IN THE EDITORIAL of the first issue of Orion, published in the summer of 1982, then editor-in-chief George Russell wondered about the wisdom of launching yet another nature magazine. There were enough nature magazines, he remarked, that it was worth asking why another was needed. But a letter from the remarkable biologist and humanist René Dubos provided the rationale that he and the other original staff were seeking: while many environmental magazines addressed environmental issues, Dubos wrote, none dealt with the creation of “a broad philosophy of nature.”
Thirty years later, Orion has been through three cover-to-cover redesigns, changed its frequency of publication from quarterly to bimonthly, and spawned digital iterations of itself that could scarcely have been imagined three decades ago. Various staff members have come and gone, and the magazine moved its headquarters from Manhattan to rural Massachusetts. But as much as in its beginning, Orion still strives for a broad philosophy of nature rooted in a deep attentiveness to the world that makes a new relationship between people and nature possible, and that brings responsible inhabitation of the planet within reach. It would not be wrong to say that every word that has appeared in the magazine — about 5 million — has sought to articulate Dubos’s “broad philosophy” and to reconnect humans with the earth.
A glance at the earliest issues of Orion gives the impression of an era that was simpler and less dire than the one we live in now. There were more articles about wilderness and the lives of animals and fewer about polarized politics and corporate greed. There were more stories about conservation and none about climate change. The world is a different place now than it was then, and it is sometimes harder to maintain a focus on broad thinking when specific, concrete solutions to environmental problems are so urgently needed. But a philosophy of how to live — a view of the world grounded in ethics, justice, and compassion — was and still is what’s needed more than any other single thing. New technological and political solutions are essential, but to succeed as a species, humans will need a kind of imagination that goes beyond technology and politics. For example, our failure to implement the widespread use of alternative fuels — of which there are and have always been many — is less a problem of technological or political imagination than it is a problem of moral imagination. Because when our philosophy of how to live helps us imagine a future worth having, we find the personal and cultural resolve to do what we know is morally correct. It is this notion that inspired Orion’s founders, and that has influenced every issue since.
In considering the next thirty years, and trying to envision a compelling and enduring future, Orion asked thirty writers, educators, activists, and scientists to describe some of the other qualities that will be needed if humanity is to discover a more peaceful and redemptive way of living. You’ll find five of these essays in this issue, and all thirty are collected in Thirty-Year Plan, a new book published by Orion on its thirtieth anniversary. (See the back cover of this issue for more information about the book.)
Ultimately, our quest for a broad philosophy is embodied less in the magazine and more in the community of readers, writers, and visual artists that has come to surround Orion — people who are passionately, thoughtfully, and uncompromisingly working toward cultural change in service of a vibrant future. We’ve been honored to have had you with us over these past thirty years, and we look forward to the next thirty.
Another perspective, a breath-taking analysis….
Steven Earl Salmony
AWAREness Campaign on The Human Population, established 2001
Chapel Hill, NC
What we know thanks to well-established scientific knowledge about biological evolution as well as the finite and frangible physical world we are blessed to inhabit would lead sensible people, I suppose, to conclude that there is nothing or precious little that can be done to change the ‘trajectory’ of human civilization. So powerful is the force of evolution that we will “do what comes naturally” by continuing to overpopulate the planet and await the next phase of the evolutionary process. So colossal, reckless and relentless, too, is the unbridled expansion of the global political economy now overspreading the surface of Earth. Even so, still hope resides within that somehow humankind will make use of its singular intelligence and other unique attributes so as to escape the fate that appears ‘as if through a glass darkly’ in the offing, the seemingly certain fate evolution appears to have in store for us. Come what may. In the face of all the global ecological challenges that we can see now and here, I continue to believe and to hope that we find adequate ways of consciously, deliberately and effectively doing the right things, according the lights and the science we possess, the things that serve to confront and overcome the evolutionary trend which seems so irresistible. Perhaps others would comment on human agency, human population dynamics, endless economic growth and the potentially catastrophic consequences of the unrestricted overproduction, overconsumption and overpopulation activities of the human species on our watch.
Do reasonable and compassionate human beings have a â€œduty to warnâ€ of looming threats to future human wellbeing and environmental health, and then to sensibly help one another make preparations or are we to pose as if we are blind, deaf and dumb to the predicament and, thereby, let the least fortunate, most poorly situated and simply unaware among us suffer the consequences, come what may?
A much needed discussion with far reaching complexities. Humanity is nature, as much as any natural life form. If humanity continues a path of separation and destruction it will continue on a downward spiral.
Let me salute you on your unique perspective and perseverance in keeping the community energized and motivated around the story of nature.
Orion offers a forum for those of us who feel compelled to expand thoughts and actions toward global betterment. This is inconsistent among periodicals, most of which are directed at editorial scrutiny that frequently excludes the importance and value of broad based expressions that may ruffle feathers, spilling over into emotionally manifested lexicon. It is of value that we tap each source for fluidity, seeking level and harmony and such discoveries will not be revealed without tapping the roots of our souls.
Humanity is more attached to humanity than it is to the Earth itself, implementing human designed changes that occurred over long spans of time. If humanity is to experience longevity similar to Earths’ it is imperative that it links with Earth’s magnificence and the factors that have created its astonishing longevity. Blending is imperative, and we are presently not blending. Humankind is incapable of destroying the Earth, but it’s an absolute that we are capable of destroying ourselves. Earth will prevail.
Perhaps you would kindly devote one blog, just one, to sensibly “tracking” the extant scientific research on human population dynamics. A great deal of preternatural theory (eg, Demographic Transition Theory), politically convenient ideology (eg, Liberalism and Conservatism) and economically expedient theology (eg, Neoclassical Economics) falsely claim to have the sufficient support of science. Let us set aside these widely shared and generally accepted pseudoscientific branches of thought for a moment so that the best available scientific research of human population dynamics can be rigorously examined and meaningfully discussed.
S. E. Salmony contributes worthy commentary and may stimulate more complete studies and understanding of humanity. It seems at the top of the list relating to directional choices and the expectations regarding our future as a species.
I’ve been researching humankind’s historical attachment to war. It is of note that the very ancient cultures had less war, for whatever reasons. It would seem that modern humans should have evolved beyond war but have not, gaining greater power and weaponry to enhance war. Ancient cultures such a the Neanderthal likely were quite absorbed in basic survival and war failed to manifest on a large scale until populations grew and boundaries became important and distinct. The quest to dominate and control grew exponentially as cultures became massively urban forming governments that lead and mislead its populaces. Religious intolerance often served as a trigger for war. It’s an interesting study, and does cause one to ponder what path the future beholds regarding a continuing creation of war and its horrors.
Any suggested reading on this subject would be greatly appreciated.
Dear Raymond Greiner,
Your words and perspective are welcome. I wish I had some recommendations to make regarding your point of interest. It is a vital one, like mine, I believe.
Perhaps I could invite you and the Editors at Orion to delve just a bit further into the topic of human population dynamics.
Regardless of what we believe because it is politically convenient, economically expedient, socially correct, religiously tolerated and culturally syntonic to do so, whatsoever is is, is it not? Please assist me by examining research of the population dynamics of the human species. The implications of this research appear to be potentially profound. If human population dynamics is essentially common to, not different from, the population dynamics of other species, then the unbridled growth of absolute global human population numbers in our time could be the proverbial â€œmotherâ€ of the human-induced global challenges looming before the family of humanity. If this global challenge continues to be ignored, the human family could end up winning some Pyrrhic victories over subordinate global challenges but losing the larger struggle for survival itself.
Please note the following perspective from Sir Fred Hoyle that dates back to 1964, a time prior to the publication of Ehrlichâ€™s â€œPopulation Bombâ€ and the Club of Romeâ€™s seminal work, â€œLimits to Growth.â€
â€œIt has often been said that, if the human species fails to make a go of it here on the Earth, some other species will take over the running. In the sense of developing intelligence this is not correct. We have or soon will have, exhausted the necessary physical prerequisites so far as this planet is concerned. With coal gone, oil gone, high-grade metallic ores gone, no species however competent can make the long climb from primitive conditions to high-level technology. This is a one-shot affair. If we fail, this planetary system fails so far as intelligence is concerned. The same will be true of other planetary systems. On each of them there will be one chanceâ€¦ and one chance only.â€
It appears to me that Sir Fred Hoyle was asking people years ago, when I was still a teenager, to carefully consider and rigorously examine a superordinate situation that was too dangerous to ignoreâ€¦ that dwarfed other already identified global challenges. Rather than seriously scrutinize population dynamics leading to the human overpopulation of the Earth, which would require experts to rivet their attention on the placement of the human species within the natural order of living things, the topic was avoided, just as it is being ignored now. At the beginning of my lifecycle in 1945 there were about 2.8+/- billion human beings on Earth. Only 65 years later 6.8+/- billion people are members of the human community.
So much time has been wasted recently by the brighest and best of my generation. The implications of such an unfortunate failure of nerve appear to be far-reaching. We cannot address problems, the root cause of which we refuse to acknowledge.
Representative democracies led by human beings with feet of clay could readily become a force too formidable to ignore with remarkable speed, I believe, but first humankind needs to be helped to see why a force too formidable to ignore is necessary as well as to understand more adequately the nature of the primary human-induced global challenge that presents itself to the family of humanity in our time; that takes its shape in the form of a colossal looming threat to future human wellbeing, environmental health and the integrity of Earth as a fit place for human habitation.
Research by Russell Hopfenberg and David Pimentel appears to indicate with remarkable simplicity that human population dynamics is essentially similar to the population dynamics of other species.
Since many too many population experts remain silent about this research and blogmeisters associated with the mass media refuse to discuss the peer-reviewed evidence, perhaps you could take a look at it, make your comments, and encourage by your example others to do the same. You can find the article, Human Population Numbers as a Function of Food Supply, by Hopfenberg and Pimentel on the worldwide web or at the following link, http://www.panearth.org/ . Other articles and a slideshow presentation on human population dynamics and human overpopulation can also be found at this link.
Thank you for your great perspective and important actions for the preservation of nature.
Around 5000 BCE is when humankind began moving away from a hunter gathering model as agriculture was expanded and animals became domesticated forming a base for the establishment of civilization’s modern design. The Bronze Age came soon after, around 4500 BCE and weapons moved to a place of prominence. Armies were formed. Sumer had a standing army as early as 2700 BCE. Governments were established to monitor and control the populous. Food was either grown or obtained from the slaughter of animals thereby necessitating control of distribution. Essentially the food was locked up and people were required to perform communal tasks in order to obtain payment to purchase food. A distant philosophy from the hunter gatherer’s concept. Land ownership and control became the collective quest, gained and controlled by armies and war intervention. This timetable of events set the standard that exists today. Land is wealth and wealth dominates.
So, as populations continued to expand the problems associated with population growth escalated. The early hunter gatherer humans would likely have eventually become extinct through a natural process as this style of tribal survival was successful largely because of low populations dispersal and large tracts of open land allowing hunter gatherers to flourish. It is most interesting to compare the timeline of the ancients to modern humans. In recent times, 7100 years ago we began the journey we are presently on. However, Neanderthal, stone culture show archeological evidence of surviving using their chosen method of life’s design for in excess of 300,000 years. A most interesting comparison displaying the brevity of the current civilization’s pattern of living.
Often I read comments on how we humans are destroying the world. I do doubt we can. We certainly are capable of destroying ourselves, or at least greatly reducing ourselves. The Earth has survived billions of years, long, long before humans appeared. This summer I found a geode in a nearby creek. Science tells us this quartz treasure is a remnant of the Mississippian Age, and is a geological creation exceeding 300 million years. Evidence of human habitation is less than 3 million years. We are a blip on the radar screen of time and can go away as fast as we came. From the hinterland. crg
Dear Raymond Greiner,
Wonderful perspective. Thank you for sharing.
I agree that Homo sapiens cannot destroy the world we inhabit; but I believe you will agree that we can lay waste to life as we know it. Perhaps the human species is somehow disordered.
And what are we to say about the disgraced pseudoscience of economics?
Viewing economics globally the variation in the manner economics is managed creates conditions ranging from the cost of the table service setting at Buckingham Palace to the cost a cardboard shack in a third world country. Economic distribution is convoluted and equality has been lost someplace along the path, leading us in this place in time. Socialist ideologies have attempted to manifest with limited success because leadership’s drift into corruptive practices and the original goal to implement social equality is never truly attained. Prior to modern social structure, when populations were small and tribal, harmonious living was a natural process emulating nature. Equality had greater uniformity. Humankind went astray when it began its new living design. Possession and wealth became a gauge for social identity. Housing became an expression of financial position displaying status and ego. All so wrong, yet continues to flourish.
On the Los Angeles streets live 90,000 homeless people. The film producer Aaron Spelling built a mansion valued at 150 million dollars. Seems out of balance to me.
Dear Raymond Greiner,
It appears that we can â€œthink globallyâ€ about climate destabilization and at least one of its consensually validated principal causative agents (ie, the human population), it becomes evident that riveting attention on more and more seemingly perpetual GROWTH could be a grave mistake because we are denying how economic and population growth in the communities in which we live cannot continue as it has until now. Are endless economic expansion and unbridled population growth operative in our time as Ponzi schemes? Given the colossal current size of the human economy and fully expected growth of the human population in this decade, is the collapse of absolute global human population numbers and the artificially designed, manmade global economy not something to anticipate, and to prepare for, in the not too distant future?
Please note that each villageâ€™s resources are being dissipated, each townâ€™s environment degraded and every cityâ€™s fitness as place for our children to inhabit is being threatened. To proclaim something like, â€˜the meat of any community plan for the future is, of course, growthâ€™ fails to acknowledge that many villages, towns and cities are already â€˜built outâ€™, and also â€˜filled inâ€™ with people and pollutants. If the quality of life we enjoy now is to be maintained for the children, then limits on economic and population growth will have to be set. By so doing, we choose to â€œact locallyâ€ and sustainably.
More economic and population growth are soon to become no longer sustainable in many too many places on the surface of Earth because biological constraints and physical limitations are immutably imposed upon ever increasing human consumption, production and population activities of people in many communities where most of us reside. Inasmuch as the Earth is finite with frangible environs, there comes a point at which GROWTH is unsustainable. There is much work to done locally. But that effort cannot reasonably begin without sensibly limiting economic and population growth.
Problems worldwide that are directly derived from conspicuous overconsumption and rapacious plundering of limited resources, rampant overproduction of unnecessary stuff, and rapid human overpopulation of the Earth can be solved by human thought, judgment and action. After all, the things we have done can be undone. Think of it as â€˜the great unwinding of human follyâ€™. Like deconstructing the Tower of Babel. Any species that gives itself the moniker, Homo sapiens sapiens, can do that much, can it not?
â€œWe face a wide-open opportunity to break with the old ways of doing the townâ€™s business,â€ we have been told. That is a true statement. But the necessary â€œbreak with the old waysâ€ of continuous economic and population growth is not what is occurring. There is a call for a break with the old ways, but the required changes in behavior are not what is being proposed as we plan for the future. What is being proposed and continues to occur is more of the same, old business-as-usual overconsumption, overproduction and overpopulation activities, the very activities that appear to be growing unsustainbly. More business-as-usual could soon become patently unsustainable, both locally and globally. A finite planet with the size, composition and environs of the Earth and a community with the boundaries, limited resources and wondrous climate of villages, towns and cities where we live may not be able to sustain much longer the economic and population growth that is occurring on our watch. Perhaps necessary changes away from UNSUSTAINABLE GROWTH and toward sustainable lifestyles and right-sized corporate enterprises are in the offing.
Think globally while there is still time and act locally before it is too late for human action to make any difference in the clear and presently dangerous course of unfolding human-induced ecological events, both in our planetary home and in our villages, towns and cities. If we choose to review the perspective of a â€˜marketwatcherâ€™ who can see what is actually before our eyes, perhaps all of us can get a little more reality-oriented to the world we inhabit and a less deceived by an attractive, flawed ideology that is highly touted and widely shared but evidently illusory and patently unsustainable.
This situation is no longer deniable. During my lifetime, many have understood the Global Predicament we are having to confront now, but only a few â€˜voices in the wildernessâ€™ were willing to speak out loudly and clearly about what everyone can see. It is not a pretty sight. The human community has precipitated a planetary emergency that only humankind is capable of undoing. The present â€˜Unsustainable Pathâ€™ has to be abandoned in favor of a â€œroad less travelled byâ€. It is late; there is no time left to waste. Perhaps now we will gather our remarkably abundant, distinctly human resources and respond ably to the daunting, human-induced, global challenges before us, the ones that threaten life as we know it and the integrity of Earth as a fit place for human habitation. Many voices, many more voices are needed for making necessary changes.
Raymond, Thank you for this great perspective. It was a real eyes-opener for me.
Thank you for this unique perspective about the preservation of nature and natural life.
This discussion is absolutely fascinating. I hope I am not too late to join in. What brought me to the thread was the talk of human evolution as it relates to the future. There are several directions that theme could take. I will touch on a couple and see if you think any are worth pursuing further.
First, we cannot look to other species for a â€œformulaâ€ for any sort of optimal population/environment ratio. The health of the biosphere notwithstanding, humans have changed one of the two fundamental elements in the evolutionary equation. We have learned control our organismâ€™s environment to an unprecedented degree. We have eliminated the threats otherwise keeping us in balance with our environment, and thereby changing the basic rules of â€œbalanceâ€. As you have said, even the new balance and our ability to control the detrimental elements of the environment will reach their ends and we will either set a new balance yet again, or succumb to the retribution of Mother Nature.
It is the former that leads me to the next possible thread of discussion. Not surprisingly for an environmental magazine, the context of the discussion is notably terrestrial. It may be that the rabbit we pull out of the hat is exporting humanity to extra-solar planets. NASAâ€™s Kepler telescope reveals that planets, and indeed Earth-like planets, are more abundant than even optimistic predictions had anticipated. Work on interstellar propulsion remains a government-funded endeavor, even as the privatization of space flight becomes more mainstream. These possibilities are no longer the musings of science fiction.
Lastly, and in the theme of nature, I would like to address comments concerning â€œawaitingâ€ the next phase of evolution. I am terribly excited about the tremendous possibilities that we have before us now in the way of Genetic Engineering to create our own evolutionary path. Certainly with such great power comes great responsibility, as the saying goes, but I am confident that the coming age of profound human bio-diversity, plus our ability to spread beyond cradle earth will result in a more robust and enduring human organism.
Alas, I cannot resist the opportunity to make one final comment as this discussion allows me to hit the trifecta on my estimation of the key influences on the future of human evolution: genetic engineering, space colonization, and artificial intelligence. Sir Fred Hoyleâ€™s 1964 comments on the next intelligent species were made prior to the realization that we could, perhaps within our life-times gentlemen, witness the compilation of silicon circuitry and â€œneuralâ€ networks of such advanced complexity as to rival the human brain. There is much speculation about the resulting intelligence or consciousness that could arise out of such an assemblage. It is the subject of an entire scientific and technological field of study.
I hope that I have not strayed too far from the themes of natureâ€™s resilience and the onslaught of human evolution, but it has been exhilarating to find a discussion such as this, and the diverging possibilities of subject matter are endless. As an optimistic futurist I believe both that the Earth shall prevail in the face of the indignities imposed upon it by humans, and that humans, being the wily creatures that we are, will not only overcome the adversities inherent in nature and of our own making, but that we will flourish in countless environments to come.
Thank you again.
Raymond, Thank you for this great and well written perspective, and for your important actions for the preservation of nature. Well done!
To Bradley LaChance: Optimism is essential for human growth and advancement as a species. I agree wholeheartedly. However, Genetic Engineering is far too unproven to speculate, and since the natural evolutionary cycle has a multi billion year history any artificial applications that manifest within humanity’s scientific designs must be approached with great care and a precise inclusion of the historical, evolutionary, natural cycles. If we exclude other species from pursuit of human comforts and advances that expand beyond fusing with fellow inhabitants, disruption is a certainty to occur and the consequences of such intrusion are beyond our ability at this time in history to conjecture.
It is likely changes from self human engineering will develop slowly and those at the forefront of such changes will be enlighten to a greater degree than we can presently conceive. So, time may again work its magic and all will fall neatly in place, as the human species develops forward becoming more harmonious with itself and also Earth and Universe.
Thank your for your thoughts. Raymond