    I would say so. I was looking for some way to seduce readers to keep following along so they could see what is going on in the world and how it all connects. Ultimately, once we take humans out of the picture we see how the rest of nature could flourish. We think, “Wow, if nature could do all that, then is there a way that this could happen that does not depend on our extinction?”

    Your book takes us to a 14th-century European hunting preserve and demilitarized zones where nature has a free hand. Were you surprised by what you saw?

    It was pretty weird. This fragment of primeval European forest on the Poland-Belarus border literally feels like it’s out of Grimm’s fairy tales. That’s what it looks like, that’s what it sounds like, that’s what it smells like. But the incredible thing is that it doesn’t feel exotic. For someone growing up in Europe or North America, it feels familiar. It feels right.

    How did your visit to Chernobyl lead to this book?

    I got a call in 2003 from an editor at Discover magazine who read the 1994 story I wrote after the explosion at Chernobyl, where I described how abandoned houses were being taken over by their own landscaping. Roots and trees and even flowers were breaking up sidewalks. A population of radioactive deer kept growing, and radioactive wolves kept coming after them. In 1994, she thought the article was depressing, but as she was editing all these depressing environmental stories, she said it had become one of the most hopeful stories: that no matter how badly we screw up, nature will find a way to overcome it.

    What did you take away from these places?

    I wasn’t really expecting to realize the history of architecture is kind of like a bell-shaped curve. Our first dwellings were caves, then we started making caves-houses out of rock-and as we got more refined, our buildings grew higher and less permanent. Engineers tell me that our oldest buildings will outlast the newer ones…because we don’t make them the way we used to, out of material from the Earth. The World Trade Center collapsed and St. Paul’s Chapel, which is made out of Manhattan schist, is still standing. Other buildings around the World Trade Center that did not get hit by the airplanes collapsed anyhow.

    Is this book a cold splash of water for humanity’s many triumphs?

    In some ways it’s a wake-up call, but at the same time humans have done some beautiful things, things you have to admire. One of the surprises for me is coming away with so much respect for the people who maintain our infrastructure. If it wasn’t for these guys keeping the bridges from rusting, or who keep our subway tunnels pumped, or who show up every day at our nuclear plants, stuff would start to disassemble rapidly. We live on the backs of some unsung heroes who are keeping it all together.

    Three things: One of them is lovely, the Voyager spacecraft carrying our artwork, our music. I talked to John Lomberg, who put all that together for Carl Sagan, and it was beautiful to talk to someone who thought about what the message to posterity should be. On the darker side: nuclear waste. Depleted uranium has a 4.6 billion-year half-life. The planet is only going to last about 5 billion years before the sun expands. The other thing is plastics. No one really knows how long it will take for plastics to break down because they’re relatively new. Plastic isn’t filling up landfills; it’s blowing into rivers and flowing to the ocean. It’s breathtaking how much plastic we’ve generated.

    Your book ends on a controversial note.

    I ask: What if we tried one child per family for everyone? I don’t want to deprive people of siblings, but I don’t want to deprive people of species that are wonderful and part of our life. We can’t live without them. If we could bring our numbers down, that would buy us some time to clean up our act.

  18. To expand; I really have only one thing to say – buy less America! Somehow it always seems that to simplify their lives people buy more. How does that work?

  19. To Ms. Rose,

    Mr Tyson, (no relation to the turkey factory, I assume)

    None! But ah— might one wish?

    Your remarks about “trust fund hippies” shows that you have put me in one
    of your standard categories appparently reserved for people who live in the

    No, that wasn’t my meaning, I’m sorry that you took it that way. The point I tried to make is that your circumstances, as you describe them, sound unworkable for more than a fortunate few. I’m not gifted in brevity so I hope this condensation clarifies what I had hoped to express. Yes, I enjoy the city life I lead, including the bicycle ride I’m about to take this Sunday morning, far into the mountains to the west. But, and this is the important qualification, I don’t imagine that the life I lead would suit just anyone, either. Again, I hope to make the point that in imagining a better future we would do well to check our models against the relevant pragmatics.

    Wallace Stegner’s formulation about hippies came to mind simply because it expresses (for me) the disconnect between that era’s ‘flowery’ public image, and the difficult underlying realities. Again I’m sorry if this rubbed against you, personally. My mother’s ‘no visible means of support’ remark also fits. ‘Hippies’ largely represented an affluent, well-educated, White American social stratum who had the means to drop out. (I didn’t, quite. I worked, to get through college.) So it is with country living, I fear. The idyllic setting and free-time lifestyle are American ideals, but in almost every case I can think of when you scratch the surface you discover exceptional if not truly extraordinary circumstances that have made this or that individual’s country haven possible. My intent was only to point out that, good as this may be as a non-impactful, if not truly sustainable, way of life, it is probably not a good model for widespread adoption, simply because it will not be possible to scale up the model, against pragmatic limits.

    My family has a cabin at high elevation in the California Sierra Nevada. It is off the grid, has a pit toilet that has served with no need of service for twenty years, and returns no effluvia to the terrain or ground water. It can be heated with wood dragged in from forest deadfall without showing a trace, but that is true only because there are so few cabins there, and so vast a forest nearby.

    But this cabin is a very poor ‘model’ or ‘example’ for something as huge as what Ms. Ray points to in her article. Everything about the place is un-ordinary and not scalable. The carrying capacity of that brittle subalpine or subarctic mountain environment is small, and — if you will note above, I wrote ‘has’ with respect to the issue of possession, and ‘can be’ for that of obtaining fuel for heating and cooking. Ours is a US Forest Service lease site, not ‘real property’. And we usually purchase firewood which is delivered by motor vehicle. As much as I am grateful for the place, I keep in mind that we are stewards of something, there, in keeping with a profound privilege that we enjoy.In some sense the ‘style’ in which we occupy the place is a kind of fantasy posturing, no matter how deeply we think we understand what we are doing. Returning to the city, I look around me and search for ‘style’ that brings fantasy as close as possible to ordinary quotidian actualities.

    The examples could be multiplied. I did my best, working from the example of Ms. Rose’s and Ms. Ray’s country living experiences, and in relatively few words, to convey some of the practical differences between ‘country living’ and ‘city life’ as we know them.

    There is something else that comes through in Ms. Rose’s words, as well as in Ms. Ray’s article. But efore I continue, may I say to Ms. Rose and others, none of this is meant personally, but as self-observation. It is part of us all. I insert here that I’m open to off-list email too, at lkrndu ‘at’ — my more complete contact info is on my blog and linked pages, if you click on my name at the top of this post.

    I am a nurse and have been for over 25 years. In case you don’t
    know, it is pretty hard work most of the time. My mother cleaned houses for
    a living and saved enough to send me to college. I wanted to point this out
    not to chastize you for this categorization but just to point out that all
    of us do this.

    ‘Hard work’ and ‘all of us do this’. I hope I’m included in that number! I write as a former middle school science teacher, speaking of work. So. In the article and these posts, Ms. Rose’s included, I read a tone of stress or anxiety. It’s as if we live in fear we might not be able keep what we’ve earned, what we’ve made. Maybe this manifests greed, the dark side of task, or a losing sight of purpose, the high side of love. Such underlying un-ease might well trigger guilt and shame that cloud our thinking when we approach larger dilemmas.

    I know that there are huge contradictions in my life style when it comes to
    the environment. I would love to see them clearly and weed them out as much
    as I can.

    I for one can accept such contradictions, and especially when I know we’re on the same page in our forthrighness as to what’s what. That honesty, and self-acceptance makes going to the next step in exploring options much more fluid and much less personally threatening.

    Your city life sounds really good for you. But it too has some

    It is and it does. I ‘bragged’ some of the positives earlier. Again, my deeper motive was to suggest that cities allow for a certain critical mass of human energy, fusion power for deeper, better, more finely wrought ideas and institutions. City is society. But if you’d like me to really clog the list, I could go on — and on — about the contradictions, as you say, that I see every day….. :-) Italy is ‘late’ in just about everything, not just train arrivals. Even though my washing machine probably uses a fifth the water and electricity of its US counterpart, and zero fossil fuel for the dryer (solar, a line off the back balcony), I have no illusions about where those dead AA batteries really wind up, at least some of the time. Not only does real progress come slowly, the curve is not always upwards, but spiky, seismic.

    I worked — hard — as a carpenter building a house. The boss tore us away from our labor at 4:30 sharp every day, put a beer in each of our hands, and said, ‘Now the most important part of the day. Take ten steps back, close your eyes, sip some beer. Turn around and look at what you’ve done.’

    Man, I tell you. That made the aching muscles loosen up, the mind fill with what the eyes beheld: progress, something made. And made better than before. Made, and, in the mind’s eye more brightly than before, the vision. The plan of what would become. The next day of work, and the next, until the structure be complete. And we’d move on, to the next.

    What is next? And how do you know?

  20. I’m having trouble having much sympathy for Janisse. Sure, it’s great to be self-aware. And yet this self-awareness rings hollow, like my sister-in-law, who very publicly expressed angst over whether to buy her young daughters Barbie(TM) dolls. She ended up buying the damn dolls, and all the rest of it was just wasted breath.

    We can all do more, but those who understand this should have a responsibility to actually do more, rather than just talk or write about it. Angst over leg-shaving? Gimme a break!

    I’m speaking at a conference (on forming co-operatives) that is 2,000 km away this November. I’d take the train, but it costs more than flying. So we’re taking an extra two weeks, and driving there and back on waste vegetable oil.

    It’s not as though just anyone can do this, but people who are supposedly leading the way, who are supposedly inspiring others to do good — these people have a moral imperative to “walk the talk.”

    The problems are so deep and intractable that it takes revolutionary action to change them. For example, participation in the economy: most people don’t think they have any choice but to slave for little bits of green paper, because all that they value in life comes from having these little bits of green paper.

    How much money is time with your family worth? How much money is food security worth? How much money is energy security worth? How much money is housing security worth?

    When Bush was first (s)elected in 2000, I began plans to leave the US. Not out of spite, but out of the feeling that in an “ownership society” country, there was no longer any room for the frugal. My plan was to live simply, but in the US, the only name for that is “poor.”

    When the bombs began flying, I vowed to stop supporting the country with my tax dollars — not by being a tax resister and breaking some arbitrary laws that would end up causing me a lot of pain and suffering, but by consciously limiting my income to below the level at which taxes were due.

    And guess what — the sky didn’t fall. I’m not shivering and malnourished. We “downsized” our lives, and left the suburbs (see for a place where we could raise more of our food. We stopped eating meat (a huge resource drain), and so have no angst over driving 60 miles for a turkey. We got rid of our gasoline vehicles and began making our own biodiesel from waste cooking oil. And even then, we bike to town and drive under 3,000 miles a year — most of those are “love miles” to visit aging family, rather than running unnecessary errands.

    I’m not trying to toot my own horn here. I’m trying to say that it’s too late for “50 simple ways to save the planet.” The simple ways are not enough. It’s time for the activists to really “walk the talk.”

    Please forgive me if it seems I’m being too hard on you, Janisse. But if you go speak somewhere, and anyone in the audience is doing better by the earth than you, make it a personal quest to catch up. (If many of the audience are, humbly apologize, return your speaker’s fee, and go home with a vow to do much better!)

    And thank you for the small/huge step of requesting your venues use environmentally responsible practices. Perhaps you don’t have enough clout yet to politely insist on such practices; perhaps the next step would be to do so, which may also be a form of voluntary income reduction. :-)

  21. I’m having trouble having much
    sympathy for Janisse. Sure, it’s
    great to be self-aware.

    Exactly. Except that this isn’t self-awareness. It is a not-very-honest self-promotion masquerading as a sham quest for self-knowledge. Worse still, it’s not even FUNNY.

    Does the author of the piece ever bother to so much as glance at the — oftimes thoughtful — exchanges her public upchuck has prompted? No, methinks.

    …2,000 km away…I’d take the train, but…
    we’re taking an extra two weeks, driving
    on waste vegetable oil.

    A WEEK to…drive…600 miles?? Ah. The New Leisure Class…where do I sign up?

    It’s not as though just anyone can do this,

    Well, anyone COULD, so long as the supply of veg oil holds out, but when we finally shut down all the McD’s and Burgies — there won’t be enough to go ’round anymore, now will there? Or does used olive oil count?

    but people who are supposedly
    leading the way…have a moral imperative
    to “walk the talk.”

    AND drive the drive, apparently.

    The problems are so deep and intractable

    So let’s all go home and dowse our next well whilst watching the Apocalypse’ arrival on CNN. Powered by our private windmill.

    My plan was to live
    simply, but in the US,
    the only name for that is “poor.”

    Sì. E qui, in Italia? La parola è veramente la stessa: POVERO. Same word, different lingua…hello?

    I vowed to stop supporting the
    country with my tax dollars …by
    consciously limiting my income
    to below the level at which taxes
    were due.

    That is, by lapsing into poverty…

    We “downsized” our lives, and
    left the suburbs for a place where
    we could raise more of our food.

    All fine, and perfect examples of the Stegnerian ‘HOTF’* way of life. Note too that writer’s lifelong concern with the rapacious clear-cut-burn-and-move-on cycle across the North American continent. What’s new, original, or liberated of the same sin, in YOUR migration? What are your ‘connection points’ to Society? And perchance have ya got a wee bit of extra real-estate there for me and my 800 or so nearest neighbors to come join you? Oh– and our dogs including the pair of 160 pound great danes next door, the ear-clipped rottie out back and its best buddy, the three-legged siamese? We’ll leave the flock of pigeons the siamese almost but not quite manages to catch and promise to use only extra-virgin olive oil in OUR ways of doing things. (/s/ Loyal Oppositionist)

    I’m not trying to toot my own
    horn here. I’m trying to say that
    it’s too late for “50 simple ways
    to save the planet.”

    Ah. But you are, exactly. And what’s wrong with ‘simple’ ways? Good places to start, points of entry to get under some of the edges of ingrained habit. I seem to recall a time — oh, waaay back in the last century — when people posted little signs above their toilets:

    ‘If it’s brown
    flush it down
    If it’s yellow
    let it mellow’

    Saved water, that simple thing did. It did.

    It’s time for the activists to “walk the talk.”

    And? We should follow you, out into the hinterland, the scrubbrush-scape of nary-a-connected-thought, let alone social, political, scientific, managerial, or MORAL co-involvement with daily life?

    Please forgive me if it seems I’m being too hard
    on you, Janisse.

    We forgive you. You’re going too easy on Janisse, and in general, so this writer is endeavoring to take up some of the slack. (Wooo! This is FUNNN!)

    And thank you for the small/huge step of…
    perhaps the next step would
    be…voluntary income reduction.

    Hello? You mean we’re forgetting the whole sweep of capitalist economic reality? The time-value of money? The power of leverage? Y’know kiddies, back to Econ 1 and noting that there IS a dark side — sub-prime lending jumps immediately to mind for some reason — AND a high side.

    Those of you who HAVE fled the cities and ‘burbs have already taken advantage of this, for better of for worse: you have invested yourselves, and, presumably, your capital (yes, in the money-meaning) in a new way of life. We each have some leeway to do that. If there is room for argument (there is, from this perspective) then there SHOULD be hard questions asked with respect to any proposed ‘solution’, and especially of the status-quo.

    But remember to separate the factual elements of what-is, from the forces and principles at work behind them. Behavior and above all reason may redirect the latter to new outcomes, even if it won’t (and can’t) change the present state of the former. Here’s a fact: the vast majority of the people on the earth dwell in cities. And another: that majority is increasing and will continue to increase.

    Hello, again?

    *HOTF is Hippies On Trust Funds. Poor Stegner. May he rest in peace…

  22. To Orion Magazine,
    I am the global warming scientist friend who doubted the effectiveness of buying a hybrid car alluded to in Janisse Ray’s September/October 2007 Orion article on page 3, column 2, 2nd paragraph.

    Dear Janisse,

    While I agree with the overall premise of your Orion article, In my opinion, “hypocritical” as used to describe the choir’s actions is a discouraging word. In my opinion, the tone of your article is not likely to promote the change of behavior we would all like to see.

    And one thing about scientists, even those of us who investigate climate change, we are naturally skeptical.

    I have had bad luck with batteries of all kinds. I use them a lot at work, and they don’t seem to last too long for me. When we chose to buy our 2nd hand Toyota Echo, 5 years ago instead of a hybrid (the devout thing to do), it was in part because I didn’t know, (and I still don’t) how long those big hybrid batteries last. Nor have I seen any information about the environmental cost of producing those batteries in terms of mining, fossil fuels and environmental damage. So we bought a used Echo that gets 35 to 38 mpg—different from what you implied. Is it that much worse to have a car that gets 10-15 mpg less than yours but doesn’t have a battery? Also the Echo is simpler, 30% less parts than a hybrid, and is less to keep up.

    I think that the “choir” needs the freedom to take the actions that it deems best and be subjected to encouragement, not criticism. For example, this year we added roofing insulation and thermal windows. We could have bought a hybrid with these funds but what is the environmental cost of a new Japanese car vis a vis keeping the 2001 echo? What exactly is the “best” action? Who gets to say?

    Things are not always as simple as they seem. Case in point is the recent analysis that found that due to differences in farming practices it is less environmentally damaging for the British to eat mutton shipped from New Zealand rather than locally grown mutton.

    Sure we can all do better, but in my opinion, the tone of your article does more to shame and discourage the converted rather than to encourage them. The tone is, “its just never enough, is it”??

    Trying to wean ourselves to a lower fossil fuel diet is like being on a low-calorie diet. It is very difficult to say no to the many temptations offered by our industrial society. It is hard not to eat that brownie on the table at the Janisse Ray event. But compassion and encouragement rather than shaming is a better approach to offer to those of us faced with trying to fend of middle aged spread in addition to excess fossil fuel consumption.

    your scientist friend.

    Jeff Chanton

  23. “Should enviros be eschewing travel and canceling conferences?” Yes – If travel is incongruent with one’s talk – localize the talk. Here’s a contradiction: Why is travel to exotic places a regular feature in the Sierra Club magazine?

    “Is the path to a greener world a narrow one that demands saying “no” to many of the goods and comforts to which we’re accustomed?” I suppose one can always question what they are “accustomed” to. It depends on the willingness to explore the “unaccustomed.” There was a time when much of what we are now accustomed to, was not a custom. SUVs, automatic dishwashers , bottled water, fast food….etc.

    “Or is it better to consume some resources in the service of a larger battle?” I guess this question really boils down to defining service and battle. “war talk” Dropping the A-Bomb was justified in the service of a battle. Everyone finds a way to justify anything and it’s always to serve what one believes is true.

  24. Dear Friends,

    After a too brief review of the SOLUTIONSn (referred to above) by some of our most respected leading thinkers, I could not find examples of examinations of the issue of growth, particularly with regard to the rapidly increasing scale of certain distinctly human over-growth activities: unrestricted species propagation, unrestrained per capita consumption and the unbridled globalization of large-scale production capabilities now overspreading the surface of Earth.

    What am I missing?

    With thanks,


  25. Yes, Steve — “grow” is a four-letter word.

    As long as politicians and their constituents pursue endless growth, humanity is in trouble.

    In a zero-sum game, one person’s growth is necessarily another person’s decline.

    Imagine an ethic, perhaps spread as a meme, in which each of us is saddened by growth, knowing it takes from someone else. In such an ethic, we can also be joyous about decline, knowing it will allow for someone else’s growth. A new twist on getting old, perhaps? :-)

  26. Jan and Steve,

    I don’t know why this irritates me, but something feels particularly sinister about a human being having a desire to control the fertility of other human beings. I remember reading about this in another forum about a week ago and one of the respondents cleared this up nicely for me by sending a link to this paper.
    It ties all related aspects of politics, economics and population together.

    Anyway, this discussion is supposed to be focused on -> “Should enviros be eschewing travel and canceling conferences? Is the path to a greener world a narrow one that demands saying “no” to many of the goods and comforts to which we’re accustomed? Or is it better to consume some resources in the service of a larger battle?”

    We can theorize on global solutions until doomsday, but here in the choir, at some point you have to ask, am I walking, or just talking?

  27. Friends,
    Some musings on the subject –

    For me, “walking my talk” is necessary for my health and well-being. Once I adopt something as my value, like living lightly on the Earth or taking others needs into consideration when I consume, it takes up a lot of energy to keep justifying actions that are not in line with this value. So just for my own peace of mind, I try to live by my core values. I’m thinking that most people are similar to me in this way.
    Yet, I have found that my sensitivity to the core value increases with time. At first it is OK to follow the “50 simple ways to save the Earth.” Then as I think more deeply, I see the effects of my actions more clearly and my actions must become even more “pure”(but only by my own standards). So at first I might limit my driving a bit when it doesn’t make much difference. Then I might go out of my way to take public transportation once in a while, I might buy a bike and ride it to work on good days and when I am not too tired. Someday I might decide not to have a child in order to limit my footprint on the Earth. The commitment to the value of living in harmony with the Earth is strengthened by each action and also by seeing the actions of others with similar values. It almost seems to me that there is no inherent heirarchy of actions. All are equally significant and insignficant.
    This last observation leads me to think that it is quite impossible to decide what others should be doing and absolutely essential to decide what you yourself should be doing.
    I would like to hear more from people who are considering their next step. What would it be?

  28. I guess you’d say I’m one of the Back to the Earth 60s people. I’m not the only one. We’ve been learning how to live on the land and sharing our skills for a long time. Some people called us the Counterculture but a lot of us knew we were just getting ready for the future.

    In the 80s in the hill country of Texas, in a small town called Comfort, we published a little magazine called “Close to Home.” It was about all the things people around there were doing to support themselves, working out of their homes. There were craftspeople, artists, furniture builders, coop schools and midwives, people growing flowers, pecans and herbs, all kinds of wonder stuff.

    We were working on permaculture and regional self-sufficiency, growing a lot of our own food and building community.

    It’s been hard stay with this lifestyle the last 20 years in this country but many have and many more have their experiences to share, their hard earned lessons.

    It gives me great joy to see more and more people wake up to the truth of our dependence on the earth. I know it can be frustrating and I honor your self-questioning. Skillful discernment is not the same as “judging.”

    Just don’t get discouraged. The momentum is building. Let’s hope for a quantum leap!

  29. ‘There are few real boundaries in Nature’ — Rebecca Solnit

    How sweetly ironic! That’s the masthead tidbit offered up on THIS Orion page at the moment. And by a writer I truly admire. Tsch. Tsch.


    To one and all, this discussion is pretty silly. Question: WILL IT SCALE? Not likely, from the implausible proposals broached here. For every one of ‘us’ who goes back to the land (takes comfort in Comfort, TX?) there are ten thousand or ten million who want to get in, get big, get — to the Mall.

    I don’t see ANY address to that larger reality. So in this way this discussion — but it isn’t that, it’s a billboard attacked by graffiti, every one for her (him) self with one witty remark or another — IS just for the choir, and at the pleasure of the original preacher.

    When I was small I was not at all easy with church. Why? Because I listened to the solemnity of the sermon, took in the pious expressions on adults’ faces around me, and then during the week (we lived in a small town — Davis, California, of all later-to-be-considered-hip places) ran into some of those same ‘choristers’ — going about their various businesses, as if nothing had ever been said last Sunday morning.

    I don’t see anything different here. What I read, and hear, in the comments added, and in the original article, is a fumbling for self-congratulation — as a reward for self-absorption.

    ‘Core’ values?? How do you know?! Where is the margin for asking questions, for skepticism? And above all, a vision that reaches beyond that tight, tiny circle of one’s own very private comfort zone?

    Salmony’s contribution of a URL for ’21’ solutions was intriguing. The one that caught my eye was something like ‘450’ for that many ppm of CO2, at which point opinion among scientists converges on a conclusion that irreversible heating and loss of arctic ice masses will accelerate.

    Knowing the choir would rather adjourn for (organic, herbal) tea, I ask, what if we go to 475? Any plans, in that case? But no, no, no, this calls for thinking — not only outside the box, but beyond the personal core, gut, self-righteous sphere.

  30. Excuse me! We published a magazine and lots of people bought it and bought the goods and services those of us in it were offering – locally. They also got ideas for their own lives and put them into practice.
    By the way, if you think living on the land is “taking comfort” – just laid back, self-indulgent airheads – you’ve never done it.
    It’s grassroots, my friend, and as far as I can see grassroots IS the larger reality.

  31. Who you telling ‘never done it’?

    Here’s what back-to-the-land means, if you take your model and extend it to the world’s population — in other words if you scale it so that your model includes everyone:

    It’s a Nepalese shepherd, hardscrabble with enough to feed his family — in a good year.

    It is his up-slope neighbor, tilling a 2/3-acre ‘field’ with a wooden plow — and his wife, his daughter, and himself, as the draft animals.

    Do I need to go on?

    The HUGE question, the true elephant in THIS room — and in Comfort, is: will it scale?

    This observer, who HAS lived as you describe and enjoyed the many fruits of that very satisfying way of life, so long as said life-style remains opt-out-able, begs to remind you that doing so, in the manner YOU describe, publishing a magazine and all, is a high privilege. Nay, a luxury, in this age.

    Try it a little farther west of Meridian 100 — and not only in N. America, but in the majority of environments worldwide that resemble the semi-arid Western plains of the US…..

    Note for the geographically challenged, Comfort, Texas lies at 99 degrees west longitude. By the way, the hydrologist is curious: where do you get your water? The American West has long been structured on the time-honored water rights principle of robbing Peter to pay Paul.

    And who said living in SW Texas, publishing a magazine, plowing land, and selling stuff were enough, pardon me? How about the music conservatory, the think-tank, the library, the theater company? The monastery, or the technology development skunk-works? And the synergies among all that and more?

    IOW, there’s a town of Comfort, but no city, yet, only an outpost, far, in some terms, from Society.

    It won’t be sufficient.

    For anyone who remembers Stewart Brand’s Whole Earth Catalog, this writer was straight enough on some occasion to read Brand’s intro. Something in there about pursuing the alternatives with full gusto. And also riffing through the ‘traditional’ and the ‘old’ for nuggets.

    We need both. And all.

  32. Drew, I don’t know why this irritates me, but something feels particularly sinister about a human being having a desire to control the farting of other human beings, say in a crowded elevator.

    There are simply too many people. If we don’t figure out how to limit our own numbers, nature will do it. It’s been that way for hundreds of millions of years, but despite our high-falutin’ opinion of ourselves, we show no more understanding of this than yeast cells, which multiply beyond their resources and die in their own excrement, just as it looks like humanity is about to do.

    And I’m not only talking, I’m walking. I had myself fixed before ever having children. I’m hoping someday there will be a “cap ‘n’ trade” system for procreation, and I can get rich off my unused fertility credit. :-)

    I’m not only walking, I’m running! I seem to have “adopted” a number of young adults the age my children would have been, who are interested in learning Permaculture and sustainability. All in all, not a bad trade — didn’t have to change diapers, can hand off the “grand children” when their diapers need work, didn’t have to put up with teens, and I get these kids right about the time when they’re thinking maybe the older generation has something to offer, after all… :-)

  33. Jan

    Congratulations. I don’t agree there are too many people. It’s a Malthusian scare tactic. Read the link I sent, better yet, read the book it refers to. You’ll be enlightened.

  34. Hi Drew. I read the link. Sounds like character assassination. I could make similar arguments against Jesus Christ, based on the behavior of many of his followers. The link seems to have more issues with what people do in Malthus’s name than with the man’s theories themselves.

    Malthus was right about population. He just didn’t know about fossil fuel. Can’t blame him for that, can you?

    Population has risen in lock-step with energy availability. Energy availability has peaked, and will soon go into decline. Population must follow. This is how all trophic systems work, and fossil fuel is certainly a trophic system for H. sapiens — ten calories of fossil energy go into each calorie of food produced. The “Green Revolution” should more rightly be called the “Brown Revolution,” because none of it would have been possible without fossil fuel.

    But perhaps you haven’t noticed the recent rise in food prices, echoing nicely the recent run-up in energy prices?

    Since you’re fond of books and enlightenment, I’d suggest the Club of Rome report, Limits to Growth, and Beyond the Limits, by Donella and Dennis Meadows.

    Of course, Malthus couldn’t know about fossil fuel, and A Miracle Might Occur, and some deus ex machina could supply another increment of energy to humanity that will enable more growth.

    What happens when that energy resource becomes depleted? Aren’t we simply delaying the inevitable? Garrett Hardin wrote: “Given an infinite source of energy, population growth still produces an inescapable problem. The problem of the acquisition of energy is replaced by the problem of its dissipation.” and Steven Hawking notes: “By 2500 or so, people will cover the entire land mass of the world shoulder to shoulder, and the earth will glow a dull red with the energy they dissipate.”

    So, where do you draw the line? Do you even believe there’s a line? It not, then we must part and agree to disagree.

    But if you do agree that endless growth in a finite world is not possible, surely we should obey the Precautionary Principle, and err on the side of caution?

  35. Bob – Simplifying one’s lifestyle, becoming more aware of where one’s food is coming from, buying locally, living closer to the earth – these are good things to do anywhere. We got our water from a well and a few times a year we went into the city (San Antonio – plenty of culture there) fifty miles away. And I have to say I lost my respect for Stewart Brand when he came out in favor of nuclear power. Too bad.

  36. Jan, I don’t see character assassination in the paper. I’m also not contending there are absolutely no limits to growth per se. I’m not a capitalist aristocrat. The biggest threat to natural limits is not precisely the population. Yes, population is a problem if we “assume” the math alone and that populations in developing countries are being groomed to inevitably join the butchering of the planet that western capitalists so ably and actively promote. I am not that pessimistic, hysterical, or deluded into missing how aggressive western economic principles are to a great degree, the primary culprit behind the smokescreen defining population growth as a undeniable threat.

    “Attributing conflicts arising from resource scarcity to population pressures, rather than neo-colonialism or neo-liberalism, meanwhile serves the function of making Western interventions appear more benign.”

    Whatever danger is posed by population growth is made so by the spread of unchecked, out of scale predatory materialistic ideologies. In my opinion it is predictable, if not at least despicable, for those who sit so comfortably on the throne of fossil fueled infrastructures, to want to target human procreation in so called developing countries. And make no mistake, they are the primary target. And that is the focus of this way of thinking….control the poor, reduce their numbers and many can maintain a semblance of our extravagant gluttony.

    All this talk of controlling population just reduces one into a “survival of the fittest” mindset. It’s school yard bullying prompted by the promises made to little warlords acting as agents for the greed of little tyrants who only want the dollars they can squeeze out of the land that belongs to real, honest, hardworking people.

    If the population in North America, for example, could rely less on the resources from global markets, maybe global populations would strike a balance. If developing countries would stop being a battle ground for transnational corporations – hungry to get their labor and resources, maybe those populations would have a chance to return to the ways they naturally have for supporting themselves.

    It might seem like a little thing but somebody said it a few posts back. Buy less America! and to that I”ll add – Buy Local!

  37. “… it is predictable, if not at least despicable, for those who sit so comfortably on the throne of fossil fueled infrastructures, to want to target human procreation in so called developing countries. And make no mistake, they are the primary target.”

    Ah, now I know where you’re coming from.

    I agree that not everyone who advocates reduced population has pure motives. NPG (for one) is pretty racist in its policies. I don’t support any population reduction group who has “immigration” as one of its issues, or who specifically targets the third world.

    But I think you’re jumping to conclusions about those in this forum who advocate population reduction. Each American baby will have at least twenty times the impact of an Indian or Chinese baby, and perhaps 100 times the impact of an African baby.

    I think population is a problem, period — north, south, east, west, rich, poor — you name it.

    Donella Meadows presents the following equation in Beyond the Limits, which I think she stole from HT Odum:

    I = P * A * T

    Impact equals Population times Affluence times Technology.

    I consider “Affluence” to be essentially energy consumption.

    You can reduce impact by reducing any of the terms.

    But in your zeal to not be in favor of reducing population, would you reduce the affluence or access to technology of the population?

    That seems to me to be just as arrogant and barbaric — tell people in the third world that they can’t have modern medicine or electric lights, just so they can procreate at will.

    Wouldn’t it be much simpler if we could all just agree to reduce our numbers? Would you go along with this if it were proportionately applied to all countries, regardless of wealth?

  38. I = P * A * T

    Impact equals Population times Affluence times Technology.
    You can reduce impact by reducing any of the terms.

    Ah! Now this I can relate to. How about this? In the San Joaquin Valley of California (a formerly rich ag zone over a hundred miles wide) new growth is re-doubling city areas at mind-numbing rates. So if people won’t, darn them, become less numerous to reduce the IMPACT of this growth, we can simply make them poorer, right? Boy, if that tactic will make the impact ‘less’ I’m all for it, although in exactly what terms that would e less escapes me at the moment.

    But OK! Become poor and your impact will be reduced! The back-to-the-landers deserve a round of applause. Oh, by the way, the horny-thorny question nags its way back on to the table still: WILL IT SCALE?

    In fact I rather enjoyed the San Joaquin Valley when I was a kid and it was about equal parts cropland and riparian wetland as far as the eye could see. Lots fewer people, rich and poor. Dangit. If there have got to be more people, let them be richer than poorer, I say. The numbers who have come by now would spread out even more and make an even lousier mess of the place if they hadn’t the props of technology — and affluence — to keep them bunched up and off the grass, so to speak.

    To those who shoot the messenger — Stewart Brand in this case — because he doesn’t perfectly fit their pieties, may I draw the attention back to the message: that it is essential as never before to take full advantage of every resource, technological, managerial, societal. MIT reports progress in bio-engineering bacteria to make gasoline from grass. ‘The solution’? We’ll see. Might help.

    Well water is fine, but no Permaculture farm is an island, as John Donne wrote the song. Who coordinates this well, if it is deep, with drawdowns over the region? And if shallow, to balance local users, and organize measures to prevent nasty infiltrations from surface waste? Those are technological, administrative, and societal issues. Comfort is or soon will be engulfed in the sprawl of San Antonio, one of the fastest-growing regions in the US. What then?

    The Malthus article is nothing more than a screed for someone with an ax to grind, the fulminations about capitalism, semantic head-tripping, I’m afraid. Historically there is one proven positive correlation with reduced fertility. It is NOT capitalist exploitation, it is NOT widespread famine, epidemic, war, or natural disaster, it is NOT externally-imposed government (or foreign NGO) policy.

    It is education. For women.

    Culture is a helluvalot MORE than driving 50 miles a few times a year to see a movie. And munch a drive-thru burger. It encompasses science, technology, government, communications, education and debate — AND Don Giovanni plus Pirates of the Caribbean, thank you, whether or not at walking distance from where the viewer rests his head. Something more than scuffles over the bar tab on the Titanic, including win-win’s to foreshadow declining fertilities. Note the plural, it might have done to have added ‘of rich and poor alike’. But the awful truth IS ‘racist’, if we’ve just got to be prisoner to coded rhetoric. The vast majority of the earth’s population, who are poor, don’t live in the wealthy, technoratic ‘west’ and are not ‘white’.

    Every current college graduate in India speaks English. Shall we open debate with a few of them to see what they would suggest?

  39. Dear Bob,

    Perhaps you have overlooked at least one other correlation: No food equals no people. No exceptions.

    I have seen many examples of thoroughly well-educated females of the highest socioeconomic standing having large families, even in these days. However, I have never seen, heard, read or found a single shred of good scientific evidence — in all of recorded history — of a human being surviving long periods of time without food.

    ALL the scientific evidence indicates that human beings cannot survive long absent food.

    The education of women in our time is important, for sure; but, a precondition for education is food.

    Thanks for your comments and for those of others to this stimulating discussion.



  40. Dear Friends,

    In Comment # 24 I referenced the following work:

    21 SOLUTIONS? to Save the World………

    Please note that nowhere is there mentioned the potential for an ECOLOGICAL catastrophe that could soon result from the rapidly mounting pressures produced by unbridled human production, increasing per capita consumption and near exponential human population growth.

    Nowhere is there mentioned the potential for a colossal wreckage of the global ECONOMY in the offing that could result from the irreversible degradation of the environment and the reckless dissipation of finite resources produced by the adamant and relentless growth of certain distinctly human activities now overspreading the surface of Earth.

    At least to me, we have substantial evidence of unbelievable blindness and elective mutism. Such spectacular omissions are unprecedented in my experience.

    What are our leaders thinking and doing?

    What am I missing?



  41. Nope I can’t entirely agree Jan. I do agree, for the affluent caste it is an easier choice, but I cannot condone a way to “control a population”. You jump as well to the conclusion that nothing will, or can change with regard to the the level of impact from American “affluent” children. As if the statistic is fixed in stone.

    It’s also a poor argument to suspect developing populations will be denied access to medicine and technology. Why would they? Who would deny them? Not me.

    You think having less children is as simple as an agreement? What planet woulld I find that on? Hell, we’re supposed to be intelligent and so far, we in this forum seem bent on finding our ways to disagree. (all for the good)

    Rises in population today are a symptom, the cause of which are mainly created by dysfunctions in governments and economies that inadvertently, or sometimes intentionally, manipulate and suppress characteristics relevant to local in a population, and thus. the natural livelihoods and well being of a society.

    Yes, I will agree that over population is a potential problem, but cannot be solved by enforcement or by some miraculous agreement. It can addressed by getting to the the real causes. I agree with Bob, education is one important tactic, but not just for women. And Bob, if you think global economics is not abusive and impacts population and the environment in which they dwell , you’ve got to be ‘head tripping’ yourself.

  42. (Further Musings: Not Just the Titanic Bar Tab We’ve Run Up)

    When I was in high school I performed with a church orchestra, one day something Bach. It gave me goosebumps. I told to the music director I’d like to have been able to meet ol’ Bach; she said she’d prefer to meet Christ, first. Touché. We were in church. Oddly though when I return to that moment in memory I realize I really would have wanted to have met Bach, first, to have sat in his little church on a spring Sunday, to have listened, to have watched his fingers dance over the organ keyboard.

    It’s something to do with the realization, the perfection, of a certain inevitability of — form.

    We are all, one might submit, searching for better, justified, fully-realized forms, for institutions, for — infrastructure, wanting any more graceful word. Whatever our differences be, in our choice of words.

    The American painter and photographer Charles Sheeler (his opus magnum must be his cycle of paintings and photographs of the then eighth wonder of the world, Ford Motor’s River Rouge complex outside of Detroit) said he liked his Ford car — and Bach — for the same reason: because all the parts worked so well together.

    I’d risk putting us all in one basket, that we seek ways to get all the parts working better, and sustainably, together. I might wish there could be a future with somewhat fewer of the human parts, but from here the big picture doesn’t augur well. (Surprises welcome.) Meanwhile here’s the deal. Ms. Ray made the call in her title and setting remarks, even though she blew the follow-through. (I guess choristers are traditionally stuck with what the minister delivers and walks out on, smiling toothlessly and greeting the faithful on the steps.)

    The core of Ms. Ray’s appeal was to teach by example. We each have our little piece of the philosopher’s elephant we blindly fondle, which we admire or despise. The ticklish part: getting hold of a slightly wider perspective. If we’ve got a handle on something that’s got to go (overpopulation? CO2? lead paint?) then testing the reforms we envision is the real challenge. If it’s proselytizing for our particular dearly-beloved faith, from the country vegetable patch or the city high-rise, we must likewise test how our evangelism can play. In the big, wide, real world where there are other and conflicting perspectives, actualities.

    Paul Valery wrote ‘The world is always more interesting than any of our ideas about it.’ The more we kick our ideas around, the more the world, and it’s problems can knock US about. That we might truly learn what’s new.

  43. Perhaps you have overlooked at
    least one other correlation: No food
    equals no people. No exceptions.

    I have seen many examples of
    thoroughly well-educated females
    of the highest socioeconomic standing
    having large families, even in these days.

    Dear Steve, forgive me, first, if I tell you I don’t understand your point. Rich folks sometimes choose to have large families. And? Can you try again? Help us out here — not clear what you’re driving at, other than hammering home the trivial no food – no people. The education factor comes as a counter-intuitive surprise. I first heard it from the — uh — donkey’s mouth, on a Sierra Club Family Burro Trip a dozen years ago, from a passenger who is a historian and regaled us with tales from her research.

    The historically positive correlation between women’s education level and lowered fertility is just that, a measured statistical relationship among observed facts. Call it ‘scientific’ because it is based on data. Along with related data concerning social relationships, family needs, and changes through time in how women see themselves and make decisions about their own lives. By extension of course about the lives of their families, communities, the world. But the 15-words-or-less heart of the matter is: better education for girls and women and lower fertility happen together.

    I for one have trouble imagining ‘education’ as someone’s way of forcing behavior change. (Take that from one who has been a middle school teacher, eh?!) If I start speculating…well, remember, first, that this observation of correlation is itself a mere ‘fact’ we now can live with, and re-interpret how we may…so if I speculate, I don’t imagine poor villagers in India or Nepal, the example I cited earlier, just picking up and leaving their fields to go to school. In fact it’s more like ‘No Kemalina, you stay right here, I need you to help cook and drag in firewood and help daddy plow…’ There must be some intrinsic reward for people facing such life-constraints, to take on something new, to take risk. Just for starters, thinking out loud, the prospect of what education promises must itself activate some imaginative world in which one enters new realms of possibility, along with acquiring means, knowledge, skills, to accomplish new things.

    I’ve endeavored to express that thought as ‘speculation’ but I’d say there is generous ‘story’ to confirm something like that as being real. Otherwise one truly abandons hope.

    Did you know that the real cause of the Irish potato famines had more to do with the substitution of milled (hull-less) white flour for potatoes than with the shortage of potatoes? The skin of a potato and the hull of the wheat kernel contain zinc, if I remember right. (This is approximate! a good Googler with even more available time can confirm this.) Dietary zinc suppresses fertility. Remove the restraint and population climbs more steeply. Disaster, or — then again, the exodus of Irish to New York and Boston might be viewed as an ultimate win for us. History is devilish, that way…..

  44. And Bob, if you think global
    economics is not abusive and
    impacts population and the
    environment inwhich they
    dwell , you’ve got to be
    ‘head tripping’ yourself.

    Er— Drew. If you believe that -I- think ‘global economics’ is not just beneficial, I’d say you didn’t read what I wrote. Grrrrr. :-)

    May I ask in all innocence what OTHER system exists?. Other than what I imagine — could be oh, so wrong about this — your term ‘global economics’ implies?

    We could go back to the ways of the Mono people. Except that even they were a trading people. Fly corpses (concentrated protein, i.e. meat, in a preserved, stable form) in exchange for acorn pulp…. Trans-continental transport infrastructure, too. At least a piece of the continent — across the Sierra Nevada, between the Mono basin and the Central Valley.

  45. ….the potential for an ECOLOGICAL
    catastrophe that could soon result
    from the rapidly mounting pressures
    produced by unbridled human…
    …. the potential for a colossal wreckage of the
    global ECONOMY….

    Paul Ehrlich made his public career starting from ‘The Population Bomb’ in 1968. He founded Zero Population Growth — which recently changed its name to something similar.

    His scenario was for just such massive ecological and economic disasters, with hundreds of millions of deaths. In the 1970s and onward. But they didn’t actually happen like that, and some stats show that, in spite of the huge tragedies of death from famine/malnutrition, disease, and war, it is actually that both the raw numbers and the percentages have fallen from, say, the latter part of the 19th century.

    Not to get complacent. Steve’s rant about apocalypse might grab headlines but this doubter suspects the cringe will come like the fog, on little cat-feet. (In the midst of intellectual, spiritual, and governmental fogs, of course.) We’re headed for incremental squeezes. Not, one morning, ‘NO MORE’ of this or that — land, free-running rivers, electric power, oil — but less today than yesterday. With parallel spikes and troughs in every graph of activity, production, population (especially of migration), stock and commodity prices, and the rest.

    I wish well the back-to-the-landers, but as I’ve tried to express, I find that not to be a solution because it cannot be applied very widely. Even if many, many more people could somehow afford to leave cities and suburbs and take up gardening and ‘sustainable’ farming, there would not be room for them all. Worse, the very qualities of ambience and space that underlie this ‘movement’ would shrivel. I write ‘shrivel’ as the verb of choice. Not go ‘thrrrrrrppp’ all at once, but — little by little. Hectare by hectare. Not gobbled, nibbled up. A subdivision here. A new off-ramp there.

    It takes true zeal, and also determination and discipline to change things. That means — AMONG OTHER THINGS — lots of trips to city hall. That last was a metaphor for making one’s presence felt, and fighting the good, activist fight, in many governmental — and informational, educational venues.

    Having the facts at hand, and, frankly vetted, by experts in relevant areas, helps. Credibility counts.

    And: people with weak stomachs should not watch sausage, laws, or art being made. Harry Truman said it well, ‘If you can’t stand the heat….’

  46. Dear Bob Tyson and Friends,

    It is not my intention to either trivialize truth or engage in rants. Please forgive any of my communications that remind you of wildly extravagant comments or other forms of raving. As my long-suffering spouse knows better than anyone else, my communication skills have always been woefully inadequate and are now noticeably diminishing. She would be the first to point out my advanced age, waning faculties and dimming vision.

    Speaking for myself, please understand that I am unprepared and poorly equipped for the work at hand.

    Despite literally thousands of failures to communicate effectively for the past seven years, I have continuously sought to draw attention to unchallenged scientific evidence related to potentially calamitous impacts that could conceivably result from the scale and growth rate of human production, consumption and overpopulation activities now overspreading Earth.

    At least to me, Paul Ehrlich is a great man and most superlative scientist. I think his science is somehow on the correct track (as is the 1972 work of the Club of Rome) even though the predictions derived from these scientific findings were proven incorrect. Paul R. Ehrlich’s science is not the problem. Among other things, his mistake was making silly bets. I believe his bad bets became more famous than his good science and, most unfortunately, attention to his bad bets served to help set back advancements in population science for more than three decades.

    Now comes apparently unforeseen scientific evidence from Russell Hopfenberg, Ph.D., and David Pimentel, Ph.D. on human population dynamics and absolute global human population numbers.

    I think of Paul R. Ehrlich as a forerunner with regard to the elegant research from Hopfenberg and Pimentel. If you would be so kind, please consider the evidence being presented by Dr. Hopfenberg and Dr. Pimentel, in the light of Dr. Ehrlich’s vital research.



    Steven Earl Salmony, Ph.D., M.P.A.
    AWAREness Campaign on the Human Population, established 2001
    1834 North Lakeshore Drive
    Chapel Hill, NC 27514, USA

  47. You’re right Bob, it is the only system. Onward and upward – besides, what better use of third world lands is there than to turn them over to become little Syngenta or Monsanto states, to become fields of patented, genetically modified Round-up Ready corn or soybeans for bio-fuels. Kind of like the state of Iowa. What a model! Hallelujah! the world is saved!

  48. I direct this specifically towards Steve. Dr. Ehrlich is a very fine scientist, I hope by my raising his name here I suggested not otherwise.

    Catastrophe predictions grab headlines. Obscure important details. Confuse debate. You’re right, Ehrlich put his nickel on the wrong number. Yet his science was sound, so that’s not the quibble. As the other famed philospher with the big catcher’s mitt put it, ‘Predictions are always hard, especially when they are about the future’. (Yogi Berra) We do need to look to our own houses on that one, presently.

    I looked up Hopfenberg/Pimentel to get a sense of their argument. They sound like they’re on the right track but in a boringly familiar manner methinks. Here is something else that turned up, used by another commentator in referencing their work:

    According to the unchallenged and virtually irrefutable research of…(H/P)….

    Ouch. Say what????? ‘Virtually irrefutable’? Since when! Scientists earn their keep because they ARE skeptical and by refutint, on the basis of evidence, their research. The Laws of Gravitation are so-called only because they’ve withstood centuries testing. Back to Ehrlich, he observed actual phenomena (as Newton did the apple). He applied reason to characterize what he saw. He drew inferences, and concluded that events might unfold in a certain direction. And, he predicted, at a certain pace.

    He was ‘wrong’ only about the magnitude, not on the probable direction of future events. Although it’s likely not long enough to test with significance the discrepancy between his projection and events. (Similar vein, Katrina might have been an effect of climate change, or it might have been within the expected scatter of storm intensities even absent global warming. We don’t now have the data to make that distinction, although at some point we may. Note that markets are opening up for reinsurance and bond sales on the downside risks of catastrophic storm, fire, and earthquake losses in future.)

    But it’s the other part of that line, referring to H/P’s work, that really gets me. ‘Unchallenged’…..hmmmmm. It has to be the second of two possibilities. Either the research was flawless, or it was trivial, insignificant. I pick the second. If it had been so obviously flawless in its design, execution, evidence revealed, and conclusions that there’s no wiggle room, that is, truly ‘irrefutable’ we would be hearing about it. Such a thing has never happened in the history of science. So I’m afraid it is probably trivial, meaning that no scientist (or corporate interst) has found it interesting, important, new, or threatening enough to bother challenging.

    (There is an article in the currrent The New Yorker online about a pair of professors who have written a long working paper criticising the US’ long support for Israel and a foreign policy mistake, perpetuated at the behest of a powerful ‘lobby’. I leave the interested parties to look it up, but note this: on Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government website one may download the paper itself to read, and click a link to read faculty comment. In this case, there is one comment. And only one, from Alan Dershowitz. Now, again not wishing to provoke, I have to note that I was a little surprised, given the controversial nature of the original paper, that there was but ONE response. I’m sure there will be more in the public media. This one reply from Dershowitz, considering that professor’s clearly-expressed biases — and commission of elementary logical fallacies in the first paragraphs of his responses — speaks for itself that this is somehow perhaps not so important a topic, other than to a few with pet-peeve level vested interests. Or color me wrong, which would be nice. The issue at hand does loom with great weight in all of our lives. Oil. Politics. Religion. Bong. Bong. Bong.)

    Scientists don’t sit still. The first possibility (‘irrefutable’) is absurd. I’ll take the second: the general thrust of these fellows’ conclusions is boringly familiar. One doubts their research, in detail, breaks new ground or challenges old dogma. Which hasn’t a thing to do with the problem at hand, nor with what to do to understand and do something about it, other than to know when to cut, run, and not waste time on useless side-stepping.

    If we see population growth and environmental damage as corollaries to global materialistic activity it means that at least we aren’t blind. If we see where the trendlines head then just perhaps we can make intelligent plans, altogether. M King Hubbert predicted peak oil (the phrase has, I know, since acquired Capital Letters) back in the late 50’s. His evidentiary basis was the publicly documented growth in oil demand in the US, and the trends in production from and depletion of oil fields. No one I know of disputes his background thesis, as far as his characterization of the real-world forces at play and the observable, quantifiabloe effects of them.

    However, his depletion curves and his inferences about ‘peak oil’ and so on were ridiculed, at the time. He was made a pariah. So it is no small wonder to examine them now (this is for the continental US) and see that generally he was right. A peak in production, onshore, around 1970 with a decline that continues today. An upward curve in consumption, that continues to this day. (The negative sum of the two being made up, of course, by imports.)

    Is that enough to pull out all the stops, IOW, to panic? I don’t think so. First of all, there are options staring us in the face. One IS to adjust habits. We got into the SUV habit. We can get out of it. If Priuses become all the rage, as SUVs did fifteen years ago, hey. I’ll cheer. Toyota Echos might be better but that’s hairsplitting in contrast to the quantum jump back from the abyss that letting go of the 12 mpg dinosaurs would represent. And OF COURSE we need to go much farther. I hope the new Fiat 500 is almost as small as the original, and goes much farther on a liter of gas. (No data — been to lazy to follow up.) Plus — just maybe — this ridiculous idea, among others, of bacteria that produce fuel will find a niche. I for one can’t imagine it ever being more than that, but surprises are always welcome.

    Another option-set has to do with time. Look at Hubbert’s Peak Oil curves and you do realize that things have taken time to unfold. Not rooting for complacency but for well-thought-out changes, win-win’s and generate profits — sorry ’bout that — among many sectors, globally.

    I know Steve is well-meaning, but the cannodading Cassandra-isms might be counterproductive. If we’re to lead by example, might we first examine the example we live? A disappointing aspect of Ms. Ray’s article was the pat, black-or-white kind of questions she dropped, and of responses that seemed to fit. Might be worthwhile to push that baseball cap back on the sweaty noggin, scratch the head, and sigh, ‘Ah yes, how ARE we doing on this?’ Really dig in and examine what we’re about, city — or country. And then go out to ‘set’ that ‘example’.

    As to those predictions — the ones about the future — maybe we’re at the same place as Huck and Jim (The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, pp 60ff):

    And Jim said you mustn’t count the things
    you are going to cook for dinner, because that
    would bring bad luck. The same if you shook
    the table-cloth after sundown. And he said
    if a man owned a beehive and that man died,
    the bees must be told about it before sun-up
    next morning, or else the bees would all weaken
    down and quit work and die. Jim said bees
    wouldn’t sting idiots; but I didn’t believe that,
    because I had tried them lots of times myself,
    and they wouldn’t sting me.

    I had heard about some of these things before,
    but not all of them. Jim knowed all kinds of signs.
    He said he knowed most everything. I said it looked
    to me like all the signs was about bad luck, and so
    I asked him if there warn’t any good-luck signs. He says:

    “Mighty few — an’ dey ain’t no use to a body.
    What you want to know when good luck’s a-comin’ for?
    Want to keep it off?” And he said: “Ef you’s got hairy
    arms en a hairy breas’, it’s a sign dat you’s agwyne
    to be rich. Well, dey’s some use in a sign like dat,
    ‘kase it’s so fur ahead. You see, maybe you’s got
    to be po’ a long time fust, en so you might git
    discourage’ en kill yo’sef ‘f you didn’ know by
    de sign dat you gwyne to be rich bymeby.”

    “Have you got hairy arms and a hairy breast, Jim?”

    “What’s de use to ax dat question? Don’t you see I has?”

    “Well, are you rich?”

    “No, but I ben rich wunst, and gwyne to be rich agin.
    Wunst I had foteen dollars, but I tuck to specalat’n’,
    en got busted out.”

    “What did you speculate in, Jim?”

    “Well, fust I tackled stock.”

    “What kind of stock?”

    “Why, live stock — cattle, you know.
    I put ten dollars in a cow. But I ain’ gwyne to
    resk no mo’ money in stock. De cow up ‘n’ died on my han’s.”

    “So you lost the ten dollars.”

    “No, I didn’t lose it all. I on’y los’ ’bout nine of it.
    I sole de hide en taller for a dollar en ten cents.”

    Maybe we’ve still got a buck or two in our pockets. And better not to count what we’re cookin’ for dinner….?? We don’t want to get stung, now do we?


  49. Drew! You’re forthright and eschew irony. (Not.) But let’s see if I’ve understood your solution — now, I hope I’ve got this right — of ‘making the Third World into Syngenta or Monsanto states like the state of Iowa’. Phew. Where’d you come up with that howler? :-(

    Whucher prob, bub? If you’d like to quote something I said and tear it to bits, fine. I can learn something from that. But this won’t do. You’re putting words in my mouth that are not even close to the sense of what I think and have tried to express. Let alone to what I’ve written. That’s a BIG no-no. I don’t really mind, except that discussion is one thing and I see that fighting is something else.

    Please tone down the pit-bull side of your rhetoric. If you’ve something to hash with me, you’re welcome to use my contact info for off-list exchange. You’ll find leads to it in a previous post and via the link with my name.

  50. To Drew: Here’s another shot. Read this line again. It’s tricky. But I think you didn’t read it carefully enough the first time around.

    ”If you believe that -I- think ‘global economics’ is not just beneficial, I’d say you didn’t read what I wrote.”

  51. Ack– I do see a problem. Remove the ‘not’ and the sentence goes where I meant it to. Proof-reading. Always. Or sometimes….

    To play it straight, I DO NOT believe that ‘global economics’ (in Drew’s wording) is JUST — or only — beneficial.

    This is how the original sentence oughta’ve been:

    If you believe that -I- think ‘global economics’ is JUST beneficial, I’d say you didn’t read what I wrote.

    Yah I know….meglio tarde di mai. Better late than never. Apologies t those who insist on getting the news straight out, no shilly-shally around ‘nuance’.

  52. Dear Bob Tyson,

    Thanks by your comments.

    Please note that I believe I understand what you report about what I have said. There is nothing to challenge. Standing by what I have presented here and elsewhere is something you can anticipate from me.

    You have made yourself as clear as I have tried to make myself. I like and thank you for that.

    Perhaps you can help me. For some years, I have been approaching our colleagues in the fields of biology, sociology, psychology, physics, economics, demography, political science, among other hard and soft sciences, to simply discharge a professional duty to science by commenting, as scientists typically do, on the evidence presented by Hopfenberg and Pimentel. So far, I have not been successful in getting a respected colleague to carefully and skillfully examine the research from Hopfenberg and Pimentel. Do you think you can help me find one top-rank scientist who would be willing to carefully and skillfully examine what Hopfenberg and Pimentel have presented and then report the findings to the community of scientists? Such assistance from you would help a great deal.

    Please know that as soon as the evidence to which I draw attention is sensibly refuted, the AWAREness Campaign on the Human Population will immediately end. Because of promise already given, you can rest assured that whenever the evidence is refuted, you, our friends in the Orion Society and many other Earth-keepers will not hear from me again.

    Until then, the work at hand continues, I suppose.



  53. Dear Steve,

    Perhaps you can help me. For some years,
    I have been approaching our colleagues
    in the fields of biology…to comment(ing),
    as scientists typically do, on the evidence
    presented by Hopfenberg and Pimentel.

    Before I can answer you on this one I need to know a little more about H+P and their work. I also warn you my connections are few and feeble, so I may not be the best channel. But. I scanned a couple of websites very quickly to get a feel for their thesis, can you give us a thumbnail of what they’re about? Spell it out a bit or point us to a pithy website for more info and let’s see what’s what. I confess I’m not sure from what I read in which discipline their work would fall.

    I frankly couldn’t see what was fresh or unique in the general drift, beyond their tracking on trends of production, population, consumption. Maybe I’m missing something — what do you make of the lack of peer review? Having original research accepted for publication in any science journal follows pretty methodical, pragmatic steps. One would think that a journal would have at least taken a preliminary look — if they submitted an article and sent it around for pre-publication comment, as is customary.

    Let us know. I’m more than skeptical I fear. The world is in tough shape, yet there are mechanisms for important discoveries to surface. It’s pretty rare for something exceptional to escape notice, so if you’ve got a hot one here things might turn real interesting real quick. What IS their heretofore un-revealed evidence?

  54. …wish I had a second alias to post this, but…

    Anybody remember the ‘cold fusion’ research back when?? Arrgh.

  55. Ah Bob! I beg your apology. I was indeed standing with my heels planted. I completely misread you. I was (in my snide position) attempting to show the “not so beneficial” illusory patina of globalized capitalism. And as you would say “will it scale?”

    Here, I would like to posit, as an attempt at clarity, something E.F. Schumacher mentioned with regard to private ownership – since I discern this is a crucial commandment that drives most of the religion of the western/global economic system. And the oft’ used justification for the ‘right’ to own by any means.

    “Systems are never more nor less than incarnations of man’s most basic attitudes.” – “As regards private property, the first and most basic distinction is between (a)property that is an aid to creative work and (b) property that is an alternative to it. There is something inherently natural and healthy about the former – private ownership of the working proprietor; and there is something inherently unnatural and unhealthy about the later – private ownership of the passive owner who lives parasitically on the work of others. This basic distinction was clearly seen by R.H. Tawney many decades ago, who followed that “it is idle, therefore, to present a case for or against private property without specifying the particular forms of property to which reference is made.” For it is not private ownership, but private ownership divorced from work, which is corrupting to the principle of industry.”

    It should of course be distinguished that “creative work” is indeed available to those who cannot or choose not to pursue ownership of private enterprise. However, as the scale of ownership becomes increasingly detached and impersonal..the work and the worker seems to follow.

    Likely, with regard to scale – I am more a proponent of L. Kohr, who advised the breaking down of large nations. “Little states produce greater wisdom in their policies because they are weak. Their leaders could not get away with stupidity, not even in the short run. Large powers, on the other hand, can get away with stupidity for prolonged periods. But who among us, if he feels he can get away with stupidity, which can be had so effortlessly, will ever take the trouble and pains of being wise?”

    It is definitely easier and less painful to be lazy and stupid, especially when the focus rests on searching for giant solutions for giant problems. It seems wisdom emerges more readily when problems of global dimensions are broken down to a scale that can reflect the requirements of immediate, local and personal actions.

  56. Thank you, Drew.

    Hmmm. How local is local? Didn’t Karl Marx say something about this even longer ago?

  57. Steve, I don’t know of Hopfenberg’s work, but I do know of peer review of Pimentel’s work on the energy balance of biofuels. I believe UCB has duplicated his results, as have his peers at Cornell. But that doesn’t seem to be what you’re interested in.

    Pimentel was the first to point out that, with the methods used today in the US (corn/enzyme/yeast), ethanol actually consumes more energy than it produces. A pretty clever ploy by the oilmen in the White House to cause oil prices to go up, if you ask me!

    I’m not aware of any population research he may have published. A ref or two of your favorites would be appreciated, or I can just google.

    I think Pimentel’s most important point about modern industrial farming is that if you take away the oil, you take away the ability to make food on the scale modern civilization needs. We’re practicing Permaculture here, and I’m trying to teach people how to survive without oil, but I fear as many as 5/6ths won’t be able to.

    Bob, you may be right that everyone can’t go back to the land. On the other hand, those who can may be the only non-rich survivers. Prior to widespread use of petroleum, there were fifteen families on the land for every one in the cities. Today, there are thousands in the city for every one on the land.

    This has been a fascinating conversation, but it seems the parties have taken up their intractable corners, and I’ve got work to do. I’m planning to tackle some standing deadwood today, and buck/split/stack a cord or so of winter heat. Then I’ve got a batch of biodiesel to make — from restaurant waste, I don’t believe in making it out of food. Then I’ve got to do some work in our winter garden.

    So thank you all for this diversion from the “hard fun” of actually making food and energy. (We’re actually a carbon sink here… now if I could just sell these carbon credits to some wannabee green SUV driver… :-)

  58. ….follow on to the above, isn’t this ‘both-and’ and not ‘either-or’? Sure it’s got to be ‘local’. And also ‘global’.

    There’s a talking-past each other thing going on, too, in this example from Drew’s last post:

    Likely, with regard to scale – I am more a proponent of L. Kohr, who advised the breaking down of large nations. “Little states produce greater wisdom in their policies because they are weak.“

    This may be a useful ideal or metaphor, even though what I know of history contains many ‘balkanizations’. What I meant by ‘scale’ (how does this or that solution ‘scale’) was a pure matter of pragmatics. Of engineering.

    I want to be very direct and not insult anyone for his or her present life-mode, ergo this disclosure line.

    Scaling is the matter of taking a defined program that works, say, for one person, or one small community, and testing to see if it will work, without unexpected bad effects, if it is ‘scaled up’ and made big, involving bigger numbers of people as it is applied to a big community, a city, a country. Or to the entire world.

    Those who happily till the soil in small outposts won’t like this, but I have yet to see convincing signs that that way of life can work for any but a certain minority.

    Minority that is among industrialized populaces where that lifestyle is an opt-in deal. Majority in much of the world where the overhang of uncertainty about the next harvest, the next coup, the next plague of locusts all conspire to rob the idyll of its charm.

    Demographic note: migration into cities is the biggest human movement of our era. Or — into slums the likes of which we’ve never seen before.

    To Drew’s invocation of ‘scale’ I ask, what does breaking larger nations up into smaller ones accomplish? India broke before into India + Pakistan, E and W, thence to India + Pakistan + Bangladesh…what next?

    I really must be a Bear of Very Little Brain. Someone ‘splain me, pleez.

    It’s mysterious to me where this character Kohr hangs out. If ‘little states produce greater wisdom in their policies because they are weak’ then it naturally follows that India and Pakistan both got dem nukes, right?? Is that a sign of weakness, or wisdom?

  59. Jan, go if you must. If there IS value in this sort of thing though maybe it’s getting past those ‘corners’. I see some of that progress. If nothing else this can be a lab for honing the expression of the ideas.

    For example, you wrote, ‘Prior to widespread use of petroleum, there were fifteen families on the land for every one in the cities. Today, there are thousands in the city for every one on the land.’

    ‘Prior to widespread use of petroleum’ would be when, 1870s? And what was the world population, then?

    I would so love to be convinced that Permaculture can do more than create a superclass of survivors. I hope you can imagine from this gentle hint just how tragically elitist and exclusive that sounds.

  60. Jan Steinman:

    Pimentel was the first to point out that,
    with the methods used today in
    the US (corn/enzyme/yeast),
    ethanol actually consumes more
    energy than it produces. A pretty
    clever ploy by the oilmen in the
    White House to cause
    oil prices to go up…

    Let’s see. Jan is on the same page with Pimental that it takes more energy to make ethanol than you get from it, in the US. Is this the one, unique significant fact we need to run with, or might there be others that are important? Is it relevant (or — even true, despite how much I, too, detest them as liars) that ‘oilmen in the White House’ fomented this ‘ploy’ — sez Jan?

    Jan can unwind this Rubik’s cube and show us which part is true. Nasty news, the price of oil goes up, independent of the room-roster at 1600 Pensylvania.

  61. Well, local for me at the moment, is instigating a debate on watershed deterioration, starting and maintaining restoration projects and calling to account the mining operation and feedlot operations in this vicinity already cited on numerous occasions for not following mandated measures to contain their runoff.

    Organizing efforts with the local utilities to educate and aggressively promote the offer of incentives for reducing energy consumption and employing renewable alternatives.

    Other things – purchasing recycled building materials is starting to catch on…it’s how we saved the only longstanding local building material supplier left in the county able to compete with the national chains.

    I don’t know what local is for others, but everybody is physically living somewhere. I do what strikes me is good doing where I live, together with the people who live here too. It’s kind of a small city, rural county conglomeration.

    There is also a local university here and that adds a particular advantage that similar communities don’t have…more progressive thinking.

  62. “It’s mysterious to me where this character Kohr hangs out. If ‘little states produce greater wisdom in their policies because they are weak’ then it naturally follows that India and Pakistan both got dem nukes, right?? Is that a sign of weakness, or wisdom?”

    Let’s see if I can uncover some of the mysterious Kohr here. Well to begin with he was something of a admired colleague of Schumacher and was the one who actually coined that well known mantra “Small is beautiful”. Austrian by birth, he spent a significant amount of time in the field at various times and places mainly among third world Latin communities. In one of his books “The Breakdown of Nations” in a section entitled (Smallness, the Basis of Stability) he writes: “Whatever we investigate, the vast universe or the little atom, we find that creation has manifested itself in manifold littleness rather than in the simplicity of huge bulk. Everything is small, limited, discontinuous, disunited. Only relatively small bodies – though not the smallest, as we shall see – have stability. Below a certain size, everything fuses, joins, or accumulates. But beyond a certain size, everything collapses, degrades, or explodes.”

    Far be it from me to adequately decipher, or simply summarize the many complexities of his theories and observations, but he covers alot of ground in his writings. As a diversion, here is an address, given not too long ago by Ivan Illich as a tribute to Leopold Kohr.

  63. Thank you Janisse for reminding us that we have models in unlikely places and that no action is sometimes profound action. That our every “choice to” is automatically married to our “choice not to.” That our budgets are woefully skewed to illuminate some costs but not all costs. Thank you too for the journey. The one that starts today.

  64. For Jan who wrote ‘This has been a fascinating conversation, but…’

    Question: How will it be when your children leave home and — some of them — go off to the cities, in search of adventure, career, projects that burst the bounds of your little world, love…. ??

  65. Throughout his life, Kohr labored to lay the foundations for an alternative to economics; he had no interest in seeking innovative ways to plan the allocation of scarce goods. (Ivan Illich)

    Makes me grumpy. I been laboring to lay the foundations for an alternative to gravity, myself. Will let you know soon’s — there, almost got it — whoops…

    I am sorry but this is cheap wordplay. I read the Illich piece and can’t find anything that resonates, even poetically.

  66. Dear Bob Tyson,

    Whatever assistance you can provide, however feeble it may be, is sure to be appreciated.

    It is probably not a good idea for me to try and say much about the work of Russell Hopfenberg and David Pimentel. At least to me their evidence speaks for itself, in a remarkably simple way.

    There is one comment I would like to make about the H-P research. Their evidence indicates that the governing population dynamics of of the human species is essentially common to, not different from, the population dynamics of other species.

    Pehaps it is this realization that leads another great man and most superlative scientist to say,

    “The raging monster upon the land is population growth. In its presence, sustainability is but a fragile theoretical construct. To say, as many do, that the difficulties of nations are not due to people but to poor ideology or land-use management is sophistic.” — E.O. Wilson

    Wouldn’t it be a treat to hear from Ed Wilson (or Paul R. Ehrlich) on the subject of human population dynamics, with particular attention to work of Hopfenberg and Pimentel?



    PS: Bob, you would probably agree how important it is to maintain sense of good humor, even in the midst of serious discussion like this one. So, Bob, Jan if you are still with us, and everyone else in the Orion community, enjoy……

  67. Don’t be grumpy Bob. All wordplay is cheap. All talk is cheap – Especially from we who seek credibility in cheap criticisms.

  68. Thank you Steve, for all of that.

    Their (Hopfenberg and Pimentel’s) evidence
    indicates that the governing population
    dynamics of of the human species is…not
    different from, th(ose) of other species.

    Well– evidence or observations usually may be parsed in more than one way. H+P’s evidence has yet to be introduced here, so in spite of some googling of my own I haven’t seen enough of what theirs is for to say I accept — or question it. Remember too the difference between evidence and conclusion, between data and hypothesis. Reading abstracts and bits of one or two of their papers I was not encouraged. It’s too unfocused to be able to grasp their reasoning, if not their sincerity.

    I think it does NOT cut it to conclude that ‘population growth is a function of (e.g. follows upon) food availability’ — as H+P appear to do. Maybe it’s actually the reverse, where people are concerned, if not some complex in-the-middle thing. Humans are the most adaptable critters ever. While there ARE more of us, we’ve made ourselves better off just because just because we discover so well how to produce more food from fewer resources. A ‘data point’ — there is more food produced per capita now than ever before.

    Wait, wait. This DOES beg any notion of where to STOP. I would dance with joy if, ten generations from now, a new way of doing this brought back the sweep of riparian bogs and flyways stretching from Red Bluff to Fresno and from Antioch to Sonora in California. And could, reincarnated, stand with John Muir on one of the Coast Range passes on a bright March morning, beholding across the hundred miles of crystalline air the snowy Yosemite, shimmering above an endless carpet of wildflowers. (Muir, My First Summer in California — if I remember right.) Heck, I’d settle for the equivalent, gazing from the spire of the Mole Antoniellana in downtown Turin or from the roof of Milan’s cathedral, towards the Alps. Or across a future Shanghai….

    And _ no _ subdivisions_warehouses_shoppingcenters….you all know the drill. Or many fewer than now, at least, and refreshingly different in shape.

    The question, choir, is — Who’s got the map? Not only do we need to look up WHERE to stop, we don’t yet really see how to get there from here. Some claim answers, some aren’t so sure. Some are, truly, greedy and cynical, taking profit where they may. Some are scared shitless and can’t move. Some will starve no matter what. It’s bound to be a long trip. With too many inquisitive ‘Are we there yet, Daddy’s’ from the pint-sized crowd. Such as this writer.

    “The raging monster upon the land is
    population growth. In its presence,
    sustainability is but a fragile theoretical
    construct. To say, as many do, that the
    difficulties of nations are not due to
    people but to poor ideology
    or land-use management
    is sophistic.” — E.O. Wilson

    Wilson — a genius, one of my heroes. Sigh. I guess one of the tricks when one converses with choir members is to know when you’ve fallen in with fundamentalists who have long ago decided that their particular, literalist reading of the Good Book(s) is THE road to Truth. I can’t take on Wilson’s brief as you’ve quoted it, word for word, as a manifesto for meaningful decision-making. But yes, as an attention-grabber. I bet Wilson knew far better, and I sure do agree. If we don’t keep our eye on the road (population increase) we won’t know how to build ideology and management that minister to our need.

    On a visit to Russia (1990) we learned that the larger part of the potato crop never made it to market. Corruption, graft, diversion, but mostly just plain rotting in the field or sitting in some bin or railway car. One can nod with Wilson, but perhaps with an ironic smirk. It’s a people problem, not one of management nor of ideology, all right. But this gets to be a tail-chasing exercise: where do PEOPLE actualize anything of their existence, if it isn’t across the reference frames and concrete structures OF ideology and management? (The latter implies, I think, organization, or bureaucracy, almost as flight implies sky.)

    In this passage, at the same time that Wilson ditches those who complain that poor ideology or management are the problem he also leaves wide open a door, nay, a great portal, to the notion that solutions do lie in GOOD ideology and BETTER land-management. One thing about him, he was a prodigious and expressive writer. If I paraphrase that passage, he says to me, ‘It’s talking in circles to claim that difficulties of nations result from poor ideology and bad land management, and not because of people’. He doesn’t actually reinforce the specific notion that population growth, as some isolated (and isolatable?) factor is the sole culprit, though. What are we to make of the simple term here, ‘people’, in a close reading? I take it that we may venture between the lines of these two sentences to read in something such as ‘…and paths to solutions will lie in learning good ideology and better land-management, in the context of people, and of their increasing number.’ If the html functions of this posting-site allowed me, I would bold/italicize the ultimate pair of prepositional phrases. And the words ‘good’ and ‘better’ that precede them.

    Ideologies and management structures had better be made be ‘good’ — and precisely in proportion to how their formulation reflects awareness and a genuine taking-to-heart of the Damocles’ sword of increasing population. But people still are not rats. They have minds (not brains only), and ideas (ideals, vision), and ideologies (values, hierarchies of judgment and action), and institutions (bureaucracies, social, economic and political structures to accomplish policy actions). I now pronounce the raging monster and the poor of ideology and management to be husband and wife. Youse may kiss de bryde.

    (Snyuck. Rotten-potato HUMOR ALERT. Oh. Drat…)

    Even a Permaculturalist village has its institutionalized guiding principle and its ideology, its dedicated way of land-management. To say otherwise is silly. As it is to reject ‘economics’ as the problem. That’s like saying you can make a better hay-loader (for the Perma-field) but you’ve done it by rejecting ‘physics’ along the way. Last I checked, gravity actually helped out when I was loading hay. Of course physics, or gravity at least, has it’s ‘down’ side (jokey word-choice alert). One o dem bales could fall on yo’ haid. Is that physics’ fault? An ‘ideology’ that reminds you to stay awake and out from under could hardly be regarded as ‘poor’ here.

    Can we relax, a lot, about language? We’ve so narrowed the meanings of so many common words, squeezing them into service under ideological pretenses, that we make it difficult and painful to hold a conversation. Yes it would be interesting to hear from Ehrlich and the others. Ehrlich has deepened and — I hope this is not an inflammatory word — moderated his screed from what it was in the late 60s. I don’t think he’s softened the core message one bit, though.

  69. Drew: ‘All talk is cheap – Especially from we (sic) who seek credibility in cheap criticisms.’

    Roger that. Over — and OUT!

  70. Dear Bob Tyson,

    You make many good points with which I am mostly in agreement.

    If it is all right, a comment has come to mind that I want to share with you.

    You report,

    “But people still are not rats. They have minds (not brains only), and ideas (ideals, vision), and ideologies (values, hierarchies of judgment and action), and institutions (bureaucracies, social, economic and political structures to accomplish policy actions).”

    According to Hopfenberg and Pimentel, the population dynamics of the human species are common to the population dynamics of other species, including rats. For all the wondrous gifts God has granted to the human species in terms of its substantial personal endowments, we can now see that the human species propagates like other species. From a species perspective, more food equals more people; less food equals less people; and no food equals no people.

    For too long, human population growth has been widely viewed as somehow outside the course of nature. The potential causes of human population growth have seemed complex, obscure, numerous, or even unknowable, so that a strategy to address the problem has been thought to be all but impossible. One of the consequences of this unnatural way of viewing human population dynamics is that forecasts of global population growth vary widely: Some forecasting
    data indicate the end to human
    population growth soon, and other data suggest skyrocketing numbers.

    With the evidence from Hopfenberg and Pimentel (2001) and the mathematical formulation of the population growth problem by Hopfenberg (2003), it may now be possible for us to see human population dynamics as a natural phenomenon… and no longer as a preternatural one.

    Hopfenberg and Pimentel have provided an empirical presentation of a non-recursive biological problem that is independent of ethical, social, legal, religious, and cultural considerations. This means that world human population growth is a rapidly cycling positive-feedback loop, a relationship between food and population in which food availability drives population growth, and population growth
    fuels the MISTAKEN impression that food production needs to be increased even more.

    Their evidence indicates that as we increase total food production, presumably to feed a growing population, the absolute global population numbers of the human species increases, too.

    A new biological understanding
    emerges with this research. It is simply that the Earth’s carrying capacity for human organisms, like that for other organisms, is determined by food availability.

    Thanks for your willingness to open-mindedly discuss the research of Hopfenberg and Pimentel with me.

    Sincerely yours,


  71. Dear Bob,

    A follow-up point……

    A comprehensive and objective approach to human problems and human potentiality must acknowledge that humankind is a part of the biophysical world, not apart from it.

    You are certainly correct in noting that human beings “have minds (not brains only), and ideas (ideals, vision), and ideologies (values, hierarchies of judgment and action), and institutions (bureaucracies, social, economic and political structures to accomplish policy actions).”

    Even so, human and environmental health could be increasingly put at risk because the human community remains unaware of scientific evidence — as well as its potentially profound implications —regarding the unbridled propagation of the human species on the relatively small, finite, noticeably frangible planet God blesses us to inhabit.

    With thanks,


  72. And thank you, Steve. I’ll respond to part of what you’ve offered. But understand my position. I’m deeply skeptical of this line of reasoning. AND, I’m absolutely FOR damping human population. I don’t need Hopfengerg and Pimentel’s thesis to tell me why. Why do you?

    According to Hopfenberg and Pimentel…
    (snip) From a species perspective,
    more food equals more people; less food
    equals less…no food equals no people.

    Ok. ‘According to H+P’… You re-state their hypothesis, but all we’ve really got here is their opinion. I scanned their 2001 paper — no data, only an elaboration of their viewpoint. No matter how sincere their conviction, without evidence — data — to examine and test, how can the argument be convincing? As it stands, it’s no more than emotional persuasion? Paul Ehrlich’s reasoning suffered the same lack back in the 60s. I met him several times when I was an undergrad at Stanford — very impressive, charismatic fellow. Not someone you’d be comfortable to disagree with in a discussion setting. That might be a virtue, or, in a collegial exchange, more than a bit of a failing. I was, emotionally, in thrall to his idea. Scary and somehow inevitable, inscrutable. And yet — something about the whole game just never looked quite right. I think it is this very lack of an underpinning, in the evidence, that was missing.

    Math models for geometric growth is scary. So inevitable, convincing, especially if you ruminate on them —and nothing else. Bu they only predict, and their parameters are always incomplete. They can’t guarantee the outcome! Malthus got it wrong — had us all dead long ago and Ehrlich assured us massive die-offs would start in the 70s. Neither happened. How come?

    My hypothesis goes, more people equals more food. Note the direction of the correlation. The arrow moves from cause to effect, from ‘more people’ (cause) to ‘more food’ (effect). Observable data correlates pretty well. So far, people make food. Not the other way around. Such as — Permaculturists.

    My hypothesis has a second part. Over time the Food Productivity Factor, or ‘FpF’, rises. An ‘Fpf’ of 1.0 is when per capita food production exactly equals what is required, per capita, for people to sustain life. Under this hypothesis, at some point in the past the ‘FpF’ was exactly 1.0. Today people produce more per capita than just what each one requires to sustain life, so the ‘FpF’, despite the presence of a greater number of people than ever before, is now larger than 1.0. Not only does more people equal more food, the data suggest that more people equal more — and more — and still more — food.

    This is off-topic. If you have Google Earth, put ‘stupinigi’ in the search box and see where it takes you. Stupinigi is a ‘little’ king-sized royal hunting lodge on the outskirts of Turin. It’s spectacular in the satellite pictures. I bicycled out there today, curious. Well. One look and you could see that Versailles could serve as the gate-house. I especially liked the thrice life-size bronze statue of an elk, right on the very top of the highest dome of the main palace. Around it, in a circular enclosure of brick, were the quarters, the town, really, for the serfs and the, well, staff. Extending a kilometer down the main road, the long axis you can see on Google, were the farmer’s granaries, each under a large brick arch with the family name on white stone, curving with the arch. I dunno just why this seems to fit, here. It obviously was the cat’s ass, back in ‘the day’ of the late 18th century. Architectural plan as social, political, and ideological structure. It is beautiful, too. I was stoked.

    What took its place? A very few miles back up the main road towards Turin is the Fiat Mirafiori complex. Twentieth century iron, you might say, which I suppose includes those delta-winged Italian National Guard warplanes bristling with missiles that roar over my place on approach to Caselle every morning. Fiat something. Or then again the new housing in one suburb I pedaled by a little later. Looked like an English fake-estate, or an American plan for style. But you knew the insides were the same, white drywall all over and no detailing. Even the plastic Snow White and Seven Dwarfs tied on to the Sears-Roebuck iron balcony railings didn’t save the day.

    I was also looking for a new, gigantic rail freight yard in that same quarter. It is as prominent on Google as Stupinigi, you can spot it a ways to the northwest. Couldn’t find it, I think because the railyard part is ‘encased’ inside a sprawling truck terminal and warehouse complex. Even that took fifteen minutes to pedal around. I have to go back though and pinpoint the freight yard. Might look interesting enough to make a photograph.

    That bicycling circuit occupied me for two or two and a half hours — I was thinking about our discussion. Steve, this might be more comfortably said elsewhere, yet something makes me feel it’s right to add. Your intensity and your framing of the dilemma of population and limits has a certain aspect to it that I’d call panic. Though that doesn’t seem quite fair nor the mot juste. Well, close, I hope. I went ’round a mind-circuit while pedaling (and endeavoring to not get flattened by some cretino in his Lancia) — something like this. Suppose the Huge Crunch IS right about to hit? Will it matter to us who get wiped out? Is it worse than getting flattened by that cretino in his Lancia? Reductio ad absurdum, yes, but at some point they’re equal.

    On the other hand just maybe one thing we do have IS some time. Not to be complacent, no. Still, can you re-formulate some of your good energies and also perhaps re-study some of your sources? There’s something here that just doesn’t compute. I don’t have enough of the picture to know more than that, but you have a deep background and skills, and much insight — so it would make sense to pick battles where you’ve got the best weapons and so on. To coin a phrase…. Or no?

    Yes, again, I agree absolutely that one, just one, of the critical matters for society is the psychology — the pop-culture — of anti-intellectualism. I see it every day I enter a lecture hall. And as a middle school science teacher. If we need one thing above all it is science education, outreach, in all areas, on the double. On the triple. I’m a geologist and I have to say with pride that the geosciences have done very very well. Check out

  73. Ah– proofreading, AFTER publication. Ack! Down a ways in my last post I committed syntactical hari-kari and gave the impression I think Permaculturists aren’t in the ‘people who make food’ category. Sorry — should have read more like:

    ‘So far, people make food. Such as Permaculturists. Not the other way around.’

  74. Dear Bob,

    One more point………

    The evidence of Hopfenberg and Pimentel appears to indicate
    that the world’s human population—all segments of it—grow by approximately 2% peryear, including more people with brown eyes and more with blue eyes; more tall people and more short people; and more people who grow up well fed and more who grow up hungry. We may or may not be reducing hunger by increasing food production; however, we are most certainly producing more and more hungry people.

    Furthermore, the evidence suggests
    that the spectacularly successful efforts of humankind to increase world food harvests to feed a growing population result in an increase in absolute global human population numbers.

    As mentioned earlier, Hopfenberg and Pimentel point out that the perceived need to increase food production to feed a growing population is a MISPERCEPTION. It is a denial of the physical reality of the space–time dimension. If people are starving at a given moment in time, increasing food production cannot help them. Are these starving people supposed to be waiting for sowing, growing, and reaping to be completed? Are they supposed to wait for surpluses to reach them? Without the receipt of food in a timely fashion, they would die. In such circumstances, increasing food production for people who are starving is like tossing parachutes to people who have already fallen out of the airplane. The produced food arrives too late. However, this does not mean human starvation is inevitable.

    The evidence that the population dynamics of the human species is NOT biologically different in its
    essence from the population dynamics of other species is precisely what I am asking you to examine.

    Please note that we do not find hoards of starving roaches, birds, squirrels, alligators, or chimpanzees in the absence of food, as we do in many deeply impoverished human communities today, because these nonhuman species are not annually increasing their own production of

    Among tribal peoples in remote original habitats, we do not find hoards of people starving. Like nonhuman species, “primitive” human
    beings live within the carrying capacity of their environment.

    History is replete with
    examples of early humans and other ancestors not increasing their food production annually, but rather living successfully off the land for thousands of years as hunters and gatherers of food.

    Before the agricultural
    revolution and the production of more food than was needed for immediate survival, human numbers supposedly could not grow beyond their environment’s physical
    capacity to sustain them because human population growth or decline is primarily a function of food availability.

    Given its current huge scale and fully anticipated growth rate, the world’s human population has identifiable, potentially destructive ecological consequences. From this perspective, recent skyrocketing growth of the global human population can be recognized and understood as a powerful precipitating factor of a range of phenomena we call “global challenges” including, but not limited to, biodiversity loss, resource dissipation and environmental degradation.



  75. Steve,

    You seem to confuse ‘evidence’ with ‘theory’, or ‘hypothesis’. Even my then 9-year-old daughter knew the difference. To something absurd I threw at her she shot right back, ‘Dad, that’s not a FACT, that’s your OPINION!’

    Steve: I respect your opinion. I disagree. To be frank and repeat myself, I not only have yet to see the evidence that might help me understand your position, and perhaps modify my own, I strongly suspect such evidence does not exist.

    Like nonhuman species, “primitive”
    human beings live within the carrying
    capacity of their environment.

    If ‘primitives’ were so good at this, what happened to the Ancestral Puebloans (Anasazi) in the American Southwest? They flat disappeared, and the best guess is that they failed to produce enough food to survive — not ‘increased’ production, just survival quantities — because of world-wide climate fluctuation as part of the ‘Little Ice Age’. I think this is a cruel myth. Lots of primitive peoples have endured great suffering — and population suppression — because they were unequipped to deal with changes in the carrying capacity of their local environment. While one might dig up specific examples beyond the Ancient Puebloans, perhaps it’s suggestive that all ancient peoples have a rich mythology, sagas to retell, that involve meeting overwhelming circumstances with heroic effort of some kind.

    Examples of animal populations crashing when food supplies fail are pretty danged commonplace. Seems a shaky comparison at best. People make food. More people make more food. (Yes, some more of the more people are tall, some more of the more people are blue-eyed…and so on. What the sam hill was all THAT part about?)

    Yes, I agree that more and more people DO NOT NEED to keep making more and more AND MORE (that was 3 ‘and more’s’, right?) food. Enough food is enough. We have enough people, too, in my poor, not-so-humble OPINION. Enough!

    Or else. I’ll start invoking Tom Swift. Now THERE’S a modest proposition…..

  76. It is easy for me to relate to this article and I have been asking myself some of the same questions. As someone who has been recycling and composting from the mid seventies, as many of Orion’s readers may have been, I am very concious of my purchases. Every time I thow something away I know there is no “away”, only the landfill, a hole in Gaia.
    I think about what ends up in the land fill and Ms. Ray is also. What if every one of us stopped using …..PENS, or Qtips or disposable shavers, today. How much difference would that make in reducing petrolum production, greenhouse gases, freight expense, landfill mass? Yes, I use already cloth bags and buy organic and those were not too difficult adjustments but I think the author is asking us can we take it to the next level personally. Can I give up my colored markers? They come in such lovely colors now: scarlet, olive, teal, lime and fuschia!! It doesn’t feel the same writing with pencils, but it could be one personal next step. A hard one, for me. There is an attachment there that I could look at. I could consider “letting them go” instead of “giving them up”, couldn’t I?
    Every life is a politcal statement. Every behavior is a refection of what i believe in and stand for. I believe every action makes a difference and we all have to decide, for ourselves what we are willing to let go/release for the greater good. I feel good about using baking soda once again for tooth paste. I won’t be adding more gunky tubes of colgate to the landfill or supporting flouride production, but that may not be the change my neighbor can make. Maybe she can purchase the Prius, but she is still attached to Lady Bic. Maybe he can install a wind turbine, but he is still attached to Crest. Thanks to Janisse for the article that is helping me further reevaluate my habits and challenging me to the next level. I love that she is helping folks make the connections between the conference topics and using plastic utensils! I am sure it was a big A-HAH for some.
    It is not time to rest on my laurels. For me, it is time to step up and make some harder choices about my attachments, and take even more responsibility. It also got me thinking about where and when to order my harvest turkey!

  77. Dear Bob Tyson and Friends,

    Please accept this apology. My abysmal communication skills are becoming evident once again. Y’all may be surprised to learn that once upon a time I seemed to do better.

    Bob, you report,

    “AND, I’m absolutely FOR damping human population. I don’t need Hopfengerg and Pimentel’s thesis to tell me why. Why do you?”

    The reason I am rivetted to the evidence from Hopfenberg and Pimentel is this: at least to me, their research indicates that a huge looming challenge is posed to the human community by the current scale and growth rate of human numbers. Their evidence indicates that the problem is SO LARGE that your idea of simply “damping human population” is a grossly insufficient response. You cannot be seeing the problem that I see and make such a statement. From where I am standing, the problem before humanity is too much large to tamp down.

    Your idea of damping human numbers reminds me of a person who is confronted by E.O.Wilson’s “raging monster upon the land” and decides to repulse the beast by spraying water from a garden hose at it.

    It is OK for you to suggest here that my entreaties have the sense of “panic” in them. I would like to say that I believe the stage of panic was one I stumbled through some years ago, in an earlier stage of becoming aware of the magnitude of the distinctly human problem some call the “world problematique.” What I am trying to communicate now is what could be called expressions from the stage of “unadulterated urgency.”

    Also, I would like to suggest that the time has come for leaders of the human community to swap the “need to know” ethic regarding the human condition for something new and different: the “obligation to share” ethic, just as we are doing here.

    From my viewpoint, discussions like this one are vital to human and environmental health, and especially to safeguarding our children, the ones who may have to confront global challenges visible to us now on the far horizon.

    At the risk of embarrassing myself yet again, please bear with me. I want to share my perspective using words that do not come from science. These words are the product of imagination.

    Just for a moment, Bob and Friends, close your eyes and imagine that we are looking at a huge ocean wave, watching it move toward the shore. This wave is larger than any wave any of us has ever seen. Think of a tsunami. The wave is moving toward us; however, at the same time, there are many molecules in the wave that are moving in the opposite direction, against the tide. If we observe that the propagation of absolute global human population numbers is like the wave and the reproduction numbers of individuals in many locales are like the molecules, it may be inaccurate for the latter to be looked at as if it tells us something meaningful about the former.

    Abundant research indicates that countries like Australia, Italy and Tunisia, among many others, have recently shown a decline in human population growth. These geographically localized data need not blind us to overwhelming evidence that the global population is still growing rapidly, may reach 9.2 billion by the middle of this century and, perhaps, go higher. World population is like the wave; localized reproduction numbers are like the molecules.

    Put another way, global human propagation numbers and evidence of local reproduction numbers among individuals, even in a great multitude of places, may be pointing in different directions.

    Choosing the scope of observation is like deciding to look at either the forest or the trees, at either the wave or its molecules. Think of human species propagation as the former and the localized counts of reproduction numbers as the latter. Please consider that the global challenge before us is a species propagation problem in a way not related to the counts of local reproduction numbers.



  78. Dear Steve, and to all who are still with us. This exchange looks to have come down to Bob-and-Steve, so this will be my last bit for the forum as far as our exchange is concerned. Steve, if you wish to continue on the merits of Hopfenberg and Pimental and so on let’s do that by email. Mine is LKRNDU (at) (LooKaRouNDyoU….)

    Now to your post.

    Bob, you report,

    Hate to quibble but I declared. Unequivocally. I did not ‘report’. There is a difference. Here it is again:

    “AND, I’m absolutely FOR damping human
    population. I don’t need Hopfengerg
    and Pimentel’s thesis to tell me why.
    Why do you?”

    Why do you? What you had to say below doesn’t answer the question.

    The reason I am rivetted (sic) to the evidence
    from Hopfenberg and Pimentel is…
    (that it) indicates that the problem is SO
    LARGE that your idea of simply “damping
    human population” is a grossly
    insufficient response….

    For True Believers evidence is always riveting and the problem large. Sincerely, seriously. I accept that you see a problem SO LARGE. So do I — and I might say I’d enjoy it if you could extend me the courtesy of acknowledging me in that. Yet a dialogue on the texture of this problem seems out of reach for now. With faint hope of sharing at least one minor insight, I repeat, in most feeble voice: Nothing whatsoever in my choice of the word ‘damping’ was to be taken to mean I think this is something ‘simple’. The way you’ve twisted that is pretty cheap-ass.

    Steve, I wish you well, and all of us. I’ve done my level best to critique the fine fabrics and clever cut of the Emperor’s new suit and hope my exegesis on the inadequacy of H+P’s publications, in terms of scientific merit, has been equally insightful. They are great opinion pieces. Testimony, surely. But they provide evidence only of their and your determination to evangelize on a point of view.

    When you invoke science, do it responsibly. When you use science badly in service of persuasion, and especially when you use bad science — you make things worse.

    Ehrlich learned the hard way. Beginning with The Population Bomb his ‘opinion pieces’ got people’s attention, but backfired when his smart readers realized something wasn’t right about his argument. Not that the problem isn’t real. But a true prophet ought not bear false witness. Hopfenberg and Pimental must be well-respected scientists in their home fields, but their published ‘work’ on population fails for lack of procedure, data — and peer-review. Their articles are opinion pieces cross-dressing as science.

    I propose a thought experiment. Would all of the choir sit up straight, close their eyes, and invoke a distant future. By which time technologists, you know, those tinkerers who brought you the inclined plane (pyramids), the wheel (Oregon Trail?), the flying buttress (Chartres Cathedral), and the microchip (Windows Vista — ack) have tapped into the heat of the earth’s semi-molten nickel-iron core. This is so large a source that it might as well be inexhaustible. No radiation, no nuclear waste, no conversion into bombs, just energy, heat. The materials scientists have developed structures and nano-materials from which cities miles tall have been constructed, and food produced in any quantity, so that tens and tens and tens of billions of people can live in material comfort and free from want.

    And so on — keep yer eyes shut a sec longer — just muddletate on that scenario for a bit and accept, for the sake of argument, that it has come to pass. There is no need of war because power is distributed — both the political and the electrical kinds — fairly, and besides everybody has what allows a good life-standard, in fact, as much as anyone could want, so that those content with very simple means are free to live accordingly and those wishing more can do that, too.

    OK. Eyes wide open, Utopia goes ‘poof’. But just do suppose for a moment that such a thing were to be achieved. I say we still need to ask, ‘Why bother?’ Let me be clear: the material sufficiency part might be great. The tens and tens — billions of people, nah. Not to me, anyway. It may be that I do agree with you, Steve, in this, that for humankind to discover a non-destructive means to round off population at some figure would be an extra-biological breakthrough, something never seen before, in nature. Human nature might already be on arrival, though. Re-check those fertility rates, just as you reported in your last post. Italy — home to the Catholic Church — with the lowest fertility on the planet. One of the wealthiest countries, highest investment in geriatric support (bursting pharmacies for oldsters), fewest kids. Third world, invert picture.

    For how much longer, and what kind of block-and-tackle can we conjure up to bring those images closer together?

    I’m trying to get across something I believe is true, that a positive and possible direction may be constructed that does NOT require invoking population armageddon as the motive, nor as the threat. (Any more than the prospect of a bitter winter ahead sharpens determination to lay in enough firewood and salt an extra ham.) It seems, to me, that investigating, vigorously, where to hold a line as to absolute numbers is useful — and it may, or not be, futile, as well, but I’ll ask permission for now to step behind the curtain during THAT discussion. I’ve done my best to suggest some directions, and, admittedly, to get up the nose (Irish slang for provoke, and debunk) of some of those who have been dishing pat answers that, to me, don’t make sense.

    This thing may get us. I don’t think so. If I part company from the choir, and from Mr. Sexton (Steve :) it’s because what I want, more for my children’s children than for me, is a world brought to some optimum. In population numbers surely. In multicultured, polytechnical solutions to needs (bacteria that make gasoline, anyone?), certainly. Through disciplined, reason-based scientific inquiry? Won’t happen without.

  79. From what I have rsad here, I am seeing more agreement in general, but like looking through a prism at varying angles, interpretations are diverse.

    Speaking of growth, whether of people, poverty, wealth, or I.Q., I think we are evolving our economic paradigms. Within the standard neo-classical paradigm “uneconomic growth” is an anomalous category. You will not find it mentioned in any of the classics on macroeconomics. But within the paradigm of ecological economics it is an obvious possibility.

    The pre-analytic vision of standard neo-classical economics is that the economy is the total system, and that nature, to the extent that it is considered at all, is a sector of the economy – e.g. the extractive sector (mines, wells, forests, fisheries, agriculture). Nature is not seen, as in the ecological economics vision, as an envelope containing, provisioning, and sustaining the entire economy, but as one sector of the economy similar to other sectors. If the products or services of the extractive sector should become scarce, the economy will presumably “grow around” that particular scarcity by substituting the products of other sectors. If the substitution is difficult, new technologies will be invented to make it easy.

    The unimportance of nature, in this view, finds empirical support in the declining share of the extractive sector in total GNP. Beyond the initial provision of indestructible building blocks, nature is simply not important to the economy in the view of neo-classical economics. Ecological economics considers the percentage of GNP represented by resources to be a misleading indication of their importance. One might as well claim that a building’s foundation is unimportant because it represents only five percent of the height of the skyscraper erected above it. GNP is the sum of value added. Resources are that to which value is added – the foundation or base upon which the skyscraper of value added is resting. A foundation’s importance does not diminish with the growth of the structure that it supports! If GNP growth resulted only from increments in value added to a non-growing resource throughput, then it would remain economic growth. But that is not what happens.

    What happens, according to ecological economics, is that the economy grows mainly by transforming its environment (natural capital) into itself (manmade capital). This process of transformation takes place within a total environment that is considered perishable, not entirely non-growing, or materially closed, but contains limits that can be exceeded. A throughput of solar energy powers biogeochemical cycles, but that energy throughput is perishable and potentially finite. As the economic subsystem grows it becomes larger relative to the total system, and therefore must conform itself more to the limits of the total system – finitude, non-growth, and entropy. Subsystem growth is ultimately limited by the size of the total system, even under neo-classical assumptions of easy substitution of manmade for natural capital. But if manmade and natural capital are complements rather than substitutes, as ecological economics claims, then expansion of the economic subsystem would be much more stringently limited by that complementarity. There would be no point in transforming natural capital into manmade capital beyond the capacity of remaining natural capital to complement and sustain it. What good are more fishing boats when the fish population has disappeared? The fish catch used to be limited by number of fishing boats (manmade capital) but is now limited by the remaining populations of fish in the sea (natural capital).

    When factors are complements the one in short supply is limiting. If factors are substitutes then there cannot be a limiting factor. Economic logic says that we should economize on and invest in the limiting factor. Economic logic stays the same, but as we have moved from an “empty” world to a “full” world, the role of limiting factor has gradually shifted from manmade to natural capital, – e.g. from fishing boats to remaining fish in the sea; from saw mills to remaining forests; from irrigation systems to aquifers or rivers; from oil well drilling rigs to pools of petroleum in the ground; from engines that burn fossil fuel to the atmosphere’s capacity to absorb CO2, etc.

    The optimal scale of the economy is smaller, when greater is: (a) the gap of complementarity between natural and manmade capital; (b) reduced desire for direct experience of nature; and (c) faulty estimates of both the intrinsic and instrumental value of other species. The smaller the optimal scale of the economy, the sooner its physical growth becomes uneconomic.

    The neo-classical paradigm permits growth forever, but does not mandate it. Historically the growth mandate came from the answer given to the problems raised by Malthus, Marx, and Keynes. Growth was the common answer to all three problems. Overpopulation, unjust distribution, and involuntary unemployment would all be solved by growth. Overpopulation would be cured by the demographic transition initiated by growth(Malthus). Unjust distribution of wealth between classes would be rendered tolerable by growth, the rising tide that lifts all boats(Marx). Unemployment would yield to increasing aggregate demand which merely required that investment be stimulated, which of course implies growth (Keynes). Continuing this time-honored tradition the World Bank’s World Development Report continues to assert that more growth was also the solution to the environmental problem. But of course the assumption in all cases was that growth was economic, that it was making us richer rather than poorer. But now many are beginning to see how growth is becoming uneconomic. Uneconomic growth will not sustain the demographic transition and cure overpopulation. Neither will it help redress unjust distribution, nor cure unemployment. Nor will it provide extra wealth to be devoted to environmental repair and cleanup.

    We now need more direct solutions to the problems of Malthus, Marx, and Keynes: population control to deal with overpopulation; redistribution to deal with excessive inequality; and ecological tax reform to raise and protect resource productivity and employment. It is utopian (or dystopian) to think of this being carried out by some world-sized authority. Some nations have made progress in controlling their population growth, in limiting domestic income inequality, in reducing unemployment. They have also improved resource productivity by internalizing environmental and social costs into prices. But significant gains will eventually be undercut by the ideology of globalization. Global economic integration by free trade and free capital mobility effectively erases the policy significance of national boundaries, turning the federated community of nations into a cosmopolitan non community of globalized individuals. Some of these “individuals” are giant transnational corporations, treated as individuals through the purchase of legal fictions.

    Under globalization, each country seeks to expand beyond the limits of its own ecosystem and market by growing into the ecological and economic space of all other countries, as well as into the remaining global commons. Globalization operates by standards-lowering competition, to bid down wages, to externalize environmental costs, and reduce social overhead expenses for public goods. But it is far worse than an unrealistic global dream – it actively undercuts the ability of nations to continue dealing with their own localized symptoms of unjust distribution, unemployment, external costs, and overpopulation. It is hard to imagine any country continuing to limit its birth rate or internalize its environmental and social costs when the results of overpopulation and cost externalization in other countries freely spill over into it.

    Globalization is the sexy elixir concocted by the growth-forever alchemists. Export-led growth is the new philosopher’s stone that turns lead into gold by the alchemy of free trade. With the revival of alchemy comes a return to the logic of Mercantilism: wealth is gold, and the way for countries without mines to get gold is to export more goods than they import, and receive payment for the difference in gold. The way to export more than you import is to reduce wages. The way to keep wages low is to have an oversupply of labor, attained by easy immigration or high birth rates among the working class. Globalization requires, therefore, that for a nation to be rich, the majority of its citizens must be poor, increase in number, and live in a deteriorating environment.
    Truly, John Ruskin foresaw the era of uneconomic growth, a time when:

    “That which seems to be wealth may in verity be only the gilded index of far-reaching ruin…….”

  80. Do you folks ever get tired of pontificating and discuss something that relates to the real life experience of most people. Or do you have to be an intellectual to be an environmentalist? Maybe that’s another reason it is not very appealing to most.

  81. Nah. We just like seein’ what it takes ta pull some folks’ chains. An ‘f ya drop by fer lunch (we serve chicken) you kin have de Pope’s nose!

  82. I have to admit, that while I enjoyed reading Janisse’s piece, I came away from it feeling frustrated.

    Part of that is guilt, of the sort she describes, that I’m not doing “enough.”

    And then I begin to wonder, what IS “enough”?

    I think the thing that troubles me is that it is not clear what, exactly, is being accomplished by having environmentalists “walk the walk” nor is it clear which “walk” they should be walking.

    Are environmentalists supposed to be enlightened versions of ordinary folks, or are they supposed to be saintly role models to which others look up, or are they expected to solve the world’s problems all on their own?

    By this I mean, are environmentalists supposed to be doing things that the average person can do, and encouraging slow, quiet changes thereby, or are they supposed to be living extraordinary lives from which others can take inspiration, but which are so special that they are out of reach of everyday people in practice?

    Because I find myself wondering if, for me, the environmental life she describes is in fact possible – and it’s certainly not possible for the vast majority of people in this country for the foreseeable future – and if, given how difficult it is to adopt for most people, it’s worth the struggle.

    For me to live in the country, for example, would require more money than I have, skills I do not possess, the abandonment of the career skills and training that me and my partner have put time and money and energy into acquiring over the last fifteen years, the abandonment of networks of friends and family…

    I COULD do it, but is it really reasonable to expect this of me? Am I not allowed to speak on environmental issues unless I make such profound sacrifices in my life?

    And if one person, me, the walk-to-work environmentalist – moves to the country, what good does that do if the place I’m renting is now occupied by a two-income family commuting two hours to pay that rent? And the land I occupy in the country displaces a farming family that moves to the suburbs, or is built on what was wild lands? It seems worse than zero-sum!

    I do what I can – walk to work (having had the profound fortune to find both work and housing close to each other – not at all guaranteed, nor anything I had much control over), use reusable bags, use fluorescent lights, eat organic when I can find it in local stores – but these are small, personal, individual solutions to issues that are LARGE, COLLECTIVE and STRUCTURAL.

    And I wonder – if I, who cares about such things, doubts my ability to live up to my principles, what, then, of people who are not thinking in these ways at all?

    There are 20,000 people in our small city. There are not enough local jobs for them all. There are not enough local farms to feed them all. There are not enough local stores, clothing manufacturers, water sources, etc. etc. etc. to support them all. If 5-10,000 families wanted to move to the country, where, exactly would they go? What about the millions in places like New York, Los Angeles, Houston? What do we do with them?

    It took two hundred years for the community to reach this point, or at best 50-80 years, if you are considering the most significant changes: demographics and infrastructure. And we act as if using recycled paper will fix this?

    I feel like I’m being made to feel guilty because I’m struggling to throw the grains of sands I can to fill in the great hole we, collectively, have dug over the last century, and because the grains I can manage aren’t “enough”. I can throw dirt clods from now until the day I die – which is what a fully realized “environmental” lifestyle means, on a personal level, just clods rather than grains – and that does no good in the long run if meanwhile the machinery that dug the great hole keeps on going.

    I agree that it’s good to make an effort, but, really, aren’t we just kidding ourselves that our piddly little paper bags make that much of a difference on an individual basis?

    We need to transform an entire culture, society, and infrastructure, and we don’t do that by ignoring the ordinary people who can neither afford a composting toilet nor who, in their numbers, are unable to go “back” to the land.

    Our personal efforts should be viewed in that light – as small ways of changing people’s attitudes, of suggesting better ways of doing things – and not as universal solutions that can be adopted by everyone and BAM! it’s all fixed!

    It’s going to take us several generations, at least, to undo this, and that’s if we all converted instantly. Adding in the need to change attitudes and cultural practices – we’re looking at least a century or two.

    Shorter version: environmental sainthood isn’t the solution – the collective efforts of everyone, including the dude with the gas-guzzling Hummer and enormous house, are what’s needed.

    This effort is vital to our continued survival – but let’s not kid ourselves about what the project really entails.

  83. Rana wrote: “It’s going to take us several generations, at least, to undo this, and that’s if we all converted instantly. Adding in the need to change attitudes and cultural practices – we’re looking at least a century or two.”

    Unfortunately, I don’t think we have that much time. I can sympathize with your point of view: that where we are took a long time to get there, and is going to take a long time to retreat from in an orderly manner, without inconveniencing anyone too very much. But I don’t think we’re going to have the freedom to set that schedule.

    I wish you were right about taking a couple centuries to undo things. But there’s a “perfect storm” on the horizon: resource depletion, global warming, and financial meltdown are going to combine to make the Great Depression look like a party.

    I laud your walking to work, even though serendipitous, rather than planned. It’s a good start. But 20 years from now, I think there will be hunger in suburbia. Both the job you walk to and the job you could drive to may go away.

    Before fossil fuel, it took fifteen families on the land to support one in the city. Now there are thousands in cities for each one on the land.

    There is nearly complete consensus that fossil fuel is going away — the only debate is “when” and “will be we able to replace it.” When you look at the replacements carefully, you see that nothing, nor any combination of things currently known or on the drawing boards, is going to replace it. We can either “power down” in an orderly manner, or we can crash — the latter may come while we are hoping that technology, itself driven by fossil energy, will save us.

    It sounds huge and depressing, but it need not be. I don’t know what to say to people who have careers that depend upon unsustainable infrastructure, except start planning for a change. I’m sorry, but I think a lot of stockbrokers, fashion designers, middle managers, software developers, etc. are going to be looking for work one day soon.

    So yes, it’s hard, it’s unfair. People have made choices for 50-200 years that bring us to this point. It would be nice if we could start undoing those choices over the same period. But those choices may not exist in the future — those choices were made when there were many fewer humans on the planet.

    Making a choice now to opt-out of all that may be a question of survival, rather than some abstract, “I’m doing the planet good,” sense of self-satisfaction.

    But that’s my point of view — arrived at from years of serious study, and formal training in science and ecology. Others differ, and think that everything will be better if we all just all use paper instead of plastic, switch to compact fluorescent bulbs and have blind faith in the Hydrogen Economy and the ability of technology to save us.

  84. Rana asked, ‘If 5-10,000 families wanted to move to the country, where, exactly would they go? What about the millions in places like New York, Los Angeles, Houston? What do we do with them?’

    Jan neatly skirted this question. Jan, what’s your answer? Where will they go, in your model?

  85. Jan –

    I don’t think I disagree with you – at least not about the seriousness of the crisis we face.

    Rather, I’m sceptical about our ability as individuals to transform our society and fellow citizens at a rate fast enough to save us from profound social and environmental disruption.

    That said, making an effort to change is better than making no effort at all. I just don’t believe that the self-centered efforts of a few extraordinary individuals is going to have much effect beyond the personal.

    I do appreciate the desire on the part of individuals to address our collective responsibilities, and also to cover our individual butts. While I don’t have much discretion in the area of where I live (my partner is in a very tight job market, and we go where there is a job – and yes, I did just write A job – in the last few years, we haven’t had much in the way of choice) I have become far more in favor of potential locations in the northern states, near water, with strong communities – if we can go there.

    (And here’s where I get cross with folks like McKibben, who talk about finding one’s special place and living there – my special place happens to be the New Mexican highlands, and there’s just no way we can live sustainably there now, let alone in a globally warming, no-oil future. It’s all well and good when your special place is someplace like Vermont, but not all such places are appropriate for human habitation.)

    I think it’s more that my hackles raise when people chide me for not having more fingers in the dike – especially when it’s a dike covered in gaping holes from one end to the next.

    And I also feel concerned about the implications of a “me-first” environmentalism, because, honestly, that kind of attitude is a large part of why we, as a society, are in this situation in the first place.

    We HAVE to learn to think collectively, not for any woo-woo reasons, but because we literally cannot stand apart from the forces affecting our planet. And I’m not sure that encouraging a minority of already committed individuals to become even more environmentally “pure” is going to be all that helpful in that regard.

    Going off the grid may be personally satisfying, in the short run, but it is neither a solution to the larger problems, nor an effective escape, no more than owning a house in a gated community is a protection against floods and civil disorder. It is disingenuous, too, to imply that this is the sort of environmentalism we want others to adopt, because, as I said, it is simply not possible for most people.

    Going “back to the land” is simply a larger version of carrying a reusable bag, and we should be honest with ourselves about that.

  86. BT wrote: “Jan, what’s your answer? Where will they go, in your model?”

    Run to the light, not away from the dark. That’s not an answer, it’s a philosophy.

    There are many possible ways of proceeding — I’ve chosen Permaculture, which works well on a regional basis up to the size of a small country in a single bioregien, but may not scale to a continent.

    How are people going to survive in Phoenix without affordable fossil fuel? I don’t have a clue. I think “lifeboat communities” of aware, action-oriented people may do well, but I also think that many others may not survive.

    It may not be possible to feed 6.7 billion people without petroleum, but those who work at it will have a better chance than those who are content to get a paycheck from some unsustainable job that they take to the refrigerated store to buy food that traveled thousands of miles.

    Most of all, it’s going to take co-ordinated action — and I don’t mean by the government. Small communities (like Willits, California) will take things into their own hands if they are to survive.

    I’m pessimistic about the US in general — people have gotten too selfish and individualistic. As Janisse points out, they’ll paper over plastic, but won’t tolerate inconvenience.

    If you want better than an answer or a model, there is an actual example: look to Cuba. They survived a 90% reduction in fossil fuel, and converted from industrial agriculture to Permaculture in five years. During this period, the average Cuban lost 30 pounds, and Fidel Castro asked women to to stop having babies — there is now a four-year gap in the schools. But people did not starve, and more Cubans have health care and higher education than in the US. Can you imagine such sacrifice for the common good in the US? I can’t, but perhaps I simply lack imagination.

    Check out for how Cuba did it. And start thinking around those lines.

    Cuba did it virtually overnight — the US may have 20 years. Time is not on the side of the US, however — a crisis can promote action, whereas 20 years sounds long enough that “someone will do something by then.” Harumph — that “someone” is you!

  87. Dear Friends,

    This discussion is one of most worthwhile in which I have participated. Thanks to all.

    Especially, I need to thank Art for his comments (#80). Yours is as an astonishing analysis of economics as I have seen in a long time.

    Art, your cogent, thought-provoking ideas alongside those of Janisse Ray, Bob Tyson and others have helped to give rise to some additional ideas I would like to share.

    Somehow we, the generation of elders, could conceivably do our children a good service 1) by “passing the word” regarding some kind of plan like Jack Alpert’s proposition for “Rapid Population Decline” and by employing our intelligence, science and technology to begin a process of humanely doing as Reiel Folven of Norway is suggesting: fitting the size of the human population to the size of the Earth 2) by downsizing/rightsizing the global economy to fit Earth’s carrying capacity, perhaps using a model like the one from Aubrey Meyer in England, “Contraction and Convergence” and 3) by figuring out the fair and just ways to cap per capita consumption of resources so that human consumption realistically fits with what is sustainable in our planetary home.

    There is a fourth consideration: resource distribution. Humanity faces a global challenge posed by the unrestrained, unfair and inequitable way millions of people conspicuously consume many too many resources while billions of people have too little for substantial subsistence associated with normal human growth and development.

    At least to me, it seems that recognizing limits to per human resource consumption and also accepting the need for universally shared values with regard to resource distribution would need to result in the promulgation of new “rules of the house”. I do not know what the ideals, principles and “rules” should be, or how things could actually be worked out, or by whom within our planetary home. Nevertheless, I would like to add a thought on this matter. It does look to me as if we might choose to begin getting about the task of living according to something that could be defined as an unrealized ‘law of human nature’. That is to say, individuals will choose to behave more justly, fairly and equitably in sharing finite resources and cooperating with one another for the good of the community.

    Obviously, a huge challenge could soon be presented to humanity by the unbridled growth of absolute global human population numbers; additionally, there appears to be a powerful synergy at work in the interplay of humankind’s propagation, production, consumption and distribution activities that are now appearing to be approaching the point in human history of having the potential for threatening life as we know it and the integrity of Earth.

    As we move in other directions, I am supposing that there would be some kind of beneficial synergy that would help us back down and away from the edge of the ledge at the top of the high cliff where we seem to have thoughtlessly, inadvertently and unintentionally driven our species. Perhaps necessary behavior changes with regard to human production, consumption, distribution and propagation activities now overspreading Earth are in the offing.

    Somehow, some ways will be found that safeguard the children, their children and coming generations from their experienced elders’ adamant, relentless and patently unsustainable pursuit of the endless wealth to be acquired along a primrose path, the one that could soon take innocent children beyond ‘the end of the world’.



  88. This discussion is very interesting. That is why I keep checking it every day. Yet, I still feel disappointed because it is so intecllectualized. I think what is missing is the energy of the feminine which is also so sorely missing in our world today. I do agree with Steve that a set of “house rules” would be oh so nice. But if those house rules are developed without the balance of the feminine it is just another exercise in futility.
    Right now I think some of the best work to be done is that work that attempts to bring us back into balance between masculine intellect and force (which are still very, very important) and feminine heart and soul work. In many cultures this kind of development comes through the Arts – music, dance, visual and performance. Through art the young learn the lessons of the culture which eventually allow them to understand the “house rules”. Also the community gets to celebrate its values through art.
    One reason that I value Orion Magazine over many other environmental publications is the inclusion of visual art and poetry recognizing the power of Art to transform.
    In order to save this planet we will have to work together. But I also believe that we will have to listen to and follow those women who are in touch with their deep feminine Wisdom. There are many such women around the world. Wangari Maathai, Vandana Shiva, Joanna Macey maybe some unrecognized women in your own neighborhood. One thing that seems to stand out in the work of these women is that they don’t petition their government. Rather they start with ordinary people in small groups, teaching and then stepping out of the way so that leadership develops in many people quickly. Anyway I think they have much to teach us all. Local groups, non-heirarchical leadership and recongition of the Wisdom of the poeple not just the “intellects”.

  89. To one and all on this Orion forum,

    Over the past some days I’ve tried to integrate what I’ve seen here with my own impressions. I’d like to see if I can parse what some of you have said and add an additional perspective from Amory Lovins of Rocky Mountain Institute.

    Unfortunately e-forums like this one often do seem to reach a stalemate in which participants seem to want acknowledgment of points made more than they do exchange of views and, perhaps, an evolution of deeper understandings. I’m not sure whether I can address that, but here are my ‘takes’ on a few things that have come up.

    Many posts sound to me like apologies for how the writer has already decided to do things. That might be perfecftly fine, were it that enough of us had reached the nirvana of achieving ‘solutions’ that work, and that would work for all or at least for very very many. The world is a more complex place than that, unfortunately, and I haven’t seen discussed here that which looks to move us very far in broadly positive directions. In fact it has been discouraging to read from several what are really survivalist manifestos. ‘This is how WE do it so that we can manage to hold out when the storm comes, and y’all better think about it because the world/the USA/Cleveland is about to im/ex-plode.’ Jan Steinman, who I trust is a more than decent person sounds, if you squint just a little, like a northern Idaho survivalist of twenty years ago. No guns (up front, at least) but the same ‘we’re on the lifeboat whether or not it will work like this for anyone else’ theme. Under the hood, pardon the metaphor, it’s the same: ‘we’ll stick it out on our own here somehow, the rest of you, well, good luck…’

    I doubt good strategies can emerge from that mindset. Worse, I’m very unhappy with that lack of moral comprehension. The original Ray article itself emits a whiff of this toxin…

    But there were also posts that simply listed without pretense concrete actions people are taking, stressing the local from acquiring food and goods to involvement in community and decision-making. This sounds a lot better to me. I cheer.

    There were also those who struggle mightily to understand the danger. (Intellectually — only?) Like Steve, so gripped by the enormity of the weight above that good judgment languishes, beclouded in the desire to get out from under. Who can fault this? Not I, though I may quibble on details, scientific principle, plain logic…

    And, like Rana (frog, in Italian?! – carina!), asking again, and so clearly, both what action might make sense from her context and realities, and also, if I took her sense correctly, about _how_ to engage, _how_ to form the quest.

    Just this: How to ask the right questions, even to know which ones are worth considering, then applying that back to one’s own life and practice.

    Perhaps I feel greatest empathy, here. In this spirit, just so, we stand a chance of uncovering what will serve us best, and for involving and lifting the broadest number of us. All of us, one hopes. Even as one looks and hopes for fewer and fewer OF us…

    I’d also add a couple more voices to Edelle’s list, the feminine: Majora Carter, Hunter Lovins. We need the feminine and the masculine, the intuitive and the rational. Birthing. And bringing wood, warming the chamber where lies preoccupied the birther.

    Amory Lovins is one of the brightest lights we have, intelligent and optimistic. Here is part of what he said on the Charlie Rose show last year:

    You had a federal government (during the 1970s-80s)
    that tended to think anything environmentalists proposed
    must be bad, whether it was White House or Congress
    under various administrations. And you just had this
    funny dynamic where when oil prices were high in the
    ‘70s and into the early ‘80s, we all paid attention.
    We did magnificently in saving oil, so much so it crashed
    the price. So we’d spent 15 years getting really good at
    saving energy, and then we spent the next 15 years
    forgetting more than we learned, because once the oil
    prices went down, who cared? …. It’s only now that
    we’re figuring out, however low the price goes, it
    doesn’t matter. Efficiency is still a great deal…

    Here is the transcript of the interview:

    November 2006

    Read it over. Lovins makes sense, in dollars and cents. His bullish take on ‘negawatts’ and ‘negabarrels’ (energy savings, that have a payoff because it’s cheaper to SAVE a watt of production or barrel of oil produced than it is to produce either) is just because of the wisdom behind what he’s saying. It’s slippery stuff to comprehend, though. Think about it a bit.

    There are ‘if’s’ in the scenario. Lovins impresses me because he stays on message and reminds us that there are many pieces in the puzzle, and that to get the big picture right we need to get all the pieces shaped right and in the right places. Not just more efficient SUVs but SUVs shrunk in size and weight so that the benefits of multiple reductions in impact multiply together. The excerpt I quoted above is key in this sense: that there ARE times when ‘WE ALL’ — to repeat Lovins’ words — pay attention. When we do we move mountains. If we had maintained that focus twenty years ago we might now be needing to pay as much attention to Iraq and Iran as we do to turnip growers in New Jersey.

  90. Bob Tyson wrote: Jan Steinman… sounds… like a northern Idaho survivalist… ‘we’re on the lifeboat whether or not it will work like this for anyone else’ theme. Under the hood, pardon the metaphor, it’s the same: ‘we’ll stick it out on our own here somehow, the rest of you, well, good luck…’

    I feel completely misunderstood when you use my name with quoted things that you thought up, but I never wrote.

    I need you to read carefully, and avoid putting words in my mouth. I need you to be careful with attributions.

    When you quote something in the same paragraph with someone’s name, it should (according to the Chicago Manual of Style) be words they actually uttered. Doing otherwise is provocative and passive-aggressive.

    It’s okay to say, “When you write ‘so-and-so’, do you mean thus-and-such?” See the difference? The first is self-aggrandizing (“Here’s what he means.”) The second is true dialog.

    That said, all I can say is that no one can “save the world.” The world is much too big. The best we can hope for is that everyone does the best they can — and then even more. And if that isn’t enough to “save the world,” so be it. Our jobs as individuals is not to figure out how to save 6.7 billion people. Our job is to figure out how to live as 6.7 billion people might be able to — and to do it.

    If I’ve created an impression in anyone besides Bob that I’m an isolationist, I apologize. I’m anything but! If I were an isolationist, I wouldn’t be writing book chapters and magazine articles, speaking at conferences, appearing in movies, inviting people to visit our demonstration site, and recruiting people to form an intentional community ecovillage. I’d be holed up in Idaho with a couple years supply of food, and I wouldn’t be telling anyone where that was!

    That I don’t believe 6.7 billion people can all do that with the resources we have is beside the point. But I’d be delighted if all 6.7 billion of us tried!

    I view Amory Lovins with some skepticism. He’s the main cheerleader for the “technology will save us” camp. (Oops, am I breaking my own rule here? I can’t say he actually said that.)

    I disagree with his views on the hydrogen economy (an enthusiastic supporter, last I checked) and other techno-fixes. I don’t see what his infatuation with high tech will do for the third world. To my ears, RMI sounds similar to what Bob accuses me of, but on a national level: that the developed world has this high-tech way of solving the coming energy crisis, and Africa will have to continue in the Stone Age. Please correct me if I’ve mis-represented him.

    That said, he’s in the right general direction, if not on what I think is the best path. Of course we should be more efficient. But expensive techno-fixes won’t help the poor.

  91. Jan, you deserve my further reply. To your writing you feel misunderstood, I can only repeat that I respond to what you’ve written. If you’d like, I’ll go back to your earlier posts and pull out your exact words. Is that what you’d prefer?

    In your present post you repeat the same gist: ‘…no one can “save the world.” The world is much too big.’

    There, right there, is the underlying stance that undoes the rest. Keep in mind too that what we express in a public forum such as this one opens the door to being misunderstood, misquoted, distorted, all the rest. The only way is to keep at saying what we mean. And just maybe re-examining what we mean.

    Lovins. Yes. He’s managed to become the darling of every doubter. I can only repeat that his notions bear close reading and reflection. It doesn’s sound as if you’ve done more than take second-hand impressions, Jan, but if you can disabuse me of this take I’d be pleased. When I read (and re-read, in the present atmosphere poo-pooing it) Lovins’ work on incorporating hydrogen in the energy delivery mix it does make sense. Funny how that gets turned on its head in our public discussion. Like, for example, the now-discredited phrase ‘energy conservation’ (‘Energy End-Use Efficiency’, Lovins, 2005 This is one time when stopping and really digging into what someone offers will pay off.

    He’s got the track record to show for a life-long diligence, as well.

    I can’t offer much more, but I will say that Lovins’ work offers both hard-headed pragmatic ways out and reasons for genuine optimism.

  92. Well, fair enough. I did go back to look, so here are three excerpts from Jan’s earlier posts that express the sense of pessimism and limit to which I have referred. To Jan personally it is worth pointing out that his own re-phrasing from my last post obscures the point that I was relating an impression from his texts, and specifically NOT quoting him directly. (Jan, you yourself did not quote accurately from my post, and you based your response on the distortion you created. What does the Chicago Manual say about that?) Now instead, here are three direct quotes from Jan’s earlier posts. I have made several cuts for brevity, I hope without losing the import of the original. They speak for themselves:

    ”…Malthus couldn’t know about
    fossil fuel, and…some deus ex machina
    could supply another increment of energy…
    that will enable more growth.

    What happens when that energy resource
    becomes depleted? Aren’t we simply
    delaying the inevitable?”

    (NB: Focus on limit to supply, exhaustibility of a resource. See meditation on flight and gravity, below.)

    August 28

    ”We’re practicing Permaculture here,
    and I’m trying to teach people how to
    survive without oil, but I fear as many
    as 5/6ths won’t be able to.

    Bob, you may be right that everyone
    can’t go back to the land. On the other
    hand, those who can may be the only
    non-rich survivers (sic).”

    August 31

    ”Making a choice now to opt-out…
    may be a question of survival…

    But that’s my point of view… Others differ,
    and think…everything will be better if
    we all just…switch to compact fluorescent
    bulbs and have blind faith in the Hydrogen
    Economy and the ability of technology
    to save us.”

    ‘A question of survival’ says it all. Us or them, us or us — no room for error, no time to waste. And ‘technology’ gets horsted overboard carte blanche. It’s not the questioning of technological elements, but rather the reduction to black-or-white, this simplification ad absurdio that is the real trap. I can only hope that Jan and crew don’t use ANYTHING made of iron, nor hewn lumber. Gaack– TECHNOLOGY. AND NOW FOR THE SMILEY-FACE: :)

    Meditation on Flight and Gravity

    When birds fly, when pilots pilot,
    neither thinks much about gravity.
    Oh. It’s there alright. It’s just that
    thinking on it is useless.

    Cross the I-P. Engine runup.
    Magneto check. Throttle position.
    Elevators. Horizontal stab. Rudder.
    Flaps. Brakes. Power.
    And…roll. Airspeed zero…twenty…
    forty…sixty. Gentle pressure back
    the yoke settles towards the belly,
    nose up a little, blurry tarmac/gravel/
    grass falls…

    Twist to left, right wing (in corner of eye)
    rolls up, nose drops, tug on yoke
    easy, stable, quiet…admire glint
    morning sun on wing-curve
    and/or black eagle-feather
    it’s the same you see.

    When you focus on scarcity
    or on gravity
    you forget the abundance that IS,
    but you already feel the lift.
    And what if you forget
    to husband but not to

    Were we to reconsider that in scarcity there is also opportunity, and to (economics model) observe that savings of resources, material, energy, food, are also currencies of value, we will crash the markets, collapse the price-locks, pull the rug from under our jealous enemies, and find that we indeed have enough.

    But if we only bemoan, as true pessimists, the limits and the lack, we will live and perish singing the blues. And the black-outs.

  93. Anybody here remember the movie ‘Babette’s Feast’? Edelle? Now that was a saga of ‘the choir’ — as in those dour, pinch-faced villagers, locked in their straight-laced ‘presbyterian’ tunnel-vision conservatism.

    And of the artist, nay the art, what? Who are we?

    (Written by one raised Presbyterian.)

  94. (quote) Jan Steinman:

    ”I view Amory Lovins with some skepticism.
    He’s the main cheerleader for the “technology
    will save us” camp. (Oops, am I breaking my
    own rule here?…)”

    Jan, right you are. Lovins has NOT said ‘technology will save us (sic)’, at least not so far as I have ever seen AND yes, you have broken your own rule. But what you really do here is to reduce a complex issue to an absurdist simplicity. That’s unhelpful.

    (quote) Jan Steinman:

    ”I disagree with (Amory Lovins’) views on the
    hydrogen economy (an enthusiastic supporter,
    last I checked) and other techno-fixes. I don’t
    see what his infatuation with high tech will
    do for the third world. To my ears, RMI sounds
    similar to what Bob accuses me of, but on a
    national level: that the developed world has
    this high-tech way of solving the coming
    energy crisis, and Africa will have to
    continue in the Stone Age. Please correct
    me if I’ve mis-represented him.”

    I think you have mis-represented Mr. Lovins, so I’d be delighted to correct you. I was first introduced to what Lovins does, and to RMI, in 1979 during a visit to rancher friends who live up the road from him on Capitol Creek, Snowmass (Colorado). From none of his work do I take it that he writes off the rest of the world. His work offers very much that taken into practice will benefit everyone, world-wide.

    You may disagree, but to show that Lovins’ points are invalid you need to present more substance than you have. To my ears phrases such as ‘energy efficiency’ and ‘hydrogen economy’ as they have come to be used in public discussion have been emasculated, transmuted into code for something else. More directly you, Jan, mischaracterize Lovins with the term ‘high tech’. In fact much, though not all, of what Lovins emphasizes is truly LOW-tech, especially in the energy conservation realm.

    A full reading of RMI and Lovins’ work offers a range of workable and positive ways to leverage scarcity into abundance, and not just as buzz or comfort words. For example, Lovins describes the design of the RMI headquarters in Snowmass (quoted from the interview with Charlie Rose, 28 November 2006):

    Heck, I live up in the Rockies at 7,100
    feet where it can go to minus 47
    on occasion. You can get frost
    any day of the year. You can
    get 39 days of continuous
    cloud in mid-winter. And in
    the middle of my house, I’ve
    harvested so far 28 banana crops
    with no heating system. I don’t
    need one. It’s cheaper upfront
    not to put one in.Because the
    heating system would have
    cost more to install than I paid
    for the super-windows and
    super-insulation and stuff that
    got rid of it. 99 percent of the space
    and water heating is passive or
    active solar. Ninety percent of my
    electricity got saved and I get the
    rest from solar five or six times over
    and sell the rest back to the grid.
    And by the way, all the efficiencies
    paid for themselves in 10 months
    with 1983 technologies. We can do
    a lot better now.

    Notice that Lovins lists one technological refinement after another, and that they work TOGETHER to multiply efficiencies, to multiply the end-use efficiency of a fixed quantity of, say, oil. This is what’s sometimes called a ‘systems’ approach. He went on, responding to a prod from Rose on the oil companies’ increased efficiencies at discovering and exploiting oil deposits:

    But the technologies for wringing
    more work out of each barrel are
    advancing even faster…and faster
    than we’re using them up. So
    efficiency, whether of oil or
    electricity or gas, is getting ever
    bigger and cheaper. The opposite of oil.

    Lovins says that our advancing efficiencies are now producing more energy, in the form of savings, or barrels NOT used, than are new discoveries of actual petroleum reserves, despite impressive advances in the latter processes.

    What we also need to be doing is a careful re-framing of the questions, on two fronts. On one front we need to stay awake and to take notice when the rhetoric of discussion gets manipulated and words themselves become locked-out. Take ‘technology’ or ‘hydrogen economy’ in the present exchange. So long as the meanings of terms including those are narrowed to mean what one faction wants them to mean we are hobbled in the discussion phase, to say nothing of any implementation. On another and more important front we will profit, literally and figuratively, to re-frame the dilemma away from scarcity and end-stock trauma, and towards definable, tangible, but historically counter-intuitive concepts such as the market value of saved or not-utilized energy.

    The way that latter works goes something like this:

    If you put a price on ENERGY SAVED — i.e. if you can price the barrel of oil you DON’T need to burn up — then you have made that ‘negabarrel’ into a market commodity. (This can be done.) When you do that, you ‘flood’ the market with these newly-found extra barrels — why? because who but a fool would buy the more-expensive actual barrel, if the barrel saved is the cheaper have-it-now option — AND the end-use result, a mile driven, or a house warmed, is the same? When you flood the market with a new, cheaper product, you drive the price of that product down. That puts the sellers in a corner, makes them much friendlier and easier to deal with. It also — danger warning — can encourage additional consumption. Hell’s Bells, let’s drive to Gendive (Said a 1960s billboard outside of Miles City, Montana) — but you don’t HAVE to drive to Glendive, or anywhere else, JUST BECAUSE THE PRICE OF OIL went down a notch. If you can remember that this IS a limited resource, AND that the barrel-saved (negabarrel) is CHEAPER than the barrel-pumped, you’ve got the market by the short hairs. You’ll buy the cheaper negabarrel every time you can. When you can’t — say you need to make something out of oil — you’ll buy the oil. But there will still be some of it around, all the more in proportion to the shift towards the negabarrel supply.

    It goes on and on, there’s an imperfectly-stated general idea, for starters.

    For all of you, my paraphrase of some points Lovins raises in his work is not nearly as good as hearing it from the horse’s mouth. I encourage everyone to seek out the work by Lovins and RMI — their website is excellent ( ) — and to take some time to absorb it. Key elements are NOT obvious nor ‘quick’ to understand and embrace. That’s surely a critical part of the problem, seeing it’s easier to cry something’s broken than to pass along a solution that may not ‘click’ in one’s mind on the first quick pass. In other words, to get this one you gotta stop, read, and think about it some…

    Like superinsulation and NOT installing central heat. I bet even the permaculturalists have to deal with the ancient law of the building codes, and have a tough time getting around that one. It’s been worse, still. In the 70’s when RMI was starting up I remember how incredible it seemed even to suggest building a house with no fossil-fuel heat, and the uphill battle to show that superinsulation works. (Those rancher friends up-valley from RMI — at 8,000 feet elevation? Superinsulated house with a woodstove. Burning the paper trash, of which not much even in a family of 5-plus-drop-ins, plus less than a cord of wood per year keeps the place toasty.) As Lovins posted decades ago, it was off-the-shelf technology, available cheaply to anyone. Still is.

    I hope our mindset can adapt.

  95. How does one unsubscribe to this thing? It’s become argumentative, tiring, and boring. I made the mistake of feeding the troll.

  96. If you don’t check the ‘Notify me of follow-up comments’ box you won’t receive each new post by email and can cruise in when/if you like to see what’s up.

  97. Edelle Rose,

    Your wish for more participation by females is a good one.

    We need to hear as often from the mothers of children and we hear in our time from the children of men.

    If you and the Orion Community are willing, please consider the following story. It is not more than another one of my feeble attempts to communicate about an extremely large potential challenge to humanity, the likes of which only Ozymandias, king of kings, has seen.

    Begin —-

    Humankind inhabits a self-regulating, self-sustaining and self-renewing planetary home, one that has worked well for millions of years. Our ancestors lived as hunter-gatherers. Presumably, human population numbers fluctuated in cyclical manner, based upon food availability. In early times more obtainable food gave rise to more people and the lack of food to less people. In any case, if there was no food, there would be no people.

    Green plants are at the base of the food chain. These plants are consumed by other life. In turn, other forms of life eat those creatures. Consumers of one species are consumed by other species. In the natural order of living things, food populations and feeder populations oscillate in equilibrium. As food increases, the feeder population increases. A point is reached when feeder population increases result in a decline in the amount of available food. Then, as the food supply decreases, feeder numbers stop growing. As the feeder population declines, the food population increases. This is an example of a SUSTAINABLE negative feedback loop.

    Several thousand years ago humankind shifted from hunting and gathering food to growing and storing it in amounts that were greater than what was needed for immediate survival. A culture shift from foraging to food production occurred. Perhaps, more obtainable food gave rise to more people, who produced more food, which gave rise to more people, who produced more food, which gave rise to more people, and so forth. At some point the increasing human numbers could have led to the widely shared and consensually validated but, unfortunately, mistaken impression that the production of even more food was necessary to feed more people. In recent centuries, as food production and distribution capabilities dramatically improved, the increasing food supply and increasing absolute human numbers gave rise to an accelerating food-population spiral. This is an UNSUSTAINABLE positive feedback loop.

    Scientists have observed that the production of food to feed a growing population, as is occurring with such spectacular success in our culture, results in an even larger population size.

    Agriculture prompted a shift from a hunter-gatherer culture to a food producer culture and provided the very foundation for an economic system that strives to continuously increase food production. The continuous economic expansion we see today follows a course established at the dawn of our culture and may have reached a point in human history when exploding human numbers, unchecked per capita consumption and unbridled production could overwhelm the finite resources and frangible ecosystem services of Earth. The longstanding, culturally prized preference for increasing food production to feed a growing population appears as a primary factor that can sensibly account for the explosion of the human population on Earth in our time.

    If increasing the amount of available food gives rise to increasing human numbers, then there are options. Certainly, one choice is another culture shift. The earlier shift was from foraging to food production. In discerning that a culture shift is necessary in our time, we could conceivably begin to address the looming global challenges, already visible on the far horizon, which are potentially posed to humanity by human overpopulation, per human over-consumption and unrestrained economic globalization.

    In the light of history, humanity is seen transparently as capable of a cultural shift in thought and behavior. This shift in certain of our values and lifestyle could save many familiar creatures from extirpation, preserve limited resources from dissipation and protect global ecosystems from dissipation.
    The explosion of absolute global human population numbers is a huge challenge; but we can take the measure of it and respond ably.

    End —-

    With thanks,

  98. I do think it’s unfair to describe Bob Tyson as a troll. Yes, he’s posting a lot, but it’s on topic, and not intended to derail the discussion. I’ve seen trolling in action, and this is not it.

    And I’m not saying that just because we have some points of agreement. More, it’s that we should be careful about what voices we decide to ignore or toss out, just because what they’re saying is personally irritating or uncomfortable. If that were the yardstick, we might as well just pack up and go home.

  99. “If you don’t check the ‘Notify me of follow-up comments’ box you won’t receive each new post by email and can cruise in when/if you like to see what’s up.”

    Yea, I tried that, and it doesn’t seem to be working.

    “I do think it’s unfair to describe Bob Tyson as a troll.”

    I apologize for using the “troll” word. I just don’t get along with argumentative people very well. I prefer to hang out with people who are more civil in their discourse, finding I am all too easily swayed to become argumentative when around those who are that way.

    (I have no doubt that someone will twist this to make it seem that I only value people who agree with me, but it’s the tone of the dialog, not the content, to which I object.)

    I’m sorry, but I don’t have time for all of Bob’s argumentative verbiage. I have to go out and actually do something about the situation. I don’t have time for people telling me I’m selfish for that!

    So enjoy your keyboards, folks. I have to go help a neighbor clear some slash, get some firewood in (we produce most of our own energy here), and help another neighbor put in an outhouse, so they can start composting humanure, instead of flushing the precious nutrients away.

    For those who are working toward solutions, keep up the good work! For those who prefer to throw darts, don’t expect to get a lot of help in whatever path you’re on.

  100. Thank you Rana, thank you Jan — being called ‘Troll’ actually seems not unkind. Gee. Actually — my nearest and dearest tell me I resemble one, too. Whether their use of that term of endearment (along with, on occasion, ‘humanure-head’) derives from my actual comportment or not I leave for others to conclude.

    BUT WAIT A MINUTE. Argumentative? Me?? GOOD GRIEF, get off it. Sputter. Fume. Them’s FIGHTIN’ WORDS. Grrr. Mreow-ffft.

    Lucky for us all I’m just too tired to — to lift a keyboard. Good night everybody. (For now. :)

    Bob T.

    (Ouch. Just pulled another dart out of my backside. Dangit. Pesky poky critters. Oh well. Off to get some z’s, perchance to dream…)

  101. This is Bob again, hoping a few hours’ repose has cooled things a bit. I wanted to respond, as calmly as I can, to Jan, also to Rana and to you all. The lickety-split exhanges of last night made it hard to find any ‘right’ words, in that moment. Then again, thinly disguised as Troll 005-1/2 (My height in feet) I know I fed the embers no matter how clever and witty I might have hoped I could be. So egg on me where egg there be, for that.

    Jan, I hope you can see one thing in all I have had to post, that I have no personal quarrel with you or with your chosen road in all of this. None. I admire you for sticking with it. I noticed quite a few days earlier your tendency to yank yourself back from the discussion, so I admire you for sticking with it. I respect what you are doing and if that doesn’t come through I am truly sorry.

    Having said that I hope you can allow me to shade what I am saying just a bit. We all navigate perilously close beside the cliff of despair in the face of what can seem truly ferocious-looking odds. Against us. Nearly all of your contributions, which I take as sincerely offered, note this. Many end with what feels like a throwing-up-of-the hands, along lines of the world is too big, or this solution may work but not for 5/6 of the world. If we were in a face-to-face discussion group one might surely read faces and gestures, and shape disagreeing points more artfully. Or sometimes just remain silent. But here in this quasi-public cyber-forum, where those cues are lacking, points do get twisted or imperfectly articulated. In an odd way, time seems always of the essence. For all of those reasons it really is worthwhile to try again, and again, to express certain points that one believes have importance. Just as you — and I, among everyone else — have been doing.

    It has been helpful to me to formulate my responses, or my arguments, if you will, by writing them out here. By seeing them tempered (or sometimes just un-done) in the furnace of these discussions. One of the points I believe is important is that whatever we each do in daily life, and no matter whether we consider what we do (and are able to do) to be ‘on’ or ‘off’ the choral bandwagon, we do have an opportunity, always, to do some global thinking. That is why I questioned the ‘scalability’ of the permaculture model. It was not a way of denigrating what the permaculture community does, but a discussion gambit which I hoped could bring forth more information. That would help me become better-educated on permaculture itself, and give me the basis for challenging assumptions as to how that practice fits, or doesn’t fit, into the so-called larger picture. I really want to know about that. (It may not be clear from our exchanges here, but for years I questioned and objected to what sounded to me like hollow claims from Lovins et al.)

    Jan: I would say that if I were a permaculturist I would make it my business to be the best one I could be (acting locally – as I am certain you are), AND to know as much as I could learn about better and poorer choices in policy on vaster scales (thinking – and voting/buying/etc – globally). I will chide you just a little for poo-poohing Lovins. That’s tossing the baby with the bathwater. Hey — wouldn’t it make sense to investigate diligently and to then either REALLY pull out the stops to throw a monkey-wrench in his ‘works’ — if you conclude definitively what he offers is destructive — OR to be positioned to cheer, to say yes, he’s on the right track, too? (If you do come up with real dirt you’d do us all a real favor to get it slid right under all of our noses.)

    Soooooo. A week or so ago I’d backed off a bit for several days, reflecting on the direction of the discussion, and certain themes floated up for me, which I’d tried to address in my most recent posts. I wish I could completely un-personalize that and free Jan of feeling he’s gotten picked-on. His posts express an underlying anxiety that I believe many or most of us share. So my response was always, and also, intended to be on lines of ‘if the shoe fits….’

    To Rana, for your kindness in a recent post, I WAS serious in my tongue-in-cheek first reply as to not feeling so terribly insulted by being called a name. Sometimes that happens in the heat of the moment. Could happen just as well, if maybe in different words, face to face. I’m sorry that the extra channels are not available here, for reassurance, for expression of underlying values, motives, feelings. Your remark was doubly kind, given as it were over ground where you and I perhaps do NOT agree. That’s a true test. Thank you.

  102. Dear Edelle Rose,

    The more I have thought about your very fine point regarding the need for “the feminine” to be broadly introduced into these kinds of discussion, the more powerful the idea becomes.

    As many others are reporting here and elsewhere, daunting global challenges could soon present themselves to humanity. If it turns out that certain global challenges to be confronted in the offing are primarily the result of the gigantic scale and skyrocketing growth rate of human activities now overspreading Earth, then changes in human thought and behavior could make a difference……. a very big difference. Perhaps a difference that makes a difference in the prospects for a good enough future for life as we know it on Earth.

    There are moments, forgive me, when well-intentioned efforts to sensibly and reasonably communicate become so incredibly disjointed, because so many people are expressing such a wide variety of views and asking so many questions, that I feel as if we are, indeed, in a time similar to the the one when the Tower of Babel was on the verge of fulminating; when the colossal wreckage seen, and reported only by Ozymandias, was about to occur.

    Who knows, perhaps the modern day masters of the universe among us, the ones who rule the world now — by insisting vehemently and relentlessly for infinite growth of the global economy, rising per capita consumption of scarce resources and unbridled increase of absolute global human population numbers — are leading the human community down another “primrose path” toward the potential for a catastrophe, only the magnitude of which may have never before been witnessed.

    At least to me, it appears that a facsimile of the ancient Tower of Babel has been constructed (we call it the political economy), one of such huge scale and explosive rate of expansion that its unrestrained, seemingly endless growth in our relatively small, finite world runs the unacceptable risk of precipitating the mass extinction of biodiversity, the irreversible degradation of the environment, the reckless dissipation of Earth’s resources.

    These are the kinds of challenges, I believe, that have been so difficult for the children of men to acknowledge and openly discuss. We need a great deal of help from the mothers of children, who are most of all dedicated to the FUTURE health and wellbeing of offspring.

    Always, with thanks for your consideration and thoughts,


  103. Steve and any others who are still with this long conversation,

    I think you are really on to an important point when you say, “then changes in human thought and behavior could make a difference….a very big difference.”

    The problems we have all been lamenting and the sheer enormity of the challenge before us leads me to believe that the challenges to Human survival will not be solved by tinkering with technology or even by the best theories of what needs to be done. These are important but they come after there is a major shift in the thinking of many people.

    If there is a chance to turn this around we will need a very significant portion of human kind to see the world and our place in it from a whole new perspective. For millions of years we have come from the “in-group” vs “out-group” mentality. It is demonstrated daily in our news. Jung taught that this distinction is archetypal, passed on in all cultures, but also is in the very nature of our species.
    If so, the goal before us is to expand the in-group for most people to include all humans and in fact all Life or even All. If it was unthinkable to most and contrary to human values to consume to such excess that others or the Earth are suffering, then maybe we would have a chance at it.

    This kind of shift in perspective I imagine could come slowly over millions of years .. or maybe not. But we don’t have that kind of time. So it leads me to think about the power of symbols. As many have observed, the photo of the Planet Earth from space has had a profound effect on the way we see ourselves, The Earth and our palce in the Universe. This is a profound symbol – a beautiful blue gem in black space with no borders or even much sign of our great human endeavors. It is humbling and uplifting at the same time.

    I wonder what other symbols are powerful for this mission of transformation???? That is why I believe the artisits, poets and story tellers are important right now.

    When I think of Wangari Mathaai and the women of Africa uniting and planting small trees one by one with their hands – actually making a difference with hundreds of thousands of trees – after their forests had been decimated, land erroded and families suffering, this is a story that gives me hope. The image of the tree being placed in the Earth is a symbol of hope. We all need to understand this power of the feminine to make a difference for our children!

    Just one other clarification. The reason this shift in thinking is necessary, I think, is that, then people will be willing to make the changes that are needed. If we need people to stop having children for a while as they did in Cuba, it will not happen unless most are committed to the in-group of humanity and the Earth.

    These are just my musings at this point. Janisse’s article started me thinking and all the posts have been on my mind for many days now. But I do feel such an urgency that it sometimes comes out as frustration. Thank you for being interested enough to continue the conversation.

  104. Dear Edelle and Rana,

    Both of you are kind to reply just as you have.

    There are many, many stories that give rise to hope. They appear everywhere. Most of them can be found in the work of mothers of children, as you know.

    What I have difficulty finding are examples of hope in the words of the children of men. Where is their reality-based, not primrose path-based, offerings to coming generations. For at least one of the world’s most powerful politicians, the response to the young people has been clear: “We’ll all be dead.”

    The children of men appear to be mortgaging and threatening the future of coming generations by remaining religiously focused upon the endless accumulation of material wealth, the unrestrained increase in consumption of limited resources, and the continuous consolidation of political power. Despite all the rhetoric to the contrary, we need not look far to see that money, power and privilege for ourselves, for our bought-and-paid-for politicians, and for our newly-made rich minions are the primary object of life. Regardless of the human-driven calamities — derived from per human over-consumption, unbridled economic globalization and skyrocketing global human numbers — that might befall coming generations, we live on in a patently unsustainable fantasy world (we call it reality) of effortless ease, conspicuous consumption, exotic hideaways and thousands of private jets, having abandoned our regard for the less fortunate among us, for the maintenance of life as we know it, and for the preservation of the integrity of Earth. Think of the single-minded pursuit of dollars, political power and privileges to consume and ignore the requirements of practical reality as our raison d’etre.

    When my not-so-great generation of elders has completed its mission on Earth, I fear young people will look back in anger and utter disbelief at the things we have done and failed to do…… all the while proclaiming ourselves “masters of the universe” in the performance of uniform exercises of virtue.



  105. If anything stifles the spirit of this choir member most, it is by getting stuck in the tape loop of being preoccupied with gloomy predictions of doom and who/what is to blame. Singing that song too much eventually paralyzes everyone who hears it and produces nothing but anxiety, fear, depression and eventually – apathy.

  106. This is one of the most fascinating and thought provoking forum discussions that I have come across…thanks to all who have made it so. I am late to this discussion but wanted to share a few thoughts.

    I read Janisse’s article with much interest. I suspect it resonates with where I am in my own life, but it also led me to think about the problem of contradictions and hypocrisy in our times. Why is it that many, many people seem to be trapped between their own underlying values and the actions that they are engaged in on a day-to-day basis? They can see (or feel) the error and contradiction of their lives but are trapped by circumstance, momentum and ultimately by choice in lifestyles, careers, and communities that are poorly aligned or even in conflict with their own values.

    Janisse said it clearly: “Living a lie destroys the spirit. It is a kind of mental illness, schizophrenia.” I would add that it also leads us into a stupor, malaise, or dis-ease rendering us insensitive to our own intuition that knows when something is not right with the way that we are living in the world.

    Why do we live these lies? Could it be the result of a top down culture that focuses on domination (Eisler’s term) and ignores that life-sustaining work that is often not economically or socially valued but is deeply satisfying, even instinctual for many of us? This same culture and its emphasis on technology have largely separated us from the land, from the Earth that for thousands of years has sustained us. Could this separation be part of our living lie, part of our problem? I think yes.

    What to do about theses lies, this life of contradiction, our inability to fully “walk the talk”? In response to Rana who asked “what is enough” I would answer that at a personal level we each must do what we can to maintain our spirit, to stay mentally healthy, and most importantly to stay awake…to be conscious of what we do and how we live our lives. At a community level, and if we can, we need to help others do the same. Preaching to the choir may be a very small part of this effort, but the larger and more important part is that of helping others step outside of their routine lives, empowering them to make the hard choices that will reduce their environmental footprint, and using the momentum of those choices to shift community values and action. If this larger effort takes a few gallons of jet fuel, so be it….I can think of no better use for such a resource.

    I believe that staying awake and being fully conscious of the choices that we make every day is a precondition to any meaningful progress toward the shift in values and structural reforms that are needed to transform our communities and the global political economy (within which we all must live and work) to a size and intensity that is in concert with the real limits here on Earth.

  107. Janisse Ray’s article struck a chord as I read it the other day, and I thought almost immediately that I should check out the discussion forum – something I have not done before – to see if it resonated in a similar way for other readers.

    Over the past two days, as I’ve briefly scanned over the overwhelming number of posts (after quickly determining that many were simply too long-winded to read thoroughly), I soon became discouraged, and lost much of the enthusiasm I had after reading the article initally.

    A few forum participants responded in the spirit of the article – by reflecting on their own efforts and impacts and motivations, and sharing the results of those reflections with others.

    These voices were soon drowned out by the effusive pontification, pseudo-intellectual spouting, petty bickering and solipsistic rantings of a few participants who just can’t seem to see enough of their own words in print.

    Ray’s message seems simple to me:

    Be mindful.

    The stakes are high – and escalating every day.

    Whatever efforts you’ve made, don’t be satisfied with your progress. As our crisis becomes more acute, we must constantly re-evaluate and continue to strive to decrease our impacts further.

    That’s it.

    To respond to those who may point out that individual efforts are not enough to get us “to scale”: Of course not! But that’s not the point.

    Of course we also need to “convert” others and transform our culture from one based on consumption to one based on durability and sustainability. But our efforts to transform our culture must be coupled with continual efforts to transform ourselves and our own lifestyles.

    And the moment any one of us decides we’ve done enough, it’s time to re-commit, and ask ourselves again, “How am I contributing to the problem – and how can I contribute more to the solution?”

  108. Janisse Ray worries about the trivia and doesn’t notice the
    elephant in the living room. The elephant is the extinction of
    Homo Sapiens in 200 years because global warming causes a
    poison gas to come from the oceans. To prevent our own
    extinction, we have to cut CO2 production NOW. The only
    feasible way to do it is to convert coal fired power plants to

  109. Dear Richard Rollins,

    Please comment again in this discussion.

    Your clarity of vision and presence of mind are wonderful attributes.

    If it pleases you to do so, consider elaborating on views related to the downsizing or right-sizing of the global economy. There is little question that the huge scale and rapid growth rate of an infinitely expanding global economy are patently unsustainable on a relatively small, finite planet the size of Earth. At least to me, the adamant and relentless pursuit of seemingly endless economic growth worldwide is an example of one way the human species could be approaching a point in history when human-driven, large-scale business activities threaten to precipitate the mass extinction of biodiversity, the reckless dissipation of limited resources, and the irreversible degradation of Earth’s environs.

    How would you recommend that people begin to get about the task of fitting the world economy to the Earth’s capacity to maintain life as we know it and to assure our children and coming generations a fit place for human habitation?



  110. Steve,

    I am short on time, so I’ll try to address your question with a short answer reflecting my own opinions:

    Knowledge, belief, and understanding give rise to values. Values (with courage and clarity of purpose) give rise to individual action, and individual actions give rise to community and collective action. Collective action is what is needed for structural reforms and significant changes related to our global political economy and environment.

    We each have a perspective of where the world is in this continuum, but I think it clear that we are not far enough along. That is why individual awareness and action, regardless of how small, is important to the larger effort. I am reminded of a recent comment made by President Clinton regarding early attempts in his administration to pass a carbon tax….he said it was not possible simply because it was not a “voter issue”. To me, that means that people’s values and willingness to act were not ready for the carbon tax…we were not ready to address the real problem of our times.

    With regard to ideas that are appropriate for a world where limits are realized, I applaud the ideas associated with ecological economics and introduced in this discussion by Art. A couple of good references: An Introduction to Ecological Economics by R. Costanza et al, and A Prosperous Way Down by H. Odum and E. Odum.

    From a somewhat technical perspective our climate and environmental problems are associated with too much throughput by humanity….too much consumption, too many people, too much energy use for the limited space in which we live. Too much entropy pushed into the environment, more than the Earth can dissipate. Any way to reduce this entropy production will help.

    Bob’s thought experiment (post #79) where he posits that we have tapped into a source of energy that is so large that it might as well be inexhaustible is representative of what I consider to be a false hope. In the thought experiment this inexhaustible energy supply has the potential to support tens and tens and tens of billions of people. My reaction: Energy is certainly required to support humanity, but that humanity is inextricably located on Earth. And the Earth appears to be seriously struggling to dissipate the waste (entropy) associated with current population levels and standards of living.

    Another way to state my concern about the premise of the thought experiment is to state that an inexhaustible supply of energy would perhaps be the WORST possible thing for us to discover. The past couple of hundred years of industrial activity made possible by practically inexhaustible supplies of coal and oil provide a hint of what we could do with an inexhaustible energy source. I understand that Bob’s intent with the thought experiment was to show the possibility of a positive and possible direction without population control. I think all of the evidence points elsewhere. To me it seems that our options are pretty limited: reduce our throughput (reduce our overall standard of living and entropy production) or reduce our population. I hope that Bob is right that population control will not be necessary. But I am afraid that if humanity does not reduce its impact on the Earth, Mother Nature will impose her own solutions….and the evidence that I see from all population studies suggests that these solutions will be harsh and relentless.

    In spite of the obvious solution that Mother Nature might impose, I am reminded that we have a unique capacity for reflective thought and conscious action. That is what we need, that is the challenge of our time: Wake up, revisit and abandon the old beliefs that are no longer supportive of what is needed, act responsibly, and expect the same of others around us.

  111. To Richard and Steve,

    Richard paraphrased from an earlier post of mine, ‘I understand that Bob’s intent with the thought experiment was to show the possibility of a positive and possible direction without population control.’

    Just for the record let me point out that my intent was the precise opposite of that. In other words, that IF energy supply were unlimited and free, and population might increase endlessly, who would want to live in the world that would result?

    If I didn’t say it clearly enough, I agree with you both that we will be better off to control our numbers. I may part company when I add that technology will be a large part of that. (Ask Dr. Carl Djerassi, whose research in the ’50’s created the birth control pill.)

  112. I agree with Steven Earl Salmony, Ph.D., M.P.A., Richard Rollins
    and Bob Tyson alias Troll. I would like to add that there is a new
    frontier and we HAVE to go there. It is Space, the high and
    infinite frontier. Take a look at the space elevator at
    Also take a look at the “Cosmological Forecast” at
    slash volume12 slash CosmologicalForecast.htm. According to
    the Cosmological Forecast, for every century we delay the onset
    of Galactic colonization, there will be 5 times 10 exponent 46
    fewer human lifetimes between now and the time the galaxy dies.
    That is 5 followed by 46 “0”s. Our population explosion may be
    allowed to continue as long as it happens in space, not on earth.
    The solar system as a whole can support 10 times as many people
    as earth alone. [If we build a Dyson Sphere, the multiple is much
    larger.] Once we have filled the solar system, we can move on to
    the Centauri Cluster. We should even take enough people off of
    the earth to reduce the population of earth. Note that evolution
    will occur. Space is a harsh place where stupidity will be
    rewarded with instant death.

    We have to colonize space for another reason. In only 33,000
    years, Proxima Centauri, a red dwarf star, will enter our Oort
    Cloud, causing a period of “Heavy Bombardment.” Earth will be
    struck by giant impactors like the one that killed the dinosaurs
    unless we humans are out there preventing it. We are the only
    possible defenders Mother Earth can hope for. We have to do it.

  113. If the different and beautiful life Janisse Ray wants to reimagine is one in which “we should be weighing even the minutest decisions” all day every day I can’t see a whole lot of people lining up to fill its pews let alone the altar.

  114. Add me to those appreciative of your words, Richard! Your comments about the ways we are encouraged to “live a lie” struck a particular chord with me – I often wish I was able to live more according to my values, and it’s hard living in a world that seems to encourage other, competing values.

    (Which is why, despite my criticisms, I do in fact appreciate what Janisse is trying to do here. I’m just frustrated, personally, and as someone who’s trying to be a thinking environmentalist as well as a doing one.)

    I’ve just gone to re-read Janisse’s piece, because I want to make sure I’m not turning her into a strawwoman.

    I think my resistance is with the issue of what it means, in practice, “to do better.”

    So, having re-read it, here’s what I find. I’m still sceptical, if slightly more forgiving, because this time I noted a few (a few) places where she admits that perhaps some questioning of assumptions is appropriate – where she notes the low-consumption lifestyle of her non-environmentalist father (though – is that environmentalism, or poverty?).

    But here’s the thing. If she had simply argued that one needs to strive to be better, and left it at that, there wouldn’t be much to argue with. *friendly smile*

    What gets contentious is that she judges instances of people falling short in terms of her own expectations – people buying nonhybrid cars, shooting hawks, using paper plates, etc. – and goes on to speculate as to “what the choir would look like” – and the first, detailed example she gives is a woman who farms on 98 acres and lives in a house made out of scavenged supplies (and, initially, in a tent).

    No wonder the choir is tiny!

    That’s what disturbs me. It doesn’t have to be (and, indeed, we’re doomed if it remains so!), and not because we’ve all lowered the standards for joining the choir. Rather, we need to think long and hard, individually and collectively, about what “better” actually means, and what it costs to achieve it. We also need to think very carefully about whether the standard to which we aspire is an achievable one. Do we really want to create a group of environmental saints whose “sanctity” depends on a rural lifestyle?

    (And, if so, why and what are the consequences?)

    As we do that, we also need to think about who bears the costs of becoming better, because, as in Janisse’s example about the turkey farmer, “better” for Janisse is not necessarily “better” for the farmer, who has to add to her workload and costs in order to ease Janisse’s conscience, on top of her own efforts to practice sustainable agriculture. We’re part of a larger web – one which includes other humans, including non-environmentalist humans – and it’s arrogant to elide over the ways our efforts at self-improvement may carry costs not just for ourselves, but for people who were not consulted about the matter, and might have a much different (but still acceptable) solution.

    All I’m saying, really, is that part of “doing better” – a part that Janisse, to me, gives insufficient weight to – entails thinking carefully and deliberately about our assumptions, our values, and our behavior, and to continuously question their validity – especially when there are implications beyond our own personal pleasures and discomforts.

    “Doing better” requires sacrifice, and, for some, significant hardship, if the standard Janisse is offering is to be our yardstick. We need to acknowledge that, we need to ask whether the sacrifice is bourne more by others than ourselves, and we need to ask whether the ends for which we are sacrificing are, in fact, “better.”

    Finally, we need to be honest with ourselves about WHY we ought to “do better.” “To save the planet” is too vague, and, besides, it is inaccurate. We are not “saving the planet” – we are trying to ensure the future of human life on the planet. Moreover, we are trying to ensure a particular kind of living – and that’s where things get sticky. Each ideal we hold up comes with costs as well as benefits, and I would argue that our unwillingness to talk about the costs of our current ways of living is what got us in this mess in the first place.

    So, for me, a significant part of “doing better” entails unpacking the hidden assumptions, costs, and privileges involved in various sorts of supposedly “green” lifeways, and not just going with the version that fits with my pre-existing sense of what’s “better.”

    That, and trying to remain positive throughout it all!

  115. Heeding Janisse Ray’s “Altar Call,” I cancelled my flight to the recent Greening of the Campus Conference, and drove from Green Mountain College in Poultney, VT to Ball State University in Muncie, IN – and back – in GMC’s loaner Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle. Though I’m unsure about the relative decrease in impact (that flight I didn’t take flew to Indianapolis without me, I hear), I, the student that accompanied me on the trip, and the myriad of folks we encountered along the way, certainly took a closer look at environmental sustainability education and associated transportation costs because of our well-marked mode of travel – we averaged 52 mpg over 1,800+ miles. Someone at the conference remarked, “It’s sometimes necessary to preach to the choir in order to make them sing.” Preach on.

  116. Dear Friends,

    Sometimes it looks to me as if some of our brothers and sisters are so singlemindedly focused on the accumulation of wealth and power, in feathering their own gigantic nests, frequenting exclusive clubs, flying private jets, sailing yachts and visiting exotic hideaways, that they have forgotten how human life depends upon Earth’s limited resources and frangible ecosystem services for its very existence.

    The “powers that be” have evidently failed to understand what it means when we say that the Earth is round, finite and has biophysical limits to which the human species is absolutely subjugated. One consequence of this denial of the requirements of practical reality by the masters of the universe among us is that the scale and rate of per capita consumption is dissipating natural resources faster than the Earth can restore them for human benefit. So great is per human overconsumption by a minority of people in our time that biodiversity is being extirpated, the environment degraded and humanity itself endangered.

    Is the fulfillment of the insatiable wishes of unrestrained consumers a result of unbridled big business interests relentlessly pursuing a course of endless economic expansion, based upon the feckless consumption of the very resources needed for the survival of life as we know it?

    Is the human species literally eating itself out of house and home?

    How do things look to you?

    Thanks for your consideration and comments.



  117. It’s raining outside and I have the day off of work, so I felt like perusing this forum, otherwise I would probably not do so. I read Janisse Ray’s article awhile ago, so I only remember the gist of the piece. After reading this entire comment section it was clear to me that these comment sections always seem to start so sweetly, with people’s general reactions to the articles, and then degenerate into extremely long missives from those with way too much time on their hands. It is disheartening.

    I like writing, though, and reading as well, but obviously the proof is in the pudding. You can say any stupid outrageous intelligent brilliant thing you want, and it just doesn’t matter until an action is taken on behalf of the words you write or the thoughts you think. I think most people inherently know this. So why so much baloney in these forums, comment sections, and listservs? What a waste of energy. And the only way to save the world is to save energy, right?

    So my particular response to this article and others like it is one of irritation at the actual smallness of the subject, that we are discussing such ridiculously small problems that can be solved quite easily if anybody actually cared. I’m not saying that people don’t, I’m saying it seems like people don’t. Industrialized people, anyway.

    In all actuality, you do not have to drive anywhere or use the internet or buy disposable razor blades from Target or shower every day (I do because I’m a landscaper..:)but we all choose to do one or more stupid things every day because we have been programmed since we were infants to feel like these consumerist actions are what makes us happy, they are what makes us human almost! Good gracious, how could we relax after work without a movie and some popcorn? How could we have a good Christmas without a ham and the newest video game system? Our consumption of junk and apathy towards the earth is what fuels our rampant wasting of many different types of energy. Too me, looking around at our culture, is shocking and amazing. But of course, I can only change myself, so I try to do that in small steps. I don’t succeed all the time, but so what?

    Permaculture is one system that will allow human beings to live fully and deliciously on this planet. There are other systems, but there are no technological fixes left when the nonrenewable resources that fuel the machine become too expensive to mine, or runs out. In any case, the small fragment of humanity that makes up the industrialized nations will probably have live like the other three fourths of the world. That’s the real picture of the future, not this desperate clinging of the bourgeoisie to the last vestiges of the middle class suburban lifestyle of comfort and waste.

    I’m a country boy living in the big city and I really appreciate both worlds, but the city isn’t sustainable in the long run in my view, at least in the urban centers. But I do not think that a retreat to the country to live a back-to-the-land lifestyle is sustainable either. Basically the city and the country mirror each other, and a million possible permutations exist across the world. I think that as an individual, it is up to me to find and build a community that is sustainable. That is all I can do and any more thought on the subject seems counterproductive and intellectually smug.

    There was a particular idea that popped up in this forum, about how the BIG QUESTION was CAN IT SCALE, or something like that. I have gotten that question from any number of intelligent people as a response to my ideas about permaculture and sustainability. I want to say, YES! Of course it can scale. But nobody has tried it, so how the hell do we know for sure? What a ridiculous question, in some ways. Is a small garden less important because it can’t be recreated on giant scale? I honestly don’t even know where people’s heads are at when they ask this question…How has our present system of intensive monocropping been anything but bad? For us and for the earth? We’re fatter and the earth is sicker.

    Saying you’re an environmentalist or selling a green or eco product means nothing anymore. The word “organic” has been co-opted and now costs farmers thousands of dollar just to be able to use it. All that counts is every little thing you do. One commentator said that a movement that asks you to consider every action you take wouldn’t attract many people, or something to that effect, but look at Buddhism. It’s pretty popular. And in an case, that is all we can do as humans, otherwise we’re just blindly passing though life into death, ruled by our passions, fears, and ignorance.


  118. Ms. Ray would like to see many changes concerning environmentalists, who are not paying much attention to little things while supposedly addressing the big issues of the environment. Unfortunately, they are not addressing the biggest issue for our survival. That is getting control of global warming by actually reducing the level of carbon dioxide on the globe. If we do not get action to reduce the level, our descendants may well not survive. Please note I say reduce the actual level of that gas not just reduce the emissions as that still means adding more to the poisoning excess of that gas on the globe and worsening the effects.
    Unfortunately, various environmental groups from Environmental Defense to the NRDC think that cutting emissions from vehicles and power plants is all that is necessary. When you have a poisoning excess already, the action has to be directed to removal not reduction to reduce symptoms.
    In the Discuss on “Reasons not to Glow” by Ms. Solnit, I have several comments outlining how to use our organic wastes in a pyrolysis process to make charcoal and get some energy and/or fuel as a way to remove the carbon dioxide nature has trapped for us in plants. I urge you to get attention to the need for reducing the actual level of that gas to get control of global warming for our descendants’ future survival. Action is needed now as every new report about melting of eons old ice formations suggests that melting is happeneing faster than predicted a few years ago.

  119. Since the metaphor is “preaching to the choir” perhaps we should consider just how people historically, and especially Americans, have related to sermons. For nearly 200 years the dominant literary form in this country was the Jeremiad — the threat of doom if we do not change our ways. The real resistance to the pieties of the Calvinist sermon didn’t arrive until writers like Hawthorne and Melville took the long view. Even Emerson and Thoreau wanted more to correct their neighbors than to mourn their conflicted estate. Today we carry both that piety and resistance to it in our culture and in our individual brains. We are permanently of two minds about telling our neighbors how to live. Yet, the modern project did make strides in quelling merely superstitious doomsaying. The huge change came with Rachel Carson, who’s voice was the first *true* Jeremiad in our history. And environmentalism down to Al Gore amounts to the most scientifically supported set of Jeremiads available. But even if true, these messages are still doomsaying. Science is always arguable and frequently held in suspicion. The tragedy is that man did not evolve to act in his own best long-term interest, at scales any larger than the tribe or village.

    The discourse here seems to assume that human nature can be changed by mere exhortation and social pressure. But traditionally, such forces have all been politically heavy-handed. I didn’t read all 123 previous comments, but few of the early ones seemed to mention the inevitable loss of personal freedom involved in programmatic social change. What we sadly lack is successful examples of such change, with or without loss of freedom. Sad because social and political history lend so little hope. But it’s fascinating, perhaps even enticing and energizing, in that this is a political science problem utterly unique in world history.

  120. I do not assume that human nature can be changed by mere
    exhortation and social pressure. Just the opposite. I assume that
    the extinction of Homo Sapiens has a good 90% chance of
    occurring. Take a look at
    RealClimate repeatedly tells the truth, debunking the propaganda
    of Global Warming deniers. RealClimate never runs out of
    nonsense to debunk. There are serious problems with Homo
    Sapiens as a species, namely klugey design by evolution. Bad
    features of the body and the brain are well documented elsewhere.
    Take one of the “easiest” examples: Humanities students who are
    afraid of science. How can anybody be afraid of science? They
    call engineered improved food “Frankenfood.” They are
    irrationally afraid of nuclear power. They believe religion instead
    of science. Yet they would not be alive if it were not for science.
    The earth cannot support more than 1 Million people without
    science. Without science, we would still be in the stone age.
    Without science, we could not imagine computers, let alone the
    Internet. How do we turn that fear of science around? Clearly,
    we must turn that fear around if we are to survive.
    And you need to turn Steve Forbes’ attitude on science around. I
    hear a lot of negativism in Steve Forbes’ attitude on science.
    “Silent Spring” was a logical extrapolation, not a *true* Jeremiad.
    See: “Science and Immortality” by Charles B. Paul 1980
    University of California Press and “Revolutionary Wealth” by
    Alvin & Heidi Toffler 2006

  121. I wrote to describe some huge ambivalence in the modern human psyche regarding ecological remedies, especially their social aspects. Space does not allow full discussion. But I feel that A.M. has backed me up into the corner of that ambivalence that he personally dislikes. This thread began with the question of social persuasion, not whether science is good or bad. We need to ask, “How can anybody be afraid of science?” not with incredulity, but with empathy. What we have wisely learned to dislike in the Jeremiad or in any kind of preaching is intolerance for human ambivalence. The problem may not be that we preach to the choir. It may be that we preach at all.

  122. OK, Stephen Forbes, how are you going to convert the innumerate
    [or is it anumerate?] humanitologists and religionists to science
    with empathy? If you can do it, great. You get the Nobel Prize.
    If you fail, you go extinct along with them. I wish you lots of
    luck, but I’m not holding my breath. I’m moving to Mars. I
    joined a group called “Lifeboat” at Mars is
    too terrifyingly desolate a place to be there alone. We have to
    have a self-sustaining colony there.

  123. Dear Stephen Forbes,

    Your appreciation of science is something I respect and share.

    Having said that, the idea that Rachel Carson was not a fine scientist strikes me as ludicrous.

    A defense of Rachel Carson is not my point here. In any circumstances, she certainly does not need me to come to her defense. Her good science speaks for itself and to us.

    There is something else to which I would like to draw your attention. What I would like you to examine is the apparently unforeseen evidence from two scientists: Russell Hopfenberg and David Pimentel, on the subject of human population dynamics. Their evidence appears to elegantly indicate that the governing dynamics of absolute global human population numbers is a natural phenomenon, one that is common to the population dynamics of other species.

    Hopfenberg and Pimentel show us that human population numbers is a function of food supply, NOT the other way around as so many people believe.

    This is NOT a chicken or egg type question. It is NOT a question of which came first. It is NOT a trivial matter. Their evidence is an empirical presentation of a non-recursive biological problem. This means that human population growth in our time is a rapidly cycling positive feedback loop, a relationship between population and food in which food availability increases human population numbers worldwide and the absence of food assures population decline……..just as occurs with other species inhabiting our planetary home.

    Perhaps for political convenience and economic expedience or possibly for other ‘reasons’ as well, many people have widely shared and consensually validated the specious thinking, the misperception, the mistaken impression, the illusion that “food supply is a function of human population numbers” and that we need “to increase the food supply to feed a growing population.” Good scientific evidence makes plain that as we increase food production the number of people joining the human community goes up, too. The spectacular success of economic strategies and techniques for increasing the food supply and improving food distribution systems appears unexpectedly to have given rise to a human population explosion.

    It is clear to everyone, I suppose, that God has granted the human species with astonishing intelligence, self-consciousness and other gifts. Even so, a new biological understanding is emerging that indicates the population dynamics of human organisms are NOT different from the population dynamics of other organisms.

    Would you mind commenting, or else helping me find a knowledgeable population biology scientist to comment, on the scientific research from Hopfenberg and Pimentel?



  124. Back to: “Should enviros be eschewing travel and canceling
    conferences? Is the path to a greener world a narrow one that
    demands saying “no” to many of the goods and comforts to which
    we’re accustomed?”
    These are trivial compared to the 4 MILLION TONS of coal that
    each unit 1000 Megawatt coal fired power plant burns each year.
    ANY travel and extravagance that results in conversion of a coal
    fired power plant to nuclear is well worth it. Nuclear power is the
    safest and only feasable replacement for coal that is actually
    available at this time. See my posts at

  125. Asteroid Miner wrote: “ANY travel and extravagance that results in conversion of a coal fired power plant to nuclear is well worth it. Nuclear power is the safest and only feasable replacement for coal that is actually available at this time.”

    Don’t forget the entire life-cycle — as all nuclear apologists always do! Once you include dealing with the mine tailings and the waste problem, some analyses show nuclear to have a high carbon profile indeed.

    Anyone who pushes nuclear as a solution to coal is missing the first “R”: REDUCE. We must move beyond merely becoming more efficient, to making do with less. Although some may argue it is less polluting, nuclear is no more sustainable than coal.

    Sooner or later, humanity needs to live within its energy budget: the amount of sunlight that can be captured in real time. If we don’t do it, nature will impose this budget, with disastrous consequesces.

  126. Jan Steinman, you failed to look at
    where I massively documented the answer to your question.
    Alternet has a device that finds all of the posts of a particular
    poster. I use the same pen name there.
    I certainly DID NOT forget the entire life cycle of uranium.
    1. Yucca Mountain is full of fuel that needs to be reprocessed.
    2. Reference:
    by Alex Gabbard
    Metals and Ceramics Division
    Oak Ridge National Laboratory
    Oak Ridge, TN
    Selections from the 19th Annual Conference
    March 14,15,16, 1996
    Nashville, Tennessee

    Published by the
    Edited by Jack D. Arters, Ed.D.
    Conference Director
    The truth is, all natural rocks contain most natural elements. Coal
    is a rock. The average concentration of uranium in coal is 1 or 2
    parts per million. Illinois coal contains up to 103 parts per
    million uranium. A 1 billion watt coal fired power plant burns 4
    million tons of coal each year. If you multiply 4 million tons by
    1 part per million, you get 4 tons of uranium. Most of that is
    U238. About .7% is U235. 4 tons = 8000 pounds. 8000
    pounds times .7% = 56 pounds of U235. An average 1 billion
    watt coal fired power plant puts out 56 to 112 pounds of U235
    every year. There are only 2 places the uranium can go: Up the
    stack or into the cinders.
    Since a reactor full fuel load is around 11 tons of 2% U235 and
    98% U238, and one load lasts about 10 years, and what one coal
    fired power plant puts into the air and cinders fully fuels a nuclear
    power plant.
    Compare 4 Million tons per year with 1.1 tons per year. 1.1
    divided by 4 Million = 2.75 E -7 = .000000275 =.0000275%.
    Remember that only 2% of that is U235. The nuclear power
    plant needs 44 pounds of U235 per year. The coal fired power
    plant burns coal by the weekly trainload. The nuclear power
    plant consumes U235 in such small quantities yearly that you
    could carry it in a suitcase.
    3. See the rest of Alex Gabbard’s article. U238 can be bred into
    Plutonium and Thorium can be bred into Uranium. We can fuel
    our nuclear power plants for CENTURIES just by extracting
    uranium and thorium from a year’s worth of cinders and smoke.
    4. See:

  127. Asteroid Miner writes “Jan Steinman, you failed to look at…”

    What a lovely way to begin a discussion — by telling someone they’ve failed! (Especially when you could not have possibly known that.)

    In reality, I did look at the link you provided, and even searched the referenced site for “nuclear,” and saw nothing to back your claims.

    Were I feeling combative, I might say you “failed” to make the information you cite accessible, such as by using a full link to the referenced article, which you still have not done.

    But I have a more serious point to make: if you assert that someone who went to the trouble of following your link and searching the referenced site has “failed,” why the heck should we trust your methodology and logic when you assert that nuclear can “succeed?”

    I nearly died in a nuclear accident when I was eleven years old, and have studied the issue very extensively, formally and informally. You’ll have to do more than provide a link to nowhere and a reference by someone who works for the nuclear industry to convince me.

    That’s not to defend coal, but replacing one problem with another different problem does not sound like a solution to me.

    Even if we accept your claim that “we can fuel our nuclear power plants for CENTURIES,” that only means we’ve deferred the problem of infinite growth in a finite world for centuries. We need to be working on truly sustainable solutions, or, as Garrett Hardin put it, “Given an infinite source of energy, population growth still produces an inescapable problem. The problem of the acquisition of energy is replaced by the problem of its dissipation.”

  128. In this month’s issue of Orion magazine, I was intrigued by the dilemmas of responsible environmental activism in Janisse Ray’s “Altar Call for the Choir.” Her indictment of society’s environmental contradictions exposes the “wrong” amidst attempts to do “right,” pointing to the erosion of good intentions for sustainable living during the small, simple actions of daily life. While she sees these small contradictions as environmentalists’ greatest failures, I think we should see through them with a broader sense of hope. We can only surmount the snares of contradictory environmental ethics with a spiritual grounding in a more ecological principle based on love and reverence for nature.
    There is a fundamental necessity to understand the inconsistencies she describes –shopping with plastic bags for local groceries or flying with fossil fuels to environmental gatherings – but her essay could be strengthened by taking time to inspire its readers with a larger vision for nature. In an essay focusing on the struggles of specifics, there is a need to glorify the general promise of nature’s beauty. What do we love about the lands we live in – where we lead our contradictory lives? Reducing consumption, balancing inputs and outputs, resolving contradictions – doing everything individually possible to save the world – will never be enough. Strong, isolated voices singing alone do not make for a beautiful choir.
    Therefore, Ray’s essay should remind its choir what they are singing for. Our individual voices and actions are the inspiration moving us towards the ultimate aspiration of praising and preserving the whole of nature. These hopeful ends are desperately needed to empower and complete Ray’s conversation about the choir’s means. Reminders of the world we love will bring all the more encouragement and joy into our personal actions. Then, without fail, the choir will sing.

    Rob Rich
    Missoula, MT

  129. I, too, struggle mightily with the issue you raise in “Altar Call for True Believers”. How much is doing enough? Where along the continuum do I find myself and where could I really be if I just figured out what to do with those non-recyclable yogurt containers? Here’s the short list of our personal contradictions:

    We live in a small town and bike everywhere, but own 2 cars, neither a hybrid
    My husband could take a bus to work, but it eats 2 extra hours from his day
    We kayak and row, no fossil fuels there except the plastic to make those boats
    Our daughter is in New Zealand; we’re considering flying out there, sorry
    Our house is passive solar; it’s hot in summer and occasionally I turn on the AC
    We recycle every scrap, really
    We belong to a CSA and buy local food, mostly

    I live a mostly environmentally friendly life, but am conflicted every minute of every day because it isn’t enough, nor can it ever BE enough. Consider Tom Friedman’s recent column in the New York Times about the lifestyle we’re exporting, “Hey, I’m really glad you switched to long-lasting compact fluorescent light bulbs. But the growth in Doha (Qatar) and Dalian (China) ate all your energy savings for breakfast. I’m glad you bought a hybrid car. But Doha and Dalian devoured that before noon…” He says that we are fooling ourselves if we think the incremental gains we’re making stand a chance against the explosive growth around the world without a technological energy breakthrough.

    So, throw in the towel? Never. I will continue doing one very small thing at a time every minute of every day, knowing that in some way it matters greatly. We cannot not do these things, BUT as long as I am scrutinizing my every action every minute and measuring myself against some impossible standard and doing the same to everyone else constantly; well, this is not exactly my idea of saving the planet. Guilt over trying hard to carve out a semi-sustainable middle class life – is this our next export to the world?

    I realize that saying, “just do the best you can” sounds like some grand cop-out and yet that’s all we can ever do. Some, like Susana Lein in your article, can do more; and some less, like my neighbor who waters her lawn even when it’s raining. I won’t be moving to a farm and I’m hoping someday soon to stop feeling guilty about not growing my own food and making my own clothes (but I do admire those who do).

    I try to envision the “good” that I do as a way of simply presenting possible options for day-to-day living in our small community, without the heavy judgments that can so easily follow. Do them or don’t do them, recycle those yogurt cups or not; I refuse to shun you if you don’t follow my lead. You are still my friends and neighbors and family, regardless of your choices, and like it or not, these people are all members of the choir. But take a look, folks; there are countless opportunities right in front of your nose to make small differences and allow your voices to become a bit louder and stronger. Who knows what could collectively come of them?

  130. It’s been over a month since I’ve visited this discussion and posted my comment. Cosmic Monkey, I totally agree with your thoughts on “does it scale?”, meaning, can it be big enough to make a difference? And if not, then the idea is worthless. What crap that is. As a bioregionalist at heart I believe appropriate scale is one of the most important qualities of a humane economy, society, culture. Industrial agriculture “scales” but it’s a major disaster. My small, eclectic, organic garden won’t scale at all, but it works for me and my family. It can be expanded if need be. And your garden doesn’t have to be just like mine to work for you. Every place, every community must come up with its own solutions, modeling after others perhaps, or creating new ones given unique circumstances. It’s discouraging to have ones ideas put down because they don’t solve large-scale problems dollar for dollar or job for job or pound of food for pound of food. Criticizing one person’s ways of doing things because they won’t work for others living in different circumstances makes no sense either. As has been said, not everyone will live in the city just as not everyone will live in the country. We must respect each other regardless, and do the best we can given the realities of our own lives.
    Re: my car in response to Bob Tyson’s remark that I should own up to the burden my choice puts on everyone (my 1996 Honda that I can’t afford to replace right now), that’s exactly what I did in my post when I admitted that my car is probably my biggest ecological sin. But I’d feel that way even if I were to suddenly become wealthy enough to buy a brand spanking new one. And my old car is a lot easier on the environment than the majority of vehicles I see on the road here in the Maine countryside where I live – mostly large (and often old) pickup trucks, SUVs and other larger vehicles.

  131. Oops, my intention with my last comment on the car thing wasn’t to use all those large vehicles to justify my small old one. It was just an observation.

  132. I appreciate the points made in the preceding several posts, which I hope I’m paraphrasing fairly as saying it’s worth a lot to celebrate what each of us decides to do to support a sustainable world. And to not so much dwell upon nor shame ourselves needlessly over that which is beyond us.

    In previous posts of my own I used the term ‘scale’ as an abbreviation for ‘apply on a global scale’ or ‘extend on a far vaster scale’. I’d like to emphasize that intended meaning again, and say also that I very much value the kinds of local efforts that many posters have listed: personal gardens to supply the kitchen and participation, at somewhat larger -ah- ‘scale’ in communities devoted, for example, to Permaculture.

    Those things are essential, wonderful, admirable. Those who participate ought to enjoy their work and take pleasure in the sense of accomplishment and independence they gain. What I wished, and wish to suggest also is that every citizen might spend some energy reflecting on the larger contexts, and consider honestly what might be useful responses to them.

    Will THAT scale?

  133. How to take what we do in our small, personal lives and put them in a larger, global context – that really is the issue. Unfortunately there’s a huge disconnect between the two that feels disempowering and hopeless at times. As I see it this is because of our economic and political systems that seem designed to purposely keep us powerless in that larger context.

    Corporations have far too much power. Even when citizens in communities come together and vote to keep out a project seen as destructive of the ecology or of the local cultural, the corporation comes right back at us with lawsuits claiming that their right to build, destory, whatever, takes precedence over local peoples’ rejection of their project. I’ve seen it happen many times here in my region and I know it happens everywhere. Unfortunately, all it often takes is one or two trips to court and the corporation wins over the desires of the community. It’s discouraging to say the least. That’s one issue that must be dealt with.

    With regard to global scale, I still say that the smaller scale projects we participate in, even on the personal level, do compute on the global scale (or rather could compute on that scale) if they are replicated over and over in towns and communities around the world. And while I’ve let my reading and research into what’s going on in other countries lapse lately, I do recall being amazed at how far ahead of the U.S. the people in many other countries are, even (or especially) so-called undeveloped countries. It seems the harder peoples lives are the more open they become to new ideas and to working together. Here in the U.S. where most of us are wealthy compared to the average person on a global scale we seem to have less desire and fewer reasons to come together in cooperative economic, political, social, and cultural arrangements. And this is to our detriment. Hopefully global warming will change this as we become forced to come together to address issues at the local/community level (especially important since our government seems incapable of it).

    My activist background is in community-based, ecological economics. I’ve written books and articles on the subject and seen, first hand, how powerful projects like community currency, loan funds, cooperatives, worker-owned businesses, land trusts, permaculture, intentional communities, cohousing, etc. can be. I have no trouble envisioning how these enterprises and others yet to be created can impact local communities and neighborhoods (in cities) and how they could be networked together on a national and international basis thereby increasing their potential and their power for change. However, given my own experiences communicating this potential, most people either won’t or can’t get beyond their perceived need to see, for example, every ecologically destructive business or job replaced with one that supplies the same number of jobs at the same salary. In this country, anyway, we’re addicted to the concept of growth, which is translated into economic growth which also unfortunately translates into resource abuse and destruction in our own country and especially in other countries. We need to question our ideas of growth and transform our definition to include spiritual growth, emotional growth, growth in quality of life issues rather than the current simplistic definition limited mostly to quantity of money and stuff.

    I, too, wish that every citizen would spend some energy reflecting on the larger contexts, and in doing so realize that in order to devise useful responses we must be willing to walk a path not yet created and take some leaps for the future will not be like the past, and if we are to have a future we must break away from preconceived ideas that keep us separate and isolated and disempowered.

  134. I don’t think anything is going to “scale.”

    That sort of thinking — that there are global solutions to every problem — is what got us in this mess to begin with.

    If by “scale” you mean “apply the same techniques to sub-Saharan Sahal as you do to Manhattan,” then I sincerely hope it does not scale!

    Every region, every community will find its own solution — or not. Some of those solutions will be borrowed from other regions or communities — or not.

    I just don’t understand this insistence, repeated over and over, that something “scales.” I don’t think any solution that encompasses more than a single bioregion should scale.

  135. Susan Meeker-Lowry writes, ‘I’ve written…and seen, first hand, how powerful projects like community currency…permaculture…etc. can be. I have no trouble envisioning how these enterprises and others yet to be created…could be networked together…increasing their…power for change.’

    I suppose the metaphor of preaching to the choir really means you can say things that are incomplete, because the ‘choir’ knows the rest of the words and completes the sentence on its own. Help me, I guess I’m not a chorister. You say you’ve seen ‘first hand’ how certain projects are powerful and can lead to change. How about filling in some of the blanks — it’s not obvious from here what you mean.

    To put it another way, the claim that one has seen a solution without offering enough of the details is crap (sic-borrowing Susan’s word choice!).

    It does seem to me that quibbling over word choice, in this case ‘scaling’ is useless, and that dialogue is another endangered species if the exchanges lack full readings before folks respond. Jan, I speak to you, and Susan also is guilty of quoting out of context and thus twisting the sense of that to which she responds. I think both of you need to come forward with something that answers the questions this reader has been asking. Repeating that the questioning — or even the questioner — are somehow off-track won’t do.

  136. Bob, I apologize for giving a list rather than specific examples. I have written two books on the subject (Economics as if the Earth Really Mattered in 1985 and Invested in the Common Good in 1995 both published by New Society Publishers) and I often just assume that others know of which I speak. There are numerous examples of successful community currencies, the most well-known in this country is Ithaca Hours (Ithaca NY) started by Paul Glover. In Ithaca, Hours can be used for rent, food, doctors, dentists, babysitting, etc. There is an actual currency that is circulated. There are other systems that use a computer database of debits and credits rather than an actual currency. There’s a whole network of community-based revolving loan funds that make loans to businesses and individuals that don’t fit regular bank criteria (like micro-credit in other countries). These funds are supported by investors who deposit into the fund for a specified period of time at a specified rate of return. Land trusts are excellent models that can be used to keep agricultural and forested lands intact as well as to provide affordable housing. An excellent source for specifics, and more ideas, is the E.F.Schumacher Society in Great Barrington, MA (

    Small-scale economics leads to empowered communities and individuals. Unfortunately the models I listed do not provide, dollar-for-dollar or job-for-job, what we have come to expect from economic development or conventional economics. And so they continue to be marginalized, scoffed at, and even denigrated. I believe, however, that if such models were implemented in communities around the country by the thousands they could realistically give our current economic system a run for its money. The key to making such small-scale systems work is people getting involved, taking the time to craft agreements, helping one another, getting to know one another, in short, creating real community that is so very lacking even in small towns these days.

    I think I understand what you mean by “global scale”. You’re not talking about large scale anything rather can the projects be replicated in other places – am I right? If so, the models in my books, those I listed in my previous post, definitely have the potential “to scale”. In fact, some projects, like the loan funds, are having great success as micro-credit institutions in third world countries. Micro-credit is an excellent example of a model crafted to fit specific situations in specific places. Cooperatives of all types are more common in the UK than they are here in the US and then there’s the example of Mondragon, Spain, where cooperatives of all types and sizes including industrial and manufacturing cooperatives, have provided much inspiration to US community activists (except for the unfortunate fact that pollution was a real problem, at least a few years ago when I was looking into Mondragon, perhaps this has been dealt with by now, I don’t know).

  137. I commend Janisse Ray for her efforts to educate others, and her continual re-assessment of her own actions and their impacts on the earth. However, as some others have commented – and perhaps I’m paraphrasing a bit too – each person can only do so much, and each person isn’t required to solve the whole problem. That may make it sound like I think we only need to do a few eco-friendly things and we’re done, or we’re ‘members of the choir’. No, I think we DO need to think about all of our actions, but perhaps not fret quite so much about whether each one of us gets a perfect score. Most of my environmentalist friends DO ‘walk the talk’, at least to a pretty fair degree, and they don’t own large houses or gas-inefficient vehicles, as Janisse said some of her friends do.

    Yes, people like Al Gore and Ms. Ray herself should examine the amount of energy they are using as they travel about delivering their messages, but short of videoconferencing – probably a good possibility for many, but perhaps not for Mr. Gore’s presentation – sometimes some CO2 is going to have to be generated on a short-term basis to ‘get the message out’ to a large number of people, which hopefully will have a larger impact on a longer timeframe, regarding energy use.

    I’m not perfect myself, but I rarely do anything without considering my impact. Yet I also sometimes allow myself to do things that contradict my overall position – such as a recent flight to Canada. Yet I fly very seldom. I’ve recycled for 20 years, have only once owned a vehicle with more than 4 cylinders, have carpooled or ridden a bus approximately 1/4 of my career, use compact flourescents throughout my house, drive very little these days (although the latter is due to my current circumstances), contribute to many environmental organizations & politicians who are on our side, as well as voting for them. I use earth-friendly cleaners, laundry detergent, dish soap, and use no chemicals or fertilizers of any type in my yard.

    To me, the issue should be less on being ‘perfect’ and more on doing the right thing most of the time, and setting an example perhaps for friends, neighbors and/or relatives. The biggest thing will be if many millions of people start ‘doing the right thing’, at least most of the time, not whether the minority of ‘the choir’ is perfect all the time.

  138. Thank you Susan. Yes, your re-phrasing of my ‘scale’ usage is just about right. Not only that a particular model can be replicated in many places (and not necessarily imply ‘large-scale’) but that, in the replication, the enlargement of the scope of deployment of a strategy can be seen to be both self-sufficient and not collide with some other constraint.

    Unfortunately I haven’t time at this moment to write a longer more thoughtful reply, which your more detailed post deserves. And I should follow up on the leads you suggested for my own study, too.

    I suppose I can re-state my own imagery of skepticism this way: at the extreme of unlimited population growth we arrive at a point where the mass of human bodies is so dense and the amount of heat they emit so intense that the earth begins to glow dull red. At another extremity, each of the X-billion (today’s world population, not tomorrow’s) inhabitants of the earth sits by his or her own individual organic garden, but the land area this calls for also requires a New Topology to explain the folding and curvature of space that can provide the necessary room. While, for entertainment we all hang out at the local möbius strip show, naturally!

    Of course I draw those extremities to make them into absurdities. Yet my difficulty with many of the proposed solutions I see is that they too often defy gravity. That is why I ask for specific examples. You’ve taken a start I welcome. My one comment is that most of the ones you list are in the realm of community building, less than addressing environmental, energy, or climate dynamics directly. I do want to do more homework of my own before I wade in, here, but can you offer even a thumbnail handle on how some of the examples you described can address those areas?

  139. Thanks for your latest post, Bob. I don’t have time for a longer response as I’m leaving for work momentarily, but I did want to acknowledge your concern re: the models being examples of community building and not necessarily ecological. This is, of course, true, and one of the things that I constantly brought up when I was more active in the movement. At least at the community scale we have shorter feedback loops so that when we make mistakes (of any kind) we know it sooner than when an international corporation does it, and presumably we care more and so therefore act quickly to correct things. However, it is my belief and desire that an ecological component be integrated into the models. For some it is already, but for most this remains to be accomplished.

  140. Bill, you say:
    “Not only that a particular model can be replicated in many places (and not necessarily imply ‘large-scale’) but that, in the replication, the enlargement of the scope of deployment of a strategy can be seen to be both self-sufficient and not collide with some other constraint.”

    It seems to me that this phrase: “in the replication, the enlargement of the scope of deployment of a strategy can be seen to be both self-sufficient and not collide with some other constraint” doesn’t actually mean anything. Please explain.

    Also I’m not sure why anybody needs to offer you a “thumbnail handle on some of the examples”. Why don’t you just go to the library.

  141. The Funky Monkey sez: ‘…“in the replication, the enlargement of the scope of deployment of a strategy can be seen to be both self-sufficient and not collide with some other constraint” doesn’t actually mean anything.’

    Yippee, we’re done! Tho’a body might still care to see what wiser heads can offer, like them so-called thumbnail handles. Y’know– idears, short summaries of strategies that work, stuff like dat. Funky? You got lot’s o idears sooo — how ’bout you?

    Meantime… zzzzzzz…

    Posted by B I L L

  142. This is one of the first “in your face” (nicely) articles challenging us to walk the walk instead of talking it. I will spread it about, particularly in our voluntary simplicity group. I did not attend the Lein workshop at nofa because there are so many conflicting workshops in the same time frame.I hope she returns next year and that Ms Ray does one on the topic she opens with this article.

  143. I work in the land preservation business. Almost all of our donors are wealthy weekenders whose lifestyles are resource- and energy-demanding, yet they put their cash and time into preserving thousands of acres every year. Of course, much of that income comes from stocks, etc. that have made them wealthy at the expense of regular Americans. But without that kind of wealth, our landscape would be pilfered by developers and real estate types. It’s a tough situation all around.

  144. Yep, as reported, we are in a “tough situation all around.”

    IMHO, the human predicament with which humanity could soon be confronted is being intentionally made difficult for people to see and address by wealthy and powerful leaders (managing the world’s political economy for elite groups’ interests) who are ubiquitously employing disinformation strategies to mislead the public by discrediting good science. What follows are examples of these pernicious activities going global.


    Global-Warming Deniers: A Well-Funded Machine

    by: Sharon Begley 6 August 2007 Newsweek



  145. For Dr. Salmony and others, this article from Newsweek is also worth looking at:

    Titled ‘A Different View of Global Warming’ by Robert Samuelson it points out that the conspiracy imagery is of very doubtful credence. More importantly, Samuelson draws attention to aspects of the consequences of global warming which, if they unfold as now predicted, will only be intensified by factors beyond the power of us in the US, for one thing, to influence. These include growth in the Asian economies with the expected large increases in energy use and pollution releases, which promise to far more than overshadow gains that our domestic proposals will achieve, even if they are actually implemented and can be realistically effective.

  146. Dear Friends,

    If time does not permit the viewing of the presentations by Naomi Klein and David Suzuki and you have not more several minutes to view a single part, let me tentatively say that the part I find most helpful and responsive to the ubiquitous commentaries extolling the virtues of economic globalization from the likes of Robert J. Samuelson, virtually all politicians and demographers and most other economists can be found in Part 5 of the six part series presented by David Suzuki.



  147. Fact: Asian economies are growing, rapidly.

    Fact: The growth of Asian economies will produce energy demand and waste and pollution that dwarf our own.

    Inference: These increases in energy demand, carbon output, and generation of polluting byproducts are and will be far larger than any reductions in such outputs we Americans (and Europeans) can achieve.

    Caveat: This does NOT mean we abandon our efforts to clean up our act.

    Additional exhortation: We ought to think hard about how to bring about worldwide better practices.

    Footnote: It makes no difference who brings the message, the content is the same.

    Eye on the clock: It’s late.

  148. Dear Bob,

    Thanks for your understandings regarding vital aspects of the human predicament or “world problematique” that could soon be confronted by humanity.

    If I may add to your incisive comments one more understanding, that is nothing new and regarded by many as common knowledge.

    Simply put, if we look at the history of global economic growth since the Industrial Revolution, some have noticed that the lion’s share of all energy production, waste and pollution can be directly traced to the activities of “first world” economies, the ones diminishing the environment many years before the industrial growth of Asian economies began to occur.

    For example, China appears to be guilty of producing dangerous amounts of waste and pollution by following the “game plan” that was established years earlier in the industrialization of now-developed countries.

    It does not seem unreasonable to at least suggest that the “developed” countries, and not the “developing” countries alone, have actual duties to perform relative to their contributions to the current global challenges associated with pernicious climate change, biodiversity loss and the dissipation of Earth’s limited resources.

    I realize it is politically convenient and economically expedient for first world countries to focus upon the copy-cat activities of countries in the developing world rather than actively accept responsibilities for their history of doing the very same harmful things, the ones that appear, darkly visible in our time, to be precipitating the massive extirpation of biodiversity, the irreversible degradation of the environment, the destruction of the integrity of Earth and, perhaps, the endangerment of humanity itself.

    At some point in time, I suppose, human beings are going to choose to reasonably and sensibly take responsibility for our own actions and not shift that burden to others. No individual is responsible for the distinctly human predicament we are discussing; however, I believe every one of us is implicated in the effort to find responsible and humane ways to acknowledge, address and overcome looming global challenges.



  149. Dear Steve,

    It looks as if you have replied to my first and second points but have ignored my third, the ‘Caveat’. I suggest you go back and re-read it.

    OF COURSE the ‘first’ world zones, in which industrialization and a host of related forces brought about intensive development have a gigantic job to do to see to their own house.

    BUT. Do you, Steve, so much as think twice about the relative size — aah, the comparative SCALE — of the resource uptake (and pollution, carbo, etc. downsides) of the trends for the rest of the world?

    The populations of China, plus India, and so on dwarf the US, Europe, Japan, Western Asia, even adding in the Middle East.

    What is truly exasperating is to see intelligent people refuse to come to the table on such obvious, enormous challenges. Yes, ‘we’ need to get going. And we need to think hard and long about outreach, cooperation, incentives, diplomacy…

    This discussion might be one place in which the shapes of those efforts can gather more distinct form, in the brainstorm of many minds in ‘the choir’.

    Or am I mistaken?

    I think deeper readings of history, of both West and East, may suggest that among reasons industry and wealth developed as they did in the West, ahead of the East, are some worth unearthing and re-examining. Not to take a stand for determinism, but perhaps to whisper the un-correct notion that among those reasons may be some worth knowing about that keep some peoples where they are, enable exploitation in human, material, and environmental terms, and complicate the search for authentic solutions. Ergo: Iraq.

    What is the process by which we find the right road?

  150. Dear Bob,

    The point about your Caveat is well-taken.

    And your suggestion that many people start doing what we are doing here is a wonderful idea.

    Perhaps we are beginning now and in other places to effectively communicate with one another about some of the tabooed issues of our time. Let us imagine that we hear discussions of certain overgrowth activities of the human species as often and regularly as we hear discussions of the global economy. If sustained group “transmissions” of tabooed topics were to grow in their numbers (like the plethora of communications extolling the virtues the spectacular growth of the global economy which, incidentally, according to Robert J. Samuelson, Newsweek Magazine, August 21-28, 2006, page 57, grew by 20% in the very brief period of time since 2001), then there would soon be conversations like these occurring ubiquitously on the surface of Earth.

    Then, I suppose, we would have at least a chance of coming up with “authentic solutions” to whatever global challenges present themselves to humanity.



  151. (…communications extolling the virtues the spectacular growth of the global economy which, incidentally, according to Robert J. Samuelson…grew by 20%…since 2001)

    Is it, perhaps, worthwhile to point out that making the observation that rain is falling does NOT automatically mean the same thing as ‘extolling the virtues’ of rain?

    I yield, Steve. You win. Though I’d point out that this bit of data, a 20 per cent growth from 2001 to 2006, is exactly what I’ve been driving at. As a sign we’d best heed, just as a report it’s pouring and the reservoir is topping the dam means we’d best get moving and open the bypass or something.

    Hey, my worst enemy could bring the news. So what? Nice to know Samuelson IS on the ball on this. I’d heard it 50 other places, if from just one.

  152. Dear Bob,

    Robert J. Samuelson is not the new kid on the block. He has written quite a lot on the political economy. What I have read from his writings speaks volumes about his views. Perhaps we can leave it to others to determine whether or not RJS is extolling the virtues of economic globalization in his work.

    If I am helping make YOUR case, that is fine. Let me suggest that the choice of another Samuelson, one who is chastened, less biased as well as better established, could make the case a bit stronger.

    Please be referred to the work of Paul A. Samuelson. I doubt that RJS has ever observed much less reported anything like what PAS says just below about the scheme of economic globalization: although exceedingly clever, a seemingly endless, pyramid-like expansion of the global economy would lead to calamity.

    “When population growth slows down, so that we no longer have the comfortable Ponzi rate of growth or we even begin to register a decline in total numbers, then the thorns along the primrose path reveal themselves with a vengeance.”



  153. I suppose the preceding several posts ought to teach this writer a thing or two. Above all to avoid including sources of authority. Regardless of which ‘Samuelson’ one prefers or hates, the reality does not seem to change that much.

    The pressures upon us secondary to large and increasing population are what I have called ‘givens’ and worthy of acceptance without cavil. To have that one element forced upon one in further discussion raises questions about the motives of those who so proclaim, diverts energy from the underlying concerns, and raises my frustration level.

    That’s why I’m _not_ a member of the choir, and why I long ago saw that those who declared they were so frequently suffered from combined amnesia and blinkered vision. Harsh words, I know. Call it the cry of the loyal opposition, if that bring comfort.

    People. It is one thing to rest one’s weary case by declaring, ‘I’ve found my little solution, the world’s going to hell, and if you don’t do likewise, well, God be wid’ ye…’ Or to say, ‘I’ve thought it through, and reducing plastic oughtta do it. I’m happy. End of story.’

    Citizen interest might call one out to something more. Note, please, the qualifier there, ‘might’.

    I read today in the NY Times that GLOBAL petroleum demand, that is, oil and gas consumption, is projected to INCREASE by 50 (FIFTY) per cent by the year 2030. That the big players — and it requires big players to mobilize required resources and spread the enormous uncertainties and risks — are scrambling. The doubts are astronomical, the shortfalls, huge. The shortages of qualified geotechnical specialists, engineers, and experienced managers who can work successfully in untried, hostile physical (to say nothing of political) environments calls into question the timelines and plain do-ability of these schemes.

    And yet. And yet, they will go forward. Today’s article focuses on the opening of a new natural gas field in the Norwegian arctic, 340 miles north of the Arctic Circle. It includes a shipping port to transfer the liquefied natural gas to specialized tankers, to be transported to the eastern US, where it will be pumped into gas pipelines in Maryland for distribution from Washington DC to Massachusetts, serving 19 million residential customers and over 5 million industrial sites.

    Talk about scale! I admit, it excites me in a way that thinking of belt-tightening never does. I’m a geologist by dint of a career with the Bechtel Group, and training, education. It’s a specialty, a craft, a world-view, for me and for, I suspect, most of my colleagues. I might like to be in on the action, at work on one of these mega-projects, though my present age qualifies me more for slightly early retirement, were I to decide I can afford that course. My point though is this: how can anyone formulate the question to the ‘choir’ in such a way as to simulate a deeper questioning, a path of inquiry that will lead into discoveries and engagements equally exciting, and still more productive?

    I will assert that the ‘solutions’ have to do more with both-and, less with this-but-not-that. We need the additonal energy and we must track reductions in demand, in population, in unwise spendings of precious patrimony.

  154. Dear Bob and Friends,

    It seems to me just a bit premature to conclude that “the world’s going to hell.”

    Very briefly, just as an example, I want to introduce a straightforward idea whose time is coming.

    We can readily see the skyrocketing growth of absolute global human population numbers in the modern era. We reliably recognize, thanks to abundant data from the UN Population Division, that the world’s human population is likely to grow to 9+ billion people by 2050, IF WE KEEP DOING WHAT WE ARE DOING NOW.

    Consider what could occur if a conscious, planful and purposeful choice was made within the human community to provide sufficient, humane incentives to implement a one child per family policy worldwide.

    Remember that in the course of my lifetime human numbers increased from under 3 billion to our current 6.5+ billion people. If human numbers can go up rapidly, they can also come down fast. The reasonable and sensible implementation of a one child per family policy could reduce the human population in half in a period of 30 to 35 years.

    Perhaps this idea will help set the stage for discussions regarding the necessity for changes in human behavior that serve to keep the world from going through the catastrophe that appears in the offing.



  155. ‘The reasonable and sensible implementation of a one child per family policy could reduce the human population in half in a period of 30 to 35 years.’

    Really? HOW??

  156. …and, not just ‘how would such a policy actually REDUCE population by such a large factor in so short a time, but, more critically, ‘how do you suggest we go about putting such a policy in place?’

    Aye. There’s the rub.

    This choir — tell me something — it wants to sing, right? But does it actually care enough to think, and to act?

  157. Dear Bob,

    My intention was to communicate a “straightforward idea.” Such an idea will be exceedingly challenging to ably and humanely implement.

    Please know that at least one work group is focusing its full attention on the “one child per family” idea. Also, recognize that the idea is not a new idea from me. Others have come up with it. Alan Weizman, the author of the recently published book, The World Without Us, is one.

    Rather than try to introduce a Summary of Plan of Action now, let me refer you and the Orion Community to the website of Dr. Jack Alpert of the Stanford Knowledge Integration Laboratory.

    Jack has been studying and writing for 40 years, so you will find plenty to consider in what he has produced.

    As a way of orienting you to the
    SKIL website, let me suggest that you find the SKIL Notes page and begin by reviewing some of the Notes. They are mercifully brief. Go anywhere and everywhere from there.

    Dr. Alpert made presentations in Chapel Hill, NC in April 2006 at the 5th Annual Earth Day Summit on Human Population and returned here in August 2007 for a workshop. At least to me, his perspective is worthy of consideration.

    Bob, your questions are good ones. The global implementation of any policy that leads to rapid population reduction will be a challenge…….new, different and as difficult as any challenge presented to humankind, I suppose.



  158. May I pose a couple of questions?

    1) As merely one example, if collective action could be humanely and ably organized around the idea that a “one child per family” policy be implemented, would such an activity be robust enough to at least begin to address the world problematique?

    It seems to me that people can make choices at different ‘levels’ of organization: individual, family, community, nation, world. Because all such choices are opportunities for necessary change, people everywhere are capable of “making a difference.”

    2) If we set aside, for just a moment, the one child per family idea, but recognize it as having the potential of providing a substantial “global level” way to make a difference, what other global-level ideas come to mind for beginning to address the distinctly human-forced predicament that ominously looms, already visible on the far horizon?

  159. Steve,

    I agree completely with your comment about different levels of organization. That is why it is so important for all of us to DO something, anything that keeps us collectively moving in the right direction and that keeps our spirits alive.

    Solutions to our dilemma will no doubt be different fore different sets of geographic, environmental, and human conditions…that is why a top down approach will probably find resistance and thus be somewhat ineffective.

    There are many ways to think about the idea of “solutions” but one approach may be to think of those major world views and activities that have gotten us to where we are…and to focus on reforming those. I hinted at some of these ideas in an earlier post, but I’ll go out on a limb here and name a couple that I have been thinking about. These ideas are perhaps more at the concept level than at the “solution” level, but extension of the concept to individual action depends on many factors…including the specific geophysical and cultural environment in which one lives.

    Belief Systems: We really must revisit and question those belief systems that allow us to ignore our responsibilities to the Earth and to future generations. These older belief systems served us well in their time, but it is time for us to believe in our own potential as human beings to discover and follow the path to our own salvation. On a global basis, how many people still adhere to the “go forth and multiply” doctrine of traditional religions? How many people believe that salvation will come to us in the next world, in the next lifetime?

    Economic Systems: Ecological Economics must displace traditional economic concepts. The only real currency that matters here on Earth is sunlight (and entropy). We must base our economic systems on the idea of achieving balance between the energy received from the sun and the entropy released by human and natural systems. Unbridled consumption and “mining” of energy sources to support and promote consumption must stop.

    In the Western world we are truly addicted to cheap and readily available oil. We cannot remove ourselves from this addiction in one simple step so reforms that include carbon or BTU taxes, transport fuel taxes, and other incentives for frugal, low consumption living help move us in the right direction.

    Living and buying locally are good ways to strengthen local economies and at the same time reduce dependence on transport fuels. The idea of buying shiploads of plastic toys made in China seems ludicrous when one considers the fuel and resource costs. The same can be said for many, if not most, of the food sold in commercial grocery stores.

    Education: Most of the tools needed to change our human impact here on Earth will be intellectual in nature. We must continue to educate and inform others about the real options available to us. In the West, we tend to look for another technological fix that is just over the horizon rather than to focus on what we can do now with what we have. The “precautionary principle” is a logical extension of sound intellectual understanding of the real limits and real problems that we face.

    And certainly, with a better understanding of where we are relative to our limits, an answer to the question of global population will probably be in the solution mix.

    I certainly do not have “the” answer, but I think the above conceptual solutions are appropriate for our times.

  160. Dear Richard Rollins,

    Once again, we are in agreement.

    At least to me, the “powers that be” know more than they are willing to express with regard to the human predicament that is looming before humanity in the offing. That many too many politicians, economists and business people thoughtlessly support a soon to become unsustainable global enterprise of endless big-business expansion, is not difficult to understand. We can expect such behavior from those who have pledged their primary allegiance and reverent devotion to the success of economic globalization, regardless of the potential for eventual catastrophe that such a reckless and unrealistic pursuit portends. On the other hand, for most scientists and virtually all demographers, who claim expertise in science related to the human population, to stubbornly collude with the “powers that be” by remaining consciously and willfully blind, hysterically deaf and electively mute in the face of good scientific evidence of a distinct probability of human-forced ecological collapse is incomprehensible.

    What worries me is this: our children could unexpectedly and suddenly come face to face with converging global challenges because their elders have remained adamantly and relentlessly in denial of human-driven, fulminating ecological degradation, already visible on the far horizon. One noticeable consequence of their elders’ denial of “whatsoever is somehow real” is that our children will likely have extraordinary difficulties responding ably to that with which they could soon be confronted; that is to say, “they will not even know what hit them,” much less why it is happening.



  161. Plainly, what is necessary now is intellectual honesty and courage as well as a willingness to begin “centering” the attention of the leaders of the human community on the threat to humanity, life as we know it, the environment and the integrity of Earth that is posed by the gigantic scale and evidently unsustainable growth rate of the human population worldwide.

  162. The leaders in my not-so-great generation wish to live without having to accept limits to growth of seemingly endless economic globalization, increasing per capita consumption and skyrocketing population numbers; their desires are evidently insatiable; they choose to believe anything that is politically convenient and economically expedient; and they act accordingly; but, despite all their shared fantasies and soon to be unsustainable activities, Earth exists in space-time, is bounded and has limited resources upon which the survival of life as we know it depends. Whatsoever is is, is it not?

  163. I have just turned to ‘Earth, Fire, Water’ by Robert Kaplan, in The Atlantic for 18 October. Before I begin to read I note his conclusion that this is too delicate a moment to provoke Turkey by reopening the issue of Turkish denial that the 1915 killings of Armenians in Turkey were a genocide.

    Perhaps after I finish reading Mr. Kaplan’s article I may refine my own position, but right off the bat I disagree. I would say that right now is a decisive and correct moment to signal clearly to Turkey that it has fence-mending, to say the least, in this matter. ‘Fence’ being truly the right operative metaphor. Turkey worries about — or gazes hungrily towards — Kurdish Iraq or Kurdistan to the southeast, and the European Union to the northwest. Turkey gains immensely by renting itself out as hopscotch square for the United States military, in Iraq and beyond.

    What we in the US seem capable of ignoring is the deep significance of these tension elements for Turkey, and the restraints they place on Turkish political and military degrees of freedom. It may make Turkey squirm, it may trigger diplomatic and rhetorical repercussions (and has, already) but what Turkey wants is to continue its economic growth and its political hegemony vis a vis its historical nemeses, Iraq and Iran, and, especially, its collaborator in global stability, Europe.

    The reminder that Turkey needs to adjust its own historic rearview mirror is all that the House resolution asks. It includes no provision for any other action, nor sanction, nor reparation, nor condemnation. Positive, clear-eyed declaration, only.

    Earth, Fire, Water may be found at

  164. Dear Bob Tyson,

    Sorry not to know anything about the ages-old conflicts between the Armenians and Turks.

    If I may, let me turn your attention, once again, to some research to which I have referred in earlier postings.

    Given the profound implications of the scale and growth rate of the unbridled increase of human consumption, production and propagation activities we now see engulfing the Earth, please take a moment and consider the solid scientific observations and good empirical data presented in the following presentation,

    Comments from you and everyone else in the Orion community are invited. Everyone I know and respect has been searching for flaws in the research presented here and now.



  165. Hey Steve,

    I’ve let your last post sit, curious to see if this discussion had really played out. Looks as if it has, and what’s left if anything would be a personal exchange between you and me.

    Sorry buddy. You’re pretty coy — the URL link laid down with your encouragement to go have a look while cleverly not including any tag or summary for the interested reader to take in before making the detour. And once one does, who should one meet but our old and un-reliable friend Dr. Hopfenberg!

    Seems to me that over two months ago you wrote in these pages, with a similar invitation to surf elsewhwere,

    ”Now comes apparently unforeseen scientific evidence from Russell Hopfenberg, Ph.D. . . . ”

    As I re-read your older line I’m bemused at your adjective, ‘unforeseen’ — a bit of unnecessary hyperbole.

    I’m not sanguine towards those who fail to actually read what I contribute to a forum like this one, but I DO note and remember, shall I say, the ‘usual modus operandi’ of various participants. Yours seems to be to selectively respond to fragments from others’ posts, usually lifting from context in such a way that you obviously fail to grasp the actual point made by the other, or else willfully choose to ignore it.

    You do so at your own peril, at least in terms of projecting your own credibility, my friend.

    We’ve been over this ground before. If you do go back and read posts I made around the end of August (!) you will see, again, that I acknowledged, WITHOUT QUESTION OR DOUBT, the validity and urgency of your basic argument that growing population and resource limits present a grave problem. It has been unnecessary, for me at least, that you beg this question by repeatedly attempting to ‘justify’ or ‘validate’ your opinion. I share it.

    However, and I wouldn’t bother to write this, now, otherwise, if you wish to make a difference in the world you absolutely must take your argument somewhere beyond this refrain of population pressure – shrinking resource base.

    We can feel the shadow. We sing from Handel’s Xerxes, ‘Ombra mai fù’ – That shadow never was (there before)!

    Now that we’re awake it’s time to search and dialogue in depth on the next steps, actions, positions, and how-to.

    And, my friend, it behooves you to go find out about the Armenian genocide and its history, as also of the roots of the Holocaust. If you don’t, you are, in Santayana’s good lines, doomed to repeat the history you’ve forgotten. Or never knew.

    If you think that shouting ‘FIRE’ will summon the fire department and equip it with the latest gear to snuff the flames, you’re nuts. If you don’t begin to dig for an understanding of the human factors that underlie our current habits of mind, our attitudes, our blind spots, our political entrenchments, then even shouting ‘FIRE’ is so much useless emotion.

    We may as well re-plug our iPods and wait, enveloped in musical bliss, for the crash. Unless we listen again for that long, lyric line, ‘Ombra mai fù…’

  166. …I have to add that I have perused the link Salmony included to the (widely-mistrusted if not discredited) rationalizations of Dr. Hopfenberg. To point out just two parts of this peroration that are flat wrong, in the concluding section (No. 44, Sustainability) the claim is again made that increases in food production drive increases in population. This is wrong and begs the myriad influences upon fertility, life-expectancy, and consumption that actually comprise the population-food equations.

    Again, in No. 34, Human Population Size & Resource Use, Hopfenberg commits at least two logical fallacies. One is that he makes a correlation without demonstrating any underlying causal relationship between increases in cereal imports to developing countries, and his claim that this is caused by increased ‘carrying capacity’ — which, following his claims, one assumes is due to increases in crop production. But Hopfenberg drops the ball and does not explain what it is that increases the carrying capacity – technological advances in crop production? – geopolitical or economic development? No clue.

    Similarly Hopfenberg misleads the viewer with the graph associating ‘carrying capacity’ with an inverse correlation between consumption and population, and, later, fertility. The statement that a given resource base ‘X’ provides ‘Y’ amount of material per individual (as he labels the axes of his graph) of a given population, and that ‘Y’ will be larger, potentially, for a smaller population ‘X’ is trivial. What is both non-trivial and false is his projection of that tautology onto the conclusion that small populations with large resource bases consume more per capita than do larger populations accessing relatively smaller resource bases.

    For one thing, the experiment required even to question this premise in the real world is difficult to imagine. Among the reasons are the actual complexity of factors affecting fertility, population size, and population changes, not to mention the availability of resources.

    In Ireland there were famous ‘potato famines’ and population swings, with historically tragic results including huge outmigrations and starvation deaths, or widespread malnutrition. The thesis that the relation between population size and resource base was responsible fails completely when one investigates closely. It turns out, based on historic research, that the presence of zinc in the diet acted to suppress fertility. A sort of natural birth control, or at least a suppressant of the rate of conceptions. When economic and political currents led to changes in dietary habits this unseen restraint on population was removed with increases in population and the rest.

    (I’m sorry that I can’t remember accurately whether this was a matter of zinc in potato skins that were a staple, or in bread that was made from whole grain, including the hulls of the wheat containing zinc. It may have been the latter, so that when more ‘advanced’ milling techniques were introduced and white flour was used for bread, the zinc was removed and the fertility restraint along with it. Someone with more time than I might dig a little for the full story. I was brought up to speed a dozen years ago during a trans-Sierra Nevada Mountains burro trip by a participant who was retired from a career as a historian, and who had researched this aspect deeply.)

    So where does that leave us? The over-arching dilemma doesn’t go away. But it hurts the discourse to introduce unreliable or distorting sources such as Hopfenberg et al.

  167. I have to add also that the historian on the burro trip also remarked what has been said elsewhere, but it was the first time I had heard it stated so confidently (in 1994): that the ONE absolutely unshakeable correlated variable with DECLINES in population, or population growth rates, in developing countries, is the level of education of women.

    Everywhere it goes up, population growth goes down.

  168. Dear Bob,

    There is quite a lot to which I would like to respond in what you have declared in the last 3 posts.

    Let me begin by responding this way.

    Just for a moment, take a look at the “world problematique” from the standpoint of absolute global human population numbers.

    1. Six billion six hundred million+/- people inhabit the planet now and this gross number is expected to increase by three-quarters of a million people per annum in coming years. A recent UN Population Division report indicates that the population numbers of the human community will grow to 9+/- billion by 2050

    2. Of that number, a great majority of people worldwide live in nations in which population numbers are exceeding the replacement fertility rate.

    3. Despite differing demographic trends among the nations of the world, it appears that the anticipated growth of human population numbers in undeveloped nations far and away surpasses the expected decline of human numbers in developed nations.

    4. Because one-half of the global human population is under the age of 30 today, and a vast majority of these young people live in the undeveloped world, global population numbers can be expected to grow robustly despite an anticipated decline in fertility rates in the developed world, the education of women notwithstanding.

    Somewhere, somehow, at some time, hopefully sooner rather than later, we are going to begin to talk openly about how to effectively and humanely slow the rate of human population growth.

    In coming weeks, I hope to contribute ideas for discussion. These ideas will focus on plans for new and necessary action.

    If we just keep doing what we are doing now, we will likely keep going as we are going now.

    On the other hand, if we are going to provide a good enough future for our children, at some point we are going to have to do something else……something that is DIFFERENT from what we are doing now.



  169. Dear Bob,

    If it all right, I am going to make only one more comment now.

    As many scientists have suggested, it appears that human beings have no control over the movement of asteroids, solar flare and techtonic plates. Even so, there are some things over which we surely do exercise control. For example, without question I suppose, we can organize human consumption, production and propagation activities, even though we have failed to regulate these activities for a long time. We prize the freedom to make choices about these behaviors. And we eschew any mention of or attention to the most obvious of choices: that we can choose to consume less resources, to restrain the seemingly endless growth of the human-engineered global economy and to regulate human reproduction.

    As soon as we choose to do so, the human community can use incentives as we have in the past and present to prompt new and different behavior. We can plainly make necessary behavior changes going forward. Consider the introduction of lifestyles that are innovative in ways that depart from the ones we see in our conspicuous consumption culture now.

    I am only supposing, but from what you report I believe that you would agree that human beings have feet of clay. Perhaps we can agree that our hands are also made of clay.

    What I find to be a completely unacceptable anathema, a colossal mistake of unthinkable proportions, is this: that the human species would somehow ever choose to ignore good science regarding the ways its behaviors perniciously impact the world we inhabit and go forward recklessly along a “primrose path” to inadvertently destroy its own wondrous civilization, life as we know it, and the irreplaceable functional capabilities of Earth with its own “clay hands.”

    Always, with thanks,


  170. Steve:

    You are repeating repeating yourself yourself. Going around in around in circles circles. We’ve heard it before.

    No, I absolutely DO NOT believe that people have, in the sweeping manner you formulate, ‘feet of clay’. Nor hands.

    Then again, I of course agree totally that ignoring GOOD science is a mistake. The problem here is that what YOU have offered has been not just BAD science, but, really, something far worse, a kind of pseudo-science that might persuade the gullible but doesn’t help in the search for solutions.

    Or to follow your metaphor, where to next plant our many (non-clay) feet.

    C’mon man. Read something new.

  171. Steve, I would add that the manner in which you can ‘come back’ with your replies so instantaneously takes something away from your credibility. I don’t sense that you DO really read very carefully what others, including myself, post.

    How do you expect to hold a conversation if you don’t pause to listen? And, sometimes, to step back and reflect, just a little teensy bit, on what you’re hearing?

    Critical thinking . . . . is always precious.

  172. Having stumbled across the article and your subsequent conversation. I offer this:
    W/r/t (with respect to) overpopulation and our ability to feed ourselves. I think that we are not over-populated and can produce enough food for all at the moment.
    Hunger is (at present) not a function of lack of food but of will

    Global climate change -specifically drought – to deluge will prove very challenging for agri-business to
    deal with. Drought is ok as long as the water tables hold out and we can continue to part with copious amounts of water for irrigation purposes. (the folly of creating dairies in the desert can not be over-stated)
    In Lester Browns ‘Plan B’ he details how water consumption is completely unsustainable. Irresponsible irrigation practices are depleting the aquifers. The wet years can actually prove worse as most of agriculture is using commercial fertilizers.(the key ingredient to the green revolution)
    The consequence is a dramatic loss of topsoil as organic matter levels are destroyed -which destroys the tilth and the water holding capacity of the soil, this sets us up favorable conditions for disease and poor health to mention a few of the problems created. Increased water causes runoff of topsoil and can not be properly absorbed in soils where the organic matter is not properly maintained (>3% minimum). Understand that farms export their organic matter to cities. Dairy and beef farms also export phosphorous which is in short supply.

    As energy becomes increasingly expensive, and consequently costs of production increase. The price-taker small farmers have but one solution which is to not produce. This can happen despite record high food prices. This understanding that evades the general public will require a dramatic discovery that few crops were even planted in a particular year due to the farmer not being able to afford to plant.
    The large producer has become so, because of a cheap energy model. Although there are some economies of scale, these are usually wiped out by ever increasing energy inputs and costs of production.

    As prices of food increase, this market signal which for most goods suggests that we will see more supply and yet we will see an increase in farm failures. Though certain middlemen will achieve phenomenal short term profit increases. At some point the realization that the super market doesn’t spontaneously create food will sink in.
    Since it has been a long time since North Americans have faced any food hardships it is deemed as very improbable to virtually impossible.

    When the rupee and the yuan rise in value then our ability to compete for global food resources will surprise many.

    A sound environmental and personal strategy (IMHO) is to put yourself in a position to grow your own food.

    This means leaving an energy intensive environment and going to the country. Which changes your energy consumption and requirements.

    Thomas Homer Dixon in his book ‘The ingenuity gap’ discusses the energy intensity of city living and the realization that farmers feed cities becomes clearer.

    Small mixed farming models are the only sustainable form of agriculture known. Monoculture only proves profitable in the short term and raises a big finger to the grand kids.

  173. Dear Bob and Robin,

    Let us keep talking about these issues. At least to me, they are real. Mostly, current leadership presents us with distractions from the what it is that needs to be acknowledged and addressed.

    Thanks so much for this discussion. Your examples of speaking out have got to have something to do with what is required of us all now. All of us have got to find new ways of making a difference just like you are doing.

    Here we are, one year away from US national elections. Many people seem to be “marking time” and waiting for a new day. For the moment, and since the turn of the century, leadership has not been up to the challenges of our time.

    Because the problems that I am seeing cannot wait “until next year,” I keep doing what I am doing, and hoping to do things better by doing things differently. Current leadership appears to be making bad matters even worse, not doing things better. If leaders keep doing what they are doing now, we will likely keep getting what we are getting now. Therein lies a big problem.

    Always glad to hear from both of you and to know so many people are active. Not just for me personally, but for everyone’s sake, especially our children’s sake, this kind of discussion is vital.

    Sincerely yours,


  174. Hi Steve,
    I know that there are many of us out there doing our parts and that we don’t often find support in the media for a recognition of our efforts.

    In the historical model presented by any and all analysis of history. As energy restrictions start to increase we will enter into a ‘survival of the fittest’ environment. Expect the military and police types to seize control of the oil and gas supplies in order to protect feifdoms.
    The question will be when? Not if?
    They consider this information as a matter of course and so what would be interesting to know is are they seeking to just get theirs and hide out in compounds? Or do they want to plan a migration strategy towards a very efficient low input society?

    I have chosen the path that seeks to prepare by investing in old technological solutions that have a big upfront infrastructure and labor requirement. But require smaller energy inputs. Winter will prove more challenging for those of us North of 40.

    In an energy restricted future one consequence is that the work needed from people will increase. As such the capacity to contribute physical labour will be valued.

    On t.v. last week, there was a show talking about the fish being marketed in Canada as ‘Captain Highliner’ product of Canada. They discovered that Russian trawlers were catching this fish, sending it to China to be processed and frozen then shipping it to Lunenberg Nova Scotia to be re-packaged. Some 25,000 Kms! And that doesn’t count shipping it across the country.
    The 10 calories of fossil fuel to create one calorie of food is soon to be over if the aquifers don’t give out first. How does that change the economy? Well living in Ontario a huge percentage of our produce comes from California. I suspect that to change as well. But where will we get that food from. Our government is busy stomping on small farmers only to find out(I suspect) that the big ones can’t deliver in an energy restricted future. At least this is how I see it.
    In some ways change will be poaitive. Companies that chase slave labour around the planet will be punished for the increased shipping costs.

    It is a huge topic with so many variables. What we can do is to continue to work on our own and know that others are doing the same.
    There is a chap in India who has a site called who has some interesting articles on titled ‘Building a Pond’ that I found most informative.
    Via con Dios amigo

  175. Bob Tyson wrote: the ONE absolutely unshakeable correlated variable with DECLINES in population, or population growth rates, in developing countries, is the level of education of women.

    I think you’re forgetting famine, war, and depletion of resources, Bob.

    As Einstein said, “Everything should be as simple as possible, but no simpler.” Sure, it’s great to educate women, but it cannot be the only way to control population — we don’t have enough time. Nature will eventually impose its own population controls

  176. Dear Friends,

    Please recall that I am a psychologist. For the first 50 years of my life, the matters of greatest interest to you and other members to the Orion community were outside my field of awareness. I have come quite late to the field of action where the potentially pernicious impacts of the gigantic scale and anticipated growth rate of humankind upon Earth’s limited resources and frangible ecosystem services are acknowledged and addressed, in the light of good science.

    Let me make a promise to you. It is one I have made before. If the scientists of the IPCC are proven wrong, no one will ever hear me speak again about human population numbers and the environment. The AWAREness Campaign on the Human Population will end immediately.

    Perhaps humankind can keep growing endlessly the global economy, increasing indefinitely per capita consumption and propagating ad infinitum absolute global human population numbers on a relatively small planet the size of Earth. If someone will kindly point out how such unregulated production, consumption and reproduction activities of the human species can SUSTAINABLY continue to occur much longer in the finite world God blesses us to inhabit, then I am prepared to admit that I am out of my mind and, even worse, have lost touch with science itself.

    All of us are struggling with something huge and probably difficult to overcome, I suppose. It is pleasing how our colleague, Scott Walker, and the membership of the Orion community have been demonstrating wondrous willingness to consider the global challenges we discussing and beginning to witness, the ones dimly visible on the far horizon.

    Always, with thanks to all of you,

    Steve, with feet and hands of clay

  177. I grew up growing food in an organic manner,(in the 70’s) believing that Rachel Carson of Silent Spring fame was a modern prophet. I Later worked for a department in environment Canada that was axed,(a rare event) because the message this governmental deparment was delivering about our behavior was never going to support the ‘he with the most things when he/she dies wins’ modus operandi. In that department in the 80’s,I read information that was irrefutable about how we were dooming life.

    We don’t need any more research period. We are already ignoring huge
    amounts of show stopper data as it currently stands.

    The disconnect between pouring left over paint thinner and washing paint brushes in the sink for example is gauling.

    A ‘liberal’ approach to solving this problem would be to educate the masses (infomercials and pamphlets at the schools)and to inform all of the errors of this practice. This would no doubt raise concerns for the ‘converted'(and change some peoples behavior a +) but we would be forced to realize that a sizeable portion of the population will remain selfish and beligerant and wrapped up in a hedonistic mind set, and will refuse all efforts to be converted by suggesting that they should do the right thing. (I would suggest that all financial dissincentives be removed (a cost of living in our times) and financial incentives to recycle be added.

    To carry this idea further there is an industrial solvent, known as tri-chloro-ethylene which is used to clean circuit boards. This substance is said to be a carcinogen in parts per trillion! Every where in North America (and the world for that matter) where circuit boards are manufactured there is t.c.e. in the ground water.
    Also consider that everywhere there are ships there is oil being dumped into the oceans because it is cheaper and more ‘convenient’ to pour that overboard rather than to dispose of it properly.

    It behooves us to recognize that even if 90% of us are to now join with the proper behavior movement this will not deliver us from the consequences of the choices that have already been made and will continue to be made by a sizeable percentage of the public.
    As such I contend that we should recognize that we have gone over the cliff but haven’t yet landed,(ground is increasingly coming into focus and we have bounced off a few rocks) If you are to accept this assertion then I would argue that this should change some of the priorities. The priorities should be to attempt to mitigate the numbers that will form the cushion at the bottom.

    One thing that all cultures through all time have done and will continue to do as the reality of the situation starts to enter the collective conscious. Is to pick scapegoat(s). So a skill set to develop could be to try to identify who will be scapegoated and try to figure out how to help these people
    for at least 2 reasons. Perhaps the 1st would be that spending the time and effort on this wastes time and effort when it should be directed toward mitigating the terms of collapse. And 2nd it doesn’t speak well of our ability to play well with other children.

    If we ‘the west’ or ‘developped’ countries who have done and are doing, by far, the most damage. Are to determine that 3rd world babies are the same as north american babies w/r/t their ecological footprint then we will have entered into a whole new charade so that could form one group that could be demonized or scapegoated. Easy targets babies are. Not much fight in them.

    Another set of candidates that appear to be taking some form is to spapegoat members of certain religions and not members of other religions. A strong backlash against all ‘christians’ in the U.S. seems to be on the horizon by the increasing numbers of members of atheistic faiths. Will painting them all with the same brush, address any of these environmental concerns?
    Perhaps we will just be too mad to
    come up with any reasoned response.
    Will our response be reasonable? And so as the waves of ‘externalities’ start washing up on shore (or hitting rocks on the way down)will the responses ever address the underlying problems or create more?

    A good wake-up call, would be to advocate for an end to corporate christmas. This is not a holy day that we can afford. And it appears that consumerism as a life-style we can no longer afford.
    We should have a system where we can identify where a product is made and what is it’s relative footprint. Is the packaging recyclable? Excessive?
    Does the supply chain like the fish in my last post have an inordinate energy component? Were the workers fairly compensated and treated?

  178. To Jan Steinman (Post 183):

    Ya got me good, pardnur. With regard to my Post 174. Whew. Dang. Or–wait. Not so fast, buddy. ‘Forget’ war, disease, famine? Hardly. Oversimplify? Maybe — but then again carving to the essence is, well, essential to get at the root of any problem.

    The same historian who described the research in which the role women’s education plays in reducing fertility in developing regions also remarked that in times of war or other disaster, direct reductions in population, AND suppression of fertility, have in almost every case been followed by large INCREASES in fertility and subsequent population growth.

    The most famous of these for Americans has a name: the ‘Baby Boom’ after WW-II.

    It’s almost as if wars, famines, tsunamis, hurricanes, and epidemics produce a counter-intuitive burst of population growth, in spite of the short-term effects.

    To state the case again, the real kicker is this. Among all of the factors that bear on fertility, none can be seen to be working, through a positive-feedback regime (Jan, POSITIVE, non-violent, yada yada, nota bene!) towards reductions in fertility and population, EXCEPT FOR education level among women, in developing regions.

    Sure, time seems short. Anybody got a trump card to toss on the deck? One that works, that is….

  179. To Jan Steinman and others — refer also to Post 39.

  180. Dear Friends,

    Please examine the work of Jack Alpert, Ph.D., of the Stanford Knowledge Integration Laboratory.

    Basically, Dr. Alpert’s work calls out to the human community to immediately begin reversing the current trend of skyrocketing absolute global population numbers by implementing a program of rapid population decline. Rather than near exponential population expansion, he is advocating rapid population contraction.

    What his work indicates is the need for a worldwide, “ONE CHILD PER FAMILY” initiative. He is not the only person to be advocating such a plan of action. Alan Weisman, the author of The World Without Us, has come to precisely the same conclusion.

    Just for a moment, imagine that the a majority plus one of the human community accepted the idea that what we are doing now by adamantly advocating and relentlessly pursuing certain distinctly human overgrowth activities would eventually lead to the collapse of either human civilization or Earth’s ecology or both. Let us also suppose that this majority plus one agreed that the ethical thing to do was not to keep doing what we are doing now, but something different. If having multiple human offspring was unethical and having not more than one child per family was ethical, in part because such a program of action would have survival value for the human species, its global economy, other species and the integrity of Earth, then it seems to me that humanity would naturally and democratically move in a new direction, along another path, perhaps to a good enough future for our children and generations to come.

    This perspective makes one thing crystal clear: if humankind chooses to follow the current primorse path of endless economic globalization, endless per human consumption and endless population expansion, a colossal wreckage of some kind is in offing.

    In light of the great work being done by the contributors to many discussions by the members of the Orion community, I would like to ask humbly that you turn your attention to a website.

    Once there, I would like to suggest that you begin by reviewing what Jack calls SKIL Notes. There are now 45 of them and they are mercifully short. These Notes show a certain careful and skillful development of thinking about resolving THE PROBLEM that presents itself to humanity now as the proverbial ‘mother’ of all global challenges, I believe.

    Always, with thanks,


  181. Dear Friends,

    The global challenges before us are admittedly formidable.

    Just as many of you suggest, we will find solutions to the problems looming ominously before humanity.

    If we choose to rely upon the best available scientific evidence, reason and common sense, our children will be assured a good enough future, I believe.

    Thanks to you, momentum is building around the scientific consensus on climate change. Many are the signs of forward movement and nascent change as we acknowledge and begin to address the global challenges posed to humanity by human-forced activities that are resulting in pernicious global warming.

    We will overcome humankind’s momentary collective blindness; our ineffectual economic powerbrokers and political leaders; the ignorant naysayers, rankled denialists and manufacturers of controversy; and the hysterically deaf, willfully blind and electively mute among us as well as those more clever ones who speak with contrived logic and forked tongues, who peddle disinformation, half-truths and outright prevarications.

    Support the good works of Al Gore, Dr. Rajendra Pachauri and 2000 scientists of the IPCC.

    By accepting their leadership and supporting their efforts, we can make a difference by changing the world for the better…….before the folly, egoism and hubris of the “powers that be” inadvertently destroy Earth as a fit place for human habitation.



  182. Too many politicians and corporate CEOs are ignominiously disregarding consistent and overwhelming scientific evidence of global warming and other pernicious forms of climate change. What is woefully inadequate, what is unconscionable, is the dearth of reasonable and sensible leadership by those who have assumed the responsibilities of positions of power in the political economy.

    Business-as-usual that adamantly and relentlessly favors unbridled industrialization and unrestrained economic globalization could be approaching a point in history when the huge scale and rapid growth rate of endlessly expanding business activities could soon to become patently unsustainable on a relatively small, finite, noticeably frangible planet the size of Earth.

    Perhaps now is the time for national leaders to acknowledge a nest of world problems, the reality of which most leaders remain in denial.

    Given the probability that certain dimly visible but identifiable global problems can be expected to fall into the laps of our children and their children, it appears somehow not quite right both to willfully leave these problems unattended and, even more disturbing, to fail in the exercise of a DUTY TO WARN our children: a duty to warn them of potential dangers to life as we know it and to the integrity of Earth.

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

  183. Janisse Ray’s article was a reminder to me of the choices I have made and continue to make. Personally I am erratic in my maintenance of my personal bar. I am glad to see that the some environmentalists are finally realizing that their conference attendance (in person) might actually be detrimental to the planet and in conflict with attempting to walk the talk. I continue to find it amazing that very few people are willing to take on the bigger issue of reproduction. How many children one has regardless of how they try and reduce their personal foot print has the biggest impact on the short and long term environmental impact, yet for religious-political reasons very few environmentalists and their representative organizations are willing to address this issue. I am always offended by the environmentalists that have 2+ children that are ‘preaching’ about the environment who ignore the simple math of more people equals more impact.
    There are a lot of unsung ‘heroes’ that are out reducing their personal footprints as much as possible by riding/walking rather than driving, purchasing responsibly, telecommuting versus commuting, etc. I struggle with how to reach the people that have bought into the mass consumerism model of use until it is all gone, which I observe to be a large portion of the both the USA and the world population.

  184. Dear Karen,

    Wonderful comments. Even though we live in a complicated world, you have a way making “what is somehow real” simple.

    Just for a moment, let us consider that the leviathan-like scale and skyrocketing growth rate of the human population worldwide could soon pose a potentially colossal threat to human and environmental health.

    By adamantly and relentlessly choosing to grow endlessly the global economy, to increase indefinitely per capita consumption and to propagate ad infinitum absolute global human population numbers on a relatively small planet the size of Earth, is there not a noticeable probability that we could be approaching a point in history when the Earth can no longer sustain our species? If someone will kindly point out how the unbridled expansion of production, consumption and reproduction activities of the human species can SUSTAINABLY continue to occur much longer in the relatively small, finite world God blesses us to inhabit, then I am prepared to admit that I am out of my mind and, even worse, have lost touch with science itself.

    All of us could soon be struggling with threats to life as we know it, ones that could be huge and probably difficult to overcome. It is reassuring, Karen, how you and the organizers and participants of the Orion Blog are demonstrating an uncommon willingness to examine a nest of global challenges that are being forced into existence, perhaps, by certain human activities now overspreading the Earth, challenges already visible on the far horizon.

    Always, with thanks,


  185. Just to throw something out here for consideration. Several of us were bouncing this idea around and I think it could prove very useful.
    This would be to create or co-ordinate an internet based product/service rating system.
    This system would give us the opportunity to calculate the products that we were considering buying a footprint rating.
    This would tell us of the amount of energy that was used to create a product, the shipping distances involved. In other words the environmental and or energy footprint of that product. Other related ratings that could be used would be to know if slaves were used to produce it, the working environment etc.
    I think that companies that were doing ‘right’ by the planet would be keen to provide info for this service.
    This could be a profitable business venture. Does anyone know if this already exists?

    On the re-use recycle front, we should be more diligent in finding ways to recycle energy intensive products or components. In other words recognize the energy density or amount of energy that was used to make that product. Recycling may offer up ‘steel’ to be used again. But won’t save the energy that was required to make a certain part and ship it around the world.

    The internet could provide the tool to achieve massive energy efficiencies on the re-use front.

    If we could source information on the components energy footprints then we could figure out which parts
    of a used item to salvage and offer for re-use. And as consumers we can do a better job of voting with our purchasing.

    Any thoughts about this?

  186. Karen,
    I agree with you, and the others who have posted on this issue, that population is a major environmental problem. Dealing with it in a fair and compassionate manner is difficult, however, and too often population activists come across as harsh and judgemental. Sometimes, too, birth control fails and a difficult decision must be made: to abort or to have the baby. I totally support a woman’s right to have an abortion but I am opposed to pushing abortion on any woman for any reason. It’s a personal, spiritual decision that only she can make. I know you didn’t mention abortion but I know first hand that birth control doesn’t always work.

    Personally I am beyond my childbearing years. I have three grown boys. I had one abortion and couldn’t do it again, so my family was bigger than we had planned. I have spent many years as an activist and writer, mostly on environmental/Earthy issues and I currently publish a small journal called Gaian Voices ( Does the fact that I have three kids mean that I should stop what I’m doing and keep my mouth (and pen) shut?

  187. Dear Susan,

    In some ways, my situation is similar to yours. I also have three grown children and too old to have more of them.

    It is difficult for me to believe Karen would advise or intend that you and I not do all we can to acknowledge and address the apparently human-forced global challenges that are dimly visible, even now, on the far horizon.

    Within me, there is a certain deeply-rooted sense of a “duty to warn” our children of the potential for dangers to human wellbeing and environmental health in the offing.



  188. With the establishment of the scientific consensus on climate change, is it reasonable and sensible to ask of government officials who remain obstructive and in denial of this overwhelming evidence if they are perfidiously engaged in a violation of public trust and, therefore, malfeasant in office?

  189. Dear Friends,

    I am one who believes the human species can do a great deal to preserve biodiversity and the environment and protect the integrity of Earth and itself. In order to accomplish such goals, it seems to me that we may need to make some new and different choices so that the currently gigantic and rapidly enlarging “footprint” imposed on Earth by certain endlessly growing activities of the human species is brought into balance with Earth’s finite capacity to sustain life as we know it.

  190. Hello to all,

    For just a moment, let us consider how we might take some practical steps to get to the year 2050………from here and now.

    Perhaps we could follow what we already know from good science, reasoning and common sense. We can choose to respond ably and differently, in a more reality-oriented way, to the global challenges before humanity, the challenges that we can manage because they have been induced by the spectacular unrestrained overgrowth of human activities now threatening to engulf the surface of Earth.

    Of course, it is fair to ask what the family of humanity could choose to do “ably and differently.” There are several ideas that come to mind.

    1) Implement a universal, voluntary program that encourages people to limit the number of offspring to one child per family.

    2) Establish an upper limit on the growth of the individual human footprint.

    3) Restrict immediately the reckless dissipation of limited natural resources so that the Earth is given time to replenish them for human benefit.

    4) Substitute clean, renewable sources of energy, through the use of substantial economic incentives, for the fossil fuels we rely upon now.

    5) Recognize that everything human beings do on the surface of our planetary home utterly depend on the finite resources of Earth. One consequence of this realization is understanding that there can be no such thing as an endlessly expanding global economy, given its current scale and growth rate, on a relatively small and noticeably frangible planet the size of Earth.



  191. Pursuant to various comments here, I have made some related to these in the ‘Reasons Not to Glow’ discussion., the last one No. 36. Several problems concerning global warming, water pollution and organic wastes are shown to have a solution in the use of pyrolysis applied to the world’s massive organic waste. The pyrolysis process will remove some carbon dioxide, destroy germs and toxics in the wastes, and cut the costs thereby of maintaining dumps to prevent their having seepage polluting water supplies.
    I urge the various discussants here to read about real actions proposed to get control of more than just global warming. If anyone finds himself agreeing or disagreeing with the proposed actions, post it in either discussion. Dr. J. Singmaster, Fremont, CA

  192. After the many comments on this article, I am stunned that my previous comment #200 stopped further comments from all discussants. Does that mean that they are thinking about the organic waste mess and pyrolysis for cleaning it up and getting some control of global warming? I hope so because the Bali meeting on Kyoto Protocol went nowhere with just blaming emissions, but with no concern for the 35% overload of carbon dioxide already on the globe. That 35% will not get cut by curbing emissions and is already causing the melting, the destruction of coral and the worsening weather. I call on discussants to make noise here and to their elected officials about setting up pyrolysis systems for organic wastes.
    Let’s not let our descendants and the world be overwhelmed by global warming and water pollution. It is time to wake up to the big actions that are necessary.
    Dr. J. Singmaster, Fremont, CA

  193. Earth’s ecology and the good science of climate change have been sidelined by the big-business interests of selfish elites who exert control of huge concentrations of financial wealth as well as people with political and militaristic power.

    The “powers that be” are evidently in denial of reality and unwilling to openly and honorably express their understanding of what 2000 IPCC Nobel Laureate scientists are reporting with regard to the ominous, distinctly human-induced predicament that is looming before the human community. That many too many politicians and economic powerbrokers adamantly support the soon to become unsustainable global enterprise of endless big-business expansion, does not favor our children’s well-being or safety, I believe. These leaders appear to have pledged their primary allegiance and reverent devotion to the short-term ‘successes’ of unbridled economic globalization, regardless of the long-term potential for catastrophe that such a recklessly unrestrained and unrealistic pursuit portends. For leaders of the political economy to conspicuously ignore the carefully and skillfully obtained scientific evidence on climate change, and global warming in particular, is an incomprehensible failure with potentially profound implications for the future of our children.

    Plainly, what is necessary now is clarity of vision, intellectual honesty and courage as well as a willingness among leaders to begin “centering” their attention on the probability of converging threats to humanity that could soon be posed by the gigantic scale and patently unsustainable growth rate of the over-consumption, overproduction and overpopulation activities of the human population worldwide in our time.

    Steven Earl Salmony
    AWAREness Campaign on The Human Population

  194. For those tempted by Singmaster’s ‘pyrolisis’ ploy, keep in mind the definition: chemical decomposition at high temperature. That requires fuel; coal? Or other carbon-emitting energy source? Plus the emission of more carbon dioxide, plus other damaging substances as the breakdown products. Not an answer.

  195. Pursuant to the Chemist, comment 203, I pointed out in my comment #36 under the “Reasons Not to Glow” discussion that hydrogen from water using sunlight and a catalyst has been reported so we may be very close to the hydrogen fuel era. That will remove any problem with carbon dioxide unless the Chemist does not understand how pyrolysis works.
    Pyrolysis is the heating of organic materials without oxygen and gives off a distillate of simple organic compounds mainly, methanol, acetic acid, acetone and others along with traces of carbon dioxide and monoxide and water. It would be necessary to avoid plastics with chlorine, sulfur and nitrogen unless complicated trapping systems for ammonia, hydrogen sulfide, etc. were set up for the distillate to pass through. The energy in the expelled distillate can be converted to electricity with a turbocharger set up, and the heat in the finished charcoal can be converted to steam through heat exchanger.
    Electric heating from windmill generated power could be used if a big expansion in windmill operations was set up to use the energy overload trapped on the globe by carbon dioxide. Electrolysis of water using windmill electricity also gives hydrogen that could be the fuel for the pyrolysis process. And the pyrolysis process can be set up to generate some electricity.
    So heating of pyrolysis chambers can be done without fossil fuels, but pyrolysis does have a problem of being a batch process as air obviously has to be excluded. But that would mean creating many new non-outsourcable jobs in pyrolysis plant operations.
    I again call attention to Orion readers that world wide pollution of water supplies may soon become a more immediate problem for many of the poorer countries than global warming. The pyrolysis of organic wastes could well be the salvation for those supplies getting more polluted every day.
    Dr. J. Singmaster, Fremont, CA

  196. If we keep overpopulating Earth; if we keep conspicuously overconsuming limited resources; and if we keep endlessly expanding big-business activities, thereby polluting the relatively small, evidently finite, noticeably frangible planet as we keep doing now, then a good enough future for our children cannot be assured, can it?

    I can understand the wish to ignore human overpopulation as a ominous, huge global challenge; however, to obstinately deny the potentially pernicious, human-driven problems posed by the proverbial ” mother ” of all the looming global challenges, visible even now on the far horizon in the form of skyrocketing absolute global human population numbers projected to reach 9+ billion people within the lifetime of my not-so-great generation’s children, appears to render a selfish disservice, one that avoids the difficult work of widely sharing in a timely fashion an adequate understanding of our distinctly human-induced predicament.

    Humanity cannot begin formulating a plan of action to address the human predicament without a consensually-validated understanding of what the predicament is, I suppose.

    The multifaceted predicament before us appears to made even more demanding because the necessary time for confronting and overcoming the global challenges appears short ………. and not to be on our side.

  197. MIT Technology Review

    January/February 2008
    Green Revolutionary
    Four decades ago, Norman E. Borlaug developed a wheat variety that fed the world. Now he’s battling a pathogen whose spread could cause starvation.
    By John Pollock

    In 1798, the English economist Thomas Malthus argued that population increases geometrically, outstripping the arithmetic growth of the food supply. He promised “famine … the last, the most dreadful resource of nature.” It took another 125 years for world population to double, but only 50 more for it to redouble. By the 1940s, Mexi�co, China, India, Russia, and Europe were hungry. Franklin D. Roosevelt’s farsighted vice president-elect, former secretary of agriculture Henry A. Wallace, believed the solution lay with technology. He was right: the Malthusian tragedy never happened, chiefly because Norman E. Borlaug transformed the breeding of wheat, which feeds more people than any other crop.

    Article continues at

  198. Janisse,
    Please sell the boat.
    Learn to sail…

  199. In Janisse Ray’s article she recommended alternative forms of transportation. While I am not opposed to them there are multiple problems associated with them.

    For many of us who don’t live in high-end real estate communities taking a bike means risking getting it stolen. The train trip for 3 days each way to see my parents out in California required putting up with cigarette smoke from the adjoining car for the the entire time and sometimes dirty bathrooms. This of course does not account for the longer time spent, 3 times longer than a rental car. Or consider the multiple day bus trip which I took on one trip from Vermont to Denver: the jabbed elbow in the ear from the passenger sitting next to me; not being able to keep an eye on your valuables while asleep; the beligerant cigarette smokers who refused not to smoke inspite of the signs and the farm worker who got on in Nebraska and, high on drugs, walkig up and down the aisle hollering loudly.

    There is more to cheaper, alternative transportation than merely buying a ticket. Once your are on a multiple-day trip there is no turning back.

    Overhauling our life styles is a much larger problem than just copping a new attitude. Quite frankly, population control seems like a much simplier solution.

  200. We now need to call for the end of bioethanol subsidies as called for by the United Kingdom’s top environmental scientist in a report on New Scientist Blog, March 29, because we now have a world food crisis developing as reported by the media today April 14. World Bank and Intl. Monetary Fund officials spoke out on this over the weekend but did not point to the conversion of much food crop land into corn for bioethanol as being the cause. If we can get the subsidies stopped quickly, farmers will need to switsh back to food crops, and we will have millions of tons of corn to distribute as a temporary substitute for wheat and rice.
    I urge Orion readers to wake up to this food crisis and call on Congress to stop the bioethanol subsidies now.
    Dr. J. Singmaster, Fremont, CA

  201. By adamantly and relentlessly choosing to grow endlessly the global economy, to increase indefinitely per capita consumption and to propagate ad infinitum absolute global human population numbers on a relatively small planet the size of Earth, is there not a noticeable probability that we could be approaching a point in history when the Earth can no longer sustain our species?

  202. Could many members of our culture be “fixated” on the fantasy of limitless economic growth? Are we suffering from a sort of illness, something like amnesia, that is resulting in our forgetfulness with regard to the necessity of the finite Earth and its frangible environs to the preservation of life as we know it, a functional global political economy and the human species? Alternatively, have we been mesmerized by a modern rendition of the ancient Tower of Babel? Or have all of the above somehow been occurring?

    Perhaps we are forever forgetting about Earth and its environment because too many people, especially the economic powerbrokers, their bought-and-paid-for politicians and their minions in the mainstream media, are worshipping a “totem”. At least to me, there appear to be many too many people for whom the economy, in and of itself, is the primary object of their idolatry. This behavior is observable, obvious and flagrant. In many instances, these worshippers make what they evidently believe are rational arguments that suggest manmade financial and economic systems are somehow essential to, and an integral part of, God’s Creation; that indicate the growth of the global economy will occur from now on, even after the Creation is ravaged and its frangible climate destabilized by unbridled overproduction, unchecked overconsumption and unregulated overpopulation activities of the human species. Aside from the “Economic Colossus” nothing else matters much to them.

    Today, it appears that the financial system of the economic powerbrokers is collapsing like a “house of cards” and the real economy of the family of humanity is threatened. Experts in political economy are saying internally inconsistent and contradictory things. Communications about financials and the economy are generally confused and in disarray. Confidence and trust in the operating systems of finance and the global economy have been undermined by the invention of dodgy financial instruments and unsustainable business models as well as by the promulgation of con games and Ponzi schemes. Transparency, accountability and honesty in business activities have been largely vanquished. A great economic system is being undone by con artists, gamblers and cheats. In such circumstances, does the manmade colossus we call the global political economy remind you in some ways of a modern Tower of Babel?

  203. If someone will kindly point out how the unbridled expansion of production, consumption and reproduction activities of the human species can SUSTAINABLY continue to occur much longer in the relatively small, finite world God blesses us to inhabit, then I am prepared to admit that I am out of my mind and, even worse, have lost touch with science itself.

  204. By adamantly and relentlessly choosing to grow endlessly the global economy, to increase indefinitely per capita consumption and to propagate ad infinitum absolute global human population numbers on a relatively small planet the size of Earth, is there not a noticeable probability that we could be approaching a point in history when the Earth can no longer sustain our species? If someone will kindly point out how the unbridled expansion of production, consumption and reproduction activities of the human species can SUSTAINABLY continue to occur much longer in the relatively small, finite world God blesses us to inhabit, then I am prepared to admit that I am out of my mind and, even worse, have lost touch with science itself.

  205. I understand and very much relate to Ms. Ray’s concerns in “Altar Call for True Believers.” As a lifelong environmentalist, I am constantly seeing ways in which my family and I do not live up to my ideals, or to the standards we must meet.

    I believe the difficulty for most of us is not in simply avoiding a plane ride or eating more local produce. The difficulty is in completely reinventing our understanding of ourselves. We can only succeed if we stop seeing ourselves as consumers of resources, and begin experiencing ourselves as participating members of a dynamic, living web. We need nothing less than complete individual and cultural transformation. Most of us have been conditioned from birth to see ourselves as separate from nature. Until we can bridge that gap and recognize our place in the natural world, we can only lurch from one crisis to another.

    This kind of transformation takes time – lifetimes, generations even. We now find ourselves at a discontinuity, though, which requires rapid inner change. If we can only slow down and experience life a bit, as Eckhart Tolle says, feel the aliveness in our hands, our feet, our eyes. If we can learn to listen and move from this aliveness, we can begin to reconnect and regain our place as living beings, not just consumers.

  206. Thank you! I read your article, not expecting much but an interesting read, I got something much different. I did get a wake up call. I’m pledging to make changes, and calling on my friends to call me on my mistakes – I’ll be chronicling the journey to the world… since I wasn’t walking my talk.

  207. Somehow there has got to be something amiss when a tiny minority of millions of people who possess virtually everything the world has to offer are still malcontented, demanding their ‘inalienable rights’ to more, while the vast majority of billions of less fortunate people with nothing more than enough food, clothing and shelter for immediate survival wait for the spoils of others’ wanton greediness to trickle down to them. How is this regime connected to (let alone a realization of) democratic principles and practices, justice that is just, fairness and equity?

  208. Something is happening that is horrendous. Human beings appear to be perpetrating the horror. Why not do things differently? Who knows, perhaps necessary change toward sustainability is in the offing.

    With the blessings of many super-rich benefactors and the adamant advocacy of many too many obscenely-enriched minions (as well as the silent, condoning consent of an acquiescent majority of the human community), would it be the most colossal crime in human history if a tiny minority of wealthy and powerful people in a single generation acted arrogantly, foolishly, greedily in patently unsustainable ways and, by so doing, precipitated the ruin of Earth as a fit place for habitation by the children and life as we know it?

    Can responsible people with a respect for moral authority and intellectual honesty as well as a positive regard for future human wellbeing and environmental health justify the determination to continue doing things in patently unsustainable ways?

  209. It seems somehow not quite right to suggest that the colossal global ecological challenges presenting themselves to the human family in our time are “signs and symptoms” of the Earth somehow dying naturally. Please consider that Earth’s body and its environs are now besieged and threatened with ruin by distinctly human-driven, too big to fail or succeed overproduction corporations; by conspicuous per-capita overconsumption and excessive hoarding of limited resources among a tiny minority of humanity; and by the gigantic scale and skyrocketing growth of absolute global human population numbers among the great majority of the human community. If human beings were to adopt sustanability as a “living standard” in its production, consumption and propagation acitivities worldwide, there would not be an immediately evident and readily identifiable threat to the integrity of our planetary home; to life as we know it; or to the future of the children.

  210. Please consider that contributors to this blog are pointing us toward the distinctly unwelcome news of potentially profound implications that are derived directly from the growth-induced, patently unsustainable ‘trajectory’ on which the human community finds itself now. The nature of the human-driven predicament looming before humanity is becoming harder for incorrigibly avaricious denialists to ignore and much more difficult for their bought-and-paid-for ideologues (in and out of politics) and absurdly enriched minions in the mass media to deny. An adequate understanding of what could somehow be a real, clear and present danger to human wellbeing and environmental health appears, finally, to be overcoming the delusional activities of the malignantly narcissistic, pathologically arrogant, intellectually dishonest, morally depraved and wantonly greedy among us who have consolidated a lion’s share of the world’s wealth as well as the power great wealth purchases and wields. Let’s us hold onto an abiding faith and “hope beyond hopelessness” that the window of opportunity for making necessary changes remains open to us and that behavior change toward sustainable lifestyles can be achieved in a timely fashion….. if we choose to move forward in a new direction, with different values.

    Perhaps we can agree that the business-as-usual activities which have been adamantly advocated and relentlessly pursued during the past 8 long, dark years need not continue.

  211. So,I started out an hour ago to find some more recent words from Janisse.She came twice to my “town”of Decatur which is swallowed up within the megalopolis of Atlanta to read her own words and let me see the reality of her eyes and family.It led to an hour reading this wide-ranging,wonderful yet troubling string of screeds and insights.
    Some no doubt will think it fitting that this had ended as the ship of state upon which I ride shifted it’s course,I will appreciate that yet try to keep it going because it seems a necessary dialogue;perhaps more so as more come aboard the ship of environmentalism.
    Like Janisse I am of the South from many generations,raised in a fundamentalist home with the ghosts of insanity and violence ever present.Here in the South the raw and close presence of the arrogance,denial and stupidity of our ancestors is evidenced by the ruins within which we live;I hope to fashion from these relics a vision which can avert or mitigate the damages to my children’s world.
    There’s some words from an old man
    who led me to Earl’s ledge
    thirty feet of emptiness below
    and just his voice behind
    as I reached out in the dark

    He said just keep moving
    an inch a minute is just fine
    be like the water moving
    certain of your line
    and looking back you’ll laugh
    and see it was all mighty fine.

  212. The family of humanity is presented with a colossal problem, second in magnitude only to climate change as a threat to human wellbeing and environmental health. Currently, corporate entities are perversely regarded under law as having individual rights like those that citizens of a country possess. A patina of corporate ‘citizenship’ masks corrupt kinds of illegitimate, immoral and fraudulent activities that are promulgated mainly by arrogant, dishonest, greedy and psychologically disordered individuals within huge international financial and production enterprises. These corporate entities are so gigantic that no nation-state on Earth can any longer reasonably and sensibly contain and regulate them.

    Which major corporation, multinational conglomerate or industry “owns” your country’s governance mechanisms…democratic principles and practices notwithstanding.

  213. Let’s examine a forced choice situation: protect the unbridled growth of the global economy or preserve Earth’s ecology.

    Either grow the global political economy in a soon to become patently unsustainable way as we doing now and raise the probable risk of irreversibly dissipating Earth’s finite resource base and degrading its frangible ecosystems or modify the global economy to one that functions in a sustainable steady state and raise the prospect of saving the Earth as a fit place for the children and coming generations to inhabit.

    Many thanks to all for your consideration.

  214. If Janisse Ray isn’t the Second Coming, she’s close enough in my book. To read, and even better, to meet this woman, is to come away enlivened. I love the fact that a cracker from Georgia is willing to call down the choir and bring us all a little closer to accountability and sustainability. Hell, someone has to do it. The scary thing is, no one knows if it’s “better to consume some resources in the service of a larger battle,” because we don’t know how many battles we get before the war is lost, over. I wish words or deeds alone could open our hearts to love the land and ourselves as we should. But it seems sometimes that it’s only great loss that can crack the facade of our comfort. Those losses are stacking up while I write these words, in ways we can’t begin to imagine. Like Janisse, I wouldn’t mind us erring on the side of caution and care. There’s no such thing as caring too much, not now with time running out.

  215. Regardless of any local reforms anyone may pursue, if humanity continues dumping its garbage, sludge and junk in the ocean and spewing tons of smoke and fumes into the atmosphere and refusing to plant several million trees on the 5 continents, the biosphere will collapse and life on Earth will go extinct. Do you understand this?

  216. We are making an effort to share an understanding of what is happening to the climate and why such damaging things are occurring in our planetary home on our watch. Sadly, despite the necessity for consensual validation of whatsoever is real, many too many leaders and experts on whom human family relies for adequate knowledge are engaged in a catastrophic failure to communicate. Woefully inadequate communication was in evidence in other time-spaces throughout human history. No question about that. After all, we can recall the days when the “Tower of Babel” was under construction. Now that I think about that ancient colossus, we are in the process of ‘building out’ on the surface of Earth an artificially designed, certainly manmade, soon to become patently unsustainable “ECONOMIC COLOSSUS” called the global political economy.

  217. I agree. Today mass communications are owned and operated by the big corporations that ignore whatever works against their interests, for example the recent demonstration against that big oil pipeline. Over a hundred people were arrested yet saw nothing on the TV news about it. If they hadn’t sent me an email I would not have known they exist.

  218. On the one hand we have the corporate mass media and their absurdly enriched and overly educated ‘talking heads’ who confuse everyone in the name of being fair and balanced, and on the other hand we have knowledgeable, influential people who choose to remain willfully blind, hysterically deaf and electively mute rather than “speak truth (as best they can see it) to power.” Confusion and silence reign. The family of humanity is being betrayed by everyone who engages in such dishonest and duplicitous denial.

  219. While I may have made some modest changes in my personal life and had a modest impact in my professional life, it is clear that I do not do enough have not done enough!. The trend lines are also clear. There are those who will preach technological salvation but I must respectfully disagree. We must all hear the clarion call of enlightenment and true change if we are going to right this ship. That, unfortunately is NOT going to happen. We are not going to change everything… Alas, this wondrous, beautiful world is destined for cataclysm…

  220. Somehow we have got to do many things differently, do them much more ably, and do all of them simultaneously, collaboratively and fast. Ready or not, like it or not, we are presented with a planetary emergency.This is the time for making necessary behavioral changes by thinking globally and acting locally. Science and common sense will give us direction. What we cannot do is sit on the sidelines. No, we cannot afford to sit this one out. All hand are needed on the deck at this critical moment in the history of our planetary home. Our generation is simply not stepping up to the challenges before us. The consequences of our failures appear colossal and profound with regard to the prospects for future human well being and environmental health. The very last thing a responsible person is to do in such circumstances is consciously and deliberately choose to remain silent, I believe. Are we not participants in and witnesses to yet another preposterous failure of nerve? When are the leaders going to speak out in an intellectually honest way and act with a sense of moral courage? How terrible are things going to have to become on Earth before the-powers-that-be begin to talk about and do the right things, according to the lights and best available knowledge they possess? Whatsoever is real and true must be acknowledged if we are to respond ably to climate destabilization, pollution, biodiversity loss, resource dissipation, environmental degradation and overpopulation,but the manufactured ‘nothing is wrong’ reality is well-established and those who speak truth to power are consistently marginalized and ignored. It is difficult even to imagine how much can be done in such unfavorable circumstances. Still our efforts are vital because the-powers-that-be are living in a fool’s paradise, and the stakes are such that the things that are not being acknowledged will likely destroy life as we know it on Earth. We know how to stop overpopulation humanely.The gravity of this and other looming human-driven global threats are understood and could be confronted with a long overdue determination to do what is necessary. All of the world’s human resources, including overrated intelligence and technology, need to be deployed in order to overcome the emerging and converging wicked problems looming ominously on the horizon.The-powers-that-be could save the world if they acted with the intellectual honesty, moral courage and power they possess to sound alarm bells, forcefully warn the world, and call out loudly and clearly for changes toward sustainable lifestyles and right-sized corporate enterprises. But most of the necessary changes are unlikely to happen, The-powers-that-be want to maintain the status quo, come what may. They lack the moral courage and the imagination to save the world we are blessed to inhabit as a fit place for habitation by children everywhere and coming generations.

  221. Diagnosis : Ecocide and Extinction.

    Cause : Male supremacy over too many people, always fighting, and dumping too much pollution.

    Cure : Safely recycle 100% and let women decide how many children.

    Prognosis : peace and balance.

  222. 1. the reason it’s so hard to live in the country without driving all over the place is because small farms have all been merged into big corporate farms.

    2. there’s a way to start to make real change in a way that doesn’t threaten anyone’s economic survival. just ban all landscaping equipment that uses an engine or a motor. can you insist that your mow&blow; landscaper uses only manual tools?

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