The Consolations of Extinction

Painting by Alexis Rockman, used with permission
Painting by Alexis Rockman, used with permission

SNOW IN THE SUMMER ISN’T UNHEARD OF in Utah’s Cache Valley, where I live. Last year, after a warm spell, I was suddenly back in my parka — a puffy, crazed scarecrow — waving a broom wildly among branches of juniper, maple, and linden in the yard, knocking off wet snow that threatened to crack branches and did. As I walked round the house, I tromped by flower beds edged with local dolomite rocks and blooming white with Cerastium, the aptly named snow-in-summer.

Right now, though, as I lean back in my hammock on a warm, lazy June day beside the river, snow in summer is the falling fluff from peachleaf willow catkins, a drowsy blizzard of seeds. A whole catkin fell onto my geology book, and I lifted the just-burst seeds and tossed them outward. Sometimes the fluff accretes, like the dust of a forming solar system, the small accumulations that build planets, and one such willow-mass will globe, drift down to the cobbled bank, and then teeter, or else drop to the sunlit water of the Blacksmith Fork.

Beneath this willow grove — eight thick trunks — I watch the slender leaves waver in wind. Light wavers too. I reach down for water, no, wine, a small bottle leaning on this rock beach. I look at the Blacksmith Fork racing along. Where some branches are caught in the current, water leaps. Beside and behind me grow vines of purple shooting stars. I read or don’t. I listen to the sound of what I jokingly call the truncated wren — a yellow warbler, whose staccato bursts remind me, oddly, of the wind-up burbling of a house wren. Days like this are slow as creation, as precession. As necessary as air.

WILLOWS HAVE NOT ALWAYS BEEN HERE, though they have been casting shadows for at least 50 million years. Every time I get in the hammock I think of that. The thought becomes praise by repetition. Willows are venerable trees.

For a time, there was once a tree called Glossopteris. An illustration of a fossil leaf of this tree reminds me a bit of a willow leaf, long and narrow. Glossopteris grew to nearly twenty feet in height, tapering like a subalpine fir to its top. One book I have calls “Glossopteris and its kin” a “hardy flora.” Glossopteris survived the transition between the Permian and Triassic, which was hardly uneventful, but then faded into extinction by the late Triassic. There wasn’t anyone around to launch a Save-the-Glossopteris campaign. No one to climb the last tree and issue press releases. Without fanfare, Glossopteris was gone.

If I were to rise and wade across the river from Hammock Beach, then clamber up the rocky bank that Kathe and I are revegetating — to repair the damage from illegally dumped fill — I’d scramble beside the cottonwood we planted, a tree as high as a Glossopteris, and I’d brush against blossoming wild rose, thorns catching on my skin and shirt. Then I’d jump over our fence to the road, where, a few paces away, grow the stalks of scouring rushes — a plant dinosaurs stomped by along late Triassic rivers. Perched in my hammock, I wonder suddenly: Are those green stalks really the same plants the dinosaurs knew? Or was that common horsetail? Both are Equisetum. Both are ancient. Horsetails, I’ve read, “have a long geologic range, from Devonian to Recent.” Devonian: some 360 to 400 million years ago! The rushes in question grow unobtrusively in dry ground and gravel above an irrigation ditch. Their ancestors were among the first plants to have vascular channels in their stems, the first plants to draw water upward, allowing for vertical growth. I love the jointed stems of these rushes, their silica-scratchy texture, their antiquity. They grow right next to pavement, and each year I pull some of the Johnsongrass and dyer’s woad that threaten to crowd the rushes out.

One of the things I’ve read lately in the hammock is a spiral-bound book called A Collector’s Guide to Rock, Mineral & Fossil Localities of Utah. The book includes a familiar, though useful, metaphor for deep time. With one frame for each year of the Earth’s 4.6 billion-year history — there are twenty-four frames in a second — a film of that history would run for six years, all day, all night, every day of the week. Most of the movie would be astronomical and geological: the formation of the Earth, the filling of oceans, the movement of continents. Not until the sixth spring would vertebrates appear. That summer and fall, the dinosaurs would come and go. Not till the last month of the last year would mammals and birds proliferate. On the last morning of the last month of the last year would skulk the first protohumans. And in the last three seconds of the last night of the last month of the last year would arrive and pass the great events of the twentieth century and the beginning of the twenty-first. That’s it. Three seconds out of six years.

Such a perspective nurtures sanity. So does this: 99.9 percent of all species that have ever evolved on this planet are gone forever.

Civilization is not a given. Extinction is.

THE LATTER PERMIAN SEEMS STRANGE to me, with dragonflies as big as birds. But also familiar, with cockroaches scuttling about. In the ocean cruised trilobites, the first creatures on Earth to see, creatures we know only through fossils. In the seas were fish and sharks and kelp; on land, the world was green. But it was a different sort of green and quieter: no flowers, no birds, no bees. And not yet dinosaurs, not yet mammals.

Then, about 250 million years ago, something happened — the largest extinction event in the history of the planet. The end-Permian extinction was a holocaust of thorough proportions; some 95 percent of all species, marine and terrestrial, were lost. Scientists continue to argue about its cause. The debate is, in some respects, a classic one: volcanism (on a massive scale) versus meteorite impact (on a massive scale). Scientists are probing this mystery by studying the mineral compositions of the Siberian Traps, a region created by volcanic floods, and by examining core samples that may contain the remains of a meteorite impact. At present, the case for impact is sketchier than the case for volcanism, and there were, in fact, huge outpourings of lava floods at the time. The question for the volcanists is whether such lava flows could have caused the necessary effects to nearly wipe clean the slate of Earth. Other researchers argue that a slowly changing environment in the Permian allowed toxic gases — hydrogen sulfide is a culprit — to build up in the oceans and then, catastrophically, be released into the air. A sudden release of methane stored in permafrost and as underwater ice is yet another suspect.

Regardless of the cause, the early Triassic was a miserable time, dominated by dust and heat and erosion and choking fumes. Greg Retallack, a University of Oregon expert in ancient soils, estimates that carbon dioxide jumped from its Permian norm of three hundred parts per billion to eight thousand parts per billion. Oxygen levels plummeted on land and in the sea. Retallack compares the changes in gases to moving the entire biosphere to the top of a mountain.

The early Triassic was also a time of acid rain. The ozone layer may have been shredded. And some researchers have argued that the early Triassic was heaven-sent for mushrooms, because mushrooms love the dead. Retallack calls this cheery Earth a “postapocalyptic greenhouse.” Things were so bad that, according to end-Permian expert Douglas Erwin, even “insects experienced their only documented mass extinction.”

One creature was doing okay — Lystrosaurus , a reptile that looks to me like a hybrid of a pig, dachshund, and saber-toothed cat. For a while, 95 percent of all the land animals on the Earth were Lystrosaurus . Paleontologist Michael Benton, in his book on the Permian wipeout, says that because it lacked other competitors for plants — and had no predators — Lystrosaurus just managed “to scratch a living.” Retallack and others believe, however, that Lystrosaurus did have some attributes that helped it through the awful early Triassic, including its purported behavior as a burrower and its “barrel chest,” which may have helped it breathe in the noxious environment.

Imagine waking up tomorrow, walking across the continents and finding, say, only squirrels.

I OFTEN FEEL OVERWHELMED by the enormity of the end-Permian extinction. Nearly everything dead. Everywhere. It’s nearly unfathomable.

I often feel overwhelmed by the enormity of another extinction event, our current crisis, the Holocene extinction, the sixth known mass die-off in the planet’s history and the only one whose cause is due to the activity of conscious, rational, intelligent beings, activity that has driven the extinction rate to one thousand times higher than the background rates in the fossil record.

Sometimes I feel that I’m supposed to save the entire biosphere. Sometimes I just hang my head in exhaustion and doubt. At the end of his book Extinction: How Life on Earth Nearly Ended 250 Million Years Ago, Douglas Erwin writes that some paleontologists believe that conservation biologists have significantly misunderstood the fossil record when making claims like the one I just made regarding the human acceleration of extinction rates. In 1996, then president of the Paleontological Society Jack Sepkoski said that we were some 280 to a few thousand years away from an extinction on the scale of the end-Permian.

“As Jack Sepkoski well understood (but many conservation biologists do not),” writes Erwin, “any comparison of fossil extinction rates to current estimates is inherently flawed because the data are so different. With certain obvious exceptions (passenger pigeons, mastodons, and saber-toothed tigers leap to mind), most of the species that humans have so thoughtlessly eliminated are local, often rare, and unlikely to be preserved in the fossil record.”

“It is far more appropriate,” he continues, “to compare past mass extinctions to the number of species that have disappeared among common, widespread, and durable species. There is no political motivation for such a comparison, of course, as it would significantly lower the apparent similarity between past mass extinctions and the current situation.”

Perhaps so, I think. Though 280 years isn’t much time at the low end of Sepkoski’s scale. Make that 270 years.

For Erwin, the upshot is this: If we are in a mass extinction, we are probably doomed anyway. If we aren’t, then we may have time to preserve more than we might have thought.

Confronted with this welter of contradictory assertions and feelings, I will occasionally retreat to my study. I’ll pick up a chunk of gray rock. It formed in the early Triassic ocean, then running low on oxygen. I collected the rock one night in New Zealand, at a lovely place called Kaka Point, where banded dotterels called and raced along the surf line. While the geologists I was traveling with were falling asleep in our rented cabin, I sat on a large boulder formed in the Triassic “dead zone” and listened to birds. I watched the ocean roll in and out, crash down and foam, retreat, advance. Clouds blotted starlight. I felt swept up.

Sometimes, when I’m sitting at my desk, staring out at a maple, a blue spruce, cheatgrass, junk in a neighbor’s pasture, cottonwoods, mountains, and blue sky, I slowly trace my finger along a bump in that small gray stone, a ridge that marks the benthic passage of a Triassic worm. One of the survivors. For life is a song. Life is a hemorrhage. That bump is a narrative of the deep past, and even if, finally, I can’t really comprehend it, I am comforted.

Such are the consolations of extinction.

AT THE FAR END OF THE PLANET’S FUTURE, there are only about 5 billion years before the sun bloats to a red giant. When it does, the sun will be bigger, much bigger, about 160 times bigger — and much brighter, some 3,000 times brighter. Well before then, the waters of the Earth will have boiled off, the surface will have been burnt to a crisp. That will happen in a billion years. Even by that point, the planet will have been a desert world for hundreds of millions of years.

If we’re still around then — if our descendants are around — how can we save the biosphere from what astronomer Chris Impey calls “death by stellar cremation”? Some scientists have seriously suggested altering the orbits of asteroids in order to alter the orbit of our home world, so that we might extend life’s span a bit longer. We seem ready to dare anything.

Further ahead, there will come the age when the sun cools off, becoming an Earth-sized white dwarf that dims, finally, into a black dwarf, a lump of carbon and oxygen, a dark cold gem at the center of a former solar system.

The consolations of extinction are the comforts of deep time, an acceptance of passage. “Take your place with grace,” Bruce Cockburn sings, “and then be on your way.”

The consolations of extinction are an acceptance of death, of all deaths, always, in all places. My lover, myself, my parents, my sister and niece, my grandnephew, my friends, my two sweet cats. The orioles this season sipping nectar from a feeder. The American dipper that makes sounds like clacking pebbles as it flies upriver, downriver, and back again. The river itself. The foothills I glimpse from my hammock are the shorelines of ancient Lake Bonneville, whose remnant Great Salt Lake will dry up too. Families die. Genera die. Whole ecosystems die. The solar system’s planets — nine, no, eight, or, okay, maybe twelve, count ’em how you will — they’re goners too. Stars, including all 400 billion in the Milky Way: doomed. Galaxies, all of them, all 100-plus billion of them: doomed. Even protons will decay someday, the ages of the atom finally closed. This universe — one, perhaps, in an infinite multiverse — will die in a darkness and cold beyond our imaginings.

DON’T MISUNDERSTAND ME. I am not counseling indifference to contemporary extinctions. I’m not counseling a life of civic inaction or, worse, a life of civic inaction coupled with consumerist bliss. I don’t muse on stellar eschatology in order to cultivate a sophisticated nihilism or to justify purchasing a 900-inch-wide plasma-screen television.

I’m counseling diligence, but also calm: hands that work in the present and eyes that see through it. I’m suggesting that our PalmPilots and DayMinders and Nature Conservancy calendars show not only year, month, date, and day of the week but also geologic epoch. It’s a Tuesday in the Holocene. I’m saying that too much grief for the world means less energy to help it along.

When I’m not at the desk writing, I’ll be at the edge of Cutler Marsh counting white-faced ibises for the second year in a row, the beginning of a local effort to have the marsh declared an Important Bird Area and later, I trust, a National Wildlife Refuge. I’ll be attending a meeting of concerned neighbors who are watchdogging development along our road. Or I’ll be writing to the manager of a state refuge to discuss the local Audubon chapter’s interest in habitat-improvement projects. Today I’ll water some newly planted cottonwoods.

Some of these efforts will matter, others may not.

I do what I can without going crazy.

I do what I can because I don’t want to see the white-faced ibis as a species die in my lifetime. Because I don’t want to walk one day to the river in back of my house and find that the willows have withered. Because I don’t want to wake up on May mornings and not hear meadowlarks. Because I don’t want to suddenly miss the chirpy business of the yellow warbler. So I try to do my part to keep them around, both for myself — and do let us admit a very deep selfishness at the core of activism — and for the sake of their lives lasting as long as they possibly can.

Of course it is never enough.

My partner and I own a hybrid, we’ve decided not to have kids, we wipe our rears with 100 percent post-consumer toilet paper, print our essays with 100 percent post-consumer office paper, we buy local produce in the summers, we’re even xeriscaping.

But sometimes days or weeks go by when I don’t do anything more for the Holocene Earth. Sometimes I set aside my store-bought soy patties (“flame grilled”) to run my knife through a thick steak (usually bison). Sometimes I turn the furnace up. Sometimes I let our wind-generated, grid-purchased electricity juice the television so I can watch the NFL Network or even a blue movie. I haven’t replaced every bulb in the house with a compact fluorescent, we also own, ahem, an SUV, and I can’t stand hemp.

Were he alive today, Walt Whitman, that great American poet, probably would sit down and watch TV with me. We’d chant together, “Do I contradict myself? Very well then . . . I contradict myself; I am large . . . I contain multitudes.” We’d consider grass blades and stars; then we’d tune in some bluegrass beamed down by satellite.

So there you have it. Politically incorrect contradictions. Comforts and distress. The postmodern and the ancient. Activist and asshole. Momentary, hourly, daily, weekly, seesawing between work and laziness, between hope and despair, just one of the billions trying to understand how we’re supposed to “save the world” (read: the present-day biosphere) when at the same time we may be as responsible for its undoing as those we criticize. Confusing, isn’t it?

Here’s what I know: I know that when you find yourself free of the poisons that too much angst can cultivate, then something marvelous happens. You can sense how very old the planet is, how very old life and death are, and you can keep going on, you can keep doing the work you do in this universe, feeling despair when you feel despair, feeling — amazing — joy when you feel joy.

How can this happen, this letting-go and holding-on all at once? This doing that isn’t striving? This right work that is calm? Lao-Tzu once gave us hints. But, really, it’s hard to say, hard to say. Maybe it happens when you see — I mean really see — the broken axial spine of a trilobite impressed in mountain shale. It happens on a day you can remember: up a wide, hummocky gully in Idaho, with rockhounds staring through hand lenses beneath a sky streaming with peristyles of sunlight, then ragged with dark clouds spitting real snow, the aspen leaves flickering lightdark, lightdark, lightdark, hyper-real.

Because places — and the things that inhabit them — are artifacts of time. They too flicker.

Just now, beneath willow trees casting their summer snow, I set aside books and memories and fears simply to watch whatever happens in the branches, to watch cloud shadows on the Bear River Range of Paleozoic sedimentary rock, to watch the river pass on, as it always will, until it doesn’t. Such time beneath the willows does not flood away hope or outrage or action or exhaustion or grief or guilt or lust or love, but puts me deeply in time so those things come and go, as they must, seeds on water.

Christopher Cokinos is an American poet and writer of nonfiction on nature and the environment. He is the winner of the Sigurd Olson Nature Writing Award, the Fine-Line Prize for Lyric Prose (from Mid-American Review), and the Glasgow Prize for an Emerging Writing of Nonfiction. His essays, poems and reviews have appeared in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the Iowa Review, Ecotone, Orion, Poetry, Western Humanities Review, and Science, among many other venues. Cokinos publications include Killing Season (poetry), Hope Is the Thing with Feathers: A Personal Chronicle of Vanished Birds (nonfiction), and The Fallen Sky: An Intimate History of Shooting Stars (nonfiction).

Comments

  1. Loved the article, full of paradox. I feel the way Cokinos describes every day, every minute some days. On days when I am more Buddhist than Quaker, I can go with the flow he describes.

    But just this morning I burst into tears upon learning that yet another developer in this town of Oxford, Mississippi, tore down yet more trees to put up condos(right on the edge of the native plant garden we planted at the Oxford Public Library). The city has no protection for trees on private properties (not even subdivisions) and so our tree canopy as at the minimum considered healthy and will fall below next year.

    I live in the county and so don’t have as much political influence as city folks, but seems like NO ONE can stop developers.

    And what we have left are NO MORE TREES, and lots of $300,000 – $900,000 condos. Forget trees, not even middle to low income humans are welcome in Oxford.

    So, do I quit my full time job to lobby for the trees? This morning, I make 5 phone calls to city officials, only one of whom gives me a straight answer. I do everything in my personal life to live as green as possible in a state 20 years behind the rest of the country (which isn’t saying much). I work with a student environmental group, and I bring my farm animals (endangered breeds) to schools and libraries.

    I love the Earth as one would love a person. As an former organic farmer,my relationship with the Earth, soil, plants, trees, animals, worms…. feels very intimate, in a way that sounds crazy to others who drive their Hummers around town!

  2. Actually, this is directed to the person from Oxford. I too live in a rural part of the country. My relationship to the land and all life in my part of the world is very important. Never give up. After years we came up with a little effort that has gone across country and over to Gr. Britan, Ireland and Mx. This last year has been up and down but now it is definitly forward. We greened the slow moving sign on the back of wagons and tractors and came up with a educator for the back of passenger vehicles. The sticker encourages people to “drive easy…conserve” It is a simple action with a message that resonates with all people…politics are not a issue. So far we have over 10,000 supporters slowing down and conserving. A action in conservation that is basically free. I would like to send you some to spread the word in Mississippi. You could really get to know your neighbors and have some fun. I have a web page and a orion story…greenslowmovingvehicle.com
    Hope to hear from you…Fulton

  3. The big view helps. Thanks to Chris for putting things in perspective.

    I actually find some hope for life on earth in the first great climate catastrophe: the “oxygen extinction” of 2 billion or so years ago. As the prokaryotic bacteria wallowed and died in their waste (oxygen) a new form of bacteria emerged that took advantage of the changed environment. The best theories I’ve read about eukaryotes (Lynn Margulis is the one I’ve read)suggest that their ancestor was a particularly large bacterium species that played host to one or two parasites – these sheltered parasites transformed the poisonous free oxygen back into CO2 and/or or utilized it for carbohydrate manufacture.

    Eukaryotic protists are the ancestors to every living thing on this planet. When we look around us, everything we would consider “life” emerged from this deadly epoch in life’s evolution. With this in mind, a part of me actually looks forward to whatever it is that we shall become when we have weathered this next ecological crisis (yes, I’ll probably be long gone, but…).

  4. “Too much grief for the world means less energy to help it along” Succinctly stated…and I will remember that when people’s actions overwhelm me with their lack of respect for the earth and compassion for other living things.

  5. The sorrow indeed is not that we humans will die out…and I agree that eventually we will become extinct, either in the natural cycle of the planet or by our own hands…but that we do not ardently savor the life we do have, that we too often twist our uniquely human gifts into destructiveness and absurd behaviors, and that belief in our own superiority has distorted our understanding of human life as one ingredient in the amazingly rich and diverse brew of all life on this planet, creating the imbalance that is now making us squirm with discomfort.

  6. Perhaps Mother Nature is teaching some of us valuable lessons now; however, these necessary lessons regarding the natural world appear to be lost on the economic powerbrokers, the megalomaniacal heads of the multinational corporations, the bought-and-paid-for politicians and their minions in the mass media, all of whom seem unimpressed by the potentially profound implications of the good scientific evidence regarding the unsustainability of unrestrained per human consumption of limited resources, seemingly endless expansion of human production capabilities on a finite planet, and unchecked human overpopulation of the planetary home God has blessed us to inhabit.

    Rather than accept limits to growth of human enterprise and Earth’s limitations as a finite celestial orb, the self-proclaimed masters of the universe among us have chosen to cling to the illusory thinking prefigured by Henry George and espoused by Julian Simon and other like-minded cornucopian economists.

    As surely as the pernicious spread of communism was eventually seen to be an enemy of human beings everywhere in the twentieth century, so also will the rampant spread of economic globalization be seen as an archenemy of Mother Nature in the twenty-first century.

    Always,

    Steve

  7. Dear Friends,

    Please find on the internet the trailer for the film, CALL OF LIFE: FACING THE MASS EXTINCTION, which has been produced by the Species Alliance of San Rafael, California.

    Thanks for everything each of you are doing to protect biodiversity from extinction, the environment from irreversible degradation and the Earth from reckless dissipation.

    Sincerely,

    Steve

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

    http://sustsci.aaas.org/content.html?contentid=1176

    1834 North Lakeshore Drive
    Chapel Hill, NC 27514-6733
    USA
    Tele: 919-967-5764
    Email: SESALMONY@aol.com)

  8. As the evidence piles up that we have met the enemy and he is us, I’m frustrated with the fact we don’t have any real answer to fight the enemy. We’ve created the social system we exist in and are nearly helpless to extricate ourselves individually or collectively.

    America the leader of consumer capitalism seeks to spread that system across the globe. The economic creation of wants and more wants in a world that can’t forever sustain that increasing demand for wants much less the increasing basic needs of an expanding world population.

    But maybe our savior is ourselves through the unthinking greed of our lust for oil. The days go by to the point where the oil that is the lifeblood of the consumer society will become in such demand as it becomes less available that America’s society won’t continue as it does this day. With no real answer to replace gasoline for our cars we will have to regress consumerism. I believe we are at the beginning of the fall of consumerism, just when we have begun to realize that it could end.

    We will probably continue to have wars over that oil, and maybe that’s not such a bad thing (war does increase the need for oil as we fight over it, a resource catch-22). At some point the price of oil will become too prohibitive to bother to drop bombs in order to secure it. Not that war won’t end, humans have the unique ability to create ways to not get along.

    Somehow I think the Earth could certainly do without most humans, including me I suppose. Something might come along to rid a large portion of our species, maybe a disease or huge war or massive starvation to be our lemmings to the sea event.

  9. For the first time, I am noticing the loss of extirpated species of many kinds but, mercifully, seeing some of them in my dreams and others as apparitions in daytime reveries.

    Human-driven, massive biodiversity loss, for example, appears more clearly now as a direct product of hubris.

  10. Dear Jon B,

    Once human intelligence and ingenuity are employed to address rather than to avoid the real global challenges of our times, then many good things will begin to occur. In the meantime, perhaps three questions are timely.

    How are we to see that the patently unsustainable economic expansion and unlimited big business growth of global human enterprise which are based upon a “grow or die mentality” are taking humankind down a primrose path to massive species extinction?

    When will we hear from the global thinkers and appointed experts in science with a capacity for clear vision, coherence of mind and intellectual honesty among us who understand the following words of Ozymandias:

    “My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
    Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”
    Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
    Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
    The lone and level sands stretch far away.”

    AND are able to communicate the best available scientific evidence concerning the predicament posed to humanity by itself?

    Where are the world leaders who are capable of exhibiting the vision, courage and political will to remake the world?

    Always,

    Steve

  11. Hi Steven,

    Human ingenuity and intelligence is the answer? Well, I don’t know, those positives are always in opposition to human stupidity and unthinking group think.

    I think in terms of historic trends. Humanity has had its’ ups and downs, high violence/low violence, dark ages/enlightenment, tyranny/freedom, etc. But as well, trends transcend even humanity. We’ve had species rise and fall, domination/extinction and humans are only the last in the those trends with no guarantee of eternal dominion over other forms of life.

    Would I blame humanity if we should somehow fail to run the world (as if we really do that) in good stead? No, not really. Accidents can happen, unintended consequences can result, unforeseen problems erupt, no one knows the future. If it wasn’t for a meteor dinosaurs might still dominate and mammals would still be nothing but rat-like creatures hoping to evolve.

    Leaders? I’m not big on depending on the hierarchies of humanity. If anything, our stumbling into a possible disastrous future might be best blamed on leaders. It’s leaders that have started all the wars, told us how we should live, approved the systems we have to live under. History is full of examples of leaders that lead us over cliffs, even if the “followers” didn’t wish to follow.

    Don’t get me wrong, I’m not really as pessimistic as I might sound. I tend to view the history of humanity as one long story. Every day is simply another page in that story that I can’t wait to read. I’m fairly certain I won’t be alive if that long story has a final page revealing an ending, but the book is still a good read. The current chapter has the drama of a life form trying to accommodate its’ mass to its’ rapidly changing environment.

  12. Dear Jon B,

    If it is all right to do so, I want to inject several questions for discussion at this point. Your consideration of them is appreciated. Your comments and those of others are welcome.

    If they please you, the questions follow.

    1) Who among the living can know that a particular species, even the human species, is doomed? How is it possible for any one of us to have certain knowledge of such a thing? If we choose to believe such a thing and act as we are now, does species extinction not become a self-fulfilling prophecy?

    2) Is silence other than golden? Is the deafening silence we hear (i.e., elective mutism) somehow useful to humankind or does it simply provide things that are regarded as temporarily golden by the few among us who are wealthy and powerful, the ones who have mortgaged the future of our children and, in effect, forsaken them?

    3) Would it make sense to make a case in the strongest possible terms for a human being’s “duty to warn” humanity of whatsoever dangers appear to loom before us and, by so doing, begin the vital process of acknowledging, addressing and overcoming actual challenges to a good enough future for our children and coming generations?

    Sincerely,

    Steve

  13. well Steve…

    1) Where do you figure I said our species is doomed? I said there is “no guarantee,” hardly a bold prediction of our future.

    2) I hear voices out there, it’s not total silence. But, certainly there is a sort of complacency from the public. Yet, historically Americans have repeatedly fallen into the trap of inaction. Again, there is that rise and fall of a collective nation, sometimes power is wielded by the elites without challenge and other times that power has been spoken to, truth to power. The question is whether the cards have been stacked against any type of challenge in our dilapidated democracy.

    3) Certainly there should be an effort to change the course. Warnings? Well, there have been plenty of historical Chicken Littles, and not all of them have been correct, note the repeated warnings of a Biblical Revelations slamming our nation, these have been predicted since even before the Revolutionary War.

    Look at the reactions towards Al Gore’s “Inconvenient Truth.” Plenty of people accept it as truth, yet many others attack both the message and the messenger. There are scientists who believe that global warming’s tipping point has already occurred and that there is little humanity can do. There are those who believe that it isn’t even human induced, but just a natural cycle. Given several of those opinions, there are going to be plenty of people who won’t feel obliged to do anything.

    You can’t blame the elites on inaction without also blaming all of our society. Americans will do almost anything to maintain a suburban car culture, even if it comes to an obvious point that cars might have to become obsolete. Nothing drastic is going to be done here in the US until it becomes overwhelmingly obvious that drastic is the only answer.

    There are an awful lot of Americans that are comfortable with the lifestyle that has become the norm. And vast numbers of Americans will not volunteer to be the first on the block (or even the second, third, thirtieth, etc.) to give up that norm…even if they fully believe that the norm is wrong.

    There are vast numbers of Americans who are authoritarians, they follow their leaders and plenty of those leaders will not have anything to do with changing our way of life for some vague promise that global warming is real and that humanity can somehow control it by actions.

    Put me more in the camp of “global warming has already tipped and that we can’t have much effect.” Unless…something drastic happens beyond our control, say, a major worldwide epidemic that depletes our population, thereby changing habits quickly.

    But it is hard to root for massive death, so I try to do my small but truly insignificant steps on my own. My energy usage footprint is certainly smaller than most people here in the US, but compared to plenty of people in less developed parts of the world, I’m an energy hog. I’m stuck in the society I was given.

    I vote for progressive candidates (when available). I usually vote nearly all Green Party, but they don’t win. I’ve marched in protests against the Iraq War, it still goes on. I’m not stupid, I see an apathetic electorate, but I still try. Maybe the tide will turn, but I’m not betting my clothes on it.

  14. Dear Jon B.

    You have read something more and different into what I have been reporting than I meant to communicate. In any case, no offense was intended.

    Please know that I appreciate what you are saying and doing. At least to me, we appear to be virtually complete agreement about the formidable challenges before humanity as well as their potentially profound implications for the future of life as we know it on Earth.

    Where we might differ just a bit has to do with our separate estimations of the readiness, willingness and ability of humankind to save the world for coming generations.

    The tide is already turning….. and I am one who believes we are making a difference. Also, I am one of the people who is betting my life on the favorable results derived directly from our efforts.

    Sincerely,

    Steve

  15. Cokinos poses the dilemna each of us faces on a daily basis. He has resovlved it for himself in a creative, meaningful way. I don’t think I can imprve on it. We need to remember the importance of communal festivals and enjoyment, the “ecstasy” of “getting out of oneself.” Consumer “culture” rests on individuals consuming more and more stuff, and bigger. It would be a huge blow to consumer culture (and the present system we’re enthralled to or tied to) if we started enyoying ourselves, communally. In that act of enjoyment, the futility of competitive consumerism would be revealed, and we could get down to the real business of living, once the world fell apart. The seeds planted in the 60’s may yet bear new fruit. I say, bring on the music and lets dance. Who can resist the beat? We can do more to save the world by having a good time of it, than by grieving and cursing the water-wasters. And, if it turns out to be unsalvageable, at least we’d have had a good time.

  16. Steve,

    I’d say the only real difference between us is a degree of hope, yours is a bit higher than mine. I don’t believe our species is completely doomed, I just wonder if we hit rock bottom some day.

    My chief concern of human action is nuclear war which could still happen under several circumstances, the most probable being a “misunderstanding” as to oil as the world (the largest national economies) begins to covet the waning supplies. Will oil wars get out of hand? Yet, even under the worst case scenario, humans will probably survive in some fashion.

    Global warming is in a sense secondary to a future oil crisis. Global warming’s impact on the Earth would certainly change the way we live in some ways, but we could adjust. We’d move from the coasts, grow more crops in the north, etc….if of course global warming doesn’t send us into an ice age, a flip, as some have predicted.

    I wonder about human reaction as change happens. People both individually and as groups such as nations will probably react mostly out of desperation and anger. Oil production shortages will cause higher energy costs and economic problems. These continuous wars the US fights causes more economic problems nationally…we actually pay more for gasoline because of funding a military in the Middle East, via our taxes…although some of that cost is simple added to our deficit which in turn is funded by other countries, China being a major bond purchaser.

    I believe some day it’s going to catch up with the US economically. As the saying goes, when the US economy catches a cold the rest of the world gets the flu. I figure the US is going to get the flu and the rest of the world is going to get pneumonia. But sometimes a flu can be fatal and people recover from pneumonia.

    I figure that America’s superpower status is heading for a decline. Not that that is a bad thing as empires historically have rises and falls. If I could somehow be around 100 years from now, I’d probably be talking about some other world entity as the top dog.

  17. Jerry,

    We already have communal festivals. We are inundated with them. Where I live (in the Detroit metro area) we have festivals, fairs, sporting events, concerts, on and on. I’d say we are very good at having parties.

    It’s hard to draw the line at which parties are consumer culture or which are simply having fun. Although some are certainly easily labeled consumerist, such as our Woodward Dream Cruise. This event celebrates car culture as something like a million people in the Detroit area show off their classic cars by driving at 5 mph, four lanes of bumper to bumper gas guzzling in a 20 mile stretch of boulevard.

    At any rate, Americans have no problem having fun and a good time. The consumer culture is all about making oneself happy. Nearly every product I see advertised is supposed to make me happy. And since the ads are for everyone, everyone should be happy because we consume.

    Even in the depths of the depression, people sang and danced and consumed. The difference is that our economy wasn’t based on being “never fully satisfied” as our current consumer society is.

  18. jon b,
    I don’t think consumer culture can make us happy. What I’m thinking about are festivals that are participatory rather than spectator-oriented. The former, when accompanied by music and dance, tend to break down barriers of race and class. My wife and I recently went to a Zydeco Festival (Long Beach, CA). It was multi-race, class, age, and ethnicity. The music and dance literally transformed the people present. Boundaries and walls melted.

    Americans don’t know how to have fun. So they do what they’re told to have fun. They buy their way to “fun.” But they’re always left wanting. True fun, letting go of oneself, losing one’s self in the magic of the moment with others–that’s so 60’s, almost against the law.

  19. Jerry…

    You’re just stating your preference of dance and music as your entertainment choice. Plenty of people don’t like to dance and don’t care much for music. Some people like to watch cars race around an oval repeatedly. Some people like watching a baseball game. Some people like to go to state fairs. Why should you decide what other people are supposed to enjoy?

    Perhaps what bothers you is that our consumer culture likes to tell us what we should enjoy, I don’t argue with that. But I bet if you looked closely at the surroundings of that Zydeco festival you would have seen corporate sponsors and/or business advertising all promoting the singing and dancing but hoping their advertising would catch your eye.

    I’m 50 years old. I don’t play baseball anymore, but I like to watch talented baseball players perform, what’s wrong with that? I’ve never been a ballet dancer, but if I attend the ballet to watch the beauty of it, is that wrong? I never became great at any musical instrument, does that mean since I don’t play one I can’t listen to a good band or orchestra?

    The only way for me to enjoy life is to dance to Zydeco music or whatever music you deem fun? Come on! If I love to do logic problems and play chess I’m nothing but a bastard of consumer culture and I’m flawed in some way?

    Everyone has different interests and dancing and music might not be among those interests. If dancing is your way to have fun or to forget about the serious parts of society, then enjoy. I see people having fun in all sorts of ways. Do I approve of all those ways or even understand them? No. But for the most part I don’t judge too much.

    I can disapprove of auto racing as being dangerous, consumerist and a waste of an energy source, oil. Yet, if we were to run out of oil (and oil is being wasted in so many other ways besides auto racing) I’m sure people who like to participate and watch racing will find another form, electric cars maybe or a return to chariots, whatever.

    I’m not a fan of blockbuster Hollywood movies, but I enjoy a good thought provoking movie. Am I a consumerist? Of course, because the Indie film is trying to turn a profit in our consumer society. Those movies need paying viewers in their own way as a blockbuster needs consumers.

    I won’t argue that plenty of our entertainment is consumer culture out of control and would be glad to put in it the category of useless (monster truck shows and ultimate fighting are a couple that come to mind), but there are plenty of things I enjoy that aren’t dancing, (although I used to dance up a storm), I’ve changed my enjoyment preferences over the years.

    You keep mentioning a ’60s attitude, didn’t the enjoyment involve drugs in that decade? Plenty of the fun back then was actually obtained by mind altering drugs. Now, I’m not saying that’s evil or something, but if it took drugs to be able to have fun, I’m not so sure that the fun was all that positive. And drugs by the way are consumed, purchased in a market economy (albeit a black market). Nowadays, we can purchase legal drugs from doctors that make us feel good too.

    The ’60s attitude is here in the 21st century, it’s just become corporatized, advertised, and cosumerised. The ’60s was the baby boomers having fun as 20-somethings, right? Well, who do you think is running our consumer culture today? Boomers! What goes around, comes around.

    So, I’m not saying don’t dance, but as well don’t think that dancing is the only thing that makes people happy or is good for society. But dancing isn’t going to change our consumer society, not by a long shot. And you can’t force people to do something that doesn’t interest them and expect them to have fun.

    Well, I’m off to have fun. I won’t be dancing, but I will enjoy what I’m planning.

  20. jon b,
    I didn’t mean to prescribe dance as the main way for people to have fun. It’s one way. The other ways you mention are surely fine and just as legitimate. Whatever gets people talking to one another, whatever works to break down some of the boundaries that separate people–that’s what I’m keen on. State fairs are an excellent example of that. And, as you point out, they’re imbued with consumer overtones, yet they still function as fun festivals. Good point.

  21. Jerry, sorry, I guess I misunderstood you. Too often in the past I’ve heard viewpoints that seem to imagine some type of Utopian dancing that will make everything great, coming from New Agers I suppose.

    Our culture creates this anxiety toward the future, and pointing our finger at consumerism is easy to do (I do it). Not all consumerism is bad though, but we certainly we can cite plenty of examples that are over the top.

    You know consuming used to mean simply putting something into our mouth for sustenance. Then consuming meant buying things for ourselves to use and/or use up. Now it nearly means anything we come in contact with and that there is some sort of monetary exchange somewhere in the process.

    We consume music for our ears, we consume reading material for our eyes, we wear fragrances for our nose, we still consume for our taste buds and we wear certain clothes for the feel. Consuming uses all of our sense and as well is aimed at all of our senses.

    Heck, we buy and sell laws of physics. A parking deck is nothing but the purchase of time and space and bungee jumping and skiing are examples of the sale of gravity.

    In America, the champion of consumer culture, it becomes almost impossible to avoid consuming. I suppose the Amish are close to avoidance, yet they sell their wears to the culture. Very few people are totally self sufficient in our country any more.

    For most of us, it’s the onslaught of advertising that gets to us or what seems to be the most ridiculous objects being sold, for instance I heard that Paris Hilton’s trash is for sale on e-bay.

    TV, so central in our society now, is another place to get riled at consumerism. I could write long diatribes about the absurdities of consumerism that I’ve seen on the boob tube. That medium (and radio as well) has now become almost entirely a place to produce entertainment for only one purpose, advertiser dollars. But despite all the drivel there are good programs embedded in the medium.

    Little things irk me about consumerism. For instance corporate logo clothing, people pay money to purchase the clothing in order to be walking advertisements. It should be the other way around, corporations should pay us to advertise their name on the clothes.

    Or the local news teases on TV. “News at eleven coming up, learn how you can be safer in your own home…blah, blah, blah.” They take the time to advertise something that instead they could have easily just informed right then and there.

    Here’s a recent one I noticed. I attended a Detroit Tigers game last week and about midway I had forgotten the score and looked around for a scoreboard. Oh, they have plenty of scoreboards, all running advertisements at the time I wanted the score.

    The Tigers play in a corporate named venue, Comerica Park, I call it Tiger’s Park…just because a corporation paid millions to name it doesn’t mean we have to use the name. I began that practice when I saw how in Houston the Astros had named their home field Enron Field and then of course changed the name when Enron tanked. A corporate name is only good as long as it’s money is good, apparently. I think they have a new corporate name for the stadium, but I’ll not use it, “Astro’s Park” works for me.

    I read in the paper today that my city has changed a sign ordinance. Now electric signs can flash a new message every 30 seconds instead of a minute. I wish I had known about the proposal, I would have voiced the opposite…remove them entirely. Of course, I would have been nearly a lone voice in the consumer wilderness.

    These are only little irks of mine in a sea of consumerist anarchy. The irks are everywhere, the whole system is annoying but what bothers me most is that all these little aspects are considered so important to so many people. People’s incomes might depend on those flashing signs, somebody makes them, somebody sells them and the buyer attracts business with them.

    Logo clothes…how many people need those clothes sold so that they have a job? The original company’s workers, the wholesalers, the retailers, the advertising creators, the medium where the advertising is located (TV, newspaper, etc.), it goes on and on.

    We are embedded in a consumerist system, trapped even. And then even worse, it all depends on oil and natural resources that are beginning to dwindle. There will be a day that we will look back and think, “our society is less consumerist than back then.” Consumerism will trend down whether it’s forced on us (lack of oil?) or whether we decide to reject it more or whether advertising starts becoming just plain ineffective. At least that’s my opinion…long as it is.

  22. Despite what my brain tells me and my eyes show me, I believe with every “fiber of my being” that there is no way God intended for a species, gifted as Homo sapiens is, to inadvertently destroy itself and likely much of the world as we know it……by its own ‘clay’ Hand.

  23. nan wrote:…’I live in the county and so don’t have as much political influence as city folks, but seems like NO ONE can stop developers.’…

    That’s how I’m feeling too…It seems that has been happening to a lot of people for awhile…The developer’s have been allowed to build like crazy here too…And it’s always been a developers city – the city allows this…it’s the growth as god mentality, eventhough we have already been in serious water conservation mode for yrs. now…It’s about money…And the city people don’t have that much power either…It seems it’s only the one’s with money…People can change things…but they must be organized, and consistent to challenge and change city hall…

    On the edge of suburbia…My beautiful open space that I walked in, that fed me, and helped heal me is being all paved over…And will eventually look even more grey, dull and ugly than it is now…I am grief stricken…The beautiful greens, and goldens I could gaze upon and walked into are not there…and I do not recognize the place I once loved…It is uncomfortably surreal and heartwrenching…I don’t know what to do…But I am angry that, green driveways, and more beautiful eco-friendly buildings are not put up…Much of the development is wall to wall…like rats in a cage…I don’t know how the people live like that…I can’t…There is some decent design…but for the wonderful ideas out there that already exist…not enough in my book…

    At this point, I want to see codes changed, so at least when people do build, they will build something beautiful, and not so darn boring and ugly like they have been…and take into consideration, that it’s not just about extinction of species…It’s about being in, having awe and space, designing and living with beauty…and gazing upon the beauty and variety of the nature that feeds us…both physically, and soulfully…

    A community should have much more of a say in these developments that impact them so much…That is part of the change that needs to happen in city halls…

  24. While I would prefer NOT to diss politicians, many of them who are primary beneficiaries of the ‘first’ world’s political economy appear to suffer from what has been named a “nature deficit disorder.” Indeed, many too many leaders among us in the developed world seem to have lost touch not only with the natural world but also with good science and humanity. Who knows, perhaps the empire-builders and politicians and mass media moguls of the dominant, industrialized culture of conglomerates have become utterly mesmerized and generally misdirected in their relentless, unbridled pursuit of the golden calf.

    After all, we know that several hundred leaders, often serving on multiple executive committees and boards of directors in quasi-secret organizations like The Trilateral Commission, Bilderberg Group and Council on Foreign Relations, exert extraordinary influence upon politicians and minions in the mass media through their billion dollar bank accounts. They manage the world’s interlocking national economies and direct the course of economic globalization. At least to me, these leaders appear to be leading a charge that could inadvertently squash and utterly subordinate the sacred of this world to the profane………… with potentially intolerable consequences for the future of life on Earth.

    At its current scale and anticipated rate of growth, the continuous expansion of the world economy we see today may be approaching a point in human history when unbridled production, unchecked per human consumption and skyrocketing human population numbers could overwhelm the limited natural resources and frangible ecosystem services of Earth, upon which life itself depends for it very existence.

    Is it not the circumstances of unrestrained, human-driven “overgrowth” activities worldwide that need to change? Perhaps leaders are now called upon to lead by regulating the global growth of human numbers, per capita consumption and endlessly expanding production capabitities so that we find a balanced relationship with nature and, consequently, give this marvelous planetary home God has blessed us to inhabit the time it requires for self-renewal. In our time, people are dissipating more resources than can be restored by the Earth for human benefit.

    Or we could choose to stay the current “business as usual” course by maximally increasing production and recklessly dissipating limited natural resources, thereby causing economic globalization to continuously grow in a patently unsustainable way. Then distinctly human over-consumption, overproduction and overpopulation activities would commandeer remaining original wildlife habitats, massively extirpate biodiversity, degrade fragile ecosystems and, very shortly, engulf the planet, would they not?

    One primary concern of mine — that needs not to be bound up in silence — is that politicians, their billionaire club business benefactors and their minions in the mass media have themselves introduced a “code of silence” regarding what is being discussed in this blog and similarly situated vehicles of communication. They will NOT openly discuss one topic: the maintenance of the integrity of Earth’s ecosphere, its biodiversity and its natural resources. They do not speak publicly about good scientific data indicating that the current scale and rate of growth of seemingly endless economic expansion could become a patently unsustainable enterprise in the next decade of this century. Can you find public presentations by these self-proclaimed masters of the universe on the potential threats of biodiversity extinction, environmental collapse and, perhaps, human endangerment that could soon be posed by their willful determination to continue the unbridled, maximal extension of BIG business activities worldwide?

    Until now, such discussions as this one could not be maintained and, for the moment, remain marginalized from mainstream, mass media communication. Even so, the times………..they are changing, thanks to people like Scott Walker. More and more people are speaking out loudly and clearly for good science humanity and the preservation of the Earth, and being heard despite the deafening silence that still surrounds us.

    This is only a guess, but one day soon the word ECOLOGY will be spoken in mainstream, public discourse as freely, forcefully and often as the word ECONOMY. One day I believe many leaders among us will substitute the word ECOLOGY for the word ECONOMY in the following sentence.

    DO NOT DO ANYTHING THAT HARMS THE WORLD’S _______.

  25. Hope is the operative word for us and signs of it can be found in many places by the leaders of my not-so-great generation of elders if they choose to take their heads out of the sand, break through the deafening silence surrounding us, and begin to openly discuss the global challenges looming ominously before humanity.

    As I see it, THE PROBLEM is simple and has already been presented succinctly elsewhere, some years ago. Rarely is the “code of silence” regarding over-population and skyrocketing absolute global human population numbers broken by the leadership of the global political economy. But let me provide at least one crystal clear example from a leader I have met face to face and for whom I have great respect. He is Prince el Hassan bin Talal of the great country of Jordan. Of course, many other leaders assisted him in the presentation of “The Report of the Independent Comission on International Humanitarian Issues,” from which I will quote not more than a single sentence. The Commission’s entire report is over 200 pages in paperback and entitled, WINNING THE HUMAN RACE?

    One has to read carefully not to miss the following sentence on page 17,

    “The problems of over-population and rapid population increase are largely being left for future generations to tackle.”

    Humbly, I would submit to you that too many of our good leaders are not doing their best because they are avoiding their responsibilities and leading in a manner that is intellectually dishonest, ethically unwise and potentially ruinous of human and environmental health.

    The elders of my generation, especially our leaders, can do better and I trust we will.

  26. Steven gives us this conclusion from a world humanitarian report…

    “The problems of over-population and rapid population increase are largely being left for future generations to tackle.”

    Many of our problems can be summed up with a form of this statement, just fill in the blank…

    “The problems of —— are largely being left for future generations to tackle.

    We can easily fill that blank with other terms to have a largely true statement.

    1) Oil dependency.
    2) Nuclear weapons.
    3) Global Warming.
    4) War and arms reduction.
    5) The United State’s federal deficit.

    These would be among the most important issues facing this generation (particularly from an American aspect) that is being passed to the next generation without adequately making efforts NOT to turn over to future generations these issues. And there are several more issues I haven’t mentioned and can be linked to the issues I did list.

  27. Dear Jon B,

    There is nothing in your statement with which I disagree. It might be worthwhile for me to suggest that the list of global problems you present appear to be directly derived from production, consumption and propagation activities of the human species. At the current scale and anticipated growth rate of these global over-growth activities, we may be approaching a point in human history when the unbridled growth of human enterprise now overspreading the surface of Earth becomes patently unsustainable on a planet the size of our relatively, finite planetary home.

    Thanks for your comments,

    Steve

  28. Dear Jon B,

    Just for a moment consider how the mere presence of the human species on this good Earth is directly responsible for all of the global challenges you have listed as well as for the “several more issues” to which you alluded.

    If you, I and the members of the Orion Society were to develop and exhaustive list of global problems, likely to be confronted by humanity in Century XXI, I would guess that all of these problems could be attributed to the huge current scale and fully anticipated growth rate of certain soon to be unsustainable human activities.

    What about the relatively small, finite, noticeably frangible world we inhabit will likely be improved by adding 2.5 billion people to the human community between now and 2050? Please forgive me for saying that I cannot think of a single way in which having 9.2 billion people in our planetary home will be a boon to life on Earth.

    At least to me, the future of life appears to be primarily dependent upon choices human beings make now regarding the reproduction of our species.

    Sincerely,

    Steve

  29. Hi to all,

    As we begin to get hold of some of knottiest problems I have ever considered, let us remember a thought from someone most respected …..

    “No problem can be solved from the same consciousness that created it. We must learn to see the world anew.” – Albert Einstein.

    Always,

    Steve

  30. Steve,
    Now we’re getting somewhere. We’re all in the “box,” thinking the way we always have, spinning our wheels and minds in circles. We’re starting from the same consciousness which got us here to begin with. That’s a good quote from Einstein. We’ve been doing the same thing, going around in the same circles since history began. How can we stop?

  31. Dear Jerry,

    Your comments and question are beyond praise. Thank you for them.

    Yes, I do agree with you that we are in a sort of box, one that unexpectedly includes outdated, habitual thoughts which are illusory but taken to be real. We have widely shared and consensually validated certain wrongheaded ideas about the placement of humankind within the natural order of living things for so long a time that we mistake what is wrong for what is right. Even though we share a realization that this ‘box’ we inhabit contains tightly held, longstanding illusions of our own making, thankfully we also possess more adequate and reality-oriented thinking; good and unchallenged scientific evidence; and unanswerable reasoning upon which to rely: all of which indicate to us ways to a good enough future for our children and coming generations.

    The ways out of the box we have filled with illusions…..and took for real….appear to be numerous and are already visible on the far horizon. If I could simply show or tell of them, please be assured that I would let everyone know.

    Clearly, I am unprepared and poorly equipped for the work at hand…..due to my woefully inadequate communication skills.

    Perhaps the best I can do is try to point in the direction of the paths others will have to find for themselves.

    Surely, for us to speak openly of what is somehow true-as-we-see-it is vital to moving forward meaningfully together….to a new shared consciousness.

    Sincerely,

    Steve

  32. Steve,

    I hate to say this, but…

    In response to the reasons for our problems (increased population taxing the Earth system) is the obvious answer, reduce the population.

    Of course putting that goal into practice is the hard part. How do you convince the many religions that being fruitful and multiplying is against humanity’s interest? Yet it hasn’t been hard to convince them to attempt to eliminate each other through war. How typical of humans, instead of reducing population numbers the easy way (stop having so many births) we use war and genocide to only slow the population increase.

    I’d hate to think how many people the world would be trying to support without the two world wars and the many regional wars that have occurred in the 20th century and continuing into the 21st.

    And then there is starvation from drought. This of course sounds cold, but why save people that live in regions of unsustainable food production?

    See, I’m not a believer in God thus it is up to humans to solve the problems we’ve created. I don’t care really how long I live and don’t really care how long others live…in the sense that life will go on without those that die. And from I can deduce from humanity’s problems, we actually need more people dieing than being born.

    We can do it the hard way, starvation, murder, genocide, designed epidemics, or we can can do it the easy way, reduce birth rates. The easy way (in regard that it doesn’t require suffering) is going to need a shift in religious thinking to accomplish at the minimum, zero population growth. Sounds like it should be easy, but there are a lot of minds to change.

  33. Thinking outside the box?

    I don’t put too much stock into phrases like these. You know it was the neo-conservatives out of power during the Clinton Administration that were thinking “outside the box” that decided a war in Iraq was a solution to the Middle East. In their words using another newly over used phrase they wanted to create “the perfect storm” in the center of the region, that they envisioned the other nations to domino into democracies, that the US could also eliminate one dictator (Hussein) that was no longer following their lead, that they would be able to have better control as to the Carter Doctrine of oil supply as national security with military bases in Iraq.

    That so-called “out of the box” thinking became inaccurate groupthink once they achieved power.

  34. Steve,
    Thanks for the compliment. We probably have different “boxes” in mind. I’m sure there’s different sets, all of them valid. One in particular that I have in mind is the Female/Male conundrum. How/why is it a given that men rule the world? If you change the starting point (not easy in a male world), and grant the female sex an equal voice, in everything that matters, the world would evolve in a quite different direction. In the present particular trap that we’ve boxed ourselves into, it’s hopeless. As is proven time and again, in the corporate world as well as the political world, men will sooner annhilate than capitulate, whether to reason or to truth.

  35. Dear Jon B and Jerry Schaefer,

    Your thoughts about boxes are helpful. I suppose all of us are in boxes, even when we are thinking “outside the box.” A box is like a child’s play space. Boundaries have to provided. At least that is the way I am looking at boxes for the moment.

    Now I would like to say something that relates to my play space or box. Somehow, despite my poor communication skills, I hope these words regarding what human beings have forgotten contain meaning and value.

    Please consider that before we were the civilized human beings we are today, having adjusted to the truly formidable complexities of the modern world, we were human creatures in simple, God-given natural environs. Many, many hundreds of years ago we readily recognized how completely dependent the human species is upon the resources of Earth. In the course of time, as our now predominant civilization grew into its current leviathan structure, human beings began learning to forget about their virtually inextricable connection to the natural world. We came to believe that the human world we have constructed in the past several thousand years could meet all our needs. Mother Nature became an afterthought for economic powerbrokers and political leaders the world over. As one of our children has said in song recently, “Nothing from nature is good enough” for us anymore. We must have our cherries covered with chocolate.

    In our time, human beings have come to a point in history when we have gained near-dominion over the natural world. We have gone almost everywhere on the face of the Earth. We do just as we like….without regard for the practical requirements of the biophysical reality of the world we inhabit. Without having any foundation in reality, human beings have held onto and consensually validated the widely shared misperception that the Earth itself is like an eternally-providing teat at which humanity can continuously suckle. The Earth is believed by many too many people to be a certain and endless supplier of whatsoever human beings desire.

    Despite being raised in different families, towns and nation-states as well as having different languages, religions, social norms and values, and cultural mores, we gain a personal identity from these and other distinctly human affiliations. Institutions such as these comprise what many call “the human world.” We pay careful attention to what goes on in this human world when compared to the attention we pay to nature. Afterall, our identities are mostly derived the connections within the human world.

    Unfortunately, perhaps calamitously, we have learned to forget “the natural world” in which we have evolved and upon which we remain, even to this very day, utterly dependent.

    And herein resides a problem. We have learned too well to forget about human creatureliness and to ignore the physical limitations imposed upon the human species by our relatively small, finite, noticeably frangible planetary home. Adamantly, relentlessly, unrealistically, we have mistakenly pursued certain distinctly human overgrowth activities now overspreading the surface of Earth. At their current scale and fully anticipated growth rate, unrestrained human consumption of resources; unbridled and endless expansion of the global economy; and unchecked, skyrocketing absolute global human population numbers could have profound, even castastrophic, implications for the future of life and the integrity of Earth.

    Here and now, I would like to suggest in the clearest and strongest possible terms that the time has come for the human species to re-establish its connectedness, its timeless affiliation, to the natural world. If we choose to pay as much attention to, and provide as much care for, EARTH’S ECOLOGY as we have paid the MAN-MADE ECONOMY, then the pressing global challenges that loom ominously before humanity on the far horizon would surely be resolved in a timely fashion.

    Sincerely,

    Steve

  36. The walls of the box that constrain us are layered with cultural paradigms that condition how we think, how we define reality. We have been conditioned to view our existence and reality from a linear and dualistic perspective. Eistein’s advice, if taken seriously, would require a radical departure from our usual linear assumptions about reality. Until one is willing to actively question conditioned methods of linear logic and reason, it’s just the same old war between opposites.

  37. Dear A. E. Foster,

    Glad to have you as a participant in this discussion. Of course, I mostly agree with you.

    Linear thinking and either/or thinking are familiar to those of us in the predominant culture.

    What I would like to add here is that there is nothing that prevents human beings from learning to think exponentially and multi-dimensionally.

    This is only a guess, but I suppose this learning is not difficult to acquire once people begin to widely share their experiences of the world in these new ways.

    Who knows, perhaps such things as potential threats to the future of life and to the integrity of Earth will provide sufficient support for us to choose necessary changes in our thinking and, in other ways, to respond ably to requirements of practical reality in the world God has blessed us to inhabit.

    Always, with thanks,

    Steve

  38. Steve, Thanks for commenting. You said: “Linear thinking and either/or thinking are familiar to those of us in the predominant culture.” I find that not to be the case generally. My observation is that people might be minimally familiar with the concept of their polarized conditioning, but are unable/unwilling/uninterested in getting beyond closed minded conditioning. Why? because we enjoy the battle, the contest, the tension that fortifies our separateness, our individual identities. The whole point behind Einstein’s work was pointing to the relative nature of physical reality. Our conditioned assumptions might lead to evolving a consciousness beyond our current boundaries, but then, that contradicts Einstein’s advice to think differently. If you don’t question your perceptions, but only assume they are true…then consciousness stagnates in its assumptions.

  39. Dear A.E. Foster,

    It means a great deal that you are engaged now.

    It may be that I understand you and Einstein; but, then again, I may not grasp what either one of you is reporting. Even so, I want to add to the discussion what follows, with thanks to you, Jon B, Jerry Schaeffer, Scott Walker and the Orion community.

    Regardless of how long a time a culture, even a predominant culture, maintains a certain shared consciousness or a “condition of mind” based upon longstanding, culturally-derived transmissions, surely it is not too late………never too late……. to change our ways of thinking and behaving, in keeping with the best available scientific evidence. This is doable.

    Questioning cultural conditioning is vital because illusions are embedded in some of these transmissions that are mistakenly accepted as adequate presentations of reality.

    Perhaps you and others will help me by considering three things:

    1. That questioning of close-mindedness and ages-old cultural conditioning is woefully inadequate and too often misdirected; and

    2. Because I am one of the old-timers who believe humankind “is the measure of all things,” you will not be surprised that I fully expect the human community to survive, thrive and go on.

    3. As I see things, only the heirs of Ozymandias among us can ruin the wondrous prospects for the human species on Earth. Not even for one moment have I believed that the self-proclaimed masters of the universe will ‘succeed’ in their fanatical pursuits to deny their utter dependence on adequate resources and ecosystem services of Earth and to completely subjugate the planetary home into which God has blessed our lives.

    Always,

    Steve

  40. Steve,
    I can’t say humankind is the measure of all things, but I can certainly say humankind is obsessed with measuring things. Heirs of Ozymandias? Oh they’re just another group of starved a-tension seekers. I’ll tell you though, it seems to be that there is a difference between seeking stimulation and nourishment. If you’re biologically integrated you get nourished, but if you over indulge (over identify) with the stimulation from your thoughts you get depleted. The Grief mentioned in the article is basically an overindulgence of thinking about what has happened or might happen. That overindulgence can cause a biological disconnect and I think that is what Cokinos is inadvertently demonstrating with his essay.

  41. Dear A.E. Foster,

    I think I am understanding you. But let me see if I have got one thing correct.

    The idea of the dualism between nourishment and a-tension/stimulation is new to me. Thank you for it.

    From your perspective, would it be correct to say that the insatiable pursuit of a-tension/stimulation is overindulgence, leading to Grief and, in our time, Colossal Ruin; whereas, the steady pursuit of nourishment such as can be found in good science, biological connected, better understanding the world we inhabit, and more adequately assigning a “place” for the human species within the natural order of living things is something different, leading to Hope and, in our time, A Chance for Survival of Life as WE Know It?

    Would you say the insatiable, patently unsustainable, seemingly endless pursuit of a-tension/stimulation could lead to less energy to help the world along, with the result that humankind is lead down a “primorse path” to precipitating the mass extinction of biodiversity, the reckless dissipation of limited resources, the irreversible degradation of global ecosystems, and the permanent impairment of Earth as a fit place for human habitation?

    Given the recognizable, understandable scientific research of the primary “human factor” that appears as an evident driving force resulting in looming global challenges, already visible on the far horizon, would it be correct to suppose the activities of the human species that are giving rise to certain global problems such as global warming are subject to necessary change, the kind of human behavior change following from a different consciousness?

    I believe human beings can solve whatsoever the problems we have created by thinking, judging, and willing to do things differently.

    Thanks again,

    Steve

  42. Hey Steve,

    You wrote: I believe human beings can solve whatsoever the problems we have created by thinking, judging, and willing to do things differently.

    That happens sometimes.

  43. Hi and thanks, yet again, A.E. Foster,

    Would you agree the first time humnaity fails to solve the problems on Earth that WE create could be the last time we fail? At least to this point in time, it looks to me as if humankind has an unblemished record of achievements.

    Of course, past prosperity is no guarantee of favorable outcomes in the future; however, I am placing my faith in humankind.

    As you are likely aware, quite a large number of people, inside and outside of science, have suggested that the human experiment of the 21st century reminds them of the first and last voyage of the Titanic.

    If, indeed, humankind finds itself in command of the passenger ship, “Century XXI Human Experiment,” and also has good, virtually irrefutable scientific evidence that this ship could soon strike the iceberg, already visible on the far horizon, would you agree that reasonable and sensible people immediately open discussions regarding a change in course?

    Or are people better served by maintaining a code of silence, accelerating the ship’s speed, reinforcing the ship by making the it larger, and staying the current course….steady as it goes?

    As ever,

    Steve

  44. Hi Steve,
    In answer to your questions:

    #1 – no
    #2 – Who are reasonable or sensible people?
    #3,4,5,6 – I don’t know.

    A.E. Foster

  45. Well Steve,

    The problem (mostly in the U.S.) is that those who control (the rich and powerful) the things that cause global warming, etc. are not interested in fixing it. Those are the “reasonable and sensible people” that are not going to change if they don’t have to, they are the elites having become rich off the resource laden Earth.

  46. I really appreciate Chris Cokinos article. I can relate especially to what he expresses in the last few paragraphs:

    “Here’s what I know: I know that when you find yourself free of the poisons that too much angst can cultivate, then something marvelous happens….”

    “How can this happen, this letting-go and holding-on all at once? This doing that isn’t striving? This right work that is calm? Lao-Tzu once gave us hints. But, really, it’s hard to say, hard to say. Maybe it happens when you see—I mean really see— …”

    “Just now, beneath willow trees casting their summer snow, I set aside books and memories and fears simply to watch whatever happens in the branches, to watch cloud shadows on the Bear River Range of Paleozoic sedimentary rock, to watch the river pass on, as it always will, until it doesn’t. Such time beneath the willows does not flood away hope or outrage or action or exhaustion or grief or guilt or lust or love, but puts me deeply in time so those things come and go, as they must, seeds on water.”

    To me, his expressions in these last few portions of the article are an example of authentic wisdom. By setting his fear aside he becomes present, connected in a way that allows him to experience, accept, appreciate, the reality of all things coming and going.

    It’s awareness-recognizing, not conceptually, but experientially, the mystery of something timeless in time. To put it in words just reduces this experience to a concept, makes it a shadow, a reflection of the moon on still water. But perhaps this is the work, maybe the purpose of the human spirit…to share, to show the timeless in time, revealing the way ‘to know’ beyond the angst and fear generated by just seeing the shadow the concept. It’s not just survival mode tactics-reactions.
    Life is more than that for me.

    A.E. Foster

  47. Jon B,

    I suppose you have put your finger on at least one of the real human-driven tragedies. Can you think of a time in recorded history when a single generation like mine has so efficiently ravaged the finite resources of the Earth, so conspicuously consumed what it has taken, so polluted the environment and left so little of what is sacred for its own children and coming generations? And, of all things, we call ourselves masters of the universe and the greatest generation while we religiously pursue this “primrose path,” one that mainly diminishes life, degrades the planet and glorifies the profane.

    Sincerely,

    Steve

  48. Dear A.E. Foster,

    You try to speak of something I would call both ineffable and sublime. Whether I have the capacity for the experience you describe is a question for me to ponder, perhaps, for a long time. Please know of the complete respect I have for you and anyone else who communicates as you do.

    Sincerely,

    Steve

  49. Dear Steve,

    I’d like to suggest you most certainly have the capacity for the experience Cokinos describes. It is all around you in every moment and breath.

    The introduction for this discussion asks:

    “How do you cope when the weight of the fate of the world seems to be too much?”

    It’s an interesting question and I think the answer is in the question and how it is asked. When I saw this question, other questions immediately flooded my mind; What is the fate of the world? Who knows the fate of the world? Sure, with all the evidence in our minds we assume a certain fate and this mere assumption is a heavy weight indeed.

    Our simple “acts of assuming an undesirable future” might or will come as a result of human ignorance is what is so heavy, full of fear, anxiety and for some…anger. There are millions of people around the world who have been dedicated to this assumption for decades and have worked tirelessly to change it. And their dedication is paying off, but who knows the fate of the world, really?

    Who knows how much change might have occurred, or could occur if all our dedication wasn’t so tinged with anxiety, anger and fear? We assume it is by force and polarization that changes are made…. everything ends, even ways of thinking like that must become extinct.

    The questions I’ve been asking myself for some time now have been; Are my fear and assumptions of a future that I don’t/can’t know, running my life? Is foisting guilt and fear upon others an effective motivator for changing what people value? According to Bush…yes.

    I am in agreement with Cokinos. Something marvelous happens when I free myself of the poisons that too much angst cultivates. It is then and only then, that I am open to what cannot be expressed in time, but includes, connects, unifies, all that’s gone and anything yet to come.

    A.E. Foster

  50. Steve,

    Couldn’t agree more.

    And not only do “the powers that be” control what is done they control what doesn’t get done. They don’t even worry about destruction because they make zillions cleaning up and rebuilding the destroyed, creative destruction with a dollar sign.

    That they rebuild it in their own way isn’t a surprise either. Little to no thought is given to rebuilding in an ecological pleasing way.

    There is this American economic money trap that traps most of that money at the top. It’s almost a conspiracy, but our brand of democracy and capitalism can breed corruption rackets that sweep in all the money. Currently it is the cabal of the military, industrial complex that includes K-Street, oil corporations universities, think tanks and Congress. These gangs and cabals ride roughshod over most Americans, playing loose with the laws and helping to make the system work for them.

    Power corrupts and the losers in this type of world are numerous. From the poor in drought nations to the environmentalist, help is not on its way from the crooks running the show. Most Americans understand this, but at this point haven’t done enough about it. The rich get richer but the Earth gets more messed up.

  51. jon b., aefoster, and Steve,
    jon b.:I take issue with your statement, “Most Americans understand this….” (the way that crooks are fleecing the nation). Most Americans are addicted to an Alice-in-Wonderland version/vision of the good-ole-U.S.A. which can do no wrong. And why wouldn’t they be? it’s taught for 12 years to every child in the country. No one really wants to admit the truth: that we live and have been living in a fantasy-land in this country for the last 50 years. Even Steve subscribes to it to an extent (we’re well-meaning people and we will see our way through this calamitous time).
    Yes, we may get through it, but there’s no guarantee, and the way it looks now, I’m not so sure…jon b. is right: money and power is on the march. Who can stop it?
    I appreciate asfoster’s comments, bringing back Cokinos’ basic question and the way he’s dealt with it: to me that’s the core issue. If we get so bogged down, weighted with the mire evident everywhere, we won’t see clearly the beauty before our eyes and take in necessary nourishment.

    To me, the fundamental duality, and the radical change in consciousness tht is needed is staring us right in the face. It’s also the reason we find ourselves in the present predicament: WOMEN. Once women were sidelined by civilization (back there at the beginning), we found ourselves on a war-like path which has continued to the present day where we find ourselves on the brink. If women were given their rightful place (that in itself would entail a change in consciousness), if they had an equal voice, the world would be unrecognizable from its present product/profit/disaster-driven monstrosity.
    Maybe the real problem is the male
    addiction to the status quo, our fear of admitting our fear. Yes, of women (for starters).

  52. Dear Jerry,

    Your comments about the empowerment of women are spot on, I believe. Somehow, we have got to find ways for our female population to immediately exercise their God-given talents in the global effort to save the world as we know it. Patriarchy has been shown to be insufficient when it comes to assuring the future of sustainability in our time. If male hierarchical dominance continues much longer, I fear for the collapse of either world civilization or Earth’s frangible biophysical balance and orderliness…….or both.

    Perhaps it would be helpful to comment on securing a future for humankind so that we fulfill our duty to the children, who can then enjoy the benefits of the wondrous world my generation of elders was given by our parents. It would be a castastrophe if a single generation ruined the world by precipitating the mass extirpation of biodiversity, the irreversible degradation of the environment, the reckless dissipation of Earth’s finite resources, and the endangerment of humanity itself.

    What I am trying to understand is what human beings can do in the extraordinary circumstances that have appeared so unexpectedly before humanity in these early years of Century XXI. It is as if I inadvertently “fell down a rabbit-hole” around the turn of the century. Since 2001 I have been trying to raise awareness regarding humanity’s all-too-human predicament. The Club of Rome calls the predicament the “world problematique.” Raising awareness is all that I have been able to see to do. Simply to find myself rather late in life in such an unforeseen situation, and to have made so little forward movement with the “AWAREness Campaign on the Human Population” over several years, has been completely unanticipated. For most of a lifetime I have believed that Alice’s “Wonderland” was another world, not the one in which I lived.

    I am one who is haunted by the leviathan-like scale and explosive rate of growth of certain unbridled, distinctly human activities now overspreading the surface of our planetary home. Given the astonishing gifts God has bestowed upon the human species, it seems legitimate to believe that we can at least try and deploy well what is God-given. For example, we could choose to receive the education found in the lessons from Ozymandias rather than confront directly the same experiences of this “king of kings.” We could take the better way and not commit the calamitous errors of Ozymandias; or else we can go along as we are now following the example of the “king of kings” and, by so doing, taking the hard way and learning firsthand what it means to perpetrate the “colossal wreckage” of another great civilization.

    As ever with thanks,

    Steve

  53. What do you think it will take to break the silence faithlessly perpetrated by “the hollow men, the stuffed men,” as well as to gain the attention of these principal wreckers of the earthly home God blesses us to inhabit, these self-proclaimed masters of the universe who worship the golden calf and the many sources of power derived from it and it alone?

  54. Steve,

    This is only my perspective, but I think it is a futile waste of energy to expect “global solutions.” And it doesn’t really matter how often, how acrimonious or passionately you define a few villains, unless you are looking them in the eye, face to face. The villain has a face, he is human too, he’s your neighbor. You may be your neighbor’s villain, but until you meet him on common ground, all your passion is a waste of energy.

    In a previous post you stated; “What I am trying to understand is what human beings can do” – Practically speaking, it is a more nourishing and fruitful approach to understand what “you” can do and do it. When you nourish yourself, you nourish everything around you. As I mentioned in a previous post, you have to know the difference between stimulation and nourishment. It may be stimulating to complain, criticize and judge, but it is rarely nourishing.

    God may have blessed us with Creation as you suggest, but Heaven comes when all the energy it takes to complain and fear, is used to generate gratitude for Creation.

    “A wise man can see more from the bottom of a well than a fool can from a mountain top.”

    A.E.Foster

  55. Jerry, Let me try to convince you about what I say about “most people…”

    Consider the polls…Americans give approval rating for President Bush at about 28%, Congress is at about 25%, the media (which used to be below the first two) is only about 35 or 40%.

    Consistently, year after year, Americans believe in a plurality about CEO pay being far too high, that we should have some sort of national health care plan, that the Ira War is essentially a mistake and a lost war.

    People know that the middle class is shrinking and that the super rich are getting richer. People are aware that things are out of balance in so many ways.

    Jerry, the problem is that you are correct, we have virtually no democracy. What we do have isn’t being used, or doesn’t work. People are run down and are in this “running in place” existence that doesn’t really allow for rising up and taking control, which in a democracy would be about voting and activists actions. Not quite enough people are ready to scream Network style, “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore.”

    And yes, the common media has a part to play in our “zoned out anger.” But so does commercialism. But I do believe that most people (say about 65 to 75%) realize that they are partially mesmerized by the culture and would like things to change. Some of that “most people” percent would naturally include those fully awake about the brainflushing and are doing things about it as best they can in the tilted system.

  56. Dear A. E. Foster,

    Evidently, my communication skills are failing me again. I am not meaning just to “complain” or express “fear.” Those words are not nearly strong enough, loud enough or clear enough to objectively correlate with the fury and horror arising within me when contemplating the nest of global challenges that our children could face, perhaps soon. I am referring to formidable problems occurring worldwide, that are visible to humanity in our time, but my not-so-great generation of leading elders are refusing to acknowledge, let alone address. Such an example, even though it is widely advocated and adopted by many too many in my generation, does not make it exemplary behavior.

    Let me try again.

    A virtual mountain of scientific evidence makes plain to our leaders that formidable global challenges exist. At least to me, it is simply unacceptable to ignore those challenges and leave them to be dumped into the laps of our children. Perhaps something is not quite right about the way our leaders are assuming their responsibilities and duties?

    Your idea regarding to the “generation of gratitude for Creation” is fine; however, its wholistic embrace of silence, passivity and resignation is unbearable.

    Stubborn, countless denials by many of today’s leaders of the voices of reason, good science, common sense and change, in favor of relentlessly pursuing a course of endless human over-growth activities, the certain ones that threaten life as we know it and the integrity of Earth now, are not behaviors of exemplars, I believe.

    Sincerely,

    Steve

  57. Dear Steve,

    Your communication skills are fine. I do however, question your comprehension skills. So I will ask you this question. What are you personally doing in your life that (besides talking about it) demonstrates a practical observable solution to the problems you are talking about?

    In other words: I hear your talk, but what’s your walk?

    A.E. Foster

  58. Dear A. E. Foster,

    Your assistance is needed. I do not understand what you mean when you question my “comprehension skills.” Any impressions from you are sure to be valued.

    While it is not my inclination to talk about how and what it is I do to “walk the talk,” this instance is exceptional, for sure. In my very next comments for this discussion, I will respond to this query.

    The gravamen of this discussion could be ahead of us. I look forward to the opportunities created here by you, Jon B, Jerry S, Scott Walker and the Orion community to continue this uncommon sharing of thought and experience.

    As ever,

    Steve

  59. Dear A. E. Foster,

    Please understand that I am dividing the response to your question regarding “walking the talk” into two parts. In order to properly answer the question, an acknowledgement is necessary. That comes first.

    PART I:

    It embarrasses me to declare that I have been suffering for a long time with a serious pathological condition. Others have ‘diagnosed’ the malady, but referred to it differently. This disorder of mine to which I want to draw attention is called a “nature deficit disorder.” I was not born with it. Of that I am certain. The disorder seems to have quite early insinuated itself slowly and pervasively into my being through a process many call acculturation. At some point in early childhood I lost a sense of myself as a creature of a natural world. For many years thereafter I walked about on the surface of our earthly home with my focus rivetted to a kind of human-designed and -driven dream-world that most people around me call the real world. Not until quite late in my life cycle, did I become aware, once again, of the world I had somehow forgotten and of which I had lost sight.

    It is the world into which I was born, the one I forgot about and lost, that I will talking about in my next contribution to this discussion. Not only will I will talking about this lost world, I will also be commenting on how it is I walk in it.

    Just as a preview, let me mention when I “walk the talk” now, I see my feet as made of clay as well as my characteristic, distinctly human creatureliness. What is also evident to me now is that the foundation for my feet is not a flat planet without limitations. As I presently see our planetary home, it is relatively small, finite and noticeably frangible. It is not a world in which all human wishes and desires can be eternally met. The Earth is not a cornucopia, not a teat-like maternal presence that gives and gives and gives without end. Because the Earth is round and bounded, it has limits. Despite what the process of acculturation ‘taught’ me about this world as a place in which human beings can live without regard to limits — specifically LIMITS TO GROWTH of human species numbers and human economic enterprise now overspreading the Earth — such lessons appear to me as mostly fanciful and illusory now.

    This first part, like the one to follow, could each be a tome. There is that much to say. Let me simply conclude for the moment by saying that my task in Part Two of my response to your question will be to more adequately distinguish BETWEEN what is real about the world we inhabit AND what about the widely shared and consensually validated acculturated view of this world, held by many too many people, is based in magical thinking, contrived logic and specious ideas regarding the way the world in which we live works as well as about the “placement” of the human species within the natural order of living things.

    Sincerely,

    Steve

  60. Steve,

    Could be I’m whistling in the wind here, but my impression of your comments is that you place an extraordinary measure of responsibility for the problems of the world and solutions, on a few faceless leaders. As if changing their minds is the answer.
    And although I do agree that a changed mind is a good thing, I’d like to point out that waiting around for a few leaders to change the world will never satisfy the anxiety and urgency I read in your comments.

    My experience is more aligned with Cokinos in that “I do what I can without going crazy”. I’ve personally planted over 3000 native hardwoods (so far) along a stretch of waterway in an effort to improve and preserve the life of my local watershed. My partner and I almost never drive our car (less than 2000 mi. per year) but walk, ride our bicycles or take public transportation. We support local businesses, farmers, and use consume products produced with health and sustainability in mind, I sit on a community board to promote and educate the public on “green building” and sustainable urban development.

    These are just a few examples of my lifestyle, but like Cokinos, I also indulge in a number of contradictions, knowing full well I am as responsible for the biosphere’s problems as those I find it convenient to criticize. Nevertheless, I don’t burden my spirit with the angst of what the future might be, but instead, focus on appreciating the fact that I am here now, making immediate changes for what I believe is good for here and now. I don’t burden myself with whether global figureheads are making decisions that satisfy me, because I can make my own decisions, immediately, personally, right here, right now.

    The world is changing right here, I see positive changes everyday. I can’t, for the life of me, find any practicality in hoping for some global quick fix. Leaders come and go, sometimes good, sometimes bad, but I don’t depend on them to do for me what I can do for myself, today, right now, right here. It may seem trite, but local choices will eventually lead to global change. You can think or speak about global problems, but from where I sit, that’s not actual activism, it’s just conceptualism.

    People need to know what they can do. The most powerful activism moves things beyond concepts to actual practice. Like Wendell Berry said: “A change of heart or of values without a practice is only another pointless luxury of a passively consumptive way of life.”

    Talking about doing something is fine, it’s stimulating, but it’s not the same as doing what you talk about. Right now I need to tend my vegetable garden.

    A.E. Foster

  61. jon b.
    I agree: most people are aware of the disastrous Iraq war and of the terrible inequality between the pay of the CEO’s and the workers. BUT they don’t know and don’t want to know what’s behind it, that the Iraq debacle is pretty much business-as-usual (people are against it for the wrong reason: becasue it is failing). As for the pay structure, most Americans are against capping CEO’s pay, unlike Europeans. That’s because our brains are in the third cycle of rinse-dry.

    IN short, we’re in Plato’s cave. All we see are the reflected mirrors of refracted images that our leaders allow us to see. The beautiful light of day exists outside. If we were allowed to actually see, taste and revel in the beauty outside the cave-to see the light, to be human-our leaders would be running for cover. It sounds like you got outside the cave. Most people don’t know the way out, or, worse, don’t even know there is an “out.”

  62. Jerry…

    I just don’t think you are giving the population enough credit. Even on a whole host of environmental issues polling shows we care about the environment. Most people (which is a terrible term for about 55% or better) accept global warming science.

    The problem is that studies show that most people tend to be authoritarians (at least in America). In other words, they believe in an authoritarian leadership structure. An authoritarian is either a person who wants to run things or a person who wants other authoritarians to run things (to play follow the leader).

    So what I’m saying is that there is plenty of awareness to what our society is and is becoming but that the inclination is to let politicians decide how to address things. Recognizing that authoritarian impulse and acting outside that impulse is what is needed. This was done in the 1960’s or back in the progressive era.

    Having said that, I’m not sure what can really be done. I’ve posted before that I’m not confident that anything we do now for global warming isn’t “too little, too late.” And I’m sure I’m not the only one that feels this way.

    People are also “stuck” in the current society. Where I live transportation is nearly entirely by car. More than 5 million people in my region depend on the car for their jobs and for personal use. It would take a tremendous amount of change toward mass transit for my region to become unstuck with the car.

    And the list is long of changes that need to be made politically for change to make a difference. The first change would need to be a rejection of the current authoritarian structure or at least a changing of the guard within that structure. I mean let’s face it, until after the 2008 presidential election, nothing is going to change. And we had better elect someone who is willing to not do politics as business as usual. And if that scenario doesn’t happen, then we have to wait another four years or even eight years or…

    My point is that there is a recognition that things aren’t right, but that there is difficulty in changing the system. Can we really do something about problems of Earth shaking consequence in a system that tends to reward the status quo and marginalize efforts to change that status quo?

    People recognize that the system is broken and have become disenchanted with the political structure so have either become activists (working outside the system) complainers (like myself), complacent (accepting what the system gives), or have plain dropped out of the political system (we are lucky to get 50% of registered voters to vote in elections, participation is actually worse when figuring in those who never even register to vote).

    The status quo wins because the system favors them when those opposed to the status quo have little recourse for change. It’s going to take a political revolution or some day we will have to experience a people’s revolution.

  63. Dear A. E. Foster,

    From what I learned in your last posting, it is already clear that you are a much better conservationist/environmentalist than I.

    This is not the “Part Two” response to your “walking the talk” question. What follows is taken from an August 15th letter that was published in the Chapel Hill (NC) Newspaper this week. I add it now because it extends a point made in my last posting with which you seem to be having difficulty.

    ………….Too many politicians and corporate CEOs are ignominiously disregarding consistent and overwhelming scientific evidence of global warming and other pernicious forms of climate change. Everyone understands the importance of technology in addressing global problems that are looming before humanity. What is woefully inadequate, what is unconscionable, is the dearth of reasonable and sensible leadership by those who have assumed 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 become patently unsustainable on a relatively small, finite, noticeably frangible planet the size of Earth.

    Perhaps now is the time for national leaders to follow the wisdom…… by at least acknowledging “a nest of world problems,” the reality of which most leaders remain in denial. Given the probability that certain clearly identifiable global problems can be expected to fall into the laps of our kids, it appears somehow not quite right both to willfully leave these problems unattended and, even more disturbing, to fail in the exercise of our duty to warn the children: a duty to warn them of potential dangers to life as we know it and to the integrity of Earth.

    Sincerely,

    Steve

  64. jon b. wrote:
    “The status quo wins because the system favors them when those opposed to the status quo have little recourse for change.”

    There are plenty of recourses from my perspective. In reality, people are only stuck because they simply choose not to take a life affirming recourse. They are in love with the recourse of excuses. What I find especially egregious are excuses couched in a kind of pseudo intellectual analysis that appear quite reasonable, but are nonetheless, just excuses to justify identifying oneself as a powerless victim. That behavior is how I would describe an addict.

    Whether anything is “too little, too late” is irrelevant. The way I look at it, if I have a heartbeat I’m doing something anyway, might as well follow what my heart beats for. That’s my status quo.

    A.E. Foster

  65. Steve,

    I appreciate your comments. Money and image (in that order) are what influences the people you are talking about because it is how they define themselves. Wealth is their power and their goal, and from that they get their image. The only way they can care about what you want them to care about is if they can see how it adds or threatens their wealth and image. They don’t care about your words as much as they care about your money. You can admonish them and preach to them all you want, but if you keep giving them your money, your words are like raindrops on a whale’s back.

    I recommend it is more effective to influence one follower in a leader’s ranks, than to expect the leader to change. Every follower is a leader when he/she chooses not to follow. It’s the domino effect, eventually the leader and what the leader represents lose influence, because the followers are no longer supporting what gives the leader power.

    In my view, the most direct impact I have on our problem, is how I choose to live my life. My lifestyle, for the most part, does not support what most of those in positions of economic and political power want me to support.

    How did I change? Who influenced me? I can assure you it was not any person in a position of public leadership. It was the example of my neighbor down the road, a niece, a nephew, a coworker, just ordinary people making simple choices to live differently.

    I was influenced by their example, but I had to make my own choices. Everyone makes their own choices. To our detriment, it has become popular to scapegoat others for the choices we make.

    My grandpa used to use the following metaphor for solving problems: “You can’t find the needle in the haystack by standing around taking about the haystack. It’ll just get bigger.”

    A.E. Foster

  66. A.E. Foster…

    You know I’ve done the activist thing, been to protests, worked for third party candidates, vote Green Party all the time. I’ve done the personal things, I’ll pick up garbage in the middle of a metropolis while others are throwing it on the ground. Has any of it made me feel better, not really, I guess, who knows. I could go on and on about the little things that I do on a daily basis to try to change the world but don’t expect the world to change and hardly care if it does.

    But, I’ve gotten to a point that all of it is irrelevant. I would not shed one tear if humanity ceased to exist or population numbers fell by 99%. The Earth would rejoice as would many species.

    I don’t completely agree with you about “excuses.” They come in many forms and plenty of them are simply being realistic. And everything that happens to anyone has a history of why it happened, looking back at why something happened and assessing that is “making excuses”, we all do it. And plenty of us vow to change and then do the same thing again. It’s not addiction, it’s a pattern or learned behavior which can be hard to alter even when recognizing that our brain was wired or trained a certain way.

    Everyone is addicted to things and sometimes think they are victims. Even so-called good things we repeatedly do is an addiction. Riding a bike instead of driving a car because a person feels they are being good Earth citizens is as much as an addiction as driving the car. The biker is just making excuses “I’m being environmental” when that bike riding may have no impact on the big picture. The biker justifies the addiction as being “better” than the drivers and in turn becomes addicted to the attitude. People can become addicted to their own thoughts.

    But I define addiction differently. I’m more strict about it. An addiction must be something that is difficult to stop doing and that harms the person directly and that the person does have some sort of ability to change despite the difficulty. For instance, we know some types of mental illness can cause a person to repeatedly bang their heads against the wall, but the ability to change isn’t there. But an alcoholic could get to that same point, yet has some sort of ability to try to change.

    Mere compulsive hobbies I won’t call addiction but others would. Some things people do they realize they are “addicted” but like it so much they don’t want to stop.

    Shopaholics like shopping, so what.
    Gamblers like gambling, so what. And whatever excuses they use, again, so what. As long as they aren’t causing harm to others, they can have their compulsion as far as I’m concerned. I don’t look down on addictions because we are all addicted to several things (good or bad) and we all have excuses for them, no one is excluded. Heck, there are people addicted to support groups and therapists to try to end some addiction. And one addiction virtually everyone has in common is believing their thoughts and ideas are the correct ones while other peoples aren’t.

    Per biking. I find it interesting that as industrial nations begin to promote biking, countries that were huge on biking like China are converting to driving, the world is gaining nothing.

  67. jon b

    My impression of your comments is that you rationalize everything into meaninglessness; i.e.

    “don’t expect the world to change and hardly care if it does. But, I’ve gotten to a point that all of it is irrelevant. I would not shed one tear if humanity ceased to exist or population numbers fell by 99%. The Earth would rejoice as would many species.”

    It is only my impression, but you appear to be entertaining a kind of fatalist-nihilism. Which I think you also might define as realistic.

    First off, you won’t be around to shed a tear in your scenario of the future. It is also likely most of the species you imagine might be rejoicing in our demise, will also be going when we do.

    What’s your point and why are you writing in this discussion?

    On the one hand you say “An addiction must be something that is difficult to stop doing and that harms the person directly” then you say “so what” to addictions that do cause harm, but then say “As long as they aren’t causing harm to others, they can have their compulsion as far as I’m concerned.” What these comments reveal to me is that you believe you can cause harm to your own life in a way that will have no effect on any other part of life.

    Generally, I think you are confusing your assumptions about a future as if they are fact. In other words, you are living in the future, not the present. And you are making things you see in the present (China’s development for example) mean riding a bike is futile, as if the future is set.

    China will do what they do. Today, I will ride my bike.

  68. jon b. (et alii.)
    Do you think we’re reaching the limits of this discussion? 70 is not bad. Though our perspectives are quite different, I think we’re in the same ballpark. Roughly.

    Yes it may take a people’s revolution, but we’re no where near that today. Our best hope was the 60’s, but the fresh air that wafted in was purchased by the corporate world, re-packaged, and sold back at exhorbitant prices.

    I agree with jon b.: things are so out of whack that I don’t see any hope, yet I have to live my life as if there is hope. I don’t have a choice about it: that’s just me. The people who run this country (and their coounterparts in other parts of the world) are only interested in continuing their power and control, whatever the cost. One life, a 100, 1000, million–makes no difference. Corporations have to make money by law. They don’t have to respect or preserve life. Bush, Hitler, Mussolini, Nixon, Reagon, Stalin, Putin, Pinochet, any number of African despots today–they’re all the same (throw in the neocons and the heads and boards of corporations for good measure). That’s what we’re up against.
    The status quo is so entrenched that it will probably take a giant tsumani or two, or a 50 foot rise in sea level to shake things up.

    Isn’t it astounding that we’re bringing about our own physical destruction (of our home), purposefully it has to be said, and that that may be the only way to bring us to our senses! Pretty amazing when you think about it. Human beings are a queer lot. To think what we could have had….Indeed did have at one time, before homonegization set in.

  69. Dear Friends,

    This is not the Part Two response to the question about “walking the talk.”

    For the very first time in my relatively long life, but too limited experience, I have this idea that we are beginning, just beginning, to meaningfully get hold of a predicament more simple and more complex than any I have ever imagined.

    As for the importance of this endeavor and the necessity for its continuation by every person with a capacity for such discussion, I cannot find words. My words literally get stuck in the threshold of language itself.

    Perhaps silence presents itself in our time as one of our most formidable enemies, one to which many too many are willing to capitulate.

    I would submit that now is not the time for anyone to stop adding comments to the discussion. On the other hand, what could be helpful are more voices, many more voices.

    Thanks to all,

    Steve

  70. Dear Friends,

    As a first of a two-step thought experiment, please imagine for a moment that climate change is not more than a symptom of a looming problem, not the problem itself, and that at least one of the primary causes of certain pernicious and intensifying effects of climate change is the current huge scale and fully anticipated growth rate of absolute global human population numbers.

    The second step calls for your careful consideration of an apparently unforeseen technical solution to the global human overpopulation problem from Jack Alpert, Ph.D., which follows,

    “…………… I have found a behavior (that if implemented) would be powerful enough to prevent extinction of the human experiment. I have even come to a plan for implementing it. (that reflects the delays of implementation and response of the present global system.

    It follows this line of reasoning.

    1) Maulthus’s argument holds true with important additions.
    a) technology can put an upward slope on carrying capacity,
    (overload can put a downward slope on carrying capacity.)
    b) it’s not total population but total human footprint (population times per capita footprint)
    that is constrained by carrying capacity.
    c) when these two curves come together, starving to death is not as serious a problem as
    loses of well being of a class of individuals who do not die because they live above subsistence.
    d) these losers create what I have called “and ever increasing crisis of conflict.”
    e) This conflict brings down civilizations (turns Londons into Baghdads)
    wasting the wealth of a civilization and the earth to deal with these kinds of crisis
    sends populations back to being camel jockeys or worse.
    f) The next back sliding will not be regional but global. It will not be serial but simultaneous.
    These differences between the crisis we have faced and what we are facing are caused by
    everyone sharing (at least in the next 30 years)
    common resourvors of resources and common sinks for our wastes.

    2) Since these changes in the Malthaus argument now make the collision depend on the product of two variables, population and per capita footprint, (and I accept as a given “ever increasing per-capita footprint,”) the solution space becomes one of varying degrees of human population decline.

    3) Certainly if there are no more children born starting today, then the human population would reduce on average by 63 million a year and in one hundred years humans would be gone from the earth. That would be the end of the human experiment.

    4) we also know that if we capped population (nominally 2 kid per family behaviors) the total human footprint which is already too big would continue growing because of per capita increases.

    5) We would have total human footprint increases even if we put an additional cap on the max footprint of each individual of the 6.3 billion. Just letting the have nots catch up with what ever cap we make, (e.g. the haves of middle america) would require at least 4x increase in total global human footprint.

    6) Now the question is, What number between 0 and 2 will allow per capita foot print to rise and the total human footprint fall enough to avoid
    a) the personal loss of well being that creates the crisis of ever expanding social conflict, and
    b) allow the environment to repair and balance.

    7) I came to an estimate of this number:
    a) rapid population decline, probably at a rate greater than that created by
    universal one child per family behaviors was a minimum requirement to
    ensure the viability of the human experiment. The rate of decline
    would have to be greater if f Ray Kurtzweil’s longevity predictions are correct.
    b) this rate of decline would have to be in place at least for 300 years
    if not longer. Leaving a global population of well under 100 million
    c) All of the economic and social disruptions caused by such rapid population decline
    (aging of pop, changes in family structure, diminishment of the powers of existing groups
    (national, regional, religious, race, sex, ethnicity) are small
    relative to the benefits that accrue to the people in the future.
    (Yes it requires a deep discount of some of the faith based benefits.)

    Finally I have formulated a plan to implement universal one child per family behaviors in the next 3-5 years…………”

    Comments are invited and sure to be appreciated.

    Always with thanks,

    Steve

  71. Steve,

    I feel rather ridiculous in responding, but I just couldn’t help myself.

    You write: “Finally I have formulated a plan to implement universal one child per family behaviors in the next 3-5 years…………”

    Okay, so what is the plan, who is going to implement it, how will it be enforced, etc.? Something in the water perhaps? Sorry for my snide humor, but I find it difficult to take seriously anybody who refers to humanity by using the term “experiment” and actually views the human population as something to control or could be “controlled” as simply as a lab test.

    A.E. Foster

  72. Dear A. E. Foster,

    Now it appears that communication problems are present again, this time from your point of view rather than mine.

    But on this occasion I would like to raise a question, not about communication skills (or the absence thereof), but about your comprehension skills.

    The plan presented above from Jack Alpert is for the implementation of an education program that informs and encourages people to make a voluntary choice not to have not more than one child per family.

    Before I start trying to speak for Dr. Alpert, let me leave you with a link to his website, . You will find over 40 years of research there. While I am inclined not to do exactly what I am about to do, let me recommend that you begin to review Jack’s work by going to SKIL Notes 41, 42, and 43. These notes may begin to address the questions you are raising.

    Sincerely,

    Steve

  73. Steve,

    I comprehend perfectly. It’s fine with me if you want to promote RPD.

    A.E. Foster

  74. That’s an interesting article, and it puts populations control right where it belongs, as everything else belongs–to the people who own the planet.
    I’m waiting for Steve’s comment.

  75. Jerry,

    Yeah, although population is a problem on some level, it is not the actual issue, and controlling population growth as a solution, as I see it, is equivalent to merely treating a symptom as if it was a cure. The problem of population is primarily a symptom of political and economic principles, beliefs and practices.

    The Malthusian mindset, in my view, is basically evidence of cultural and spiritual bankruptcy.

    A.E. Foster

  76. AE Foster,

    I think you are not understanding me and trying to over analyze. You say..”My impression of your comments is that you rationalize everything into meaninglessness; i.e.”

    I can’t rationalize everything into meaninglessness, because rationalizing has meaning in itself.

    And you tell me this…”It is only my impression, but you appear to be entertaining a kind of fatalist-nihilism. Which I think you also might define as realistic.”

    There might be a touch of nihilism in me but nothing that gets my underwear in bunch. I just don’t think I have any effect (or so little effect it can’t be measured) on what I think the world may become.

    And this…”First off, you won’t be around to shed a tear in your scenario of the future. It is also likely most of the species you imagine might be rejoicing in our demise, will also be going when we do.”

    You didn’t copy the whole thing. You forgot the part where I suggest if the population was drastically reduced, which means I might be still be around to not shed a tear. And plenty of species might still be around and expanding if say humanity succumbed to a world-wide epidemic that included a sterility problem. I think a few science fiction movies/books have covered this scenario. But with a huge loss of population nature would fill in our near exodus.

    “What’s your point and why are you writing in this discussion?”

    Because I feel like it, what’s your point?

    “Generally, I think you are confusing your assumptions about a future as if they are fact.”

    No, I make a lot of educated guesses based on history, information that I have accumulated and trends. And I’ve been more correct than wrong doing this.

    “In other words, you are living in the future, not the present.”

    I do live in the future, we all do. Every action a person does is with an expectation of what that action will accomplish in the future. All day long I do things thinking of what the future will be for me, mostly subconsciously. People invest in the stock market not for the present, but for the future. People eat dinner because they expect hunger to diminish and to continue to be alive, not knowing of course whether the small chance that a piece of meat might lodge in their throat and kill them.

    We predict the future all the time and are pretty good at it. I predict the building where I work still exists as I get ready for work. I predict the car will start. I predict the amount of time it will take to travel to work. I predict I’ll eat the sandwich I made and took with me to work. Of course all of these predictions can end up not happening and then I would be wrong, but my educated guesses on these things have a higher percentage of turning out true than false. But we all use history and our experience to expect a certain future and then take the actions that would most likely lead to the outcome we expect, self-fulfilling prophecy.

    And what is the present anyway? We think in high speed and by the time we actually take an action we thought up, the thought itself is in the past. Our thoughts are in the past while our bodies are trying to do something in the future.

    A baseball game takes about three hours these days. But at any point in the game it’s divided into the past and the future and the present is fleeting, almost immeasurable. The present might be as the fastball heads for the plate, fraction of inch by fraction of inch it travels and each fraction becomes the past as it travels into the future.

    “And you are making things you see in the present (China’s development for example) mean riding a bike is futile, as if the future is set.”

    I never said futile. I pointed out two trends about bike ridership that I can at this point in time predict that they might cancel each other out. It’s that simple. And as I happen upon more information or fresher information I may readjust my prediction, possible next week, two days from now or in a few minutes because I don’t know when information will be presented to me.

    Here are a few of my opinions. I don’t think of humans as the greatest species to have inhabited the Earth. Dinosaurs dominated far longer than we have. They ruled when mammals were nothing but rat-like creatures (for the religious fundamentalists, we are descended from rats further back than apes). Plenty of species currently on Earth have existed far longer than humans. Humans are so stupid we still can’t communicate with any other species with much more than a few gestures or words, and certainly don’t understand how they think. Earth itself is but an insignificant planet in the vast universe and there is a time limit for our world’s existence because of the time limit on our sun.

    What do my opinions mean? Notalotta. I will cease to exist some day as will every other human living today, but my planet will go on until it dies too. And I will never know the future beyond my death as I will have ceased living in the future. But life will go on in some fashion. The odds that Earth is the only vessel of life is too low to expect that life won’t continue somewhere…that is unless the universe will die someday too.

    Oh, please do ride your bike, I didn’t say it means nothing because it does mean something to you. You are doing it for some reason based on what you want for your future.

  77. Jon b.

    Thanks, I also have a nihilist bent and I’m in agreement on most of what you say – except that I have an additional context for what being in the “present” is. There is another realm of “present” that I can only describe as being nonlinear … ‘unconditioned’ by past or future.

    And to be quite honest, I don’t ride my bike out of a sense of righteousness, or hope for some unknown future. I ride my bike because I personally dislike driving. I only make it mean something when I hear people complaining about environmental doom related to driving, etc.

    A.E. Foster

  78. AE…

    See, people aren’t so different after all.

    Time is probably the most fascinating subject for me. But that’s for another time.

  79. Part Two {response to A. E. Foster}

    The way I begin to make changes in behavior result from a process of questioning fundamental assumptions and values. What I am forever looking for is an answer to one question, “Is doing what I am doing, getting what I want?” If so, I can feel good because I believe that if I simply keep doing what I am doing, then I will keep getting what I am getting.

    On the other hand, let us consider that what I do is not getting me what I want. In this case, I want to carefully examine my crucial assumptions and values, the ones underpinning my current behaviors.

    Let say I am no longer satisfied with what I am doing because the behavioral repertoire is not getting me what I want, then there are behavior changes to consider, the implementation of which would could be expected to produce change at different levels within my social hierarchical framework; namely, individual, family, local community and global human community.

    For example, at the global human community level. Let’s say that I come to an unanticipated realization relatively late in life, based upon good scientific evidence and common sense, that the humanity could be taken by arrogant and sophistic leadership down a primrose path that could soon threaten life human and environmental health. My children could put at risk.

    Up to now I have been very pleased with my life cycle and have felt successful. The leadership was good enough. Now the world looks different. What am I to do?

    First I look at the assumptions and values that underlie the life choices I have made up to now. What once worked does so no longer. Perhaps, I think, I need not only to do something different but also to do something new.

    A.E., you have pointed to changes at the individual level that you have made. These are good things. Every one of them, as far as I say. OK.

    I also make such individual changes.

    If it is all right, what I want to focus upon now is a category of behavior change that is not so readily and often considered: that is, the doing of something new.

    Please recall that I am a psychologist. My job is to sit quietly and keep my mouth mostly closed. I like to think of myself as a competent listener as well as adequate communicator, when the moment to speak arises.

    People have not called my listening skills into question; however, it is my communication skills that apparently have escaped me. Since 2001 I have been engaged in the AWAREness Campaign on the Human Population. My new behaviors have to do with this campaign. This work is important to me. I am very active. At the risk of being immodest, let me give you some examples of what I have been doing that are new and unaccustomed behaviors.

    1) Organized and hosted 5 Annual Earth Day Summits on the Human Population, 2001-2005.

    2) Attended the Earth Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, South Africa, 2002; the World Bank’s World Water Week conference, 2003; The Foundation for the Future’s “This Tiny Planet” Workshop as a participant, 2004; The Annual Meeting of the Club of Rome, 2005; The State of the Planet conference at Columbia University, 2006.

    3) Published four letter to the editor in the journal, Environmental Health Perspectives, 2004-2006 and published a series of 21 letters to the editor in the Chapel Hill Newspaper, 2005 – present.

    4) Become a full member of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) and the International Union for the Scientific Study of Population (IUSSP).

    5) Submitted a Presentation Proposal for the 2009 IUSSP Meeting regarding “A New View of Human Population Dynamics.”

    6) Plan to attend the 2008 State of the Planet conference and the 2009 IUSSP International Meeting.

    These are some of the ways I walk my talk.

    For the moment, I am going to stop.

    At least to me, this remarkable discussion is one that needs to be continued. Please accept my apology for anything said earlier in this discussion that was offensive. No offense was intended.

    Sincerely,

    Steve

  80. Hi Steve,
    Fundamental assumptions are always about “right and wrong”. Everyone wants to be right, to do the right thing, to avoid being and doing wrong. If changing your behavior is based only on the question “Is doing what I am doing, getting what I want?” what you end up with are the same assumptions in different clothing – “right and wrong”. You may assume you are doing the right thing, and it may appear as if you are thinking and doing something new, but it is, in reality, just another form of the same way of thinking – the same paradigm.

    This is not to diminish the value of anything you or anyone is doing for change. What I am attempting to convey is my own inquiry. Human beings are very uncomfortable with uncertainty and anything paradoxical. As a result of our discomfort we are forever behaving as if we are, or can be, absolutely certain. All our energy is expended on nailing down that absolute – freezing reality to fit the most convincing and current assumptions about right and wrong, true and false, etc. All the while, in all our efforts, we are just running on the same endless treadmill of proving things are right and wrong, true and false.

    The question “Is doing what I am doing, getting what I want?” contains an opportunity or a trap. The trap is in the “getting what I want” portion of the question. Breaking this down further, it is the “what I want” and what finally springs the trap, “I” and “want”.
    The opportunity is difficult to convey because it cannot be comprehended from within the perspective of the “right/wrong-true/false-good/evil” paradigm.

    So I say Steve, certainly continue your quest, but also consider that there are opportunities for something being “authentically” new and different by transcending this old war. “I” cannot change because “I” always wants something. Nothing in “what I want” will ever be enough for “I” because the nature of “I” is always wanting something. The “something” in what “I want” is always changing.

    To live in the paradox, to transcend the quest-ion for what is right and what is wrong – “I” cannot answer, because “I” cannot know.

    A.E. Foster

  81. Dear A. E. Foster,

    From every post I have made to the Orion Community, it is likely clear to one and all how much your sentiments, impressions and insights are valued, even though I do not always understand them.

    Let me express my complete agreement with one understandable point you make above. Wherever there are opportunities, there also are dangers. No doubt about that, so far as I can see.

    The posting above is appreciated. Please know how much it means that you recognize the ‘Quest’in which I unexpectedly find myself. Who among us ever expects late in life to be playing a role like the one of Don Quixote as he jousted with windmills? Yet such a strange situation seems to most adequately describe my circumstances, as you know so well.

    Sincerely,

    Steve

  82. Take this arrow to your heart,
    Spiritus Mundi.
    Remember,
    Spiritus Mundi.
    You are the spirit of the world,
    Spiritus Mundi.
    The hour has come round at last.
    Nothing more is needed;
    Nothing less will do.

  83. Dear jon b, a.e foster and veet martyo,

    Thanks for being there, for your humanity, for your fidelity to science, and for all the great work you are doing.

    It appears the human community cannot keep growing in the unbridled ways we are now because the gigantic current scale and rapid expansion of distinctly human overpopulation, overconsumption and overproduction activities in the wondrous, finite world we are blessed to inhabit could become unsustainable soon. What worries me most is that many people in the human family do not yet even see what we have before us as a formidable predicament, let alone its forbidding and growing magnitude. From my humble vantage point, many too many pathologically arrogant and greedy leaders {aka, self-proclaimed Masters of the Universe} who do see the huge global challenges {climate destabilization is one of them} that could soon be confronted by the family of humanity have chosen not to speak of them, but to remain electively mute and in denial. Come what may for our children and coming generations.

    Although I am an ageing old worry-wart whose sight is failing and faculties are diminishing, it is necessary now for me to fulfill a “duty to warn” by reporting loudly, clearly and often that I see the potential for a colossal, human-induced ecological wreckage looming on the horizon. Hopefully, I am mistaken.

    Perhaps the necessary changes are in the offing.

    Godspeed,

    Steve

  84. Hrmm that was odd, my comment got eaten. No maettr, I just wanted to say that it’s good to know that someone else also mentioned this as I had difficulty finding the same information elsewhere. Yours was the first place that told me the answer. Thanks.

  85. That we need to continuously increase the food supply for human consumption in order to meet the needs of a growing population is a colossal misperception, bereft of a foundation in science.

    Human population dynamics is essentially similar to, not different from, the population dynamics of other species. How are we to do anything with regard to the global predicament spawned by skyrocketing human population numbers if we cannot widely share and consensually validate an adequate understanding, based upon the best available science, of why human numbers have been growing so rapidly? The science of human population dynamics has been a taboo topic for too long. I have come to believe that top rank scientists and other self-proclaimed experts are acting as deliberate defenders of current, conventional, preternatural thought and willful deniers of new scientific research regarding the human population. That you are willing to say something about what you see regarding human population dynamics takes intellectual honesty and uncommon courage.

    We appear to live in a time in which humankind’s perception has fractured schizophrenogenically and clarity of vision has been lost; when incoherent minds determine what was real; a period of abject intellectual dishonesty and the absence of moral courage. Political convenience, economic expediency, specious demographics, ideological idiocy, social status quo, religious dogma, cultural prescription and incomprehensible greed rule the world, reign supreme, darken the surface of Earth and threaten future human well being and environmental health.

    Individually and collectively, human beings cannot make a difference that makes a difference if we continue not to question the ubiquitously broadcasted delusions by the world leaders of my generation who are directing our youth down a ‘primrose path’ to surely precipitate the utter extirpation of global biodiversity, the irreversible degradation of Earth’s environs, the reckless dissipation of its limited resources and the destruction of life as we know it. The very thing our leaders claim to be protecting and preserving for children everywhere and coming generations.

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