In this section, I list some of the things that can be done. Some demonstrate my willingness and ability to think big. Some may be lacking in specificity and details, but are necessary components of the far-reaching, solutions-oriented approach we need to take – and what these lack in specificity, I believe they compensate for, by the way that they shine some much needed light on some core unrecognized or oft-overlooked truths.
One of the decisions I had to wrestle with, is deciding which of my ideas I should include, and which I should leave out. My preference was to avoid revealing too much (for a variety of reasons). But in the end, I decided to be extremely open and generous with my thoughts and ideas on this very important subject. (Some of my very best big ideas, however, I plan on sharing only with like-minded thinkers or prospective philanthropic backers.)
When someone asks me “But what can be done?,” one of the first thoughts that comes to mind is “Where do I even begin?” There are so many things we should be doing, but aren’t, that sometimes I feel compelled to answer the question by simply stating “We are only limited by our imagination.”
Because there is so much I want to include in this section, I have presented this material in bullet format. That makes it easier to sequence and arrange this material. Each bullet represents a separate, stand-alone item, which may or may not relate to what is presented immediately above or below it.
Please keep in mind that this website was designed to be viewed in its entirety. Information provided in one section, may aid in your understanding of information presented in another. In fact, particularly concerning this section on solutions, I believe you will find material all throughout this website, which augments the material I have presented below.
Also, although one could skip around and read the different sections of this website randomly, I have tried to arrange the sections in a logical sequence of progression (from top to bottom [as they appear on the vertical navigation bar). For example, before you read the Solutions page, it might be wise to, at the very least, first read the Problems page.
And now, solutions:
- We have all heard the truism that the first thing an alcoholic must do (in order to get on the road to recovery), is to admit that he or she has a drinking problem. Similarly, the first thing we must do, if we are ever to get on the road to saving the planet, is we must admit that we have a very serious “jeopardizing the habitability of the planet” problem.
- One of the more troubling aspects of our predicament, is that I cannot even be sure what represents the greatest threat to our survival (and to our quality of life) – because there are so many. Is it global warming (which gets the most press coverage)? Is it the assault on the ozone shield (which gets almost no press coverage)? It might be overpopulation (as many suggest). Or (as others warn), it could be the depletion of our drinking water resources. Or maybe it is the loss of biodiversity. Or is it the energy crisis, in general (our huge and ever-increasing appetite for energy, which could lead to even greater, unforeseen problems down the road)? Or is it the mind-numbing amounts of waste that we dispose of – legally, and illegally; toxic, and nontoxic; radioactive and nonradioactive; industrial and commercial – which will, in the end, cause us the greatest grief? Perhaps microbes will represent the greatest challenge to our survival (remnants of a covert biological weapons program, perhaps, or resulting from our overreliance and overuse of antibiotics). Or will it be nuclear bombs, in the hands of radicalized terrorists, religious fundamentalists, or desperate despots?
[Please note that from here on down, many paragraphs (such as the one immediately below this one) are out of proper alignment. Paragraphs that go all the way to the left margin should have instead been aligned with the paragraphs which have the bullet points. Please bear that in mind when reading this page.]
The bottom line is we need to avoid compartmentalizing the problems. We need to address the problems, by addressing the “problem,” holistically – we must grasp and grapple with the “oneness” of the problem. And, just as we must address all of the problems, simultaneously, we need to address all of the Underlying Causes, simultaneously, as well.
Perhaps it boils down to this: It is imperative that our worldview shift from one that is highly anthropocentric, to one that is highly ecocentric. Two simple facts bear this out: Dinosaurs lasted on this planet for over 150,000,000 years (and might still be around today, if it weren’t for an asteroid colliding with the Earth). Modern man is on course towards wiping out all or virtually all of the species on the planet, within the next 1,000 years.
- One thing which I cannot emphasize enough, is that I believe I am the person you most need to throw your support behind, if you are genuinely interested in saving this planet. I believe I am someone with an extraordinarily rare gift for comprehending (a) the enormity of the environmental degradation we are wreaking, (b) the underlying causes, and (c) the necessary action we must take. I have the creative energy and imagination, vision, ideas, drive and determination, to “save the planet.” All I lack is the ability to set those wheels in motion (the capital to move forward). The environmental movement desperately needs someone like myself (sorry to sound so lacking in humility, but now is surely not the time for that [or else how will I get the needed philanthropic support]) – someone with great ideas, who thinks big, thinks “outside the box,” and “outside the herd,” someone who is capable of being a trailblazer, a pioneer, and someone who can tirelessly channel vast amounts of creative energy towards the all-important goal of “saving the planet.” But the bottom line is this: I can’t begin to make any real progress, until first, I have at least one major philanthropic benefactor. Then, I can quit my job, hire assistants, continue advertising, and focus my time and energy on achieving all the big aims I have been chomping at the bit to be able to accomplish.
One way to describe my intended strategy (for probably the first couple of years, at least) can best be summed up this way: spend about 95% of my time seeking solutions (and increasing my knowledge base [my appetite for such, is never-ending and wide-ranging]); spend about 5% of my time implementing solutions (managing and directing that process [or managing and directing others, to manage and direct that process]). Most of what needs to be done, I am not yet cognizant of, myself – it is, after all, an immensely complex and challenging undertaking (and that’s putting it mildly). I am open to reasonable suggestions, always, but the bottom line is this: I trust my own judgment and ability to discern this, exclusively (or, at the very least, far more than I trust anyone else’s [e.g. read what I wrote in the Afterword section – if you haven’t, already – for a better understanding of why I say that]). That is why it is so important for me to get to the point where I can finally be in a position to begin the process of spending the great bulk of my time on finding and fine-tuning those answers and solutions that we so desperately need. There is a tremendous amount of work to be done. Much of that work involves finding out what, specifically, we need to do. And once again, as I’ve stated on multiple occasions throughout this website, I don’t really know of anyone else (besides myself), that I really trust, in that regard. I wish that wasn’t the case; hopefully, someday, that won’t be the case.
Having sufficient financial depth, allows three factors to coalesce: immersion; magnification; and actionability. Respectively, here is what I mean by those terms: being able to immerse myself in (concentrate most of my time on) the aim of “saving the planet”; finding others with whom I can work with (so it’s not just me, but me, “magnified,” many-fold); and having the capital to move forward (to take action) in a significant way (without having to stop and try to raise capital, at each step along the way, every time I want to accomplish something specific).
- One of the big goals I aim to achieve, is completing my book – which can best be described as “a blueprint for saving the planet.” An analogy I use is this: if you wouldn’t construct a building, without formulating a blueprint, shouldn’t something as important as “saving the planet,” require one as well? In short, the book would act as a guide for our day-to-day living, for shaping public policy, and for re-structuring how we live on this planet.
Also, since my goal is not simply to write the book, my goal is, ultimately, to “save the planet,” it will, of course, be necessary to work towards implementing the steps espoused in the book, concurrently, while the book is being written. While the book could take years to complete, the existential threats to the biosphere demand immediate action.
- Another extremely important goal I aim to achieve is to bring together a team of talented, like-minded individuals – who agree in principle, on certain key points – so we can work together, towards the common goal of “saving the planet.” Think of this not as a “think tank,” but as a “think-and-do-tank,” because I don’t want to merely talk about “saving the planet,” I want to actually do it! (It would be senseless and meaningless if such meetings became little more than nonproductive chat sessions.) The main purpose would be to discuss, brainstorm, design, and fine-tune, specific ideas, which can then be implemented. Specific tasks can be delegated to a skilled team of facilitators. When there is insufficient funding, ideas can be presented to prospective philanthropic backers. Another function of this group could be to assist in designing the “blueprint” (which is discussed above).
Individuals possessing all the key attributes I am looking for in prospective collaborators, are exceedingly rare (I presently don’t know of any such individuals, to be quite frank [I am confident that such individuals are out there, it will just be a matter of finding them, once I have the resources to be able to launch a serious search]). But just imagine what a group of individuals such as this can accomplish – if such a group can be assembled – when they are all working together, and focused, like a laser beam, on the set goal of “saving the planet.” Doesn’t that sound infinitely better than wasting time and energy on argumentation, procrastination, endless debate, watered-down compromises, and non-solution solutions? That is what happens – to one degree or another – when disparate groups (like our United States Congress) work together.
It might also help to use an analogy here. Ask yourself this: Which would make a better crime-solving team: (a) Sherlock Holmes, and Watson, or (b) Sherlock Holmes, plus another three dozen equally proficient crime-solving individuals?
Again, I am definitely not a proponent for having meetings, that don’t, in a timely fashion, lead to something much more substantive than just talk. But here’s another way to put it: I am less interested in talk, and more interested in action. I am less interested in action, and more interested in results. I am less interested in results, and more interested in solutions. I am less interested in solutions, and more interested in definitive solutions that definitively resolve root problems. There are many ways to phrase this, but you get the point.
- I would also like to set up a “write-tank” (not a think-tank, not a think-and-do-tank, but a write-tank). This would provide an effective and efficient way of getting our message out: to the media, to educate the public, and to make concepts that are difficult to comprehend, much more digestible. Remember what I wrote in the About me section – where I was quoting from the international bestseller Do What You Are: Discovering the Perfect Career for You Through the Secrets of Personality Type (by Paul D. Tieger and Barbara Barron-Tieger) – about how INTPs “think in extremely complex ways,” and “occasionally, their ideas are so complex they have difficulty communicating and making others understand them.” Well, what better – and more time-efficient – way is there, to get those ideas expressed, and expressed eloquently, than “outsourcing” that task, to people who are extremely adept at doing just that? Having access to a write-tank staffed with highly talented writers would also come in handy for all of the individual projects the think-and-do-tank takes on.
And all of this can be accomplished in a cost-efficient way. Writers don’t necessarily need to be on-staff. Quite often, writers are freelancers. So they can be used on an “as needed” basis. (Personally, though, I consider their services invaluable, even for seemingly mundane tasks like sitting in on meetings and taking minutes, their flair for making the ordinary sound extraordinary – in a literary sense, not a pretentious sense – and their flair for succinctly summarizing difficult-to-communicate ideas, would be beneficial in numerous ways, such as by serving to motivate and enhance the productivity and creativity of the group, and to bring up-to-speed those who are unable to attend every meeting.)
- The time has long since come for revolutionary thinking (if we can ever realistically expect to achieve our aim of “saving the planet”). A willingness to stretch our thoughts in new directions is a must. We can “contemplate the unthinkable,” when it comes to non-environmental issues, but not when it comes to environmental issues. How is it that a nation capable of formulating a defense policy based on “mutually assured destruction” (MAD), seems incapable of formulating a plan of action to cease and desist wrecking the earth? Since 9/11, we have put protocols in place for authorizing the shooting down of airplanes filled with civilians; we’ve suspended certain constitutional guarantees, such as habeas corpus; and have allowed detainees to be tortured (though those in charge prefer euphemistic terms such as “enhanced interrogation,” or “extraordinary rendition”). And yet, with each new piece of evidence that global warming is something we need to be very alarmed about, we still refuse to think in terms of making any real, substantive changes in our lifestyle. Doesn’t it reveal something unpleasant about our psyche, that we can conceive of, and plan for, something as horrific as an all-out nuclear war – as a solution – but can’t conceive of ways to very significantly reduce the size of our ecological footprint?
- “The time has long since come for revolutionary thinking,” is a general point that I am making (above). Below is a concrete example of one way to put this principle into practice.
This will also demonstrate what I mean, when I say – in terms of finding solutions – that we are only limited by our imagination. There is so much more we can be doing. But first, we have to open up our minds. If nothing else, I hope this helps to get your thoughts moving in that direction (towards opening your mind).
I don’t much like the idea of “Earth Day,” per se; I think Earth Day should be every day. But suppose, in the meantime, we were to move Earth Day … to December 25th, for example, and begin a whole new tradition, whereby we celebrate simplicity and imagine new ways of minimizing our ecological footprint, while paying homage to our planet and Mother Nature. Rather than giving and receiving gifts, we can express gratitude and appreciation for everything that we already have, including each brief moment of time in which we exist. Would that be so bad? Would that be so terrible? Or, alternatively, suppose we designated the first day, of every month, “Earth Day.” Why would anyone find ideas such as these unthinkable? I find it unthinkable to consider such ideas as these unthinkable.
- Here is another example of one of my ideas, concerning something we can be doing right now, but aren’t. Personally, I think things like NASCAR, and the INDY 500, should cease to exist. I find it utterly reprehensible, that there is a “sport” devoted to treating a limited resource, as though it were a limitless entitlement. According to some estimates, if we continue using up the world’s oil, at the present rate, it will all be gone in less than a century; but moreover, burning oil contributes to global warming, acid rain, poor overall air quality, and premature deaths. (And speed – which car racing inevitably glorifies – contributes to enormous numbers of fatalities and injuries, every year.) We should be encouraging people to avoid unnecessary trips in vehicles, not flocking to an event that literally makes a sport out of accomplishing just the opposite. But, of course, banning a sport as popular as car racing, would presently be considered unthinkable. That is something we definitely need to change. Many would say that is not possible. But many would also have said the very same thing, not too long ago, about legalizing gay marriage – which is now becoming legal in more and more states, and more and more countries.
Incidentally, the resounding opposition any effort to ban such popular “sporting” events as these would surely face, also illustrates one of the main challenges of environmentalism: we keep paying attention to what people want, while ignoring completely the “voice” of Mother Nature (what Mother Nature wants [anthropomorphically speaking]).
By and large, we live by the following credo: If I can afford it, and I want it, then I should be able to have/purchase it. I believe we need a new and different credo. One that is more compatible with the ecocentric paradigm we need to establish and thenlive by.
- Overpopulation is one of the serious issues in the world today. But we never discuss it. And many people don’t even see the growing human population of the planet as being something we need to be concerned about, at all – now, or in the future. (Most people don’t know what the world population is, whether it’s going up or down, or can offer a guess without being ridiculously way off. Take an informal poll, and see for yourself!) We are adding over two people (2.37, to be exact) to the total world population, every single second. (And, yes, that takes into account the total number of deaths that are occurring, per second [the death rate, is less than half the birth rate].)
Again, it is imperative that we learn to stretch our thoughts in new directions. One article I read in a magazine mentioned the concept of “co-parenting.” Co-parenting is where more than one couple or individual raise the same child/children. That is one way we can expand our thinking. But there are other ways as well. For example, let me quote Glenn McGee (author of The Perfect Baby: A Pragmatic Approach to Genetics [there is also a Second Edition, with a different subtitle]), from when he was a guest on Gary Null’s radio show “Natural Living” (on Sept. 23, 1998). He states that there is “a real danger in the message ‘Don’t worry about contributing to the community. Have a child instead. And bring that child into the world with all the genuine hope that you can muster. And then that will be your contribution.’” He further states that it is his belief that in our society “we put way too much emphasis on fertility and on the necessity of biological reproduction (…) Many who would be better suited putting their skills and their nurturing and their family tendency toward helping the homeless, developing their community, and becoming a part of civic virtue, instead choose to have a child … and it’s scary to me that we” never even talk about this.
- In short, I believe religion is one of the most destructive (for lack of a better word) forces on the planet, and needs to be displaced by a robust, secular, ecocentric paradigm. I know this won’t happen overnight, but I see this as a vitally important paradigm shift that must be achieved. Generally speaking, reversing the equation might be a good initial aim to focus on: instead of 85% of the population believing in God, 85% of the population not believing in God (or the like). Obviously, many people would very strongly disagree with me on this, but I would point out that facts don’t care about opinion polls, and if you examine history, you will find it rife with very strongly held beliefs that have long since crumbled into heaps of dust. Naturally, whole books can be written on this rich topic, ripe for discussion; but for now, I’ll just stick to what I wrote above, thus keeping it very simple.
- Let me next quote from something I once read on the Internet. This comes from a short, well-written article titled “Ecological State of the World,” by George Sessions (posted on the website www.innerself.com). In the article, he brings up some very good points, including this:
Humanity must drastically scale down its industrial activities on Earth, change its consumption lifestyles, stabilize and then reduce the size of the human population by humane means, and protect and restore wild ecosystems and the remaining wildlife on the planet.
That one sentence goes very far, in terms of describing what we need to do; but there is something else I would like to add to that, to make it even more complete. In reviewing Janine M. Beyus’ Biomimicry: Innovation Inspired by Nature, for The New York Times Book Review (“You Can’t Beat Mother Nature,”Aug. 31, 1997: 16), Dorian Sagan writes:
How will we get back to nature? Beynus evokes a simple ecological ‘canon’ she says can be used as a template for our technology. A natural system should run on sunlight. It should use only the energy it needs. … It should recycle everything. … It should curb excess.
I like the idea of an “ecological canon.” This may not be a perfect template; but at least she’s trying (and for the most part, I like what I see). With a little fine-tuning, and some additional fleshing out, it could be an excellent starting point, to becoming that collection of guiding principles we so desperately need, to give us guidance and direction.
- Clearly, a big part of the solution that must be implemented, is we must begin to chart a course back to nature. And it is not just in nature’s best interest that we do this, it is in our own best interest as well. Though I haven’t had the opportunity to read Brian Donahue’s book Reclaiming the Commons: Community Farms & Forests in a New England Town, I did read Paul Raeburn’s review of it, in The New York Times Book Review (“Walden Pond vs. the Mall,” 24 Oct. 1999: 29). It is an extremely well-written review, and I strongly advise you read it. In the passage below, Raeburn quotes from the book:
After passing centuries as slowly evolving farming communities, New England towns like Weston were being turned more or less overnight into rootless bedroom communities in which children grew up bored and angry in spite of boundless affluence, and their parents wondered why. Could it be at least partly because neither generation any longer had meaningful ties to the land they inhabited or to any cultural tradition in that place?
That reference to children growing up “bored and angry in spite of boundless affluence,” is a very powerful observation, and one that we as a culture would be wise to deeply contemplate. But it also reminds me of another part of the review, in which the author himself, feels not these same feelings – boredom and anger – but rather depression; yet he nevertheless draws a similar conclusion. As Raeburn writes:
Donahue grew up in a suburb of Pittsburgh. As a boy, he sought solace in the wilderness. That proved to be a reasonably effective therapy for his suburban malaise until 1975, when he was camping and hiking in the Williams Mountains near Aspen, Colo. “I became acutely depressed,” he writes.
Despite the fact he was exactly where he wanted to be, doing exactly what he most wanted to be doing, he suddenly, all at once, “wanted desperately to be gone.” As Raeburn writes, Donahue “felt adrift amid the splendor of the mountains because he had no connection with the land.” Or in Donahue’s words: “I was lonely because I did not belong there.”
In his book, Donahue talks not so much about getting back to nature, but rather the importance of establishing a meaningful connection to the land. If the land contributes to the local economy, in some positive way, he theorizes, then people will want to protect it. He also argues in the book that “preserving some land that is truly wild … is of far less importance than learning to treat the greater part of the land well, to care for it.” I don’t know if I would necessarily agree that there should be such a hierarchy. Both are tremendously important. Nevertheless, though I have a lot of questions, Donahue’s book may prove to be a valuable contribution to the ongoing discourse on how to save the planet.
- I would like to see the United States change its immigration policy, so as to only allow immigrants from countries that have already put into practice substantive, long-term environmental policies and strategies. This would motivate citizens in foreign nations to put pressure on their leaders, to shape such policies and strategies, if such policies and strategies are lacking.
- We need to shift away from the overwhelming overemphasis on people-centered concerns, and move towards putting greater emphasis on issues affecting the health of the planet (the Philanthropy section of this website devotes a lot of space towards evidencing the magnitude of this current imbalance). By setting an example, philanthropy can play a big role in this. I would like to set up a comprehensive website, devoted exclusively to promoting this idea, but more importantly, I would like to see an all-important paradigm shift in the focus of philanthropic giving – one more aligned with the goal of saving the planet.
- It is difficult to imagine something worse than state-sponsored torture. I have seen hundreds of articles, describing the most horrific things imaginable, being done to other human beings – and what makes this even worse, is when these horrific acts are being perpetrated, with impunity, by their very own government (the very entity that should be ensuring their safety, is the very same entity that is doing the torturing). This is something the world community should be working tirelessly to stamp out. Atrocities against individuals, are atrocities against the whole human race. We must see such victims not as strangers in foreign lands, but as our own mothers, fathers, and loved ones.
Additionally, genocide and armed aggression against sovereign nations, should also be high on the list of things the world community needs to be tirelessly engaged in preventing. To not take action, in such dire situations, is tantamount to not dispatching fire trucks, when a fire is raging in an occupied building. The United Nations – or some other body – needs to create an international army, with lightning-quick striking capabilities. An international army could have been used in Kuwait, Bosnia, Rwanda, and in East Timor (in 1999). Its mere existence would also act as a deterrent, reducing the likelihood that such incidents would even occur in the first place. The existence of a large, powerful international army, would also mean the United States could make big cuts in its military expenditure, earmarking those savings for other uses, or debt repayment.
Creating an international army is not a new idea. It has been around for quite some time. To quote Ron Reagan, Jr.:
My father gave a speech a couple years after he left the White House calling for ‘an international army of conscience’ to deal with failed states where atrocities are taking place. … He believed there must be an international force to intervene where great human tragedy was occurring. Rwanda would have been a prime example, where a strike force capable of acting quickly could have gone in to stop the slaughter. (This is from a Salon.com piece by David Talbot, “Reagan Blasts Bush,” April 14, 2003)
It astounds me that in all these years we have made absolutely no progress at all towards making such a vision a reality. We also haven’t done very much to promote and spread democracy in the world (although democracy itself has its share of problems), either.
I think the opportunity is ripe for a philanthropist to set up a foundation, with the express purpose of mapping out the creation of such an international army – down to the smallest detail. Then, these detailed plans could be gifted to the United Nations – for their review and consideration – at which point they might feel the obligation to act. (Or, the United States and NATO can do it, on their own, and invite other nations that want to participate, to join.)
- Beyond environmental issues, one of the things that most greatly concerns me, is the spread of nuclear technology – and with that, the potential for creating nuclear weapons. Besides ending nuclear testing, and doing all that we can to prevent existing nuclear weapons from falling into the wrong hands, we must also be doing all that we can to prevent more nations – particularly rogue nations – from developing nuclear weapons. Shouldn’t that be a top priority? A modern-day nuclear warhead can obliterate an entire city (such as New York City), in the virtual blink of an eye! So allowing U.N. inspectors unrestricted access, 24/7, should be absolutely non-negotiable.
- I will next discuss some of the points that were raised in an article published in the weekly British newspaper, The Guardian Weekly (“Philosophy, Ethics, and Evil,” Nov. 18-24 1999 [reprinted in World Press Review March 2000: 41]), written by James Meek. The article centered on Jonathan Glover – described as one of Britain’s leading moral philosophers – and his concern about state-sponsored torture and killing in the 20th century. It was a very good article, one that I strongly advise you read – as it raised some excellent points. For example, Glover reflects on the fact that many teachers with training in philosophy are migrating to fast expanding fields like bioethics, advising on the rights and wrongs of issues such as cloning, genetically modified food, and euthanasia, but what he would really like to see is greater interest being paid to the ethics of war and international relations. And he is perturbed that so little attention is paid to “the terrible things that have happened in the 20th century.” He is further quoted as stating that “Ethics ought to be rooted in some idea of the way in which human nature can go wrong and produce these disasters. It should be at least partly about trying to understand our nature and thinking of ways to curbing the bad parts.”
Glover draws two conclusions. One touches upon something I’ve previously discussed – the need for “a powerful, armed United Nations police force.” His other conclusion – which dovetails nicely with my proposal for filming and making widely available, lessons, as taught by the very best teachers in the world (I mention this idea in the About me section of this website) – Meek describes thusly: “We need to teach our children how to think, how to argue, and how to analyze. Moral philosophy has to enter the classroom.” As Glover points out, “teaching people to think rationally and critically” can also affect a person’s “susceptibility to false ideologies.”
- Let me now cite something I once read, in an article published in the “Money & Business” section of the Sunday edition of The New York Times (Jeffrey Nesteruk, “Don’t Be Shocked, but Money Isn’t Everything” January 10, 1999): “As Aristotle noted long ago, our preferences flow from our character. Those with better characters will make better choices. An overly commercialized culture misses that its first job is not satisfying choices; it is developing character.” I love it when something that is so deep, and deeply meaningful, can be summed up so succinctly. There is so much meaning packed into those words, and so much to reflect on, and so much relevance to how we structure society, how we educate, what we teach, how we conduct ourselves, and so forth. This also ties in with what I discuss a little further on, about starting up a major new news and opinion entity (one not dependent upon advertising dollars), and this also ties in with where I propose a way to make the very best educational lessons readily available, to any school in the world that wants to use them.
- This next excerpt not only fits in well with our subject matter (solutions), but also seamlessly connects with what I have just mentioned above. This comes from Colin McGinn’s review of Francis Fukuyama’s Our Posthuman Future: Consequences of the Biotechnology Revolution (“Machine Dreams: A bioethicist takes a sobering look at the brave new world biotechnology is creating for humans,” New York Times Book Review 5 May 2002: 11). Here is what McGinn writes:
Where I do think Fukuyama is right is in his emphasis on an Aristotelian notion of human flourishing as a guide to public policy, rather than relying on the edict that we should maximize freedom of choice. (…) As Fukuyama rightly insists, the standard mix of utilitarianism and scientific materialism is not an adequate basis for evaluating the new technologies.
Indeed, in this modern industrialized age we are living in, the Law of Unintended Consequences looms large, and it manifests in many forms – ozone depletion, climate change, acid rain, coral bleaching, dephosphorization of lakes, nitrogen loading, horizontal gene transfer, imbalance of food webs, negative feedback effects – and is something we need to properly take into account. There are comparatively few checks and balances to science and technology. Myriads of laws tell people and businesses what they can and cannot do, but science and technology have hardly any such proscriptions. Maybe that is something we need to change. To quote Chris Langan – tested as having one of the highest IQs of anyone alive today – from an article that appeared in Newsday (Dennis Brabham, “The Smart Guy” 21 Aug. 2001: B6): “I think science is rapidly outstripping the sophistication of our ethical systems. I don’t think we have any understanding of what constraints we should impose on science, if any.” He then goes on to suggest the need for “an overarching philosophy that provides us with a scientific theory of ethics” that we can turn to, to answer such questions as they arise.
I agree. But would a voluntary honor system work, in practicality, in a world with over 7,000,000,000 people (and growing)? Or would this require something more? Why not something akin to a code of ethics, but with some rules and laws – along with checks and balances – and enforcement of those rules and laws? And here’s another question I have: If our thinking is already so fundamentally flawed, in this regard (e.g., otherwise we wouldn’t have gotten to the point where we need to propose doing something like this), today, then how can we be trusted to put together a set of rules governing how we will live in the future?
- Another project that could prove very fruitful – if it were done correctly – would be to establish an institute of higher learning, in order to teach something that (as far as I know) is not being taught anywhere else: preparing individuals to become bona fide leaders, in the fight to save the planet. Imagine hundreds, or thousands, of young motivated students, along with a similarly dedicated staff and faculty, intensely focused on designing and building the world of tomorrow, today. Not only would this be a great place for students to get an exemplary education, but society would benefit tremendously as well – how could it not, with such a high concentration of qualified and committed individuals, all “under one roof,” intensely focused, working together, and all aiming toward the common goal of saving the planet.
- Obviously, if one of the problems is “How can we come up with the right answers, if we keep asking the wrong questions?” then one of the solutions must be “We need to be asking better questions.” A brain is like a computer: It focuses on the questions we have fed into it, not on the questions that we should have fed into it. The quality and degree of usefulness of the answers we come up with, depend upon the quality of the questions we pose. There is an enormous difference, for example, between asking a very simplistic question like “Should we require manufacturers to produce more fuel-efficient vehicles?” as opposed to asking a much more substantive, sophisticated question such as: “If we ultimately had to change our direction from that of an economy-centered paradigm, to an ecology-centered paradigm, how exactly could we best accomplish making such a transition?” Below, I’ve included some more examples of the types of questions we need to be asking.
“How do we stop people from doing ‘x’ – for the sake of ‘saving the planet’ – when, especially in this country, freedom of choice is considered virtually sacrosanct (e.g. there is both a strong reluctance to restrict choice, and a natural antipathy against restrictive government control)?” “And who decides this (which activities should be banned or restricted)?” And now a rhetorical question: “Can we really expect to save the planet, if everything we should be doing, is, at bottom, solely a ‘suggestion’ (left to one’s individual discretion)?”
“How can we remake or redesign government, in order to make it work the way that it should?” As I sometimes say: “Concerning religion, I am atheist; but concerning government, I am agnostic.” I don’t see any system of government, anywhere in the world, that is doing a praiseworthy job: people are unhealthy, living unhealthy lifestyles, sleep-deprived, overweight or obese, our planet is suffering on so many different levels, we have mountains of debt – federal, state, municipal, commercial, individual – our educational system is abysmal, there are far more guns and bullets and weapons on the planet than there are people, we still have wars, threats of war, testing of ICBMs, nuclear arms proliferation, egregious human rights abuses, and so on.
- I would like to see the creation of a major new newspaper (or perhaps its modern-day Internet equivalent) – with a circulation on par with that of any one of the top three most prestigious newspapers in the United States – with an aim toward doing the best job possible of educating the public, and keeping us informed about what is going on in the world. I would like to see it run by individuals capable of disseminating and popularizing ideas that are far more on par with where I think public opinion ought to be. And I would like to see it created with a sizeable endowment, so that it would not be dependent upon advertising revenue. That way, for example, opinion pieces could be far more honest and informative.
I also envision this as a way of getting important points of view across that are almost always entirely overlooked (e.g. views that question consumerism). How about a weekly column relating to philosophical naturalism? When was the last time you saw something in your local paper about naturalism? Never? How many people even know what the term means? Sometimes when I tell someone I am an atheist, I am met with a blank stare or a look that suggests they are hearing the word for the very first time – and then they ask me (as if they are hearing the word for the first time) what the word means. How many people can mentally grasp the concept of a world without free will? How about having a regular column disseminating that concept, what it means, and its implications. It might serve as a way for people to expand their ability to think about difficult concepts, and to imagine points of view that are very different from their own. (We have a long way to go to catch up with thousands of years of religious teachings propagating belief in “souls.”) How many people know what a “meme” is, or are familiar with the neologism “bright,” or have even heard of Richard Dawkins, or Sam Harris?
There could also be a daily column devoted to raising the public’s eco-consciousness, written by a different columnist, each day of the month. That way, each columnist would be responsible for producing only twelve relatively short pieces a year (even though the column itself would run every day). This would afford these writers the opportunity to pour all their energy into producing just one exceptionally well-written piece, once a month. And if the circulation, or initial start-up endowment, is large enough, then these individuals can be sufficiently compensated to enable them to expend that time and energy, every month, in order to produce that one exceptionally well-written piece.
- Here is another example of something we can do – something relatively simple (though it would require sacrifice, on the part of those participating). Imagine if, every Earth Day, every major newspaper in the country (or the world), were to institute a new practice, to not accept any advertising on that one particular day of the year? Other media outlets could follow suit as well – such as radio and television – and for that one 24-hour period, not accept any advertising; while, perhaps, simultaneously, focusing almost exclusively on information, stories, and news items, that have to do with environmentalism. Think of this day as an advertising-free, “consumerism fast.” Perhaps that could get people to really stop and think about environmentalism in a new and different way (owed to the transformative experience of picking up an advertisements-free newspaper – so much thinner than the previous day’s edition – and brimming with enlightening information pertaining to environmentalism).
- One of my letters that was published in the now-defunct monthly magazine World Press Review (Letters, Jan. 1995: 2) offered a very simple suggestion. While this by no means constitutes what I would consider a “big idea,” it is nevertheless something relatively simple that thousands of publications all around the world could immediately put into practice, without too much difficulty, if they chose to do so. The letter was very short, so I’ll quote the entire letter:
I believe World Press Review is one of the finest magazines available and would like to offer a suggestion for how you can serve the public even better. One of my strongest convictions is that we are destroying this planet. All other issues and concerns pale in comparison – after all, what is more important than the Earth?
I think your magazine ought to have at least one major article per issue on the environmental problems we face.
- There are currently some 330,000,000 people living in the United States. Out of a pool that large, shouldn’t we be able to find fifty governors, one president, one hundred senators, and one representative, from each district, who can truly represent not just the citizens of this land, but indeed the land itself?
Towards that aim, I would like to see the creation of a “shadow government,” to demonstrate and role-model what our elected representatives should be doing, and saying. It would be purely a titular position, but we can “elect” a president, senators, congressmen, and governors, to all fifty states. It would be a way of saying: “Look, we’re fed up! These are the kinds of people our times demand. These are the kinds of people we need in Washington – and in our state capitals. Many of the people who are there now may be good, decent people. They just aren’t the right people to be leading our nation in these difficult and challenging times. But don’t take our word for it. Listen to these ‘representatives,’ talk with them, invite them onto all of the talk shows, and interview them in depth. Do they speak the truth? Do they impress you with their breadth of wisdom? If so, then put them on the ballot and vote them into office (to replace those who are there now).”
Who would “elect,” or put into place this shadow government? Obviously, whatever method is used, it will not be without its detractors. All we can do is try to set this up in as perfect a way as we believe possible, and with an aim towards achieving the highest level of integrity. I’m leaning towards doing it this way: choosing a very select group of highly nonpartisan, very open-minded, thoughtful people, who will remain anonymous, to deliberate as a group, and vote by secret ballot. In the end, “the proof is in the pudding,” as the saying goes (they will either leave a strong and lasting impression on the public, or they won’t).
I hope I have explained this well. Though this is not an idea I have fully fleshed out, by any means, it is worthy of inclusion here, since this section deals with solutions.
Also, while it might rub some people the wrong way, the fact that I am proposing that this be set up in such a way as to leave the average citizen out of the selection process, it shouldn’t. It is vital that this shadow government be composed of individuals with a high level of eco-consciousness (among other qualifications). But how is that possible, if everyone has an equal vote, and if eco-consciousness is so lacking within society? That equation simply does not work. It would be like if we gathered up a thousand people from out on the street, at random, and said, “Okay, now go and design a way to land an astronaut on the moon.” With that framework, the Apollo moon landing would never have happened.
- Here is another example of something very big that we can be doing, that can have an enormous impact. I remember reading that for the fiscal year 2011, under the Obama administration, the White House maintained over 450 staffers, with over 30% earning between $100,000 and $200,000 a year. The total cost for this – the salaries – came to $37.1 million. Now, here’s my point: If the White House can justify having a staff that size, I believe an endeavor to “save the planet” can easily justify having a staff at least as large as that. For purposes of simplicity only, let’s refer to this as a “shadow White House” – but one exclusively devoted to educating the public, shifting perception, finding answers, taking action, and bringing about massive paradigm shift. We could hire extremely bright, capable, energetic, enthusiastic, creative, environmentalist-minded individuals. They can (for the most part) work from their homes, and connect with one another using Internet technology.
Most people would regard that as nothing more than a dreamy fantasy. But why? Why shouldn’t one or more wealthy philanthropists – and that’s all it potentially would take, to fund this – step forward and make that a reality? Isn’t the earth worth saving? Isn’t humanity worth saving? Government certainly isn’t moving us in that direction. Even people who call themselves environmentalists, too often, are either irreversibly pessimistic, or are putting way too much emphasis on implementing non-holistic “solutions” that are ridiculously simplistic. If we don’t really shake things up, and change things structurally, foundationally, in a very big way, I don’t see how we can save the planet. How exactly we go about doing that, of course, is one of the biggest questions we need to grapple with. Setting up a “shadow White House,” could be an important step towards finding those answers; and it could also be a way of moving society, in a direction towards finding those answers, as well.
I remember reading about an individual who pledged $40 million to create a velodrome in the New York City borough of Brooklyn, and in the same article it also mentioned another philanthropist was giving a gift of $100 million to Central Park. Those two gifts alone (along with the interest that money would have generated sitting in the bank) would have been enough to fund this “shadow White House” project, for four years. I also heard about an individual who bought a painting at auction for $170 million (he bought it as a birthday gift for himself). That would also have provided all the funding for this (for four years) – plus, there would have been plenty left over. And in the Philanthropy section, I mention a $1 billion gift billionaire Ted Turner presented to the United Nations, for clearing land mines (and for other purposes). That money, alone, would have been enough to fund a “shadow White House,” in perpetuity. So it’s not impossible. One or two individuals is all it would take, to get this idea off the ground.
- I would also like to, on some level, be working to do for the environmental movement, what Rob Stein has done for progressive politics. As described in a 2004 New York Times Magazine article by Matt Bai (“Wiring the Vast Left-Wing Conspiracy” 7/25/04), Stein, with his half-hour-long slide-show presentation, has been the catalyst for a movement in this country, that it has been estimated, will generate $100 million dollars in funding. His slide-show presentation shows how over a period of 30 years, conservatives managed to build a “message machine” that is spending more than $300 million annually to promote its agenda. Imagine the job we can do, educating the public about environmental issues, if we had funding like that available to us.
If $300 million annually sounds unrealistic or unattainable, consider the fact that it represents the equivalent of less than just $1, annually (on average), from each person living in the United States today; and if you skim through the Philanthropy page, you will quickly realize that there are many individuals capable of giving tens of millions of dollars apiece.
At one point in the article (p. 34), Bai writes that “underneath all the now-tired mantras, there remains a vacuum at the core of the [Democratic] party, an absence of any transformative worldview for the century unfurling before us.” This leads to my next point …
- There is no existing political party that gives voice to the issues and concerns most in need of being articulated and addressed. We need to establish such a party! This is essential.
What would be the basic platform for such a party? It should be socially liberal, fiscally conservative, peace-promoting, idealistically progressive, and very, very ecocentric.
- There is so much work that needs to be done to improve presidential debates in this country. Ours is arguably the most powerful and influential nation on earth, and yet in all of our past presidential and vice-presidential debates, combined, I can hardly recall a single, substantive question, dealing with environmentalism (for lack of a better word). There should be at least one debate (minimally speaking), exclusively devoted to addressing environmental issues. And, since such issues extend into all facets of our lives, such questions shouldn’t be exclusively limited to just that one particular debate. Also, I believe the debates should be much longer in duration. In fact, why not make at least one of them an all-day affair? If a presidential candidate, and their running-mate, could conceivably be in charge of one whole branch of our government, for sixteen years (if both serve two terms), is one all-day debate (every four years) really too much to ask? Decisions made in the Oval Office affect not just us, but people all around the world, and even future generations, as well.
Furthermore, I would also suggest that we consider expanding voting rights, to include 17-year-olds. (They are the ones, after all, who will inherit our multi-trillion-dollar national debt.) Doing so might energize this disenfranchised segment of our citizenry, and motivate them to follow national and world events more closely.
- Back in 1988, Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze proposed to the United Nations General Assembly a major international campaign to address the world’s worsening environmental woes. He noted that “Man’s so-called peaceful constructive activity is turning into a global aggression against the very foundations of life on Earth.” He also proposed that the United States and other countries shut down some of their weapons programs, and divert the money that would have been spent on those programs, towards ecological reform.
I very much like the idea of diverting money away from weapons programs, and towards ecological reform – especially if done multilaterally – but at the same time, we must not fall into the trap of perpetuating the myth that the way to solve a problem is to throw money at it. It will take much more than money. It will require imagination, persistence, and a paradigm shift of gargantuan proportions.
- One of the principles we need to incorporate more into our decision-making, is what I will loosely refer to here as “quid pro quo” (I don’t know what else to call it). I’ll give an example: Please, don’t have the gall to suggest that we hollow out part of Yucca Mountain, to house enormous amounts of radioactive nuclear waste, for tens of thousands of years or more, while simultaneously proposing that we construct over 100 additional nuclear power plants, all across the country.
Another example: If we provide humanitarian relief, in times of famine, to a Third World country that is burdened with overpopulation, we should also include strategies that recognize and address that overpopulation. (It would be wrong, for example, to provide humanitarian relief, while simultaneously thwarting access to family planning options that help minify overpopulation.)
In other words, one way to describe this principle is this: if the action being considered, (a) doesn’t solve the underlying root problem, (b) or is not a long-term solution, (c) or may even in the end make the problem worse (eventually), (d) or creates an additional problem, or problems, then, before we even consider taking the action in question (ideally speaking – if time permits), we should, simultaneously (or very soon thereafter), take steps that will genuinely, substantively, address the root cause(s) of the problem.
This is just a general guiding principle that I am proposing – an ideal for us to aim towards – not necessarily something extremely rigid and inflexible. But a too watered-down “non-solution solution” approach should not be regarded as an acceptable application of this principle, either.
- Third World poverty is a very serious problem that must be redressed. Thousands are dying, or suffering, from hunger, hunger-related diseases, and thoroughly preventable causes, every single day – while so many others, all throughout the world, dine with champagne and caviar.
Consider this interesting statistic: “The world’s top 200 companies have twice the assets of 80 percent of the world’s people, and that asset base is growing 50 times faster than the income of the world’s majority.” This statistic comes from Paul Hawken’s book Blessed Unrest: How the Largest Movement in the World Came Into Being and Why No One Saw It Coming. Think about that: 6,600,000,000 people (combined), have half the wealth of 200 companies (combined). Obviously, many of the world’s poorest are included within that 6.6 billion figure.
In an opinion piece about Hugo Grotius (1583-1645), and his concept of “international society,” Martha Nussbaum (“Rules for the World Stage,” Newsday 20 Apr. 2003: 23), states that Grotius believed “that a lasting peace among nations requires thinking about how all citizens of the world can get the things they need to live”; and yet, as Nussbaum observes, “the duty of wealthy nations to ensure that all humans have urgent needs met does not rank high on the agenda of any major politician or political party.”
While that may be true, I can’t help but hasten to ask: What will happen once all their basic needs are met? The answer, I believe, is obvious: they will also want computers, televisions, cell phones, cars, larger homes, a larger family, a backyard pool, vacations in far-off places, and so on. The more we have, the more we want. This is another reality we must face – as well as the resulting ecological ramifications of man’s unquenchable appetite.
My concept of “quid pro quo” (which I wrote about above) applies here as well. Because if all we did was make sure that no one was ever hungry, or ever in want of basic human needs, then what do you think would happen regarding the problems in the world related to pollution, deforestation, overpopulation, et cetera? They will get much worse. This reminds me of something I remember reading somewhere many years ago, about a nonprofit initiative that was paying a relatively small sum of money, to any man (this was being done in a particularly poor region of the world) who would have a vasectomy. While the amount of money was very small by our standards, it was large enough to act as a significant enough incentive to convince many men to undergo the procedure. Isn’t this, basically, more or less, a win-win situation?
- Another basic, fundamental human right, is the right not to be treated as a second-class citizen – or worse. It is an old familiar story, and continues right up to the present day: whether we’re talking about Jews in Nazi Germany; blacks in apartheid South Africa; our treatment of the early American Indians; slavery; segregation; women’s rights; “untouchables” in India; Burakumin in Japan, racism, sexism, heterosexism, (etc.).
The world still has a long road to travel, in this regard; and I see religion as a huge barrier to progress. When I see a Muslim woman wearing a garment that covers everything except her eyes – while the men walk around as they please – I not only see a striking example of sexism, but I feel as though I am witnessing something right out of an episode of that old television show Star Trek. “How can this be happening, here on this planet, in the year 2013?” I ask myself. I believe the world will have made a giant leap forward – toward the kind of world we all deserve (and so desperately need) – once every country in the world has at some point elected a woman president, and once gay marriage is legal in every corner of the world.
Not only should equality be considered indispensable on purely moral grounds, but its opposite, inequality, undermines the very fabric of society. As Thomas Carothers points out, in his review of Cass Sunstein’s Designing Democracy: What Constitutions Do (“Blessings of Liberty,” New York Times Book Review 14 Oct. 2001: 24), Sunstein “‘calls for an expansive interpretation of the equality principle.’ That is to say, no group should be made into second-class citizens, because such inequalities undermine the level playing field necessary for reasoned debate.”
- I have long believed that the United States – independently, or possibly in concert with its allies – should create, what I call, a “Department of Peace.” Some of my ideas regarding this are a bit too complicated to contain within a short summary, but I’ll give some examples of what I have in mind. It would be composed of knowledgeable experts, familiar with the traditions, terrains, customs, and goings-ons, of every country in the world. It would seek ways of preventing future wars, future conflicts, and any further proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (nuclear and biological, in particular). Resident scholars would seek to unravel the age-old mystery of human conflict itself: why is there so much hostility and violence in the world? A Department of Peace would also be active in seeking to spread democracy in the world. This could help to make the world a more peaceful place, since history has shown that democratic nations tend not to attack one another. The Department of Peace could offer what I call “democracy in a box”: A highly skilled team of advisors and facilitators, ready and eager to offer – at a moment’s notice – their assistance in setting up fledgling democracies (and helping to construct constitutions), anywhere in the world.
- I believe there is way too much emphasis on happiness and self-gratification (in practice, and in principle), and not nearly enough emphasis on making the world a better place (in a substantive sense), or expanding our intellect. We work at our jobs, but we don’t “work” at making the world a better place. If we put less emphasis on pleasure-seeking (e.g. entertainment, comfort, and so forth), and more emphasis on solving the world’s most pressing problems, I believe the world would be an enormously much better place for all.
Also, as I mention in the About me section of this website, I believe very much in the principle of gratitude – being grateful for the huge abundance of things we have to be grateful for. By mere virtue of the fact that we were born (are receivers of such a most precious gift), I believe we ought to feel privileged, and thus obligated, to lead very ethical lives, on that basis alone. Similarly, regarding the adage “To whom much has been given, much is expected,” I appreciate the sense of responsibility that phrase conveys – that we should be giving back commensurately.
- The two biggest problems in the world, as I see it, are: (a) man’s inhumanity to man, and (b) man’s desecration of the earth. The remedy for these ills, then, it would stand to reason, is that we should focus, as best we can, on two guiding principles: (a) treat others as you would want to be treated; and (b) treat the earth (anthropomorphically speaking), as you would want to be treated. Or, for ultimate simplicity, this can be condensed down even further, to just one simple sentence: “Treat the earth, and others, as you would want to be treated.”
Incidentally, because “b” is the far more difficult issue to address, it is what concerns me the most. For example, many people don’t realize that our assault on the earth is a 24/7 process. Even while we’re sleeping, we continue to run air conditioners, heat our homes (and hot water heaters), power lights and appliances (like refrigerators), food deliveries are en route to our local supermarkets, and every traffic light always remains lit. Also, most people fail to realize that virtually everything we do, has a negative impact on the biosphere, if we multiply the net effect of that impact by the total human population. Every time you flush a toilet, take a shower, put out the garbage, or throw something away, image over 7,000,000,000 people doing likewise. One person chopping down one tree is not deforestation; but if millions of people are chopping down trees, then that, over time, is deforestation. Similarly, if there was just one car on the planet, then that could not cause global warming. But when there are billions and billions of vehicles (and factories, etc.) on the planet, all spewing pollution into the atmosphere, then that can cause global warming.
- I like the way the MacArthur Fellowship Program is set up, and would like to see more of that type of philanthropy; but I would also like to see this done in such a way, where all of the recipients, are individuals who are dedicating their lives to work that is in some large measure, related to “saving the planet.”
- I would like to see the creation of a Museum of Environmentalism. Something very expansive and all-inclusive, with exhibits, models, theaters, art, lectures, photography, and so forth, all devoted to increasing environmental awareness, expanding environmental IQ, and engaging society in debate and discussion focused on the big central question: How do we save the planet?
- We need to institute a “nonrenewable energy” sin tax. Think about it. We have so-called “sin taxes” on things like alcohol and tobacco, but we don’t have a sin tax on something that is melting the ice caps, changing the climate of the planet, and threatening to raise sea level several feet.
This is hardly a new idea. Back in 1980, when then-Representative John B. Anderson (D. – Illinois) was running for president, he proposed an excise tax on gasoline. And here we are, some three decades later, but we still don’t have it.
- Here’s another idea: implement a “distance of commute tax.” This would be a surcharge, based on percentage of income (e.g. Bill Gates’ “distance surcharge tax” would be much greater than what the average person would have to pay). The tax would only take effect when an employee’s place of employment is considerably distant from their home address. There are plenty of kinks that might have to be worked out, but this is an idea that I believe is at least worth considering. The main idea is to encourage people to work closer to home, and to get them thinking more about that particular aspect of their ecological footprint (transportation, to and from work). This would also get employers thinking more along those lines of thought as well.
- To quote from a letter I wrote to Newsday – which they published on their letters page (June 28, 2004, p. 32) – regarding “God” in the Pledge of Allegiance:
Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist stated that “Reciting the pledge, or listening to others recite it, is a patriotic exercise, not a religious one.” Wrong! Reciting the pledge, or listening to others recite it, is, in fact, among other things, both a patriotic exercise, and an exercise that unmistakably endorses monotheism over polytheism, atheism or secularism.
“Under God,” isn’t merely some fancy ornamental wording added for aesthetic decoration, and it is wrong to use the pledge as a virtual billboard for promoting God-belief. If that is your belief or lifestyle choice, you certainly have the freedom to make that choice, but it shouldn’t be promoted in the Pledge of Allegiance, of all places. “Freedom of religion” also explicitly implies freedom from religion.
Similarly, “God” is also on our currency, as well as in our courthouses. But wouldn’t it make more sense – and additionally not be divisive – to instead have the Golden Rule emblazoned on the wall directly behind the judge; or better still, to simply leave the wall blank? Rather than have the divisive “In God we trust” on our currency, how about this: “We make ourselves rich by making our wants few.” – Thoreau; or “Treat others, and the Earth, as you would want to be treated.” – Yours Truly.
- Well, I’ve gone on for quite some length, and I’ve shared many thoughts and ideas, leaving you with a lot to digest. But before I conclude, I would like to make two key points, and then follow up with a list of examples.
First, I believe we must find ways to focus the world’s sharpest minds, onto solving the most difficult problems in the world (in relation to man’s inhumanity to man, and man’s desecration of the biosphere).
Second, I believe the scientific community, as a whole, has an ethical obligation, to focus more on our most pressing social and environmental problems, rather than go off in the other directions they so often go. Do we really need thousands of more studies, demonstrating the beneficial effects of antioxidants? Instead, we need to design studies that are much more weighty, much more meaningful, and broader in scope. I realize this is a great deal more difficult to achieve than it may sound, particularly if the motive for research is often profit. But even if a fraction of research was better aimed, and philanthropies and governments got on board with trying to better direct our aim, that can make a substantial difference.
Here is another example – one which will help to illustrate the depth and significance of this problem. I remember reading in The New York Times Book Review, this fact (which was being quoted from the book being reviewed): “the American pet food industry spends more on research and development than the country’s power companies.” That speaks volumes. And that pertains to just one industry. Also, consider the amount of money our federal government spends on perfecting weapons of war (perfecting the ability to kill people, and destroy property); is that really where we want some of our planet’s best scientific minds focusing their time and energy?
Below, I give examples of where I believe we need to be devoting a lot more research, and our best minds:
- In 2002, the World Summit on Sustainable Development – which drew more than 100 heads of state – concluded that “The most pressing challenges of our time remain poverty, underdevelopment, environmental degradation and social and economic inequalities.” It further stated, in its declaration, that “The ever-increasing gap between the developed and developing worlds poses a major threat to global prosperity, security and stability.”
But how does humanity set its sights on “poverty,” “underdevelopment,” and “economic inequality,” while simultaneously taking into account the “impossibility theorem” (as defined by the source I cite in the Problems section). I would suggest that might be one of the most pressing issues of our time – and a direction in which we should be aiming research dollars. But, instead, because eco-consciousness itself is so pervasively shallow or nonexistent, we never even talk about it.
- Considering the fact that the United States’ huge appetite for cheap consumer goods has helped fuel much of the ecological devastation currently unfolding in China, it is ironic that out of all the countless articles I’ve seen pertaining to our philanthropic giving, I have never once seen evidence of so much as a single penny going specifically towards trying to rectify some of the problems that situation has caused. We’ll buy or use goods that are manufactured there, every single day, but we won’t do anything to help rectify the problems American consumerism has helped create.
That’s not to say that simply throwing money in that direction will magically solve the problem – because it won’t – but it demonstrates the extent to which Americans don’t seem to think or care about ecological devastation in China. Perhaps looking into the whole question of how to give money in such a way that it will actually be effective in remedying some of the problems there, is another direction in which we should be aiming research dollars.
- There is a tremendous amount of beneficial research we could be doing pertaining to discovering what would be the most perfect earth-friendly – and user-friendly – diet for mankind. One that would be exceptional both in terms of promoting excellent health, while simultaneously putting the least amount of stress on our land and water resources. Altogether, many factors can be taken into account: allowing for culinary versatility and variety, energy requirement in preparation and transportation, allergy potential, protein content and quality, nutritional content, the ability to satiate hunger, comparative crop yield, irrigation requirements, length of growing season, overall pest-resistance, and so forth.
The Problems section of this website contains information that illustrates how meaningful this type of research can be. Al Gore’s book, Earth in the Balance, for instance, points out how quickly we add another one billion people to the planet.
Doesn’t it make sense to research what would be the best possible diet, both in terms of human health, and for the overall health of the planet? Since eating is something we all do, all throughout our lives, several times a day, the cumulative effect that our eating habits have, on the health of the planet, should not be in dispute. And conditions such as cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and obesity, are rampant here in the United States.
- We also need to be doing extensive research to determine how many people this planet can sustain (ecologically speaking), while allowing for preservation of the planet’s natural resources. This is a far more complex issue to delve into than most people might realize. We likely would need to come up with several sets of numbers, based on different models, for purposes of comparison. For example, what would be the earth’s optimal human population, if all of humanity were to live the way: (a) our ancient ancestors lived; (b) native Americans lived, centuries ago; (c) the Amish live, today; (d) the average American lived, in 1776; (e) the average person, lives today (a very complicated question, in itself); (f) the average American, lives today (even with this, you have to factor in so much diversity in lifestyles – as this lumps into one whole, all rural, urban and suburban areas); (g) the average American lived, a century ago. (h) and so forth.
- We could be doing research to determine what would be the most ideal places in the world (and in the United States), for people to live (ideally speaking), so as to have the least harmful impact on the earth’s biodiversity and natural resources.
- It might be worthwhile and instructive to come up with some quantifiable way of measuring (e.g. on a scale of 1-10), the comparative degree of destructiveness of different religions, in regards to a variety of factors, such as how their beliefs affect man’s impact on the environment, prospects for peace, human rights, woman’s rights, reproductive freedom, egalitarianism, and overpopulation. This could also take into account such factors as whether that particular religion caused or had an impact on any historical events of note.
- It is also very important that we study and seek answers to the very pertinent question of why nothing really substantive ever gets accomplished, year after year, regarding “saving the planet.” Why aren’t we at least by now starting to head in the right direction? Why is there such lack of reverence and respect for nature? Is there some component of human nature that is acting as an invisible hand, and holding us back? We need to get inside the mind of man, and find out what is holding us back.
To borrow phrasing used by British philosopher Johanthan Glover – from where I have quoted him earlier in this section – but adding some of my own words, and giving it a new and different meaning: Ethics ought to be rooted in some idea of the way in which human nature can go wrong and be so destructive of the environment, and be so uncaring about that destructiveness. It should be at least partly about trying to understand that part of our nature, and thinking of ways of rectifying it.
- Studying, precisely, how we can best live on this earth, in as self-sufficient and nondestructive a way as possible, needs to be our top priority.
- If ultimately we must change our direction from that of an economy-centered paradigm, to an ecology-centered paradigm, how exactly can we best accomplish (as seamlessly and painlessly as possible) effectuating that transition?
- I believe that if we are one species, then we ought to be able to live together on this planet, as one species (not separated by national boundaries). But examine all of recorded history, and you will see that for thousands of years, we’ve seemingly demonstrated that we can’t. This is an issue we should be studying, voraciously. Not so much the “Why don’t we?” aspect; but more particularly, the “How can we?” question. I believe that if we are going to save humanity, and the planet, we must start heading down that road. That is our future. That is our only hope for a future. And the sooner we do that, the better. So why not start now? At least in terms of having philosophers, and others, focus on intensely addressing those key questions. Our future existence, as a species, may depend upon it!
- If we could develop and perfect lie-detection capability, it would have many applicable uses, such as: a way of reversing wrongful convictions, determining reliability of eyewitness (or allegedly eyewitness) testimony, containing costs within the judicial system, providing a reliable way of getting correct information from informants and detainees, et cetera. During the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, such technology would have been tremendously useful in determining which people to arm, promote, and hire, as police or army personnel (to prevent the wrong people from ending up in leadership positions, or armed with assault rifles). Actually, back then, I felt we should have been using polygraph testing for that purpose. But what I am suggesting here is that we develop something that, comparatively speaking, would be to polygraph testing, what Air Force One would be, to the plane the Wright brothers initially flew in.
- We need to seek to rehabilitate criminals, rather than merely incarcerate them. I believe there are very definite naturalistic explanations for all human behavior – including bad behavior. We can liken these “explanations” to being like an incredibly complex jigsaw puzzle. While we will never completely assemble the whole puzzle, each piece that falls into place, becomes another clue that may help us uncover new insights into human behavior. There is a great wealth of information out there, just waiting to be discovered; and I believe we owe it to ourselves, and to each other, to be searching for those answers.
To cite one example – this coming from an article, by Mark Peplow, published in the weekly British magazine New Scientist (Nov. 16, 2002) [and reprinted in the now defunct magazine World Press Review (“Full of Goodness” Feb. 2003, p. 42)] a research study funded by Natural Justice, a charity that researches causes of criminal behavior, showed that prisoners on daily nutrient supplements “committed 37 percent fewer serious or violent offenses” than the placebo group (based on “the number of official reports of bad behavior from prison staff”). The article states that its director, Bernard Gesch, a senior researcher in the physiology department at Oxford University, “believes many prisoners are suffering from ‘subclinical malnutrition’ – not bad enough to bring on physical symptoms such as scurvy but enough to cause a range of antisocial behaviors.”
Another approach I would like to see researched, is a thoroughly intensive effort at reconditioning and reprogramming the mind. For example: restricting all violent television, movies, music and language; while simultaneously offering unlimited educational programs, one-on-one coaching, self-help audios, videos, books, articles, mentoring and reward incentives. Proper diet and exercise would also be included in this comprehensive approach.
Incidentally, if you doubt how significant a role a nutritional approach can play, consider what Jack LaLanne – a paragon in the realm of peak physical fitness – has said about how significant a role change-of-diet has played in his own life. I remember reading an interview in which he described how, as a teenager, he was so mentally imbalanced (he blamed this on a sugar addiction, and a very poor diet) that, for example, he twice tried to kill one of his own brothers (once with an ax!). But that was before he radically changed his diet and took up exercise. Today, everyone knows his name. But imagine how different things might have turned out had he not turned that corner. He might have ended up spending his life behind bars, or perhaps wound up on death row.
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