The fate of the earth may be in *your hands!
(*see very bottom of page!)
Welcome to my website!
This content-rich website is designed for full-sized monitor viewing. This page contains a Table of Contents and a Blog. While there is a lot of information to read and absorb — and I hope you will avail yourself of the opportunity — please know this …
My main purpose for creating this website is to assist in acquiring philanthropic funding. Sufficient funding would not only allow me to fully immerse myself, time wise, in my endeavor to save the planet, it would also allow me to advertise more extensively and reach a broader audience.
Here is my Twitter URL: @ecoideaman
Disclaimer: any contribution, or bequest, will be treated as a gift to Mr. Paul A. Reinicke, to be used entirely at his own discretion. See also the Read this first! page.
However, if you earmark a contribution for a specific purpose, it will be used for that purpose. For example:
To help in getting the word out, please consider making a contribution towards my advertising budget.
Or consider targeting your contribution towards enabling me to get the Fairlanthropy.org website up and running (see Philanthropy page).
That one simple concept (which I have not yet discussed anywhere on this website) could pave the way for billions of dollars of additional philanthropic funding to be directed towards environmental causes.
[This website was launched in January of 2014. Total Funding Received So Far: $0.00]
Table of Contents:
Why did I create this website?: Read this first!
Some of the major problems: Problems
Eco-consciousness: Nowhere on our radar
You’ll find this interesting: Underlying causes
A self-portrait with words: About me
Designing tomorrow’s world, today: Solutions
A collection of … Quotations
This is a two-part section: Philanthropy
In conclusion … Afterword [This page has a blog.]
If you would like to contact me: Contact [This page has a blog.]
Some search suggestions and Links [This page has a blog.]
Below is my Home page blog. Content may be edited or deleted after the posting date.
Hallo, meine deutschen freunde
The 2018 Frankfurt Book Fair officially begins this Wednesday, in Frankfurt, Germany. And this year, I’ve created a blog post on my Links page, to mark the occasion of this event. So go have a look! It’s the one dated “10/8/18.”
Yesterday, the New York Times reported on page 6 that the United Nations secretary general, Antonio Guterres, on Monday, urged world leaders to do more to battle climate change, going so far as to warn that “If we do not change course by 2020, we risk missing the point where we can avoid runaway climate change” (Somini Sengupta, “Climate Crisis Is Near Point Of No Return, U.N. Warns” Sept. 11).
With 2019 just months away, that doesn’t leave much wiggle room. Clearly, it might already be too late. So why did the Times put this on page 6? That’s a good question. The Times, in my view, dropped the ball. This article would have made a perfect companion piece alongside their cover story about how “The Trump administration, taking its third major step this year to roll back federal efforts to fight climate change, is preparing to make it significantly easier for energy companies to release methane into the atmosphere” (Coral Davenport, “White House Set To Weaken Rules Curbing Methane” Sept. 11).
The Big Idea!
I can’t wait another minute. I just have to share this. This is something I’m so excited about that it’s the first blog post I’ve actually given a title. Just read below what I tweeted the other day, and you’ll see why I’m so excited:
Wow. this is really, really exciting!!! I just had one of my best ideas ever! And this is something I can pull together w/o any outside funding! It’ll take some work! But in 8 months it can start bearing fruit & potentially make a BIG DIFFERENCE toward saving the planet!
That was what I tweeted in the wee hours of Sunday, the 19th. About 48 hours ago. I think I didn’t get to sleep until, finally, around 9:00 a.m. But it was worth it! I was coasting on adrenaline. My only regret is that I didn’t hatch this idea years ago. Because I would probably have funding by now, if I had.
So what is this “Big Idea?” Naturally, I don’t want to disclose that just yet. But I will say this. I’ve already done several hours’ worth of work on this, and can see several different directions in which this can go — all of them, quite terrific! I still have quite a bit of homework to do on this. But with my target date for completion being mid-April, I should have plenty of time. Or at least, just enough.
As a result, I suspect I will be blogging on this website less often. Diverting that time and energy into this other project, instead.
Additionally, I will note that I have added a link, up above, to connect to my Twitter page — and I might let that, from here on in, take the place of my Contact page blog. The Afterword page blog might also become far less active, since, as I have pointed out in my last post there, anything I say about Trump is just redundant. And besides, why should I waste time doing that, when so many others are out there doing that work for me? The Links page blog I will keep active, mostly for continuing to share my love of music. This Home page blog, of course, will definitely remain active and I will continue posting here whenever the mood strikes. So stay tuned!
One review in Sunday’s New York Times Book Review section that caught my attention was Naomi Oreskes’s review of Randi Hutter Epstein’s Aroused: The History of Hormones and How They Control Just About Everything (“Science or Quackery? / Hormones research and its many missteps and mistakes.”). [As the byline notes, Oreskes, along with his co-author Erik M. Conway, wrote Merchants of Doubt.] This was an interesting review, but I still found it disappointing. The reviewer left out any discussion of the claim — made in the title of the book — that hormones “control just about everything.” It is interesting that Oreskes states that according to one estimate, the cost of the disease burden associated with endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs) has been put at $340 billion; but can you really fault the author for leaving out information that arguably pertains to a different topic, entirely: pollutants in our environment, and how they effect endocrine function. After all, a good portion of the review is devoted to criticizing Epstein for leaving out information that does pertain to the subject matter of the book.
Something else in Sunday’s Times, that caught my attention, was one of their cover sories (Steven Lee Myers and Olivia Mitchell Ryan, “Once Strict on Births, China Races for a Boom”). I’ve seen this sort of thing happen before. A developed nation’s population begins declining; but instead of breathing a sign of relief, that news is met with alarm and dread, and immediately, remedies are proposed, such as offering monetary incentives for those having more children. This particular news article concerns China; and it states: “Experts say the government has little choice but to encourage more births. China — the world’s most populous nation with more than 1.4 billion people — is aging quickly, with a smaller work force left to support a growing elderly population that is living longer. Some provinces have already reported difficulties meeting pension payments.” Once again, we see that ecological sustainability considerations don’t ever enter the picture, it’s concerns about economic sustainability, that are the driving focus.
However, the article I most want to talk about, is Erle C. Ellis’s opinion piece “What Kind of Planet Do We Want?” (The online title for this piece is “Science Alone Won’t Save the Earth. People Have to Do That / We have to start talking about what kind of planet we want to live on.”) Ellis is a smart scientist, who is doing good work, and he makes some fine points, but I respectfully differ with his views in a number of ways. We need a vision — an ecologically-appropriate one — and saying people will fill that vacuum over time, isn’t a vision. We need it now, and we need one that will set us on the right course.
He states that there are no technological hurdles toward supplying even 11 billion people with the lifestyles they strive for, there are only cost barriers; and he suggests that “the wealthy and the vested interests of the world” need to “step up to pay for” this. But why stop at 11 billion? And just how many people does Ellis believe this planet can comfortably hold?
Ellis recognizes that we have “increasingly impoverished this planet of wild species and wild spaces, and the carbon emissions that power modern lives are causing the earth to warm faster than at any time since the fall of the dinosaurs.” But I don’t think he comes anywhere close to recognizing the full extent of the dangers facing mankind, when he states that man’s future will be “an everlasting struggle among different people seeking different futures.” An everlasting struggle? And he states unequivocally that the Anthropocene is not the end, but “just the beginning.” Nowhere does he seem to recognize the potential existential nature of the threats facing humankind.
I wish I had several weeks to take off from work to really sink my teeth into articulating just how bad the trajectory we are on now actually is, but I don’t. So I’ll just mention a few things that lead me to draw that conclusion. The mere fact that a Donald Trump could even get to where he is today, I believe says so much. And the fact that Scott Pruitt came to head the E.P.A., also speaks volumes concerning how far off course we are. Consider, too, that billions of people in the world will tell you that they don’t think man can affect the planet, even though a sizable hole in our stratosphere’s ozone shield, proves otherwise. And just imagine if it had taken us considerably longer to have made that initial discovery — about how certain popular consumer products were causing ozone depletion. Where might we be today?
But I think it boils down to this (and this has nothing to do with what experts are telling us, or what scientists are reporting). The mere fact that all the damage we’ve wreaked on this planet, so far, has been accomplished within the time frame of not even a blink of an eye, in geological terms. Doesn’t that fact alone beg the question: “If we’ve done that much damage in just the past 150 years, how can we possibly last another 150,000 (let alone 15,000 or even 1,500)?”
Think about that! Truthfully, doesn’t that say so much? And doesn’t that point to the obvious need for coming up with some very different way of living on this planet? The fact that we’ve caused so much damage already, and in just 150 years? As I point out on this website, horseshoe crabs have been around for some 400,000,000 years!
This also brings to mind that classic “The $99,000 Answer” episode of The Honeymooners, where Ralph Kramden is on that game show, and is determined to go “all the way” to the end, to take that final $99,000 question. And yet, as it turns out, he couldn’t even make it past the very first question (you can watch it on YouTube, it’s pretty funny). How long will our species last on this planet? It’s conceivable that we may not even make it to the end of this millenium we’re now in– as Stephen Hawking has suggested.
Perhaps, if we want to heal the planet, and survive on it long-term, we could begin by thinking like a doctor. Doctors have their Hippocratic Oath. Perhaps these times call for an Anthropocenic Oath: First, do no further harm!
[Note: Those words don’t actually appear in the Hippocratic Oath. That’s a popular misconception.]
In deciding which quotations to use for today’s blog post, I spent several hours going through and organizing the material I’ve accumulated in my ‘saved quotations’ drawer. The last time I did something like this, I believe, was back on August 5, 2014. This time, however, I am aiming to do something a little different. I am using these quotations as the “skeleton,” for a meatier, more meaningful post. One that is more than a mere collection of quotations; and I am hoping you will find it thought-provoking.
First off, I want to make the point that one of the biggest problems we face is the fact that genuine, deep concern about the environment (ironically, I don’t think there’s even a word for this), is so exceedingly rare. I’ve always felt that a certain Henry David Thoreau quotation (which I’ve presented below, in a somewhat altered fashion) neatly makes this point:
It would seem to me
Don’t care for Nature
And would sell their share
For a stated sum
Or perchance even
For a glass of rum.
Again, I’ve altered the original quotation, (shortened it, added three words, and given it a poem-like appearance), but I love how Thoreau puts it, which is basically: Most men, do not care for Nature; and would sell their share. Isn’t that what’s going on, all around the world? People selling “their” share — not that it was ever really truly theirs to begin with.
I often do fact-checking before I begin composing a blog post. And while fact-checking a quote which uses the phase “the environmentalism of most greens was actually very shallow” (see quote below) I wound up on a Facebook page belonging to Sandy Irvine — the main body of writing begins with the words “Biographical Sketch.” I recommend that you read it. While it may look off-putting, the fact that there are no paragraph breaks between the paragraphs, he does raise some fine points. I found the point he makes regarding people who have been born with “rather big silver spoons” in their mouths intriguing. After seeing the phrase “silver spoons,” by the way, I jotted down (in my notes): “We’ve all been born with silver spoons in our mouths.” There’s so much even the ordinary person takes completely for granted, every single day. So much!
He also makes an interesting point in his lead up to where he concludes “More seems to mean less in all kinds of ways.” Indeed. Not to romanticize the past, but reading what he wrote got me to wondering what effect being born, instead, today, would have on someone like a William Shakespeare. How would he be different? Irvine continues (this is the passage I specifically wanted to include in this blog post):
“However the realisation was dawning that the environmentalism of most greens was actually very shallow. Their agenda was a human-centered one, at whose core was a belief in expanding entitlements. The Green Party quickly distanced itself from any serious stance on overpopulation and soon began to put environmental issues on the back burner.”
Irvine hits the nail squarely on its head! It’s not to put people down. It’s simply to state things as they are. Most people don’t care much for environmentalism (in a deep sense). In fact, as Irvine also writes (as a continuation of the passage above), “I was amazed, for example, when, not long after joining the Green Party, I was told by one of its then co-chairs that the party went on too much about the environment.”
This reminds me of someone I briefly exchanged thoughts with while at that People’s Climate March in New York City that I wrote about on this page years ago (see the 10/6/14 blog post below). I don’t remember whether I mentioned this in that blog post or not, but I met someone there who introduced himself as a Green Party candidate (in a local race) and yet couldn’t even name all of the ten tenets that define the Green Party. He was searching his mind, but coming up empty. Which I suppose proved my point better than anything I could’ve said. My point was simply that environmentalism (for lack of a better word), needs to be something much more substantive than simply relegating it to just one item on a list of ten or so things. It’s what, after all, makes that list possible, in the first place.
Anyway, that is one reason why I have never considered myself a Green. But I also have never considered myself a humanist. While “humanist” is increasingly becoming a fashionable term, for one thing, human-ist sounds an awful lot like anthropocen-trist. We always place human concerns front and center — always! — and I think that basically leaves out a major part of the equation: we need this planet, more than this planet needs us! Nature doesn’t care if the ice caps melt, if sea level rises fifty feet, if storms become ferociously stronger, if the present makeup of species is wiped out and replaced with something very different. Nature doesn’t care whether it ushers in an Ice Age, or we usher in a Fire Age. Nature doesn’t care if Nature ceases to exist. But we should. And the quality of our lives — both long-term and short-term — depends upon, I believe, the quality of nature that surrounds us; and this is true whether we realize it or not (and whether we’re capable of, as a species, realizing it or not). Now here is the quotation I want to include next:
“Humanism displays a certain arrogance, as if we are somehow separate or superior to nature.” — Arne Naess
Those are the words of the man who coined the phrase “deep ecology.” Deep ecology refers to the outlook that there is an intrinsic worth to Nature that is not quantifiable in terms of dollars and cents and that is completely separate from man. As David Orton has stated in his writings (according to Wikipedia), “The soul of deep ecology is the belief that there has to be a fundamental change in consciousness” in terms of how we “relate to the natural world.” I do strongly believe we need a fundamental change in human consciousness; and I don’t see how anyone can argue with that.
Now, in rapid fashion, let me present the remaining quotations that I’ve chosen to include here:
“I don’t want to protect the environment, I want to create a world where the environment doesn’t need protecting.” — Unknown
“Our awe of nature, and the silence we must observe when we watch wild animals, hints, I believe, at the origins of religion.” — George Monbiot
“Anyone who doubts that environmentalism can make a complete and perfectly satisfactory religion should have grown up in our house.” — John Muir
Nearly half of the 250 schools in the Nairobi slum of Kibera are religious schools, teaching one brand of Christianity or another. Why isn’t there even one environmentalist school? — Erik Assadourian
Indeed. But rather than ask “Why isn’t there one?,” why not ask “Why aren’t they all?” For if “environmentalism can make a complete and perfectly satisfactory religion,” then perhaps that’s the way to go about weaning people who feel that they need religion, off religion; while, simultaneously, taking us one giant step closer toward saving the planet. It’s not a question of whether that can be done — of course it can be done — it’s a matter of how best to go about trying to achieve that goal.
One issue I have with religions is that they involve deep foundational beliefs. This is not something that can be equatable to ” ‘X’ is my favorite color, what is your favorite color?, but comes down to believing in things like Creationism, Heaven, angels, divine intervention, miracles, the power of prayer, souls, karma, and so forth …
As a brief aside, one idea that I have — and this is something I think religious people would actually enjoy and appreciate [in fact, I think this is something Richard Dawkins might actually enjoy, as well] — touches upon this topic. It’s not something I’m particularly interested in being involved in myself. It’s just one of my many ideas, that could (with financial backing) blossom, if given the chance.
But I’ll end with this. On that Facebook page I referenced above (that of Sandy Irvine), I particularly like Irvine’s final paragraph. It’s powerful, to the point, and well-stated:
“I often feel that we have collectively passed the point of no return. The juggernaut of destruction now seems so big and is moving too fast to be stopped before vast and irreparable damage to planet Earth has taken place. The industrialisation of countries like China and India is probably that final straw which will break the proverbial camel’s back. I do hope I am wrong! I have to keep reminding myself of the dictum that it is better to light a candle than curse the darkness.” — Sandy Irvine
Like a moth to a flame, here I go again. Sleep beckons … but instead, I’ve got other plans. I want to quick comment on some things I saw in yesterday’s New York Times. I’m hoping I can do this fairly quickly.
Every Sunday, for quite some time now, in the main news section of the Times, I come across a couple of pages that are mostly blank, but say something or other about Truth. I never read it. (I do roll my eyes, though.) I wish they would stop doing that. Yeah, I get it. This is a response to Trump. But please, just stop it. It’s wasted space. I can’t imagine it accomplishing anything. Anyone inspired by such simpleton stuff isn’t worth inspiring in the first place. If you want to devote two full pages every Sunday issue to something, why not just show an image of the Earth and a simple “Thank you!” (for example) because the Truth is, that’s what’s always missing (substantively speaking). Some examples …
There’s an article (Sydney Ember, “New Yorker’s Firebrand Socialism Plays in Heartland”) in this same main news section related to the candidacy of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a Democratic socialist whose surprise victory in a Democratic primary in New York, recently, stunned many. Joining her onstage at an event in Wichita, Kansas, Bernie Sanders, another Democratic socialist, delivered this great line (which is included in the article): “Whether you live in Vermont or the Bronx or Kansas, we share common hopes and aspirations that are much greater than the superficial differences that may separate us.” This is also a good example of how you don’t need two full pages in the Times to state a Truth. Just state it! That’s all.
The article also states that Ms. Ocasio-Cortez “has championed a progressive policy agenda that includes Medicare for all, tuition-free public college, ending private prisons and abolishing the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency.” I circled that and wrote at the top of this article: “I don’t see any of that as being in any way whatsoever ecologically transformative. And by not making progress on that front — making progress towards transitioning to an ecologically sustainable paradigm, for example — we cannot really say that we’ve made progress on any front.”
I saw another article (“Teenagers Fight Climate Change, From the Front / Meet the Leaders of a National Movement Called Zero Hour”) — probably the most inspirational (ecologically speaking) article in this week’s Sunday edition of the Times — but jotted down in the top margin of the paper: “No big, transformative ideas. None. It’s all small stuff, followed by a back-slapping Kumbaya-like chorus of ‘Though we still have far to go, look how far we’ve come.’ ” Think about it. Even if you have hundreds of thousands or millions of people locking arms and chanting “We care about the Earth!,” that, plus two fives, will get you a ten. We need nothing short of real, substantive and transformative change, the magnitude of which virtually no one is ever really willing to discuss.
And lack of a deep, substantive sense of eco-consciousness, on the part of most people (!), goes a very long way toward explaining why that is so, in my opinion.
As another case in point: the cover story of this week’s New York Times Magazine, “The Billionaire’s Losses.” This piece, by Michael Steinberger, concerns the billionaire George Soros and how “his decades-long effort to spread liberal democracy has never been in greater peril.” I intended to skim through it very quickly, just to verify the point I wanted to make about how here you have a story about one of the world’s wealthiest philanthropists and there’s not a single, solitary word in the entire piece about any environmental issue. Instead, I ended up reading the whole article, rather intently. But I was right. Literally, there’s not a single, solitary word related to environmentalism. I think that speaks volumes. After all, as Steinberger points out in the article, Soros announced in 2017 that he was going to transfer “the bulk of his remaining wealth, $18 billion in total at the time,” to his philanthropic organization. And that, according to Steinberger, might make Soros’s Open Society Foundations “the second-largest philanthropic organization in the United States,” in total assets (the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is the largest).
I believe the article made mention of a total of $1.4 billion in charity distributed by either him or his charitable organization. For example, $250 million went toward revising Russian textbooks and training teachers “to promote critical thinking”; a $250 million initial endowment went toward creating Central European University; $5 million went towards providing free breakfasts for Hungarian schoolchildren; more than $20 million went toward John Kerry’s unsuccessful presidential run; more than $25 million went toward funding Hillary Clinton’s 2016 run and for other Democratic candidates and causes; he has spent at least $15 million on the upcoming 2018 midterm elections, so far; more than $300 million went toward “combating discrimination against the Roma and providing them with greater education, employment and civic opportunities.” But again, not a penny seems to have gone toward any environmental causes.
Another article in The New York Times Magazine this week (Beverly Gage, “Red Flags / For more than a century, people have been unsure whether American ‘socialism’ is ascendant or moribund. This year is making the question more urgent than usual.” July 22), concerning the topic of ‘socialism,’ states that “Actively embracing the ‘socialist’ label conveys a certain left-wing ambition and commitment — a willingness to think big and imagine a wildly different future.” But one still devoid of ecocentrism, I notice. Because while the article makes specific mention of things like inequality, wage insecurity, the corrupting force of money in politics, labor rights, affordable public education, a vibrant welfare state, robust maternity leave, universal health care, stable jobs, union power, and a collective investment in human welfare, as all being Democratic socialist-friendly terrain, I see no mention in the article of anything environmentalism-related. Not a single, solitary word.
Another article that appeared in the Times yesterday, also helps make my point. As soon as I saw it’s headline — “The Trouble With Vacations” — I began thinking “FINALLY! … FINALLY! … FINALLY!” I was ready to do cartwheels! But, it turns out … the article had absolutely nothing to do with what I thought it was going to be about. I thought it was going to be making the point about how we shouldn’t be flying all over the world, without the slightest concern about what air travel is doing to the planet. It’s ecologically indefensible, for example, to fly thousands of miles, just to lay on a beach, and most especially if you live very close to a beach in the first place. It’s ecologically indefensible, for hundreds of people to fly thousands of miles to a “destination wedding,” when that wedding could have been held much closer to home. It’s ecologically indefensible, to travel to the Galapagos, unless maybe if you happen to be a scientist doing research there. It’s ecologically indefensible, to fly up north, just so you can witness the glaciers melting.
But the opinion piece had a different bent to it, entirely. Ecological considerations don’t really enter into the picture at all. Not a whit. Honor Jones, for example, instead, at one point in this opinion piece, asks: “What if I had taken all the money and enthusiasm I’d put into the past 10 years of vacations and devoted it, instead, to making my own life, the real one, a little bit better? What would that look like?”
The slogan for Newsday — a regional newspaper I subscribe to — is “Where there is no vision, the people perish.” Nowhere is that more true and germane than where it concerns how we’re treating the Earth and how we’re living on this planet. For how goes the Earth, so goes mankind. Where there is no ecologically-appropriate vision, the people perish.
There was an interesting article in Newsday a couple days ago (Kinberly Yuen, “Waste not: LI pair tosses trash only 3 times a year” July 17) about a local Long Island couple who throw out their trash only about three times a year. That’s quite an extraordinary feat, considering that the average American, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, produces 4.4 pounds of trash per day.
The article reveals some of their tricks to explain how they accomplish that. Almost everything in their home is upcycled or purchased secondhand. An old shirt, for example, “was turned into a produce bag, with the rest cut up and used to replace tissues,” as the article explains. And for takeout food, they use their own utensils and containers.
According to the article, the concept of living a “zero waste” lifestyle piqued Nicole’s interest after she read about a woman in New York City who was doing just that.
The article states that “the Lentinis recognize that a completely waste-free life is impossible,” and notes that the prescription cat food that they buy comes in plastic. The garbage that they do throw out (about three times a year), according to the article, “consists of mostly nonrecyclable paper and plastic.”
It’s worth noting at this point that not all of what we put out at the curb to be recycled, is actually recycled. As a New York Times article reported several weeks ago (Livia Albeck-Ripka, “Your Recyclables Get Recycled, Right? Maybe, or Maybe Not” May 31), a considerable amount of what we believe is being recycled, isn’t. For example, the article states that according to Brent Bell, Waste Management’s vice president of recycling, “approximately 25 percent of all recycling picked up by Waste Management is contaminated to the point that it is sent to landfills.” Disposable coffee cups and food waste are two common causes of contamination. But that’s not all. In fact, it never ceases to amaze me, when I see the wide assortment of things people have carelessly tossed into those clearly-marked “Paper only!” recycling containers, such as the ones commonly found in office buildings.
Expense is another issue that gets in the way of recycling. This Times article states that according to Peter Spendelow, a policy analyst for the Department of Environmental Quality in Oregon, companies in rural areas tend to have higher costs associated with getting their materials to market and as a result, their recyclables could end up being dumped in a landfill instead of being recycled.
Another factor that has caused there to be less recycling and more dumping, has been China’s stricter standards regarding the amount and type of material that they will accept for recycling. I certainly can’t fault China for taking such steps, but also wonder whether this was implemented as a thinly-veiled tit-for-tat response to Trump’s economics-based saber-rattling regarding placing tariffs on Chinese imports.
In any event, China’s change in policy regarding what they will accept has caused major headaches for many communities in the United States since its implementation. In some communities, as the article points out, local officials and garbage haulers are telling people to put materials that used to go out with their recycling, in with their trash instead. Other communities, like Grants Pass, Ore., “are continuing to encourage their residents to recycle as usual,” even though that material will instead be sent to a landfill. Their justification for doing this is out of concern “that if they told residents to stop recycling, it could be hard to get them to start again.”
One thing I learned from reading this Times article, is that the reason why people are told not to include pizza boxes with the cardboard they put out for recycling, is because of the oil (if there is a side of the box that is not stained with oil, then that side is recyclable).
Do I have time for a quick blog post? Let’s find out.
Here’s a direct quote from an article in this past Sunday’s New York Times (by Olivia Mitchell Ryan and Zoe Mou, “A Health Complaint Delivered In 9,000 Crud-Filled Bottles”):
Water pollution is very common, it’s very common around the world, but it never receives any special attention. There are so many villages like Xiaohaotu who have been drinking water like this for years, and then they get cancer, skin disease, their sheep die, but no one cares. People just don’t know. — Brother Nut
“Brother Nut,” as the article points out, is an artist and activist known only by this pseudonym. [My free advice: get a better pseudonym. “Nut” does not translate too well in English.] Brother Nut created an art exhibit, in China, featuring 9,000 bottles of “brown, murky groundwater collected from a Chinese village.” Brother Government, however, wasn’t impressed. Authorities ordered the show closed, and police confiscated the bottles. That was back in June. And while the attention his “Nongfu Spring Market” exhibit drew did get officials to take some action, he still plans to do more. Beginning Saturday, as the Times article points out, he aims to use an old van, “known as the Moving Art Museum,” to display another 1,000 bottles of polluted Xiaohaotu water.
As the article states, this is not the first time Brother Nut has turned pollution into art: “in 2015, he used an industrial vacuum to suck up particulate matter” in Beijing, which he then formed into a brick.
One of the things I enjoy doing, is taking a quick peek at Marilyn vos Savant’s Ask Marilyn column, in Parade magazine, after it arrives tucked inside my Newsday. It comes inserted in the weekend comics section, along with lots of advertising circulars. This week’s Dilbert cartoon, on the cover of that comics section, reminded me of something I’ve long been wanting to put up on YouTube. I think it would be really hilarious. But more importantly, it would also help to communicate, in a somewhat unforgettable way, some important key points concerning how wrong our thinking is (concerning the direction in which we’re heading). Anyway, that’s just one of the many, many things that likely will not move forward, unless I some day get funding.
Here’s something you might find interesting. In the Sunday Business section of each Sunday edition of the New York Times, there appears a Vocations column. In this column, Perry Garfinkel interviews people about their vocation. On July 1, he interviewed T J Brown, a 73 year old mattress maker employed by Savoir Beds in London. And would you care to guess what some of their mattresses sell for? Their mattress prices range from $13,000 to $250,000. No, that’s not a misprint. In fact, in the interview, Brown states that he has been entrusted to create their Royal State Bed, which retails for more than $175,000.
Right after having read that, I read the interview with Richard Branson and his daughter Holly, on the opposite page (David Gelles’s “Corner Office” column, July 1), and there, “income inequality” and “people sleeping on the streets,” just leap off the page. Think about that. The thought of a homeless person, sleeping on the street; juxtaposed, with the image of someone sleeping on a $250,000 mattress.
To give you the full context, David Gelles, the interviewer, has just asked “What do you think those in positions of power should do to address social problems like income inequality?” And Richard Branson gives his answer: “A basic income should be introduced in Europe and in America. It’s great to see countries like Finland experimenting with it in certain cities. It’s a disgrace to see people sleeping on the streets with this material wealth all around them. And I think with artificial intelligence coming along, there needs to be a basic income.”
It is amazing how fast this ‘universal basic income’ idea is gaining steam. When I first considered this concept, years ago, no one was discussing it. In fact, one of the reasons why I never brought it up, ever, is I thought people would find it ludicrous to even suggest such a thing.
But that’s certainly not the case today. In fact, this topic was once again revisited, in an opinion piece, by Annie Lowrey, published in yesterday’s New York Times (“Trump Should Just Give People Money / The president wants to cut government. So he should see the wisdom of just cutting checks.”). A sidebar appearing with the byline, states that Annie Lowrey is “the author of the forthcoming Give People Money, from which this essay is adapted, and a contributing editor at The Atlantic.”
As Lowrey states, “In the past few years — with the middle class being squeezed, trust in government eroding, technological change hastening, and the economy getting Uberized — the idea has vaulted to a surprising prominence … moving from airy hypothetical to near-reality in some places.” Indeed, as Lowrey also points out, Mark Zuckerberg (a potential 2020 presidential candidate), Hillary Clinton, Bill Gates and Elon Musk “are just a few of the policy proposal’s flirts, converts and supporters.”
If a universal basic income were implemented in this country, every citizen could receive anywhere from $500 to $1,000 a month to spend however they choose. The idea is that this could render other government assistance programs obsolete.
My main problem with universal basic income is that whenever I hear the concept being discussed, ecological considerations are never a part of the equation; and I simply don’t see how you can have the one, without the other. When I first conceived of the idea of giving citizens a sizable stipend, I envisioned it as potentially a way of getting people to be less destructive to the environment — by having fewer people employed in occupations that are causing ecological harm, for instance. But with the way a universal basic income would likely be put into practice, I see just the opposite occurring. For example, lots of people would likely be rushing to spend their newfound fortune on air travel. Travel is often one of the very first things people think of, when their financial circumstances change, in a positive way. But just imagine what impact hundreds of millions of people (in just this country alone), traveling thousands of extra miles a year, would have on climate change.
There’s so much more to say … but sorry, it’s time for this bleary-eyed blogger to get some shuteye. Goodnight.
Here we go again. There are so many things I’m really itching to blog about, that I wish I had a lot more time. But I don’t. So I’ll just mention a few things from this past Sunday’s New York Times that caught my attention.
One article worth mentioning is the cover story “Google Doesn’t Hate Owls. It Just Loves Cats,” by David Streitfeld. It talks about the endangered burrowing owl population near Google’s Mountain View offices in California’s Silicon Valley. This particular owl species, since it nests on the ground, is vulnerable to predators such as stalking cats. Of which there are many. And Google feeds that feral cat colony.
This is a serious issue; and a contentious one. On the one side, you have kind, loving people who feed and care for the cats (e.g. “trap, neuter and return”). And on the other side, there are those who argue that euthanizing feral cats that are not adoptable is the better approach, since feral cats kill wildlife such as birds, in large numbers. For example, as this article points out, in 2017, for the first time in 20 years of record-keeping, no owl fledglings were observed in that 750-acre park. Personally, while I absolutely adore cats, I think “Is euthanizing feral cats the right thing to do?” is a fair question to ask,” considering that cats are definitely not endangered — according to the article, there are an estimated 30-80 million feral cats in the United States alone — whereas a great many species of birds and mammals are endangered, threatened or declining. (The article also states that there are “endangered species” at the nearby Facebook campus, as well.)
In the Sunday Review section, though I didn’t read the opinion piece “Why You Should Be Drinking Obscure Wines,” by Jason Wilson, I did happen to catch a glimpse of this little factoid that appeared in it: “There are 1,368 known wine grape varieties, but nearly 80 percent of the world’s wine is made from just 20 kinds of grapes. Many of the rest face extinction.”
There’s also an opinion piece titled “The Silence of the Bugs,” by Curt Stager, which cites a 2017 study which evidenced a 76 percent decline in total seasonal biomass of flying insects netted at several dozen locations throughout Germany over a period of three decades, and points out we don’t know to what extent this is happening worldwide, since there’s a shortage of qualified scientists doing this type of research. But it’s an important issue to address, since, as the eminent biologist Edward O. Wilson aptly points out (this quotation appears in the article): “If all mankind were to disappear, the world would regenerate back to the rich state of equilibrium that existed ten thousand years ago. If insects were to vanish, the environment would collapse into chaos.”
“Are we in the midst of a global insect Armageddon that most of us have failed to notice?” Stager asks in the piece. Surprisingly, coming up with a definitive answer to that question isn’t easy. To chime in with my own personal anecdotal evidence, I would say I’ve witnessed a similar enough decline here, as they’ve seen in Germany. I can remember as a child, I would sometimes keep a spider in a jar and I would be able to find plenty of food for it. But nowadays, it would starve to death. And that’s saying a lot, since a six-foot tall man can cover a lot more ground than a spider can.
Another Times opinion piece you might want to read is Katherine Stewart’s “A Christian Nationalist Blitz.” It’s just another sad example of how we could be focusing our attention on important issues and on finding solutions for the deadly serious problems plaguing mankind, but instead are forced to deal with ridiculous nonsense like this so-called “Project Blitz.”
Serendipity! While retrieving one of the articles I will soon cite below, I also came across another magazine I thought I was going to have to travel to a distant library to get. No, it was right there, where I thought it was, all along. I’ve been wanting to cite a column that appeared in that magazine to counter several op-eds and articles I’ve read in recent months in the Times (there’s another one in this past Sunday’s paper) telling us that things aren’t really so bad; and I will — but I’ll save that for another day.
“Rob Bilott v. DuPont,” by Nathaniel Rich, was The New York Times Magazine’s featured cover story back on January 10, 2016. It is well worth reading. It tells the tale of how, as the cover page states in big bold print, it took “years of fighting by one lawyer to hold DuPont accountable for exposing thousands of West Virginians to a chemical its scientists knew to be toxic.”
I like how, as the opening paragraphs reveal, the case fell into the lap of that particular attorney — an attorney “whose specialty was defending chemical companies” and who had several times “even worked on cases with DuPont lawyers.” What piqued Bilott’s interest during that first initial phone call was that the individual on the other end of the line, Wilbur Tennant, had a connection to his grandmother, Alma Holland White. One of Tennant’s neighbors had been friendly with White, and in fact, it was time spent there, on that neighboring farm, that sparked some of Bilott’s “happiest childhood memories.” He rode horses, milked cows and watched on TV as Secretariat won the Triple Crown (the Belmont Stakes, by 31 lengths).
This article above came back to mind, as I was read “States Are Doing What Scott Pruitt Won’t,” in yesterday’s New York Times. [Both articles concern the chemical PFOA — and a related family of chemicals, PFOS.] It was written by Sharon Lerner, an environmental reporter for The Intercept, and was reported in partnership with the nonprofit Investigative Fund.
Lerner states that even very low level exposures to PFOA have “been linked to certain cancers, thyroid disease, pre-eclampsia and other health problems.” This coincides with the Rich article, which states that according to scientific findings released in 2011, “there was ‘a probable link’ between PFOA and kidney cancer, testicular cancer, thyroid disease, high cholesterol, pre-eclampsia and ulcerative colitis.”
Lerner further reports in the piece that late last month, Washington State “passed the first state laws banning firefighting foam and food packaging containing not just PFOA and PFOS, but the entire class of chemicals to which they belong.” Thousands of these chemicals “are in commercial use,” worldwide, according to the article.
The thinking behind the legislation seems logical. “Forgoing the years or perhaps decades of research necessary for the chemicals to be fully understood,” Lerner writes, “they figured it was safest to assume the worst: that since the chemicals all belong to the same class and have similar structures, they are likely to affect people in similar ways.” Isn’t that, after all, what appears to be playing out concerning BPA and its replacer, BPS?
A thought that often comes to mind when reading articles like this one, is “But there are tens of thousands of chemicals in use — that’s just a tip of the iceburg!”
Another thought, as I was reading Lerner’s article, was this: If Republicans are so concerned about fetuses, why aren’t they concerned about fetuses being exposed to PFOA, PFOS, GenX, BPS, 1,4-dioxane, etc. etc?
Another article worth mentioning, was a Sunday Times cover story (Steve Eder and Hiroko Tabuchi, “E.P.A. Chief’s Ethics Woes Have Echoes in His Past In Pruitt’s Life Before Agency, Fancy Homes, a Shell Company and Rich Friends”) with more very disturbing revelations concerning Pruitt, the man who is trying to eviscerate the EPA.
Finally, one other article published in this past Sunday’s New York Times that you might want to take a look at, was “What America Looks Like in 10,000 Years,” by Benjamin Strauss, Peter Clark and Scott Kulp (Graphics by Jasmine C. Lee, Anjali Singhvi and Bill Marsh). This article states that even if the 2015 Paris climate accord’s main target goal was successfully reached (if the world limits global warming to near 2 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels), then “seas will continue to rise, 80 feet over the next 10,000 years, according to our modeling.” That’s bad enough. But what would happen instead “if the current growth trend in greenhouse gas emissions continues for the rest of this century before reversing?” (We do have a fossil fuel enamored climate change denialist in the White House, after all.)
The answer? The Times asserts that their research conducted with colleagues shows that one resulting consequence would be that the oceans would rise more than 170 feet over the next 10,000 years; and half of that increase would occur within the next one thousand years.
Additionally, the Times invites its readers to “try this quiz,” wherein it lists all “26 current (and future) coastal states.” Your job is to match ten of those states, with the ten images depicting what those states will look like, after the world’s oceans rise more than 170 feet. The answers are “on Page 9.” (And perhaps online, as well.) Good luck!
[“Note: This analysis does not take into account that warming may cause forests, soils and permafrost to release vast stores of additional carbon into the atmosphere, compounding the problem.” — New York Times]
This blog post will seem a bit out of place here on my Home page; and therefore I may delete this blog post at some point. But I have decided to post this here anyway because just as I was about to post this on Facebook, I experienced a major glitch which knocked me off Facebook and I haven’t been able to get back on since. C’est la vie. Maybe it’s like that “Nightmare at 20,000 feet” episode of The Twilight Zone, except instead of some gremlin pulling at a plane’s wing, there’s some gremlin pulling at some internal component of my computer. But hey, for a whole bunch of reasons, I’ve never really been much of a fan of Facebook anyway. (And this is just one more reason not to be.) Maybe I’ll be able to fix the problem, maybe not; but I’m not going to worry about it.
Without further ado, just look below and you can read what I intended to post on Facebook the other day:
I bought The New York Times on Tuesday for an article (Jim Robbins, “At Home, Even In The Sky / Scientists investigate how viruses shape the ecology of the planet.”) published in the ScienceTimes section, concerning the “virosphere.” It was an interesting article; and it provides further evidence of why I say we shouldn’t be spending money planning missions to Mars, when there’s so much we don’t understand about this planet. There are plentiful enough mysteries to unravel right here on Earth.
As the article points out, earlier this year, scientists calculated that every day, some 800 million viruses fall down upon every square meter of this planet. (And this “stunned” the international team of scientists who conducted that research.)
Furthermore, the article also states that “between 40 percent and 80 percent of the human genome may be linked to ancient viral invasions.”
While your subconscious is dizzily digesting that profound thought, I’ll switch gears and also mention that another article that appeared in that Science Times section caught my attention (Natalie Angier, “Wired to Be Besties / Research reveals shared neural response patterns in our social networks.”).
Angier quotes Yale biosociologist Nicholas Christakis — author of Connected: The Power of Our Social Networks and How They Shape Our World — as stating: “I think it’s an incredibly ingenious paper. It suggests that friends resemble each other not just superficially, but in the very structures of their brains.”
Angier writes that the researchers “plan next to try the experiment in reverse: to scan incoming students who don’t yet know one another and see whether those with the most congruent neural patterns end up becoming good friends.”
It occurred to me while reading this article that it might also be worth investigating using this brain-scanning data as a means for assigning roommates in college dorms.
Lastly, also in this ScienceTimes section, on page D2, there is a photo of an “endangered green-haired turtle.” It’s the weirdest thing. It really looks like there’s a clump of grass growing out of it’s head! But which is weirder, really … that turtle? Or the fact that we keep looking the other way while so much ecological devastation is unfolding all around us, every day?
In Sunday’s Times I read a sad story on the obituary page (Jeffrey C. Mays, “Prominent Lawyer Self-Immolates in Brooklyn”). Here’s how the article begins: “A lawyer nationally known for being a champion of gay rights died after setting himself on fire in Prospect Park in Brooklyn early Saturday morning and leaving a note exhorting people to lead less selfish lives as a way to protect the planet,” according to police. The note was left in a shopping cart and was also emailed to several news outlets, including The New York Times. In the email to the Times, he wrote: “Pollution ravages our planet, oozing inhabitability via air, soil, water and weather. Most humans on the planet now breathe air made unhealthy by fossil fuels, and many die early deaths as a result — my early death by fossil fuel reflects what we are doing to ourselves.”
In his note, David S. Buckel also referenced his “good health” … up until “the final moment.” Very sad. “Honorable purpose in life,” he wrote, “invites honorable purpose in death.”
Too bad he hadn’t reached out to me, instead. I could have shared lots of ideas concerning meaningful ways he could have contributed. True, our chances of saving the planet are very, very slim. I’m not going to lie. But taking one’s life isn’t a solution. I might even wind up deleting this post, in time, for the simple reason that it’s such a downer. As Warren Beishir, a graphic designer, who is quoted in the article, states: “How do you do that to yourself? It’s a terrible way to go, and I don’t want to think about it after today.” [My italics.] Setting oneself on fire is not a way to leave a lasting impact.
Another reason I might wind up deleting this post, in time, is I don’t want anyone else getting that same idea (copycat suicides).
Let me close with this. On my Links page, there is a link to a Suicide.org page that contains links for suicide hotlines in over sixty countries. I added that link years ago, after discovering that every time I did a Google search using my domain name (ecoideaman.com), one thing that kept popping up (though I don’t know why) was TheFreeHelpGuy.com. After reading a few of his blog posts — including one related to suicide — I thought it would be nice to include one of the resources he provided, on my Links page, as well (as a public service). And so I did.
I try not to be too redundant on this website — to simply say the same stuff over and over. I try to mix it up a bit, to make things more interesting — while sticking to the central theme of saving the planet. However, this quotation I am about to share with you, might look familiar. I think this is the third time now that it appears on this website. (I last included it on this page about two years ago. And it is also on my Quotations page.) I originally found it a very long time ago, on a website that included lots of quotations related to environmentalism. I just absolutely love this quotation. And the sentiments expressed in it are so especially fitting, at this time of the year. These are the words of Devla Murphy:
The multiple threats to the Earth are so complex that in most cases they seem beyond the reach of an average citizen’s influence. Yet we can all launch a personal campaign to reduce consumption — though perhaps only after a change of mind-set, to overcome the fear of seeming poor, parsimonious or eccentric. This does not mean being deprived or uncomfortable. It simply means stopping to think, before each purchase, ‘Do I really need this?’ For years a small minority has been living and thinking thus. If a large majority did likewise — if frugality and shabbiness could become trendy — then the Earth, though not saved, would be measurably less endangered. — Dervla Murphy, Irish author
I appreciate the fact that she points out (“though not saved”) we shouldn’t view this as being the solution. Saving the planet is far more complicated than merely reducing the size of our consumerism footprint.
After all these years, I still don’t know much about Murphy. Wikipedia describes Murphy as “an Irish touring cyclist and author of adventure travel books.” It states she “is best known for her 1965 book Full Tilt: Ireland to India With a Bicycle, about an overland cycling trip through Europe, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India.” It also states that she “normally travelled alone and unaided, without luxuries and depending on the hospitality of local people.” The next two sentences, I found a bit amusing. It continues: “She has been in dangerous situations; for example, she was attacked by wolves in the former Yugoslavia, threatened by soldiers in Ethiopia, and robbed in Siberia. However, she described her worst incident as tripping over cats at home and shattering her left arm.” Ouch! But isn’t that funny how her own cats represented a greater threat to her health and safety than attacking wolves, armed soldiers and getting robbed in Siberia?
Something else I am going to share with you today is a 34-minute YouTube video I stumbled upon several weeks ago. The title of the video is “Dan Price’s underground home, art & philosophy on $5,000/year” and the YouTube channel is: Kirsten Dirksen. (By the way, if you speed up YouTube videos, you can watch them in half the time.) The video was published over two years ago and has been viewed roughly 900,000 times.
At one point in this video, Dan Price states (and I am paraphrasing): “How much do you really need? You sleep, eat, read a book.” This video provides food for thought on the topic of simple living — he also wrote a book, titled Radical Simplicity. He doesn’t have too many shirts … but he has enough. He doesn’t even have a refrigerator. This video is also a testament to the extent to which we overeat and overindulge our tastebuds — including our consumerism “tastebuds.” I think you’ll enjoy watching this video!
There was an op-ed in yesterday’s New York Times (Anthony Doerr, “We Were Warned”) that I applaud. Doerr jams in lots of facts relating to what we are doing to this planet; and it’s well worth reading for that reason alone. Where I would have to disagree, however, is where Doerr states “everywhere you look, people are trying.” I wish it were so; but I couldn’t disagree more. Perhaps in a couple weeks, when roads are so jammed with cars carrying this season’s holiday shoppers that you find yourself in constant gridlock, you’ll agree to disagree as well.
At the very beginning of the op-ed, Doerr points out that the first “World Scientists’ Warning to Humanity” manifesto, which was issued in 1992, was signed by more than 1,500 prominent scientists. Doerr later notes that “over 15,000 scientists” signed the new manifesto — “World Scientists’ Warning to Humanity: A Second Notice” — which was released this month. That’s a nice improvement, but still, it’s also worth noting that just one annual scientists gathering — like the recently concluded Society for Neuroscience 2017 Annual Meeting, Nov. 11-15, in Washington, D.C., for example — brought together more than 30,000 scientists, from more than 80 countries. (Now imagine the carbon footprint that event created!) What we need is big, bold, paradigm-shaking action. Not more proclamations and manifestos.
This is a short but well-written piece, and I appreciate Doerr’s honesty. At one point, concerning the frustration he feels simultaneously wanting to take action but being prevented from doing so by being locked in the daily grind of daily chores and such, he writes:
Hour by hour, minute by minute, I make decisions that seem like the right things to do at the time, but which prevent me from reflecting on the most significant, most critical fact in my life: Every day I participate in a system that is weaponizing our big, gorgeous planet against our kids.
He also admits to having “hurtled through the troposphere on hundreds of airplanes,” and mentions parenthetically that “each round trip from New York to London costs the Arctic another three square meters of ice.” [A report published last year in the journal Science revealed that for every metric ton of carbon dioxide released into the air, three square meters of Arctic sea ice disappear.]
Air travel is indeed one perfect example of how we can easily alter our behavior, and should, but don’t. In just this past Sunday’s edition of The New York Times, besides what I’ve just cited regarding Doerr’s hundreds of flights, I’ll also point out there’s a whole Travel section, every single week, and that’s been the case for as long as I can remember. In fact, this week’s Travel section happens to include four full-page ads for trips listed under the heading “The New York Times / Journeys / 40+ itineraries, 100+ departure dates, 5 continents.” There are seven separate categories, including “Food & Wine” and “Activities & Sports”-themed trips. And in addition to that, in this same Sunday Times, in the Sunday Review section, Times columnist Nicholas Kristof announces his “annual win-a-trip contest,” in which he will choose one university student to accompany him on a reporting trip. “I’m thinking about a 2018 trip to the Central African Republic,” he writes, “or perhaps Bangladesh.” On the next page, Maggie Shipstead’s “Why Can’t We Protect Elephants?” op-ed mentions Eric and Donald Trump Jr.’s elephant hunting trips (flying there on their father’s private jet, I’d bet). On the next-to-last page of the Times’s Book Review section, Tina Brown writes “These days, the only place I really do my diary is on my laptop on a plane back from Davos or L.A. or London.” In the Book Review section, I often see reviews stating that the author flew all around the world (or all across the U.S.) to gather information for their book; and I always think: What, they couldn’t pick up a phone?
Anyway, air travel is a topic I’ve been wanting to write about for quite some time — for years — and so I have a lot more to say regarding air travel. But for now, briefly, my message is this: If you care about this planet, don’t take JetBlue, take Skype! [Or use something similar, instead.]
“The Elusive Big Idea,” an opinion piece by Neal Gabler, published in 2011 (Aug. 14), in The New York Times, offers up plenty of food for thought. For example, early in the piece, Gabler states:
If our ideas seem smaller nowadays, it’s not because we are dumber than our forebears but because we just don’t care as much about ideas as they did. In effect, we are living in an increasingly post-idea world — a world in which big, thought-provoking ideas that can’t instantly be monetized are of so little intrinsic value that fewer people are generating them and fewer outlets are disseminating them, the Internet notwithstanding. Bold ideas are almost passe.
That’s an intriguing thought. But Gabler also walks us through why he suspects we live in a post-idea age. He mentions some of the factors that he believes are contributing to this. Things like Twitter and the internet, for example, may limit interaction and even thinking itself in ways not conducive to germinating big ideas.
Gabler also contends that we live in a post-Enlightenment age, as well. An age “in which rationality, science, evidence, logical argument and debate have lost the battle in many sectors, and perhaps even in society generally, to superstition, faith, opinion and orthodoxy.” “While we continue to make giant technological advances,” Gabler asserts, “we may be the first generation to have turned back the epochal clock — to have gone backward intellectually from advanced modes of thinking into old modes of belief.”
Post-Enlightenment and post-idea are two different things. As Gabler explains: “Post-Enlightenment refers to a style of thinking that no longer deploys the techniques of rational thought. Post-idea refers to thinking that is no longer done, regardless of the style.”
How did we get to this point? Gabler posits that the culprit “may be information itself.” “If information was once grist for ideas,” Gabler writes, ” over the last decade it has become competition for them.”
One characteristic of this Information Age is the ceaseless flow of information streaming towards us. And so much of that information is highly trivial (to say the least). But it doesn’t stop there. This has serious real world consequences. As Gabler states:
In effect, we are living within the nimbus of an informational Gresham’s law in which trivial information pushes out significant information, but it is also an ideational Gresham’s law in which information, trivial or not, pushes out ideas.
These words ring especially true in this age of Trump. It seems I can’t turn to the Times’s op-ed pages these days without witnessing at least one headline featuring the word “Trump.” Seeing this repeated anew, day after day, suggests this: There is also now a post-2016 presidential election Gresham’s law in which endless reportage about Trump pushes out both significant information and ideas. It is sad but true. Countless column and op-ed space is continually being wasted now on addressing all the stupid nonsense that’s going on, daily. On the one hand, it’s necessary to report on what Trump’s doing; because he’s steering the ship. But on the other hand, we need to rise above all the nonsense and focus ever more intently on how best to wring every drop of advantage from every column inch of newspaper space that is available. Think about all the future generations that are now counting on us! We need to be having much deeper, richer discussions concerning what specifically most needs to be done — and we need to think big!
But getting back to this rich “post-idea” topic. In 2014, Frank Bruni wrote an op-ed column (“A Quiet Cheer for Solitude,” Jun 10) — published in The Times — in which he brings up Susan Cain’s 2012 best seller Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. In describing Cain’s book, Bruni writes:
Cain’s book focuses on introverts, making the case that they have a kind of intellectual advantage. And their edge stems largely from greater amounts of solitude, from the degree to which they’ve swapped motion for stillness, chatter for calm. They’ve carved out space for reflection that’s sustained and deep.
Bruni also states that “It’s in solitude that much of the sharpest thinking is done and many of the best ideas are hatched.”
Bruni uses the fact that Hillary Clinton had just released  a book of her own (Hard Choices), as a means of setting up discussion of Cain’s book and its subject matter. He also weaves in how lessons learned from reading a book like Quiet might suggest that our nation would be better served if our government officials spent more time immersed in quiet reflection and focused thought. However, according to Bruni, “Action is the preferred pose of our era’s politicians.” They “want to be photographed on the go or leaning in,” and we evaluate them “in terms of their sociability, their zest for interaction.”
“Shaking hands, trumps reading books, mulling problems, probing one’s soul,” Bruni writes. “Is it any wonder that our rulers as a class, and we as a country, are bereft of big ideas?” As a society, we tend not to value solitude as much as we should. But if we do indeed live in a post-idea age, as Neal Gabler contends, Bruni might well be on to something in suggesting that politicians make more room for quiet reflection and rumination.
One interesting opinion piece that appeared in yesterday’s New York Times, was Peter Wehner’s “Seeing Through a Glass, Darkly.” He has a political party affiliation, I don’t, and he’s a Republican, I’m not; but the piece itself is about confirmation bias, and about how it “is far more difficult to overcome than most of us like to admit.” As he states, we are “particularly tempted by delusions if they constitute bricks in walls we have built and live behind.” His prescriptive advice for conquering our current toxic political divide, is “to begin with people in our own tribe, with people who have standing in our lives. We need to emphasize greater epistemological modesty on our side and greater appreciation for the perspectives of the other side.” That’s good advice, in general.
He also suggests that while “we all struggle with confirmation bias,” some of us might be “closer to seeing the truth of things better than others. Objective reality exists, truth matters, and we have to pursue them with purpose and without fear.”
“Truth matters” is a good lead-in to a topic I want to write about today: religion. (See also the previous post on this page.) American Atheist magazine has a page at the back of every issue for one atheist’s response to the question “Why I am an atheist.” While I can easily fill up one page — or ten or twenty — in answering that question, all I really need are these four words: I believe truth matters. That’s what it comes down to.
If a senator stood up on the floor of the U.S. Senate and started saying things like “By the grace of Zeus,” or “May Zeus bless America,” I don’t think they would have a very long career in the Senate. So why isn’t that the case when they say things like “May God bless America?”
To paraphrase a quotation attributed to astronomer Lawrence M. Krauss, which I saw in a Center For Inquiry mailing: The fact that nonsense can be uttered with such impunity, in public discourse, is deeply chilling. [His actual words, from Scientific American: “The increasingly blatant nature of nonsense uttered with impunity in public discourse is chilling.”] These words come echoing back to me every time I’m listening to a primary or presidential debate, and, inevitably, at some point, the candidates start talking about how important prayer is to them, or how they don’t believe in evolution, or that it shouldn’t be taught in schools, and so forth …
One reason why I find this kind of stuff so disturbing, is because I feel that if we can’t agree on the obvious, then how can we ever agree on anything? And make no mistake about it, whether they are sincere or not, they unequivocally state, in no uncertain terms, that they are devout, unquestioning believers.
Just prior to putting up my website, I consulted a friend who teaches (psychology) at several institutes of higher learning, and his emphatic advice to me was “You’ll get the funding. If you leave out that stuff about religion.” But I told him I can’t do that, because it’s much too vitally important to leave that out. And, I pointed out, I’m not the only one saying that. “Fine,” he relented, “but first you have to become well known, yourself, before you can express those sentiments.”
“Do you want to get the funding,” he asked, “or don’t you?”
“No,” I said, “it’s not about getting funding, it’s about saving the planet. And changing society’s prevailing religious proclivities is just one crucial aspect concerning what we need to do, to do that.”
We went back and forth like that, but my point is this: I’m not going to play that game. If I don’t get funding, I don’t get funding — so be it! I won’t be dishonest about what we need to do. And I’m so glad E.O. Wilson (someone of his stature) has said the things he’s said. I only wish he would speak out more forcefully on this issue.
Here’s one way I sometimes explain it. And people usually agree with this point — even if they only do so, slowly and hesitatingly, after I’ve asked the question more than once. I simply ask them: “Wouldn’t you agree, that there will certainly come a time, at some point in the future — if not within 100 or 1,000 years from now, then certainly within 10,000 or 100,000 years from now (hypothetically speaking, assuming mankind survives on this planet that long) — that today’s popular religions will no longer exist?”
As soon as they agree with that, I continue: “Well then, if that’s going to happen, eventually, anyway, why not start designing that new paradigm, right now (sooner, rather than later), and, simultaneously, do it in such a way that we maximize our chances of saving the planet?”
“Similarly, just as we go about our daily lives completely unconcerned about the lives of ants, the biosphere is wholly indifferent to our existence.” Those are my words, but also a fitting way to begin a post concerning an eminent biologist whose road to fame was partially paved by his diligent study of ants. As you might guess, I am referring to the much revered E. O. Wilson.
One of the things E.O. Wilson is noted for is his coining of the term biophilia. In Jon Turney’s review of Wilson’s The Future of Life — published in the New York Times Book Review (“Of Mites and Men” Feb. 17, 2002) — Turney quotes Wilson as describing biophilia as “the innate tendency to focus upon life and lifelike forms, and in some instances to affiliate with them emotionally.” Turney further adds that biophilia “also means that we need contact with other creatures, and views of pleasing landscapes, for our mental health. And we need the idea of true wilderness for spiritual nourishment.” I like that explanation of the term; and I quite agree.
But what I wanted to talk about today is an interview Wilson did with New Scientist, back in January of this year (Penny Sarchet, “E.O.Wilson: Religious faith is dragging us down”). It’s unfortunate that such an important interview is so hard to obtain. I read online that even Richard Dawkins was having trouble gaining access to it. Similarly, Jerry Coyne — his review of Wilson’s The Social Conquest of Earth, was published in the Times Literary Supplement — had a hard time getting it. But that is a result of today’s business model, wherein no matter how important material is to disseminate, it still gets hidden away behind a paywall.
Writing about the interview on his blog (whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com), Coyne states: “Wilson continues his critique of religion, which I think is great since he’s so widely admired. People have to sit up a bit when such a famous (and affable) scientist” is presenting his views. But how can people sit up and pay attention, when they can’t even read the interview? Anyway, that’s one of the beefs I have about paywalls. I wish certain exceptions could be made, in some instances, like for this interview, so that they could reach as wide an audience as possible.
One of the things I need to caution you about, concerning E.O.Wilson, is that he’s an optimist. And therefore, I doubt he has as realistic a grasp of just how dire the situation is, as someone who is on the mission he is on, needs to have. I have a general rule of thumb: when it comes to saving the planet, never place your trust (place too much faith) in an optimist. I’m sorry, but I find that to be the case. And I’m someone who tends to shun both labels by the way. I don’t characterize myself as an optimist, or a pessimist.
To clarify, there are two distinctly different definitions concerning optimism. Nearly everyone hopes for a positive outcome. Nearly everyone wants to see that “and they lived happily ever after” ending. That’s not what I’m talking about. “Tendency to hope for the best” is indeed one definition. But another definition is “tendency to expect a favorable outcome.” That is what I am referring to here when I say never trust an optimist, when it comes to saving the planet (e.g. regarding who most to throw your backing behind). I’ve seen an interview transcript of when he was interviewed by Jeffrey Brown for PBS’s Newshour show (Apr. 28, 2016) where Wilson states that achieving his Half Earth objective (preserving half the earth’s surface, to fend off the mass die-off of earth’s remaining species) is “easier to do than most people think” — even though, in the same interview, for example, it states “Wilson acknowledges that the world’s population will continue to grow … to 11 billion.” In another interview (Claudia Dreifus, “A Conversation With E.O. Wilson / A Plea, While There’s Still Time” New York Times, Mar. 1, 2016), Wilson states:
I’ve made so bold a step as to offer this maxim: Do no further harm to the rest of life. If we can agree on that, everything else will follow. It’s actually going to be a lot easier than people think.
One of the things I’m pretty sure you’re never going to hear me say, is that saving the planet is going to be easy. And yet I hear that kind of talk all the time. It’s scary!
But getting back to the New Scientist interview, Wilson mentions that a “major theme” of the book he is currently working on, is “that we are destroying Earth in a way that people haven’t appreciated enough …” Wilson states that he wants “to examine the new ideology of the anthropocene — namely those who believe that the fight for biodiversity is pretty much lost and we should just go on humanizing Earth until it is peopled from pole to pole; a planet by, of and for humanity. It sounds good, but it’s suicidal.” I agree it would be suicidal, but I don’t see how peopling the earth from pole to pole “sounds good.” It sounds more reminiscent of that “The Mark of Gideon” (1969) episode of Star Trek, from long ago.
Wilson points out in the interview that the biosphere is “razor thin” and that “if you look at it from the side, from orbit, you can’t even see it with unaided vision.” Indeed, I sometimes ask people who don’t believe mankind can have an impact on the climate of this planet, this simple question: “How high up do you think the main part of the atmosphere we are in, goes?” Usually, they say “I have no idea,” and then refuse to even guess. It’s funny, they have no trouble expressing their firm opinion that it’s arrogant to think man can affect the climate; but have “no idea” how big that atmosphere actually is. In point of fact, it’s rather astoundingly small. The Troposphere only goes up less than ten miles (and half that, in some places).
Wilson states in the interview that biodiversity loss is suicidal for us because as it erodes “away, the living world is almost certainly going to reach a tipping point where its equilibrium is going to decay and unravel. And when that happens, the whole thing collapses — and we collapse with it.” In fact, one theory concerning how our atmosphere formed in the first place, hypothesizes that it was as a direct result of that very long initial phase that began with those first stirrings of life on this planet. In other words (and you can read about this on the internet): The atmosphere life depends upon was created by life itself.
But the parts of the interview that I consider most important, are where he states: “What’s dragging us down is religious faith.” And where he states “I would say that for the sake of human progress, the best thing we could possibly do would be to diminish, to the point of eliminating, religious faiths.”
I wouldn’t necessarily agree that the most important thing we could possibly do, to advance human progress, is diminish, to the point of eliminating, religious faiths — I would emphasize more, a holistic approach — but I certainly agree that it’s one of the things we need to be doing, for sure. I’ve been saying that my whole life. And so when someone of his stature, also says that too, I’m profoundly grateful. And I will discuss this topic further in future posts, to be sure. But for now, there are a few other points worth bringing up, concerning the New Scientist interview.
In fairness, so as not to misrepresent what Wilson is stating, he makes clear that some of the legitimate aspects of religion should remain — but just not under that umbrella we call religion. For example, he says we shouldn’t eliminate “the natural yearnings of our species or” asking those “great questions”: where do we come from, what are we and where are we going? These questions are at the heart of the trilogy he is in the midst of completing. His first book in this trilogy is The Social Conquest of Earth, and The Meaning of Human Existence is the second book.
In answer to the interview question concerning why it is that our species seems to ignore scientific warnings about where we are headed, Wilson states that he thinks it’s mainly because of “our tribal structure.” According to Wilson, ideologies and religions answer the big questions in their own way, and this is usually tethered by dogma, which binds the tribe together. Alluding to the “supernatural elements” which are a common feature of religions, he states that in the United States, “for example, if you’re going to succeed in politics, it’s a prerequisite to declare you have a faith, even if some of these faiths are rather bizarre.” Indeed, as I pointed out in my previous post on this page, as soon as I read in that New York Times opinion piece that Mark Zuckerberg declared “he is no longer an atheist,” my immediate thought was that he’s planning a 2020 run for president. (I think it perhaps also hints at how little regard people who run for president tend to have for speaking the truth and being honest.)
Where I do take issue with Wilson in his talk of “tribes,” is when he states “Atheism is the belief that there is no god, and you declare there is no god: ‘Come, my fellow atheists, let us march together and conquer those idiots who think there is a god — all those other tribes. We’re going to prevail.’ ” Wilson calls himself agnostic (because he is “a scientist,” and states “we will never be able to know,” so we should just let it go). But aren’t agnostics a tribe as well? They are, if atheists are. If he could say what he says about atheists, why couldn’t we say basically the same thing about agnostics? It could go something like this: “Agnosticism is the belief that we can’t know whether there’s a god, and you declare we can’t know: ‘Come, my fellow agnostics, let us march together and conquer those idiots who are too ignorant to realize it’s unknowable — all those other tribes. We’re going to prevail.’ ”
Personally, I think it’s silly to rigidly cling to the “agnostic” label, based on the simple assertion that “we can’t know (one way or the other, whether there’s a god)”; and there are countless points I can bring up to buttress that point of view. But I’ll mention just one. The same person who says they’re agnostic about believing in the existence of a benevolent god (“because one can’t know that there isn’t such a god”), would also have to be agnostic about there being a malevolent god [one who wants us to hurt and harm one another], since, after all, one equally can’t know that that god doesn’t exist; but who would do that — who would say they are agnostic about that possibility?
Finally, I would like to address an inconsistency. On a hunch, months ago, I googled to see whether there was any mentioning on his E.O.Wilson Biodiversity Foundation website (eowilsonfoundation.org) about his feelings concerning how “for the sake of human progress, the best thing we could possibly do would be to diminish, to the point of eliminating, religious faiths,” and I could find next to nothing. Just a sentence or two, here and there, and that was about it. He might as well be saying this: Listen up and pay careful attention to what I am about to say; but pay no attention to what I am about to say. In the New Scientist interview, he states at one point: “I think it’s time to be audacious.” So why not then be audacious? That is my challenge to Dr. Wilson. There are some twenty-six sections on his foundation’s website. Why not make it twenty-seven and have one that deals specifically with that particular topic? It’s not enough to just express those sentiments in an interview that virtually no one (relatively speaking) has read.
Again, it was a noteworthy interview; and I recommend that everyone read it.
I have to admit, I’m not as familiar with George Monbiot’s writings — he writes for the British daily newspaper The Guardian — as I would like to be. I’ve read very little of what he’s written. I wish I had more time for that. However, I can say this: probably pretty much everything that he’s written, that I have read, I agree with.
Monbiot is one of the few people I currently follow on Twitter; and I just happened to catch this tweet he posted on September 21st:
This is Albert Einstein’s other great equation: a formula for the survival of the living world and its people. 4 sentences, written in 1950:
“A human being is a part of the whole called by us ‘universe’, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.” — Albert Einstein
I similarly wish I could find time in my life to read more of Einstein’s writings; it’s always a pleasing feeling basking in the glow of his depth of wisdom.
Getting back to Monbiot. His website is www.monbiot.com (I wish it were something more memorable than his last name, which I’m not even sure how to pronounce). His tagline is: “I love not man the less, but Nature more.”
Today, I am going to comment on one of his recent posts; then, I’ll share with you something about him that I deeply respect, and finally, I’ll share something about him that once I read it, made my heart sink a little (don’t worry, it’s not really such a bad thing).
First, regarding his recent post, “Urge, Splurge, Purge” (Sept. 15, 2017) — which you can find on his Home page — it caught my attention immediately, because it starts out by stating: “The demand for perpetual economic growth, and the collective madness it provokes, leads inexorably to environmental collapse.” “Perpetual economic growth” is the exact phrasing I’ve used in some of my most recent ads (to publicize my website). So I was anxious to see what he wrote about this not-often-enough discussed topic. He may be preaching to the choir; but I’m all ears.
In his post, Monbiot writes that “Continued economic growth depends on continued disposal: unless we rapidly junk the goods we buy, it fails. The growth economy and the throwaway society cannot be separated. Environmental destruction is not a by-product of this system. It is a necessary element.” This reminded me of a 1955 quote I saw attributed to Victor Lebow, an economist and retail analyst:
“Our enormously productive economy demands that we make consumption our way of life, that we convert the buying and use of goods into rituals, that we seek our spiritual satisfactions, our ego satisfactions, in consumption. The means of social status, of social acceptance, of prestige, is now to be found in our consumption patterns. (…) We need things consumed, burned up, worn out, replaced, and discarded at an ever accelerating pace. We need to have people eat, drink, dress, ride, live with ever more complicated and, therefore, constantly more expensive consumption.” — Victor Lebow
I became acquainted with this quotation from watching a video on StoryOfStuff.Org (featuring Annie Leonard). I learned of the video in 2009, after reading a front-page article about it in The New York Times. While I am grateful for all the hard work that went into creating that website and all of the videos contained on it, the reason I’ve not mentioned it before on this website (and the reason it’s not on my Links page) is because while I found the cartoon presentations to be entertaining and somewhat informative, they are, in my opinion, far too simplistic and reductivist, and can, for example, lead people to believe — which is all-too-often the case already– that they are “doing their part,” even if they are doing very little. The problems aren’t anywhere near as easy to fix as the videos suggest (to put it mildly). [Note: it has been years since I’ve watched any of the videos that are presented on that website.]
Monboit concludes the post by stating that “The environmental crisis demands a new ethics, politics and economics. A few of us are groping towards it, but it cannot be left to the scattered efforts of independent thinkers: this should now be humanity’s central project. At least the first step is clear: to recognize that the current system is flawed.”
How he ends it, reminds me of how I begin (the very first bullet point on) my Solutions page, where I write:
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 [future] habitability of the planet” problem.
That seems like an obvious starting point. Admitting that we have a problem. But the people in power right now, in this country, represent that “New Optimism” thinking that Monbiot refers to in his post. So instead of finally admitting that we have a problem, and rolling up our sleeves, we are perpetually heading in the opposite direction.
Now, as promised, I was going to share something about Monbiot that I deeply respect: I remember reading once, somewhere in his writings, that he limits his air travel to only one plane flight, every three years. I have such enormous respect for that! Especially since he is someone who must get invitations to speak all the time, from all around the world.
Air travel is a topic I’ve been dying to get to, blogging wise, for quite some time. One reason I haven’t gotten to it yet (besides simply not having much free time), is, well, to use an analogy, it reminds me of that famous scene in that 1979 film The Jerk, starring Steve Martin … that “This is all I need” scene [which you can easily find on YouTube]. In that scene, which is really quite funny, he keeps picking up more and more things as he’s walking out the door, saying, all the while, “this is all I need.” The reason it keeps getting increasingly difficult to write that particular post … is I am constantly collecting more and more juicy tidbits of information that would be just perfect to include in it. Just yesterday, again, there it is, in The New York Times, another example of profligate air travel. And this one literally made me gasp! (Although the gasping had nothing to do with the air travel part.) Let me explain …
In Maureen Dowd’s column in The New York Times this past Sunday (“Will Zuck ‘Like’ This Column?”), she states that mega-billionaire Mark Zuckerberg has been “visiting all 50 states this year,” and that former Obama strategist David Plouffe has had his hands in this, thus sparking speculation that Zuckerberg might be planning to run for president. Before I read the next sentence — about his also hiring “other senior Obama officials and Hillary’s pollster” — my eyes skipped ahead and saw this: “He has said he is no longer an atheist …” As soon as I read that, I thought “He is running for president!” That’s a scary thought; and indeed, with the words “Very scary,” is exactly how Dowd ends her column.
I’m not too familiar with Zuckerberg, to be quite honest, but I don’t think he’s given much to environmental causes; and that’s good reason enough to suspect he’s one of those who sees entrepreneurship, innovation, engineering, technology, education and capitalism as the solutions to our ecological problems. Not the substantive, meaningful, systemic, real change that we desperately need.
Finally, now on to what was it about Monbiot that made my heart sink just a bit? Truthfully, and I know this is going to sound strange (until I explain), it was when I read that he has a daughter. That is what did it. Let me explain.
On the Inauguration Day that marked the beginning of President Barack Obama’s first term, someone told me that one of the things they liked about Obama, was that he had a family (he had two young daughters). I said that was funny, because that was precisely one of the things I didn’t like about him. I said the office of president of the United States was such an important one, that I would prefer it was held by someone who could channel all their time and energy into those four (or eight) years, and give that their full, undivided attention.
Remember what Representative Paul Ryan said before accepting the job of Speaker of the House? He said “I cannot and will not give up my family time.” I’m not necessarily suggesting that shouldn’t be the case, but putting politics aside, and all other things being equal, wouldn’t you prefer having someone in that position who doesn’t feel the need to make such a statement? Someone who doesn’t have family obligations. Someone who can put the nation first, time and time again?
Sometimes I explain it this way: While I disagree with the Catholic church’s stand on women’s ordination, abortion, birth control, euthanasia, gay marriage, all of their faith-based beliefs, … the one thing I kind of agree with — in principle, though not necessarily in an absolutist sense — is their prohibition against married priests. In principle, it makes a lot of sense; since that way, they can be fully committed to their flocks, and not have families of their own that compete for their time and attention.
Let me end with this. Since individuals within society, who possess both a deep, genuine sense of eco-consciousness and the potential to be able to really make a substantive difference, in terms of advancing society forward (ecologically speaking) with their big ideas, are so rare, when I do see such people, I always prefer it when I discover that they are not married (to anything other than the actual cause itself) — for reasons stated above. That way, they can better concentrate their energies towards maximizing their ability to effectuate change. In practicality, of course, I know it’s seemingly next-to-impossible to find individuals with that level of commitment and devotion. And that’s too bad.
Google is like the Superman of the internet. But still, there are times when I just can’t find what I’m searching for, no matter how hard I try. It’s funny how there seems to be an endless stream of clickbait lists covering every conceivable topic that you could imagine on the internet today, and yet I couldn’t find a single composed list of people who don’t/didn’t believe in free will. Interesting, no? I know there are such people. And I count myself among them. But I couldn’t find a single list.
In a recent conversation I was party to, someone stated that Einstein wrote that he did not believe in free will. If you google “einstein free will,” you will find several such quotes that make it abundantly clear that Albert Einstein, the man Time magazine designated its “Person of the Century” (in its December 31, 1999 issue) did not believe in free will, and stated so, unequivocally. Here are two such quotes to illustrate this fact:
I do not believe in free will … This awareness of the lack of free will keeps me from taking myself and my fellow men too seriously as acting and deciding individuals, and from losing my temper.” — Albert Einstein, (1932) My Credo
If the moon, in the act of completing its eternal way around the earth, were gifted with self-consciousness, it would feel thoroughly convinced that it was traveling its way of its own accord. … So would a Being, endowed with higher insight and more perfect intelligence, watching man and his doings, smile about man’s illusion that he was acting according to his own free will.” — Albert Einstein, 1931
In a 2012 issue of American Atheist magazine, there appeared an interview with the eminent biologist E. O. Wilson (“An Interview with E. O. Wilson,” by Ce Atkins), in which Wilson similarly appears not to believe in free will:
Ce Atkins: You call free will “the product of the subconscious decision-making center of the brain that gives the cerebral cortex the illusion of independent action … we are free as independent beings, but our decisions are not free of all the organic processes that created our personal brains and minds.” Do you think the concept of “free will” will be thrown out, so to speak?
E. O. Wilson: Yes. I think the primary reason we have confusion over free will is that we haven’t yet understood well enough how the human brain works. When we’ve got the amygdala all straightened out, the parietal controlling areas understood, when we understand the machinery, which is so complicated as to almost seem divine at times, then we’ll be able to talk about free will in new terms.
I like an analogy I saw one time, comparing the human mind to an elephant bearing a rider. Daniel Akst, in his review of Jonathan Haidt’s The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion, which was published in Newsday (“Are we a species of hypocrites?,” March 18, 2012), wrote:
Haidt envisions the human mind as an elephant bearing a rider. The latter may believe he’s steering, but the giant beast below is actually in charge. The rider is our rational self, and exists only to serve the elephant, who represents the great mass of mental processes that occur outside consciousness.
I don’t want to misrepresent Haidt’s views, so I don’t want to imply that he does not believe in free will. I don’t know where he stands on this issue. I just like that analogy, as retold by Akst. It also kind of reminds me of something the neuroscientist David Eagleman once wrote: “Your consciousness is like a tiny stowaway on a transatlantic steamship, taking credit for the journey without acknowledging the massive engineering underfoot.”
When I ask people whether they believe in free will, the initial response I often hear is: “It’s complicated.” And I agree. For example, when someone responds “Oh, so you’re a determinist?” I say “No, not in an absolute sense” and explain that in my opinion the vagaries of quantum mechanics suggest ruling that out. Many times I describe my viewpoint this way: “Think of a puppet, but with hundreds of trillions of strings” attached. Countless things affect our actions. It’s not just the sheer complexity of the brain itself, and quantum mechanics, and DNA, and all of our past experiences, but even something as seemingly insignificant as the weather (temperature, barometric pressure, precipitation, storm conditions) can affect our actions and our mood.
In short, it all comes down to nature and nurture — genes and environment. And as someone once put it: “our genes are the bullet, environment pulls the trigger.”
In the “Sunday Business” section of the May 29, 2016 edition of the New York Times (page 5), there appeared a thin little column under the heading “Self-Made or Just Lucky?” which began with this heading (I’ve italicized it here): “Successful? You’ve Already Won the Lottery” by Robert H. Frank of Cornell (The Upshot, Economic View, May 22) looked at the role that chance — even in such things as a person’s date of birth or the first letter in a last name — can play in life.
Though I hadn’t read the article this is referring to, I did read some of the comments that had appeared under the above heading. This one in particular, caught my attention:
I used to tell people that I earned my success, that I worked hard for it. Then a friend asked, “Did you choose the genes you were born with, that gave you your talent, or the formative experiences you had, that gave you your work ethic?” Now I simply tell people I’ve been very fortunate. — Phat, Waterloo, Ontario
Isn’t this so true? Just think of all the countless factors that came into play in your life that you did not choose and had absolutely no control over.
And are you acquainted with the ‘extended mind’ hypothesis? Here is how Melvyn Goodale describes it in the opening paragraph of his review of Andy Clark’s Supersizing the Mind: Embodiment, Action, and Cognitive Extension, which was published in the British scientific journal Nature (Vol 457, Jan. 29, 2009):
In Supersizing the Mind, philosopher Andy Clark makes the compelling argument that the mind extends beyond the body to include the tools, symbols and other artefacts we deploy to engage the world. According to Clark and other proponents of the ‘extended mind’ hypothesis, the laptop on which I am writing this review is coupled to my brain and has become part of my mind. Manipulating sentences on the screen can prompt new insights and new ways of conveying ideas, a reiterative cognitive process that would be difficult to achieve without such a tool. The same argument applies to my BlackBerry, to the white board in my office, and even to the conversations I might have with my colleagues. Cognition, Clark argues, is not ‘brain-bound’ but a dynamic interaction between the neural circuits inside our skulls, our bodies and the objects and events in the outside world.
This illustrates, to some extent, what I mean when I point out there are “hundreds of trillions” of strings influencing our behavior. The outside world plays an outsized underappreciated role in everything we do. In fact, I can’t even read this without realizing that this blog post itself would likely be different — perhaps markedly different — if I simply had a good pair of eyeglasses that I could use for close-up work like this. (I’m basically working with just one eye.) But I digress.
Getting back to Einstein and his views concerning free will. This inspired me to do a Google search for Marilyn vos Savant’s views on free will. (She has had a long-running, weekly question-and-answer column in Parade magazine; and used to be listed in the Guinness Book of World Records for having the world’s highest IQ [Guinness has since retired that category]). But as another perfect example of how Google sometimes disappoints … I could not find an answer to that question. Nothing!
However, while engaging in this search, I did stumble upon something interesting. This comes from a forum found on Marilyn vos Savant’s website (and is attributed simply to “Jeremy”):
“Since humans are a part of the universe and we are aware of the universe, is human life actually the universe becoming aware of itself?”
That’s a very intriguing thought and an interesting question, even if it doesn’t address the topic of free will itself.
Free will (or lack thereof) … it’s such an interesting topic. But truthfully, I would infinitely rather talk about what we must do to save the planet.
[Postscript: Here is something I had meant to include but inadvertently left out. Neuroscientist Sam Harris also doesn’t believe in free will; and he sometimes addresses this topic. He has written more than half a dozen books, including Free Will (less than 100 pages). His “Waking Up” podcast won a Webby Award earlier this year. You can go to wakingup.libsyn.com and listen to podcast #39 Free Will Revisited / July 4, 2016 / Sam Harris speaks with philosopher Daniel Dennett about free will. It is one hour and 44 minutes long.]
Can you imagine a lawn the size of Georgia?
In a June 17, 2017, New York Times op-ed (“Beyond Blades of Grass“), Paul Bogard wrote that if you combined all the lawns in this country, it would be equivalent in size to the state of Georgia. (I believe he made a mistake, when converting 40 million acres to 60 “million square miles” — he probably meant “thousand square miles”; but in comparing it to the size of Georgia, he was right on target!) But it might even be larger than that. One scientist told me she suspects that is a very conservative estimate and that it’s actually probably more equivalent to the size of Montana.
Bogard writes that we spend $40 billion annually on all these lawns. (Think of all the ways that money could be better spent!) Lawns gobble up tremendous amounts of water. Millions of pounds of pesticides, weed killers and fungicides are used to keep them looking healthy and lush. They occupy space that could’ve been used to help preserve indigenous plant species. And, as Bogard notes, our high-maintenance lawns contribute to our reliance upon synthetic, fossil fuel-based fertilizers (which are synthesized using the energy intense Haber-Bosch process.)
Four years ago, Writer Ferris Jabr wrote a blog article (“Outgrowing the Traditional Grass Lawn,” July 29, 2013) that appeared on Scientific American magazine’s website, in which he describes how ecologically destructive lawns can be. In the article, Jabr uses the same “40 million acres” figure Bogard refers to in his New York Times piece (according to Jabr, this figure represents only residential and commercial lawns found in the continental united states). We learn from Jabr that this figure was “calculated for the first time in the early 2000s by Christina Milesi of NASA and her colleagues using satellite data and aerial photos.” Jabr also writes that “Milesi’s computer simulation revealed that all the nation’s lawns demand about 200 gallons of potable water per person per day.” That’s a lot of water! Jabr states too that according to the E.P.A., gas-powered lawnmowers “emit 11 times more air pollution than a new car for every hour of operation,” and every summer “Americans spill 17,000,000 gallons of gasoline when refueling mowers and other garden equipment.” That’s significantly more than the tanker Exxon Valdez spilled off the coast of Alaska back in 1989. And we do that every year, simply out of carelessness (not using a funnel or spout).
Jabr also refers to a piece Elizabeth Kolbert wrote for The New Yorker, in which Kolbert describes a variety of different approaches one can take to minimize grass cover or to even avoid having a lawn altogether.
[I wrote a related blog post (on the topic of lawns), back on 11/29/15, which you are welcome to scroll down and read.]
Unfortunately, I had to work yesterday. Otherwise, I might have been able to attend the Earth Day rally in New York City yesterday. It would have been nice to meet and talk with people, and spread word about my website and my mission. But instead, I guess I’ll just have to settle for composing a new blog post …
Once, mid-conversation, right after someone stated (and we all hear this, occasionally) “The days fly by,” I responded: “So do the millenniums. Just ask the dinosaurs!”
Something I saw in the pages of the Sunday Review section of The New York Times, quite a few years back, effectively illustrates how quickly time goes by. The opinion piece itself (Eva Hoffman, “Counting the Years to Make Sense Out of Life” Dec. 26, 1999) is hardly worth mentioning, as it left no lasting impression on me whatsoever. But what did leave a lasting impression on me was the illustration (if that’s the right word) that went along with it. Interestingly, all it is, is just a list. Taking up roughly the same amount of space as a standard letter-sized sheet of paper, it consists of sixteen columns of numbers, representing the years 1001 through 1998; and all appearing as though each year has been individually handwritten. Every few years or so I come across this once again, and think “It just can’t be so. No way!” It seems like some sort of optical illusion of sorts; but it’s not. Let me explain.
Those years that appear handwritten on that exceedingly small amount of space, cover a span of time that began roughly 500 years before Columbus landed in the New World, and extend almost to the very beginning of the next millennium. Genghis Khan and the Mongol Empire came and went. As did the Ming dynasty and the Renaissance. The Ottoman Empire rose and fell. The Spanish Inquisition, Thirty Years’ War, Black Death, Spanish Flu, Atlantic slave trade, Age of Enlightenment, formation of the United States, its Civil War, the French revolution, Reign of Terror, Napoleon, the Industrial Revolution, World War I, World War II, the Cold War, the moon landing, the Space Age, the Computer Age, Rachel Carson, Vietnam, the creation of the Internet, the Gulf War, the Hubble telescope, the Oklahoma City bombing. These are just some of the events that are all contained within those years, represented on that roughly letter-sized sheet of paper.
Andrew C. Revkin, in his review of Tim Flannery’s Here on Earth: A Natural History of the Planet, published in The New York Times (“Who Made This Mess?” July 17, 2011), makes an important point concerning our species, as he quotes from Flannery’s book: “infancy is the most dangerous period of life.” Indeed; and we, as a young species, should take note. Because it is during such times that caution most needs to be exercised. Think about it. Children and babies always need to be watched, constantly. A finger or a tongue pushed into an electric outlet, a decision to climb an unsecured bookcase, getting too near the edge of a pool, finding a book of matches, can all have deadly consequences. I remember Al Gore describing the moment when his six year old son, Albert, inexplicably broke free and ran into traffic. He was hit by a car, and almost died as a result.
One of the reasons why I am against some of the things we are doing, technology-wise, is precisely because we are a young species, with so much to learn, and yet we’re moving so fast — much too fast for our own good; and the driving forces that are driving us forward so fast in the direction we’re going, are not good ones. Our focus is all wrong. For example, as one of my personal notations, jotted down in one of the margins of this book review, states, “technology does not remedy apathy or insouciance or dampen our appetite for entertainment — it only whets our desire for more.” Not only are we moving so fast, we don’t really have a compass, a map, or a plan.
In closing, let me conclude this blog post with a marginal notation I had made on a page of one of my Science News magazines, back in 2015 (on a page which includes a review of Oliver Morton’s The Planet Remade: How Geoengineering Could Change the World): “What chance have we got to survive on this planet, long term, if we’re not willing to do the things we need to be doing, and always prefer stalling, procrastination and gambling that an “I’ll-do-nothing-and-hope-scientists-can-pick-up-all-the-slack” approach (which could easily make things far, far worse) will do the trick?”
3/20/2017 How on earth did I miss this?
Just as I was about to put away one of the articles I had cited in yesterday’s blog post (below), something worth noting caught my eye. Appearing just below the “Hero in Heart Attack Hogs the Fame” (Newsday, Oct. 15, 1998) article, I happened to notice this headline: “Hot Dog! Free Eats at Yankee Rally Today” (by staff writer Liz Willen). This article reports on a planned City Hall pep rally in honor of the New York Yankees — one of New York City’s two Major League baseball teams — that will include, among other things, one thousand free hot dogs. Isn’t it rather poor taste to put that story right below a heartwarming story about a pet pig that saved it’s owner’s life? But I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. One of the things I’ve sometimes thought about doing (though I don’t see much of a market for this service) is advertise as a newspaper consultant (newspapers being one of my passions). I have a several-inches thick pile of articles I’ve saved over the years, that for one reason or another, I’ve found to be good examples of what I usually term “poor” or “incurious journalism.” What I describe above, however, isn’t such a good example of this, since I would have to think that the articles must’ve been placed together for a reason (and not as mere coincidence), such as to spark conversation or thought.
It is well-known that a meat-based diet is much worse for the planet than a vegetarian diet. But not all meats are equally damaging. An article that appeared in Newsday, years back, illustrates this point. The article (AP “Study: Beef a more polluting meat” July 22, 2014) reported on a study that was published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, comparing the environmental damage inflicted by beef production, versus that caused by producing pork, poultry, eggs or dairy. According to the article, the study concluded that compared with these other animal-based food sources, beef production uses 28 times more land, 11 times more water, it releases six times more water polluting nitrogen, and produces five times more heat-trapping gases, per calorie.
When I first came across a news source headline indicating that the German government was banning meat at all official functions, I immediately assumed this decision must have been based upon concern over a meat-based diet’s effect on the environment. And I was correct. According to an article published online on The Telegraph’s website (Justin Huggler, “Discord in Angela Merkel’s government after environment ministry bans meat at official functions” Feb. 21, 2017 telegraph.co.uk), German’s environment ministry issued a statement saying “We’re not tell[ing] anyone what they should eat. But we want to set a good example for climate protection, because vegetarian food is more climate-friendly than meat and fish.”
I wholeheartedly applaud what they did. And to be clear, they are not saying that you can’t go to the store and buy such items. They’re simply saying they won’t be serving them anymore at state functions. Bravo! As the article points out, it has been “claimed that meat farming accounts for up to a third of greenhouse gas emissions.”
When I first saw the headline about Germany banning meat at official functions, I also immediately thought of that Albert Einstein quotation I referenced in my 5/21/14 blog post, below (in which I explain why I take exception to what Einstein said): “Nothing will benefit human health and increase the chances for survival of life on Earth as much as the evolution to a vegetarian diet.”
Incidentally, here’s another quotation; and this one suggests a different justification for banning meat at government functions:
If animals could speak, they would state a case against mankind that would stagger the imagination. — Author Unknown
I don’t know if this still goes on today, but in the past, I would occasionally read about veal or foie gras being served at places such as Buckingham Palace or the White House, and think “Shouldn’t they be setting a better example?”
This would be an ideal time to share what I call “the pig story.” This is what pushed me past the tipping point, regarding eating pork. After I read this story, I never ate pork again. I had often heard about how smart pigs were, but this story really drove the point home for me. As reported in Newsday (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette byline, “Hero in Heart Attack Hogs the Fame” October 15, 1998), a woman in Erie, Pa., was having a heart attack. Her dog didn’t do anything except bark. But her pet pig sprang to action. It squeezed itself through her vacation trailer’s doggie door, ran down a path, pushed open a gate, and waited for a car to approach. When one did, the pig went out and laid down in front of it. The driver braked and got out. Once the pig led the driver back to the house, Jo Ann Altsman could hear the man yelling “Lady, your pig’s in distress!” She hollered back “I’m in distress, too.” She credited that quick-thinking pig with saving her life.
I was very surprised by what I learned from doing a quick fact-checking google search before writing this blog post. It turns out that consuming cat or dog meat is only illegal in six states: Hawaii, California, Georgia, New York, Virginia and Michigan. In all other states, it is perfectly legal to do so.
Finally, I’ll conclude with this. I find it remarkable that we never seem to find the low-lying fruit within our reach. Decisions that should be easy ones, often never even cross our minds. I spoke with someone who once worked at Harvard, and he confirmed that even in their cafeterias, meat (including pork) was just as readily available as in other cafeterias he’s been in. Here’s my suggestion. Institutions of higher learning should set an example. And that example should include one that conforms to taking better care of the Earth and its inhabitants. And that means keeping things like veal, pork and beef (minimally speaking) off cafeteria menus. Not only are there plenty of other healthful and delicious foods to choose from, but providing such fare would be a beneficial and healthful extension of the education process.
I’ll let you in on a little secret. One error that I think I made when I created this website was in not emphasizing enough on the Underlying Causes page how important and central a factor I think “lack of a deep sense of eco-consciousness” is, in terms of explaining why the world is in the state that it’s in (ecologically speaking). I mention many things in that paragraph at or near the end of that Underlying Causes page. But I think so much can be summed up by that one commonly missing ingredient. I’m not saying there aren’t those who give it lip service. Many do. But many people think they’re doing their part simply by being a member of a major environmental organization and sending that organization a check once a year. (You can send them every penny you have. That won’t solve the underlying issues.) Oftentimes when someone tells me they care a lot about environmental issues, I can’t help but notice how quickly they then change the subject (to something completely different and unrelated). It’s scary. It’s frightening. And it’s something that desperately needs to change. Ecological issues need to be a top, top, top priority!
A very good illustration of the type of thing I find so horrifying can be found in this excerpt from a cover article appearing in the Science Times section of this past Tuesday’s New York Times (Julia Wallace, “Ground to Dust / Cambodia’s limestone karsts host plants found nowhere else. Now the formations are being pulverized for cement.” Feb. 14, 2017):
Most of the wood in mainland Southeast Asia has already been logged to support the region’s rapid economic growth and its relentless appetite for luxury hardwood. (Nearly all the forest cover in neighboring Thailand is gone and Cambodia is now experiencing the fastest acceleration of forest loss in the world, despite a putative ban on logging.) Cement and concrete are also in high demand, so the karsts are next in line.
(I have emboldened parts of this excerpt for emphasis.) Karsts are described in the article as “spiky limestone cliffs.” The biological diversity that exists in these karsts, are specific to that environment. When it goes, they go. And they are going. The article states that “cement companies, developers and tourists” are contributing to their destruction and disappearance. Many of the species threatened haven’t even yet been named.
Companies engaged in limestone quarrying, to produce cement, are certainly a big part of the problem. One company mentioned in the article is producing a million tons of cement a year. Another company formed a partnership with another firm and is building a $262 million factory that is expected to produce 1.5 million tons annually. The article also states that the high demand for cement, in Cambodia, is “expected to reach five million tons this year.”
I find it deeply disconcerting when I see so much attention focused on climate change and virtually no attention focused on things like this. Forests are disappearing. Life — biodiversity — is disappearing. Human population is growing. Church opposition to abortion and birth control is never-ending. There is no plan to protect and preserve and save what hasn’t yet already been destroyed. And it’s all disappearing. Fast!
Page two of this same issue of the ScienceTimes section of The New York Times, quotes John Piatt, a wildlife biologist at the United States Geological Survey, on the deaths of thousands of common murres on the West Coast: “If tens of thousands of them are dying, it’s because there’s no fish out there, anywhere, over a very large area.” This die-off of common murres, in an area stretching from California to Alaska, has been tied to unusually warm ocean temperatures. In an article posted online on phys.org (Dan Joling, “Warm ocean water triggered seabird die-off, experts say” Feb. 10, 2017), Joling credits Piatt as his source when writing that, all told, “a conservative extrapolation indicates 500,000 or more common murres died.” Could this be a result of climate change? The article doesn’t draw that conclusion, but I can’t help but wonder if that’s the case.
Right next to that, on the same page, a small news item (Nicholas St. Fleur, “How Do You Save Snow Leopards? First, Gather Their Droppings”) with an accompanying photo, states that the Himalayan “snow leopard population has been decimated by poaching and habitat destruction.” It further states that only “about 4,000 of the endangered cats remain in the wild.”
Numerous times I’ve read about threatened mammal species where, similarly, there were only believed to be a few thousand left in their natural terrain. That’s just not enough to insure long-term survival for a species. An article on the back page of this same New York Times science section (Erica Goode, “The Saigas Are Struck Again / The species suffers another die-off, this time in Mongolia.” p. 6) helps illustrate that point.
Saigas go way back. They are described as ancient animals that once roamed “with the woolly mammoth and the saber-toothed tiger.” These critically endangered antelopes once numbered in the millions, but “have been severely depleted” due to “illegal hunting, habitat loss and competition for food.” The article states that their horns are sold in Asian countries, for medicinal use. There are two subspecies. One is native to Mongolia. The other is native to Kazakstan.
According to the article, a virus known as goat plague, wiped out about a quarter of Mongolia’s saigas. This is believed to be the first time the disease has spread to free-ranging antelopes, and scientists are concerned that it might also spread to other threatened species, such as Bactrian camels and Mongolian gazelles. Contributing to their decline, a “fiercely harsh” 2015 winter is blamed for wiping out about a third of the Mongolian population. In 2015, as the article also states, 211,000 Kazakhstan saigas (“more than half of the entire antelope species”) were wiped out “in less than a month” as a result of a bacterial infection.
And that leads me to my point. When you hear that a species is down to only 800, or 4,000, or 6,000 in total, the threat posed by pathogens such as viruses or bacterial infections, is that much more potentially catastrophic for the species. And you can add to that a whole range of other potential dangers, such as fungal or parasitic infections, competition from invasive species, weird maladies like the cancer threatening New Zealand’s Tasmanian devils, loss of habitat, hunting, and so forth. Even armed conflicts between nations or within nations, can threaten that nation’s flora and fauna populations.
Last but not least, another article that recently caught my attention was one that appeared in Newsday, with a Washington Post byline (“Pollution Discovered in Deepest Places / Banned chemicals seen in marine life” Feb. 14, 2017). According to this article, some of the deepest parts of the ocean, areas “previously thought to have been nearly untouched by human influence,” have been found to have levels of contamination that “rival some of the most polluted waterways on the planet.”
The researchers specifically focused on two types of chemical pollutants: polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) — “both of which may cause a variety of adverse health effects,” as the article states — and they found that both of these pollutants “were present in all species of amphipod” retrieved from these deep sea trenches, and at all depths, even at depths of 10,000 meters. (The article states that these findings were presented in the journal Nature Ecology and Evolution, Feb. 12, 2017.)
As another measure of the extent to which man is changing the planet, it has been reported that Earth’s “technosphere” now weighs 30 trillion tons. That’s according to a paper published online, in the journal The Anthropocene Review, this past November.
All combined, everything man-made (on Earth) — including all our discarded trash — collectively makes up what has been termed the “technosphere.” That “30 trillion ton” figure would equate to distributing, evenly, all across the Earth’s surface, 110 pounds of this stuff, for each 11 square foot area. (To visualize just how small a space that is [about the size of a small kitchen table], search on Google Images: “one square meter.”)
The technosphere can also be described as “a system, with its own dynamics and energy flows,” according to Jan Zalasiewicz, one of the paper’s lead authors. We “keep it going”; and it keeps us going. “Humans and human organizations” make up part of it, as well. Materially, it collectively outweighs the human race, by a 60,000 to 1 ratio; and “surpasses the natural biosphere in mass and variety,” as Science News noted in its news report on this topic (Thomas Sumner, “Humans’ stuff vastly outweighs humans” Feb. 4, 2017).
According to another of the paper’s lead authors, Mark Williams, also of the University of Leicester, “The technosphere can be said to have budded off the biosphere and arguably is now at least partly parasitic on it. At its current scale the technosphere is a major new phenomenon of this planet, and one that is evolving extraordinarily rapidly.”
The technosphere is described by Zalasiewicz as being the brainchild of American scientist Peter Haff, who is also listed as one of the paper’s authors.
This technosphere concept is just one more way to view how profoundly the human race is transforming this planet.
In the very same issue of Science News in which I learned of the above-mentioned paper, there is also an article two pages thereafter, which describes how “one of Antartica’s largest ice shelves is nearing its breaking point” (Thomas Sumner, “Antarctic ice shelf heading toward collapse” Feb. 4, 2017). A “colossal” widening crack is now only 20 kilometers from reaching the point at which the Larsen C ice shelf (as it is called) will break off, sending that Delaware-sized ice cube into the sea.
But that’s just a tip of the iceburg (pun intended). For example, as reported online by The Washington Post about six months ago (Chelsea Harvey, “Greenland lost a staggering 1 trillion tons of ice in just four years” July 19, 2016), a study using satellite-derived data published the previous week in the journal Geophysical Research Letters “suggests that the Greenland ice sheet lost a whopping 1 trillion tons of ice between the years 2011 and 2014.” All of that melting ice flowing into the sea contributes to rising sea levels, and effects the biosphere in other ways as well. But if 1 trillion tons of melting ice sounds like a lot, try wrapping your mind around this (this is another excerpt from The Washington Post article, concerning Greenland):
Research already suggests that the ice sheet has lost at least 9 trillion tons of ice in the past century and that the rate of loss has increased over time. Climate scientists are keeping a close eye on the region because of its potentially huge contributions to future sea-level rise (around 20 feet if the whole thing were to melt) …
While research papers like the ones I’ve cited above are, of course, always a welcome and important part of the process that potentially could propel us towards making the necessary changes in how we live on this planet, part of me also can’t help but ask “Why even do this research, if, in terms of human behavior, we never change our ways? How many studies do we need to do before we act? Someone should do a study on that, or on how many studies have already been done, that point to an obvious need for humanity to change its ways and recognize the urgency of the emergency staring right at us.
Hearing Donald Trump say to a reporter at a press conference, “I’m not going to give you a question. You are fake news,” reminded me of that memorable definition of chutzpah that goes something like this: it’s like when someone murders their parents, and then asks the courts for leniency because they’re an orphan. Could there be anyone more comfortable and cozy with fake news than the man whose very actions and words have inspired the creation of the phrase “the post-truth age?” A man who has consistently questioned whether President Obama was even born in this country? A man who claims he actually got more valid votes in the presidential election? Hello?
And now, just days ago, my jaw dropped when I heard he had uttered the words “I am an environmentalist.” Well, let me quote former president Abraham Lincoln:
How many legs does a dog have if you call his tail a leg? Four. Saying that a tail is a leg doesn’t make it a leg. — Abraham Lincoln
Anyway, moving right along … I would like to comment on a Charlie Rose interview I heard broadcast over the Bloomberg radio station, back in November. It was a rebroadcast of an interview that was conducted February 22, 2016, with guest Bill Gates. At one point in the interview, Gates says “The idea of flipping a light switch and the lights come on or setting the temperature and it’s hot or cold (…) Americans have the equivalent of 200 humans pushing an axle on their behalf, so that their lights light up and their materials get made and their food gets made. Modern life is that much about energy intensity.”
As soon as I heard him finish the sentence, I thought “No, our sense of entitlement is that much about energy intensity.” In an address to the nation, concerning the state of the economy, on February 5, 1981, President Ronald Reagan stated, “We can lecture our children about extravagance until we run out of voice and breath. Or we can cure their extravagance by simply reducing their allowance.” (He also uttered a very similar sentiment during one of the presidential debates, months earlier.) Why is that good advice when it comes to profligate spending, but not when it comes to extravagant consumption of fossil fuels (or of the earth’s resources, in general)? Setting aside the likely reality that such a thing would be a non-starter in a highly partisan two-party democracy like ours, what is logically wrong — in these ecological crises times we’re living in — with saying, “You can lecture the public about the importance of energy and resource conservation until you run out of voice and breath. Or you can cure their extravagance by simply legislating their compliance.” For example, in addition to considering the implementation of a “sin tax” on fossil fuels, should we not also be considering the possibility of rationing fossil fuel usage?
Here is another example. One that does not pertain to fossil fuels. In an op-ed piece in Newsday, by Michael Dobie (a member of Newsday’s editorial board), published on August 20, 2016, Dobie begins by stating that during a recent twelve-month period, “David Koch’s Southampton estate consumed 22,572,022 gallons of water.” It also states in this op-ed that Koch’s home uses “as much [water] as 141 average homes,” and has been “Suffolk County’s top water hog for five years running.” Wouldn’t it be reasonable, sensible and responsible for the government to step in and say “No, we’re not going to allow you to do this. We’re not going to allow you to jeopardize the ecology of this region!”
The piece also states that a Koch spokeswoman justified the water usage by asserting that the home uses an “environmentally friendly” geothermal heating and cooling system that uses lots of water. My guess is that the high water usage has more to do with the fact that David Koch is one of the top ten wealthiest people on the planet (and has an ecological footprint to match), and has less to do with the geothermal heating and cooling system that his home uses.
The same sentiment expressed above could equally apply to the business sector. That is, “We can lecture the business sector about the importance of energy and resource conservation until we run out of voice and breath. Or we can cure their extravagance by simply legislating their compliance.” Here are just two quick examples. In 2011 (June 26), The New York Times published an article (“Atop TV Sets, A Power Drain Runs Nonstop”), by Elisabeth Rosenthal, that began:
Those little boxes that usher cable signals and digital recording capacity into televisions have become the single largest electricity drain in many American homes, with some typical home entertainment configurations eating more power than a new refrigerator and even some central air-conditioning systems.
These set-top boxes (as they are called) don’t even need to be in active use, to cause big energy drains. As it states in the article, “These set-top boxes are energy hogs mostly because their drives, tuners and other components are generally running full tilt, or nearly so, 24 hours a day, even when not in active use.” Why did they design the system that way in the first place? One of the people quoted in the article, is John Wilson, a former member of the California Energy Commission who is now with the San Francisco-based Energy Foundation. Let me again quote from the article: “Mr. Wilson recalled that when he was on the California Energy Commission, he asked box makers why the hard drives were on all the time, using so much power. The answer: ‘Nobody asked us to use less.'”
My solution: don’t just ask them to use less, tell them to use less. Legislate! This is still going on*, and it shouldn’t be. How can government not act on something as obvious and as important as this? “Business,” as George Soros has pointed out, “is amoral.” [Amoral, not immoral.] Morality doesn’t enter the equation. Business exists simply and solely to make profit. It doesn’t exist to make the world a better place. As such, it is the job of government, particularly in egregious situations like this, to step in and intercede.
Here is another example, from that same year. In 2011 (Sept. 27), The New York Times published a front page news story (“In North Dakota, Flames of Wasted Natural Gas Light the Prairie”), by Clifford Krauss, reporting on hundreds of fires across western North Dakota, that were deliberately set, to burn off natural gas, so that oil companies could more quickly extract the oil underneath, and “take advantage of the high price of crude.” And yet, this is exactly what many people think can save the planet, the entrepreneurial spirit, the business-mindset, which is unfortunately focused on just one thing: profit.
The article states that every day, this practice wastes “enough energy to heat half a million homes for a day.” The article further states that this profit-driven practice puts as much carbon dioxide into the atmosphere every year, “as 384,000 cars.” And, according to the article, “30 percent of the natural gas produced in North Dakota is burned as waste. No other major domestic oil field currently flares close to that much, though the practice is still common in countries like Russia, Nigeria and Iran.”
Again, couldn’t government step in and say “No! Don’t do that!” Or, looking at it another way, imagine if the fossil fuel-extraction industry were government run. Profit wouldn’t be the motivating factor.
It’s like I say, if we can’t reach the very, very low-lying fruit, that is right there in front of our face, what hope have we got at ever being able to get at the more difficult to reach, out of the way fruit, at or near the top? If we can’t accomplish the Captain Obvious stuff we should be doing, how will we ever be able to tackle the far more difficult and far more complicated stuff?
What do you call a quotation printed at the beginning of a literary work? An epigraph. What do you call a quotation printed at the end of a literary work? I don’t think there is a word for that. But that is how I am going to end this. With a quotation. I believe this quotation provides a good lens through which to view what I wrote above, about our sense of entitlement, when it comes to our not-living-within-our-means, high energy-use consumption habits:
It makes far better sense to reshape ourselves to fit a finite planet than to attempt to reshape the planet to fit our infinite wants. — David W. Orr
[*Correction: The energy drain by set-top boxes has since come down, and this decline is expected to continue. See “National Energy Use of Pay-TV Set-Top Boxes is Heading Down,” Noah Horowitz, Aug. 18, 2016, posted on The National Resources Defense Council www.nrdc.org website.]
The Center for Science and Democracy at the Union of Concerned Scientists is reportedly creating an anonymous hotline for the some 12,000 National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) employees, so they can report any political meddling by the incoming Trump administration. That’s good news — and I give it an enthusiastic thumbs up. Even though I don’t particularly think it will accomplish much, I’ll still take it! We have to throw everything, including the kitchen sink, into saving the planet.
Incidentally, in this now-unfolding Trump era, “concerned scientists” might be redundant. After all, as Michael Brune, Executive Director of the Sierra Club, has put it, “having Scott Pruitt in charge of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is like putting an arsonist in charge of fighting fires.”
This past Sunday, I listened to some of the WCBS broadcast of the interview with president-elect Donald Trump, conducted by Lesley Stahl, of 60 Minutes.
According to my fact-checking, Stahl indeed did not ask a single question related to any environmental issue, including the issue many regard as the issue of our time: climate change. (Incidentally, I don’t regard climate change as the issue of our time, I regard the whole totality of all the key environmental issues that we are not addressing, as the issue of our time.) Stahl also left untouched the fact that Trump chose Myron Ebell, to lead the incoming administration’s EPA transition team. Doesn’t this help prove my point that eco-consciousness is virtually nowhere on our radar?
Anyway, I have an idea for President Obama. I don’t expect Obama to jump on this. But it does illustrate (if in a small way), what I mean when I say we have to think big and think outside the present paradigm, in order to really shake things up and plant the seeds for the necessary change that needs to take root if mankind is to survive and have a prosperous future. If Obama is really serious about conveying the importance of issues such as climate change, then why not do this: Every day, till his final day of occupying the Oval Office, President Obama could hold a press conference, bringing together a wide range of scientific experts and Nobel Prize recipients, to speak and take questions, and educate the public, on a wide range of ecological issues (not just climate change). That would then become a matter of public record, for all time, and, if done right, this lasting legacy could also serve to help build and shore up strong opposition to the types of things an incoming Trump administration might ultimately try to accomplish.
Soon after I awoke, the day after Election Day, I thought of that famous quotation:
There is nothing more frightful than ignorance in action. — Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
The next four years will be frightful, indeed. Our already bleak prospects for saving the planet, have now shrunk considerably. January 20, 2017, will mark the beginning of the reign of the Archie Bunker presidency. And I don’t mean that to sound funny. This is quite serious.
Maybe the economy will be better under a Trump presidency. Maybe it will be worse. Maybe it will be much better. Maybe it will be much worse. Time will be the arbiter. But that’s not what’s important. President Bill Clinton said he kept the following phrase on a wall in the Oval Office to anchor his focus: “It’s the economy, stupid.” But what we really need to focus our attention on, is this: “It’s the ecology, stupid.” [e.g., read the brief intro on the Nowhere on our radar page]
Let me illustrate just how serious the ecological crisis is (while simultaneously clarifying what I mean when I say we are “destroying the planet”). A paper published in the journal Nature, on June 7, 2012 (Anthony D. Barnosky, et. al., “Approaching a state shift in Earth’s biosphere”) touched upon this topic, as reflected in its abstract (this is the first half of the paper’s abstract):
Localized ecological systems are known to shift abruptly and irreversibly from one state to another when they are forced across critical thresholds. Here we review evidence that the global ecosystem as a whole can react in the same way and is approaching a planetary-scale critical transition as a result of human influence.
The paper opens with this sentence: “Humans now dominate Earth, changing it in ways that threaten its ability to sustain us and other species.” And concludes with a paragraph that lists several steps we need to take, including “reducing world population growth and per-capita resource use.” When was the last time you heard a president or presidential candidate, in this country, talk about reducing world population growth or per-capita resource use? How about never!
[Note: Papers such as this one that I’ve just cited aren’t intended for the general public. They are written primarily for the scientific community and contain sentences such as this: “Threshold-induced state shifts, or critical transitions, can result from ‘fold bifurcations’ and can show hysteresis.”]
As Election Day nears, let me squeeze in another post about this very soon-to-conclude election cycle …
The fate of the country … does not depend on what kind of paper you drop into the ballot box once a year, but on what kind of man you drop from your chamber into the street every morning. — Henry David Thoreau (1854)
Besides disagreeing with the either-or implication (both are important), I think Thoreau might be greatly underestimating the importance of that piece of paper you “drop into the ballot box.” Remember 2000? One reason I can’t stand Ralph Nader is because he campaigned strongly on the premise that Al Gore and George W. Bush were essentially the same. Oh, really? One, wrote Earth in the Balance, and produced the Academy Award and Nobel Prize-winning documentary An Inconvenient Truth; and the other, when asked at a press conference whether he was going to see it (the documentary), said no. One was against invading Iraq; one was for it. Need I say more?
Fast forward to the presidential race that is currently under way and while part of me says it’s not even possible, it probably is possible, that in Donald J. Trump you actually have someone who is even more ignorant on environmental issues than George W. Bush was. There is literally nothing on his official website related to environmental issues; and if you click on the “Energy” tab, all you get is information that can best be summed up as “Drill, baby, drill!” That’s his energy plan. Full-steam ahead in the entirely wrong direction. This despite the fact that, for example, it was only about a month ago that the World Health Organization (WHO) released a report stating that more than 90 percent of the people on the planet are breathing polluted air, and that breathing bad air is responsible for the deaths of more than six million people a year. Additionally, a UNICEF report, released about a week ago, concludes that worldwide, 300 million children are breathing toxic air, and nearly 600,000 children under the age of 5, die annually as a result. And what does Trump want to do? Well, besides more drilling and more fossil fuel burning, it was reported in late September that he was planning to pick Myron Ebell, one of the nation’s most prominent climate change skeptics, to lead his EPA transition team. Ebell — who holds an M.S. in economics, from the London School of Economics — has in the past described Newt Gingrich’s proposal to abolish the EPA, as “bold and visionary.”) That shouldn’t be surprising, since Trump himself makes clear his belief that climate change isn’t caused by anything man is doing.
Hillary Clinton is certainly no Rachel Carson, either. But at least she’s acknowledged the problem is very real, that our species is largely (if not entirely) to blame, and that ignoring this reality will have very serious consequences, not just for us, but for succeeding generations as well.
If the worst thing you can say about Hillary Clinton is she’s deleted emails, then that should be reason enough to vote for her. Take a look at a one dollar bill and a two dollar bill (or a nickel), and you’ll see two men that between them owned hundreds and hundreds of slaves. They supported kidnapping and the buying and selling human beings. A quick glimpse at Wikipedia and you’ll learn that an estimated 31.5 million Africans were enslaved, or died as a direct result of being captured, during those centuries when the slave trade was rampant. (Twelve million were brought to the Atlantic region [including 10.5 million to the United States], 6 million to Asia, 8 million remained in Africa, 4 million died inside Africa after capture, and about 1.5 million died on board ships while in transit.) And yet, despite his support for that practice of packing human beings like sardines, into ships, to be brought over and sold to the highest bidder, Jefferson won his presidential race, and in 1804 was re-elected. So do you still want to talk about Hillary’s deleted emails?
Moving right along, here is a quotation from the son of a former United States president, speaking about another issue that often leaves Democrats and Republicans sharply divided:
My father and I disagree on all kinds of things. I wasn’t real thrilled with the administration’s record on AIDS, on the environment, on the homeless, on a whole raft of social issues. I’d see him talking to some right-to-lifers and I’d cringe. He’s my father and I love him and he’s entitled to his opinions, but I find it [being against abortion rights] abhorrent. — Ron Reagan, Jr.
I couldn’t agree more; and for lots of reasons. But consider a point raised by Sam Harris, in his book Letter to a Christian Nation:
Almost every cell in your body is a potential human being, given our recent advances in genetic engineering. Every time you scratch your nose, you have committed a Holocaust of potential human beings. — Sam Harris
Would Republicans seek to make it a crime to scratch one’s nose? I wouldn’t put it past them. Don’t let anyone tell you it’s not too important which candidate you choose to back.
[Note: The Ron Reagan, Jr., quotation above, came from an article that appeared in Newsday, “First Family Reunion,” by Karen Freifeld, Mar. 13, 1989.]
I’ll make this short. I love this quotation I read the other day in The New York Times:
“To put the fate of our climate on clean coal and so-called next-gen nuclear is about the riskiest proposition in the world. We might as well bet on leprechauns and the Easter bunny.” — Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club
This comes from an article written by David Gelles. It appeared in the Times‘ “Sunday Business” section, October 16, 2016. Here’s where it gets a bit confusing: the title of the article as it appears in the print edition is “He Believes In Climate Change. And In Trump,” but in the online version (dated October 15, 2016), the title is “Magnate’s Twin Goals: Fighting Climate Change and Electing Donald Trump.”
There are plenty of things (mentioned in the article) that I find very disturbing about Andrew Sabin. Bottom line is this: I think the world would be in far better shape and our prospects for saving the planet would be vastly improved, if people like Andrew Sabin had the financial resources of someone like me, and people like me had the financial resources of someone like him. Just saying.
Once again, I am caught short of time, but I would like to quickly write about something I wanted to include in the previous post. I have asked several scientists and individuals the following question:
“In short, do you know of any studies at all that attempt to measure what is the actual percentage of the total population that genuinely possesses a high degree or very high degree of eco-consciousness?”
But in each instance, I’ve come up empty. No one knows of any such studies. They agree it’s a good question; but don’t know of any studies. So if anyone out there is aware of any such study or studies, please let me know. Thanks!
Since I’ve now brought up this topic, though, let me say a few more things relating to this. I would speculate that the actual percent of the population that possesses a high or very high degree of eco-consciousness is extremely low. Just how low, that is the crux of the question. The mere fact that such studies apparently aren’t even being done, not only shows how far off the radar eco-consciousness is, but demonstrates how germane the question is, considering the extent of the damage we are ecologically wreaking on this planet and leaving in our everyday wake.
This is the kind of meaningful and useful study, by the way, that I wouldn’t mind having a hand in helping to put together. Don’t think for a second it would be easy to design such a study. Determining what constitutes “a high or very high level of eco-consciousness,” for example, could depend heavily on who is designing the study; and determining what questions to ask, and how to ask those questions, can also be crucial. If having a very high level of eco-consciousness is as rare a trait as I believe it is, finding qualified people to even design such a study wouldn’t be easy. But I believe this type of research is vital.
One study worth noting is a March 2012 study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. It didn’t attempt to measure the extent to which a high level of eco-consciousness exists within society, but it did examine “the life goals, concern for others and civic orientation of three young generations — baby boomers, Generation X and Millennials” — according to an article published online for The Washington Post (Martha Irvine, “Young Americans less interested in the environment than previous generations” [There is also an Associated Press byline.] Mar. 15, 2012). And in so doing, as stated in the article, these researchers “found that, when surveyed decades ago, about a third of young baby boomers said it was important to become personally involved in programs to clean up the environment. In comparison, only about a quarter of young Generation X members — and 21 percent of Millennials” — shared this sentiment. The article quotes one of the study’s authors, San Diego State University psychology professor Jean Twenge, as stating “I was shocked. We have the perception that we’re getting through to people. But at least compared to previous eras, we’re not.” Yes, it does seem that the battle to save the planet is always an uphill one. But that is precisely why redesigning how we live on this planet is so important.
To conclude, let me provide two quotations from two individuals I can unequivocally conclude possessed a very high degree of eco-consciousness:
One of the penalties of an ecological education is that one lives alone in a world of wounds. Much of the damage inflicted on land is quite invisible to laymen. An ecologist must either harden his shell and make believe that the consequences of science are none of his business, or he must be the doctor who sees the marks of death in a community that believes itself well and does not want to be told otherwise. — Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac
We don’t say that every living being has the same value as a human, but that it has an intrinsic value which is not quantifiable. It is not equal or unequal. It has a right to live and blossom. I may kill a mosquito if it is on the face of my baby but I will never say I have a higher right to life than a mosquito. — Arne Naess
Naess is credited with coining the term “deep ecology.” But personally, I prefer using the term “deep eco-consciousness.” Neither of these terms is currently in common usage (among the general population), but I think the latter holds more promise in this regard, since it would seem to fit more naturally in everyday conversation.
As it now states at the end of the “Harriet Tubman” Wikipedia article, “On April 20, 2016, Treasury Secretary Jack Lew announced plans to add Tubman to the front of the twenty-dollar bill, moving President Andrew Jackson to the rear of the bill.” But I very much would have preferred seeing another woman chosen instead — a woman that as far as I know was never even under consideration — and that woman is … Rachel Carson. Rachel Carson is often credited with helping to spark the global environmental movement. Lew wanted to choose a woman whose work contributed to expanding or promoting democracy. But I would argue that you can’t have democracy (in the future), if we don’t save the planet (today). Just as Henry David Thoreau memorably stated “What’s the use of a house if you haven’t got a tolerable planet to put it on?,” we could ask “What’s the use of democracy, if you haven’t got a tolerable planet to put it on?” Or in the words of the late David Orton, “Social justice is only possible in a context of ecological justice.” Orton also pointed out that “There is no justice on a dead planet.” True. There would be no human life at all on a dead planet. I find the fact that Rachel Carson was never seriously considered for this honor, just one more illustration of how eco-consciousness is hardly ever in our thoughts. It’s also all the more telling, the fact that this was announced just days before April 22nd. And I wouldn’t even necessarily be surprised if more people are aware that April 27th is Administrative Professionals Day, than are aware that April 22nd is Earth Day.
I’m going to share with you something that you might not believe, but it’s true, so I’ll share it anyway. Less than a year ago, I chanced upon someone who had dropped someone off for a scheduled interview, and was basically killing time. I asked him what kind of work he did, and when he said he worked for the Department of Environmental Conservation, in another state, I thought this was a perfect opportunity to ask him something I sometimes ask people: “Who would you say are your three most favorite environmentalists (living or dead)?” (The fact that many people struggle to name even one, further demonstrates how much the odds are stacked against us.) He was stuck, so to help him along, I suggested: “Someone like Rachel Carson, for example.” His eyes lit up. I could see this sparked something inside him; and I thought “Great!” But, as it turned out, … not so great.
The reason his eyes lit up when he heard the name “Rachel Carson” is because he works in a building called “The Rachel Carson Building,” but, he added, he wasn’t aware that Rachel Carson had been an actual person. (Perhaps he comes from a country where buildings are sometimes named after fictional characters?) In short, I explained to him who Rachel Carson was, he still couldn’t name any other environmentalists, and we soon thereafter went our separate ways. When I got home, I googled “The Rachel Carson Building” out of curiosity and discovered that such a building, housing a Department of Environmental Conservation, does indeed exist, and in the state and city in which he said he worked. It is a seventeen-story building, with a webcam pointed at a peregrine falcon’s nest, resting on one of its floors. True story. Scary, but true.
Here’s something else I’ll share with you. Whenever I encounter people soliciting for a cause or raising money for something, when they ask if I would like to contribute, here’s what I generally say: “To tell you the truth, on principle [I emphasize this], I only support one cause.” I pause to let this sink in, before continuing: “Would you like three hints?”
These are the three hints:  “It’s the most important cause there is — by far.  It’s almost always overlooked. And  it’s the hardest — by far — to actually address (resolve).”
Usually, any guesses that follow, at this point, are way off.
So I’ll ask: “Do you want one more clue?” This final clue often elicits the correct response, or what I deem close enough. The final clue is this: “And it’s keeping you alive right now. And … every second that you’re alive.”
One young girl, going door to door, raising money for her school, guessed: “Church?” Someone else, at this point, responded: “God keeps me alive!”
But many respond by saying “Air?” or “Oxygen?”
Either of which, I’ll accept: “That’s right,” I’ll say, “the environment! The biosphere, the ozone shield, oxygen (photosynthesis), biodiversity, rain forests, the oceans, the food we eat, aquifers that supply the water we can’t live without … We’re trashing this planet. It’s all disappearing. There’s so much pollution and deforestation and overpopulation and consumerism. And we’re doing virtually nothing about these problems.” I usually don’t even feel the need to mention global warming or climate change, since those issues are the ones most frequently brought up whenever environmental issues are given some attention in the media.
Since my encounter with that Department of Environmental Conservation employee, I have started asking people who solicit money (it’s never for an environmental cause, by the way) this question: “I’m curious, let me ask you, are you familiar with Rachel Carson?” And I’m shocked at how many people (these are mostly young, college-age individuals that I pose this question to) don’t know who she was. I find it frightening.
Anyway, there are a few more things I wanted to add to this post, but I plumb ran out of time. So, to be continued …
On the cover of The New York Times this past Sunday, there was an article (Michelle Innis, “Climate-Related Death of Coral Around World Alarms Scientists” Apr. 10, 2016) that describes how damage to the earth’s coral reefs has gotten considerably worse these past couple of years. According to the article, “scientists say the global bleaching is the result of an unusual confluence of events, each of which raised water temperatures already elevated by climate change.” This planet could now be experiencing the longest and worst mass bleaching event ever observed.
Why are coral reefs important? Well, for many reasons. But as the article points out, “coral reefs are the crucial incubators of the ocean’s ecosystem,” they provide “food and shelter to a quarter of all marine species,” and they also help maintain “fish stocks that feed more than one billion people.”
The article mentions several specific areas throughout the world, in particular, where coral reefs have been hard hit, including Australia’s Great Barrier Reef — about which, the article states: “In a survey of 520 individual reefs that make up the Great Barrier Reef’s northern section, scientists … found only four with no signs of bleaching.” Coral reefs do possess some capacity to recover, if not over-stressed, but C. Mark Eakin, the Coral Reef Watch coordinator at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Maryland, predicts “we are going to lose a lot of the world’s reefs during this event.”
I’ll end this short post with this. Justin Marshall, the director of CoralWatch at Australia’s University of Queensland, is quoted in the article as stating that “this is a huge, looming planetary crisis, and we are sticking our heads in the sand about it.” True. But unfortunately, there are so many serious ecological crises all around the world about which we are sticking our heads in the sand. And more and more, crises such as this one are going to be bubbling up to the surface, to our consternation, because we continually drag our feet and do nothing. Substantive paradigm shift in the direction of ecocentrism is our only hope. But I never even see us really considering that as an option. This brings to mind a local all-news station’s tag line: “All news, all the time.” Except, for us (the human race), our tag-line would go something like this: “All anthropocentrism, all the time.”
This past Sunday in The New York Times, there appeared an opinion piece written by the renown biologist Edward O. Wilson, titled “The Global Solution to Extinction” (Mar. 13, 2016, Sunday Review section). He writes about the extinction crisis that is wiping out the web of life that stretches across this planet, and then gives his proposed solution for saving most of what’s left. First, this is how he frames the problem:
Civilization is at last turning green, albeit only pale green. Our attention remains focused on the physical environment — on pollution, the shortage of fresh water, the shrinkage of arable land and, of course, the great, wrathful demon that threatens all our lives, human-forced climate change. But Earth’s living environment, including all its species and all the ecosystems they compose, has continued to receive relatively little attention. This is a huge strategic mistake. If we save the living environment of Earth, we will also save the physical, nonliving environment, because each depends on the other. But if we work to save only the physical environment, as we seem bent on doing, we will lose them both.
He is absolutely correct that loss of biodiversity — which is occurring at a rapid pace, all around the globe — perpetually gets such little attention; but I think that all issues related to what we are doing to the planet, comparatively and substantively speaking, get very little attention. Further on in the piece, he writes:
The global conservation movement is like a surgeon in an emergency room treating an accident victim: He has slowed the bleeding by half. Congratulations, we might say — even though the patient will be dead by morning.
Unless we wish to pauperize the natural world drastically and permanently … we, the current inheritors of this beautiful world, must take more serious action to preserve the rest of life.
What is his solution? (Actually, I’ve read the same or similar-enough ideas as this, proposed in the past; and we’ll likely see more and more of a push for this sort of remedy in the future.) Here is what he says we must do:
The only way to save upward of 90 percent of the rest of life is to vastly increase the area of refuges, from their current 15 percent of the land and 3 percent of the sea to half of the land and half of the sea. That amount, as I and others have shown, can be put together from large and small fragments around the world to remain relatively natural, without removing people living there or changing property rights.
I wouldn’t necessarily agree that we should aim towards going about doing this without addressing population (carrying capacity for these regions) or the issue of property “rights.” On this last issue, I am reminded of a sentiment (purportedly, it’s been misattributed to the American Indian, Chief Seattle) expressed that (and I’m paraphrasing from memory here) “In our culture, the concept is alien to us. We no more believe that an individual can ‘own’ the land, than believe an individual can ‘own’ the sky, or the wind, or the air that we all breathe.”
But since we need to act posthaste on this, I wouldn’t, of course, be against implementation of this (Wilson’s proposed solution) as an interim step, even as I would simultaneously continue to push for a more solid, substantive solution.
One more thing. I would advocate for the insertion of a single word: the word over. Rather than “increase the areas of refuges … to half of the land and half of the sea,” I would strongly urge that we set the mark at “over half of the land and over half of the sea.” That might seemingly accomplish nothing, since, mathematically speaking, “51 percent” would satisfy that directive. However, what it accomplishes is it leaves the door open for future discussion on what that specific percentage we need to aim for should be.
[Edward O. Wilson’s 32nd book, Half-Earth: Our Planet’s Fight for Life, is now available in bookstores.]
Several days ago, while in the kitchen making something to eat, I had the radio on and caught an interesting show. Here is the link: (So-Called) Life [produced by RadioLab]; and this is how RadioLab.org describes this particular show: “The uneasy marriage of biology and engineering raises big questions about the nature of life.”
The last ten minutes of the broadcast I found particularly pertinent. It is there that we hear J. Craig Venter being quoted (from a talk he gave at a New York City venue). Venter is quoted as stating “We’re messing our nests, something terrible.” I can’t disagree with that part, at all. But Venter is also quoted as stating that “bioengineering is our last hope.” And, we hear him state that bioengineering is “probably our one major chance of having our species survive on this planet.”
Our last hope? Really? That kind of thinking could also pave the way for it becoming humankind’s greatest nightmare. We’re already on a trajectory where in the rudderless direction in which we are heading, something like CRISPR/Cas9, will, in due time, comparatively speaking, look as primitive as a slingshot. But I would also hasten to add that at some future point, the level of scientific understanding that is today married to the use of such technology, will someday likely be viewed (in hindsight) as being just as primitive.
Reading through some of the posted comments on the RadioLab website that pertain to their “(So-Called) Life” broadcast, I’m somewhat relieved that at least some people really do get it. Like “Patricia Shifrin from New York,” for example, whose comment was posted March 8, 2016: “I can’t believe you ended this program by throwing up your hands and saying ‘oh oh, what to do, what to do?’ while reinforcing the false assumption that ‘we can’t stop science.’ We CAN stop science. We do it often. Science made nuclear bombs but we’ve agreed not to use them. Science made nuclear reactors but we’ve agreed that their operation is risky and have slowed their proliferation. The notion that we can’t control science is absurd. Many bioengineers and geneticists are begging for the development of ethical guidelines to help them move their research into areas that help humanity, rather than endanger it. Do a show about that! …” Indeed.
I have many ideas related to how to go about addressing these concerns; and I crave having the wherewithal someday to finally be able to write about and disseminate some of these ideas. But that’s just one specific objective I have; in terms of what I’m aiming to achieve, overall. That’s not the big picture, by any means; that’s just one small portion of the big picture (in terms of what we need to be doing, if we are ever to get on course towards saving the planet).
What a strange presidential race we’re witnessing. Though in one sense, I’m kind of loving it. For so many years now, I’ve been chomping at the bit to have my website up, while a presidential race was under way; and now, that day is finally here. This — 2016 — marks the first presidential race where my website has been up and running. Why have I for so many years yearned to have my website up while a presidential race was underway? Because how better to underscore my main points than by letting others do that work for me? Each and every time one of them opens their mouth, they demonstrate all the things I keep saying, about how far off course we are, and about how we keep going in the wrong direction, entirely. Do they ever talk about environmental issues (in a substantive way)? No; never. You never hear serious, meaningful, substantive discussion about how to address the fact that, for example, in a very short span of time, mankind will have wiped out more than half the ecosystems on this planet (and will be well on course towards wiping out the remainder, in similarly short order).
While on the subject of this 2016 presidential race, let me give my thoughts on how things are currently shaping up so far. First, I don’t like any of the candidates. At all!. That should go without saying; but it nevertheless needs to be stated. In fact, as I often say, if I had a magic wand and could put anyone in the Oval Office, I don’t know of anyone (alive today), who comes remotely close to being someone I would feel good about putting in that position. Doesn’t that one simple fact speak volumes as to how far off course we are and how bleak our prospects look?
That said, and while I’m definitively not a fan of any of them, let me say this about the candidacy of Bernie Sanders. Since, in the media, he is constantly written off as not really being a viable candidate, because, well, he is, after all, a “socialist,” I wish he would simply state the following, every time this issue comes up: “Do you know who was also a socialist? [Pause.] Albert Einstein!” Most people don’t know this. Being made aware of this could help create a window of opportunity for getting people to begin to be able to think somewhat objectively about socialism. It would also give his message more resonance and believability. Because any time someone attacks him, in that regard, it could be pointed out that they are, in effect, also attacking Einstein (and who wouldn’t want to have Einstein in their corner, as their virtual debate team partner?).
You can learn more about Einstein’s favorable views concerning socialism, by reading the Wikipedia article “Political views of Albert Einstein,” but here below you can read what Einstein said, in his own words (I’ve made bold, the portion that I most wish to emphasize):
This crippling of individuals I consider the worst evil of capitalism. Our whole educational system suffers from this evil. An exaggerated competitive attitude is inculcated into the student, who is trained to worship acquisitive success as a preparation for his future. I am convinced there is only one way to eliminate these grave evils, namely through the establishment of a socialist economy, accompanied by an educational system which would be oriented toward social goals. — Albert Einstein
But let me make another point here as well (as this is also something that many people are still unaware of). While Sen. Sanders generally identifies himself as being a “democratic socialist,” there is a night and day difference between “socialist” and “democratic socialist.” Here’s how Jonathan Cohn describes the difference between the two, in a piece he wrote for The Huffington Post (“Bernie Sanders Is A Socialist And That’s Not As Crazy As It Sounds,” published online, April 30, 2015):
Democratic socialism, as generally conceived in the U.S., is a milder, more aspirational form of the ideology. Democratic socialists might not recoil at the thought of government running large industries, but they don’t actively pursue that goal. Instead, they focus on decidedly less radical objectives — like making the welfare state more generous, giving workers more power, limiting the influence of money on politics and policing the practices of business more closely.
Again, I’m not a Bernie Sanders fan. At best, I suppose he might be the least worst candidate of those that are actually running this election cycle. He’s clearly not a solid environmentalist, in my view. He’s a very single-issue focused candidate; and whenever I see or hear the phrase “income inequality,” I might as well be seeing or hearing this: “Low and lower-income citizens ought to have the same ability to destroy this planet as high and higher-income citizens.” That might be far from what he and others who talk about “income inequality” are trying to accomplish, but basically, that’s what it amounts to — it’s not so much about “income equality,” as much as it’s about “ecological destructiveness equality,” in effect. Think about it. I’ve never heard him talk about how we all, collectively, need to thoroughly reduce the size of our ecological footprint.
Here’s something else I’ll throw into the mix of things to think about while this strange election cycle runs its course. Back in 2006, in The New York Times Book Review, Nick Gilespie reviewed John W. Dean’s The Hard Right (“Conservatives Without Conscience,” July 30, 2006); and, here below, in Gilespie’s own words, is something he stated in that review:
The book draws heavily on the work of the social psychologist Bob Altemeyer, the creator of a scale for measuring “right-wing authoritarian (R.W.A.) tendencies. Dean writes that Altemeyer is “not given to hyperbole in his scholarly work,” yet quotes him as saying that many “High R.W.A..’s” would “attack France, Massachusettes or the moon if the president said it was necessary ‘for freedom.'” Altemeyer says it’s “a scientifically established fact” that political, religious and economic conservatives are High R.W.A.’s, and Dean concludes that our government “is run by an array of authoritarian personalities” who are “dominating, opposed to equality, desirous of personal power, amoral, intimidating … vengeful, pitiless, exploitative, manipulative, dishonest, cheaters, prejudiced, meanspirited, militant, nationalistic and two-faced.” The estimated 20 to 25 percent of High R.W.A.’s among us, he warns, “will take American democracy where no freedom-loving person would want it to go.”
Which candidate does this most remind you of? The one who’s leading in the polls? The one I actually felt sorry for, when he announced his candidacy, because, based upon some of the things he was saying, I concluded he must be suffering from some malady of the mind that was effecting his judgement?
Let me conclude with this humorous aside. When I first heard the phrase “anchor babies,” I thought it was a reference to people like Trump. I thought it meant “babies born on yachts” (an alternative for the “born with a silver spoon in their mouth” cliche). My oops, on both counts. He’s not losing his mind. And he’s not an “anchor baby.” But we are living in interesting times, aren’t we?
Did you see this in the news recently? According to a recent study, by the year 2050, there will be more plastic in the world’s oceans (pound for pound) than fish. That report was released by the World Economic Forum and the Ellen MacArthur Foundation. You can do a Google search and read all about it. The Huffingtonpost.com piece about this opens by stating “In case you need further evidence that mankind is doing a remarkable job of destroying the planet, consider this …” (Chris D’Angelo, “The Oceans Will Contain More Plastic Than Fish By 2050 / Yes, you read that correctly.” 1/19/16); and the article published on the Washington Post website (Sarah Kaplan, “By 2050, there will be more plastic than fish in the world’s oceans, study says”1/20/16) points out that on the same day that this study was published, the journal Nature Communications published a study asserting that the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization is “drastically underestimating the overfishing of the oceans” (by 50 percent or more; for the period between 1950 and 2010).
But what I mainly wanted to write about today stems from something that’s also been reported on recently, and that is this: according to the international, anti-poverty, nonprofit organization Oxfam, sixty-two individuals today have the same amount of wealth as half of the population of the planet, combined (the wealth of 62 people = the wealth of the world’s poorest 3,600,000,000).
Two of those sixty-two individuals would have to include the Koch brothers (specifically, Charles and David). Forbes magazine has the brothers tied as the sixth richest people in the world (in 2015). Combined, their wealth would even surpass that of Bill Gates, who’s at number one on the list of the world’s wealthiest individuals. I remember reading, I think it was roughly a year or so ago (if I’m not mistaken), that the Koch brothers plan to raise close to $900 million to influence the 2016 races (David even ran once for president, himself, in 1980). Why do I bring this up? Well, one of the reasons why I thought this might be worth mentioning is because in a review of Jane Mayer’s recently published book Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right — which appeared in this past Sunday’s edition of The New York Times Book Review (“Rightward Bound,” by Alan Ehrenhalt [a companion review, by Adrian Wooldridge, reviews a different book]) — the reviewer writes “Mayer reports that an E.P.A. database identified Koch Industries in 2012 as the single biggest producer of toxic waste in the United States.”
Also worth mentioning is something that has long since stood out in my mind as a perfect example of just how frighteningly out of sync with environmentalism and eco-consciousness, a free-market absolutist philosophy is. This comes from Joel Bakan’s book The Corporation (page 114). It is just a single word. One word. But, in context, it says so much. This is the passage to which I’m referring: “And Michael Walker, an economist who heads the Fraser Institute, Cato’s Canadian partner, responded with an enthusiastic “Absolutely!” when asked whether he believed every square inch of the planet should be under private control.” The Fraser Institute, it should be worth noting, receives funding — either directly or indirectly (according to the Wikipedia article about the Fraser Institute) — from the Koch brothers.
Another perfect example of the chilling and flippant disregard many so-called “conservatives” have for the environment can be found in a review of Peter Huber’s 2000 book Hard Green: Saving the Environment From the Environmentalists: A Conservative Manifesto. (Mark Hertsgaard reviewed both Peter Huber’s Hard Green and Philip Shabecoff’s Earth Rising: American Environmentalism in the 21st Century, in his May 7, 2000 New York Times Book Review, “Greener Than Thou / Two books offer disparate plans for the environmental movement.”) Hertsgaard writes that Huber remarkably both dismisses the importance of global warming, and simultaneously concedes that “Miami might end up underwater,” as a result. Sarcastically, or perhaps simply mirroring Huber’s apparent belief system, Hertsgaard writes “But then humans don’t really need functioning ecosystems anyway,” because, and now he quotes directly from Huber’s book: “Cut down the last redwood for chopsticks, harpoon the last blue whale for sushi, and the additional mouths fed will nourish additional human brains, which will soon invent ways to replace blubber with olestra and pine with plastic. Humanity can survive just fine in a planet-covered crypt of concrete and computers.”
Every time I read that, I can’t believe there can be people who think that way; and yet, at the same time, I know that there are so many people who think that way (more or less). Contrast what Huber wrote, above, with the following sentiment expressed by American naturalist George Schaller — as published in an article that appeared in Parade Magazine (Michael Ryan, “We Have To Protect What We Have” Feb. 2, 1997) — “As an ecologist, you walk around the world and see the wounds and the scars, and your spirit just cries.” Elsewhere in the article he was quoted as stating that “the problems are the same all over the world. There’s been too much greed, too much consumption. We have to focus on saving some portion of nature for the next millennium.” This was a nice little article. At one point he even describes an experience where a female panda just came walking through the bamboo and plopped down right next to him and fell asleep. “That kind of acceptance by an animal,” he states, “is a wonderful feeling.”
Just a quick post about the recent climate change conference agreement about which there is so much celebration. Don’t uncork the champagne just yet! Sorry to splash a bucket of cold reality onto all of this, but the truth is there are so many problems with this “great achievement,” not the least of which is the simple fact that even if it were followed to the letter (which seems very unlikely), it won’t do much to stop global warming and climate change from reaching a tipping point beyond which the climate change situation may be catastrophically irreversible.
On the cover of The New York Times, Sunday, December 13, 2015, accompanying the article about the international agreement that was reached in Paris, there is also a “news analysis” piece by Justin Gillis (“Healing Step, If Not a Cure”), which makes some important points. For example, concerning the agreement, it states:
Countries have offered no plans that would come remotely close to achieving either goal [the higher target goal, or the lower target goal], and, given the current state of technology, it is difficult to see how they could be achieved. That led some scientists on Saturday to dismiss the tighter temperature targets as feel-good measures with no real meaning.
That sums it up rather nicely. [I added the bold print, for emphasis, and the parenthetical info.]
Is the agreement that was reached in Paris better than nothing? Of course it’s better than if no agreement at all had been reached. But does the agreement represent an adequate response to the ecological problems we are causing in every corner of the globe? Not even close!
As the years roll by, it becomes increasingly evident to me that one of the greatest threats we face, is our species’s general lack of a deep sense of eco-consciousness (if that’s the right way to phrase it). That explains why, for example, there are so many people who genuinely feel very good about this agreement and applaud it (or who don’t even care at all, either way; or don’t believe in global warming in the first place). And so very few who — realizing how deeply alarming the situation is — rightly hold their applause for something much more substantial and much more deserving of applause.
It seems like it’s been about half a year since my last post; so I’m pleasantly surprised to see it’s only been about two and a half months. Since there’s been so much I’ve been wanting to post about, and it’s all been piling up, maybe that’s why it seems like it’s been so much longer. But before I get to what I had planned to write about today, as a brief aside, let me first go in another direction entirely.
As I’ve stated on the Solutions page, some of my really big ideas (concerning solutions), I intend to share only with like-minded, potential backers (and therefore, have refrained from disclosing any details about them on this website). For a variety of reasons, I think that’s best. And while it’s not very often that I think of new additional material that I feel rises to the level of being worthy of being included in what I have labeled my “talking points” folders (containing those ideas I wish to share with potential backers), recently, I came up with two more really big ideas that I feel super charged-up about. One has to do with a brilliantly simple way to transform our government, in a very big way, while keeping the entire infrastructure completely intact and not changing a thing in that respect. It’s a very interesting idea and would make a fertile topic for a book (bestseller?). While it’s an exhilarating idea and one that I feel holds tremendous promise, I would also be the first to admit that there are some significant caveats that would need to be taken into consideration as well.
But the other idea, I’m maybe even more excited about. There is enormous potential concerning what it can accomplish (in the long run), it can be implemented almost immediately (relatively speaking), and it is something that can be duplicated all across the country (and the world). It will absolutely require philanthropic backing to get this off the ground; but I love this idea, I really do!
But wait … there’s even more! Because fast on the heels of those two big ideas, I’ve also added (to my “talking points” folders) two more. One concerns a great idea for a book (simple concept, but immensely substantive), which wouldn’t take long to write — I completed the rough draft outline in about two or three hours, and I believe I can probably write the book itself in as little as two months. I can’t recall ever seeing anything quite like it. But the idea I’m far more interested in seeing come to fruition, of these two, is the other idea. That one is much more complex, it will take quite a bit of work, and funding, but I see it as something very important and something we’re going to need to be doing a lot more of, in the future. Anyhow, without further ado, let me get to what I actually wanted to write about today …
The New York Times, last week, had an article in its main news section, about an aspect of the severe drought situation in California (Ian Lovett, “Stingy Users Fined in Drought, While the Rich Soak / Uneven Enforcement Angers Californians” Nov. 22, 2015, p. 22). While not getting into the specificity of what the title of the piece refers to, I’ll mention some of the facts that are uncovered in the story. The article reports that “The top 10 residential water users [households] in Los Angeles collectively used more than 80 million gallons of water in the year that ended April 1.” The piece mentions one home has 12 bathrooms and two pools, and another home that is in the construction phase, has been issued permits for five pools. In the San Francisco area, the story reports, a retired Chevron executive had been averaging 12,578 gallons a day. But here’s the point I wanted to make. The piece quotes one Bel Air resident as stating “Someone has to say, ‘You can’t have five pools — you can have one pool.'” After reading that sentence, I circled it and wrote in the margin “Why should someone be permitted to have even one pool on their property?”
Consider, for example, what Marilyn vos Savant points out in her May 3rd, 2015, “Ask Marilyn” column, in Parade magazine (Parade is distributed in more than 700 newspapers, throughout the United States), in answer to a question sent in by a reader from Emmaus, Pennsylvania. The submitted question states that for the past century “humans have been pumping water from the underground water table,” and then asks “How much has this contributed to the rising oceans?” Vos Savant states that a “team of researchers has reported that the increasing human population and its demands for drinking water, irrigation of crops, etc., could account for as much as 42 percent of the rise, surprising even experts. Much of this water evaporates or runs off into rivers and winds up in the oceans. Also, when water gets warmer, it expands. About half the rise is due to warmer oceans simply occupying more space.” And keep in mind, too, that we are currently adding an additional 1,000,000 people to the planet, every 110 hours.
Lawns, are another big way in which we waste a lot of water, unnecessarily. In fact, in a special section included in the Sunday, September 26, 2010, edition of The New York Times — titled “Op-ed at 40 / Four Decades of Argument and Illustration” — the Times reprinted a piece by author Michael Pollan (“Lawn Care”), which they had first published on May 5, 1991. Michael Pollan had a brilliant suggestion back then, and it is just as relevant today. He starts by pointing out that “three years after George Bush told us he wanted to be remembered as the ‘environmental president,’ he has done little to earn that distinction …” Then, further along, he states “Still, I’m inclined to take the president at his word when he voices his concern for the planet. So I want to offer him a suggestion — a simple, constructive step that would save the Treasury money. I propose that President Bush issue an executive order to the Park Service to rip out the White House lawn.”
In the next and last paragraph in the piece, Pollan explains: “I imagine that, at first blush, most Americans will be as disturbed by this idea as I was. We are great lovers of lawn. But the lawn is a symbol of everything that’s wrong with our relationship to the land. Lawns require pampering because we ask them to thrive where they do not belong.”
I wasn’t “disturbed” by this idea at all. Far from it. In fact, I can even envision how this might be accomplished in such a way that the White House lawn would be transformed into something nothing less than breathtaking.
From time to time, people have voiced concerns about how it is so unhealthy (to us, the planet, and future generations), to treat our property in the ways that we do. Back in July of 2007, in a letter published in Consumer Reports magazine, a Paul Cadman, of Northborough, MA, shared some thoughts about “Your Greatest Lawn,” an article published in the magazine’s May issue. Right off, Cadman takes issue with the term “Great,” when used in reference to our lawns, stating that it’s not a good idea to “promote the American obsession with lawn care as an ideal,” or to suggest “that somehow these chemically fed, expensive and expansive, resource-reducing” portions of our property, “equate with ‘greatness.'”
He continues: “One can easily argue that in today’s climate of fragile ecosystems, dwindling resources, and health concerns, the ‘new’ ideal should be to reduce lawn size or replace lawns with low-maintenance and attractive native species or to simply do as nature intended: Keep it wild.” Those are great suggestions, but I am also perturbed by the fact that so many of us will have gone from cradle to grave, without ever having grown so much as a single calorie’s worth of the food that we will have consumed, while we were alive. Not only is what we are doing often so wasteful in terms of how we are using the land, it is wasteful, also, in terms of how we aren’t.
As I sometimes say, on the one hand, the problems (concerning what we are doing to the planet), in aggregate, rated on a scale of 1-10, we can rate a hundred, but concerning what we are effectively doing about these problems — similarly, rated on a scale of 1-10 — can we really rate that at even a one? If, for example, in terms of solutions, on a scale of 1-10, transforming the White House lawn into something sensible and ecologically sustainable, isn’t even a one (in terms of what it actually accomplishes, in real terms, considering the size of that real estate), and yet we’re not even willing to do that, then what does that say about our prospects for saving the planet?
You could be the first!
During my lunch break at work, a few days ago, I had the chance to look through my August 22, 2015 issue of Science News. In it, on the page devoted to new books that have just been published, one book, in particular, grabbed my attention — two of its three authors are none other than Anne H. Ehrlich and Paul R. Ehrlich (the other author is Gerardo Ceballos). The book is The Annihilation of Nature. There is only this one-sentence description: “With the aid of photos and stories of animals at risk of extinction, three biologists make an impassioned plea for conservation.”
I’ve since checked Amazon.com for reviews of this book; but there are none. So you can be the first!
From what little I did happen to see online about this book (books.google.com displays some actual text, from the book), it looks pretty good.
This Earth Day, let’s remember exactly what’s at stake: everything.
As Peter Singer and Collin O’Rourke wrote in an op-ed, published in the Daily News over four years ago (“Decade of distraction” / “Over the past 10 years, as the news has gotten bleaker, Americans have only twiddled their thumbs harder” Dec. 5, 2010, p. 28-29):
[It is] … entirely possible that we will soon pass a tipping point after which the temperatures will spiral upwards, totally out of our control. Feedback loops such as the release of methane from the frozen Siberian tundra may cause more warming and more methane release until large parts of the planet become uninhabitable.
The recklessness with which we put at risk the stability of our planet’s ecosystem and the lives of billions of people is simply breathtaking. …
To conclude this op-ed, here is what they wrote as their finishing paragraph:
We have rightly rejected discrimination on grounds of race or sex. We are still discriminating on grounds of time of birth. Before it is too late, we need to develop an intergenerational conception of equality that extends beyond the interests of those alive today, and gives equal weight to the interests of future generations.
I agree, but I think it’s less a matter of not caring about future generations, and more a matter of not caring about nature, in general. As Henry David Thoreau wrote, “Most, it would seem to me, do not care for nature and would sell their share.” Still, there is definitely much to be said about how we are so focused on our lifetimes — and I talk about this on the Underlying Causes page of this website. Indeed, the problem extends even into our lexicon. For example, while we have a word for “concern for others” (altruism), we don’t have a word for “concern for others of future generations“; and though we have a word for “having no regard for justice or for others’ feelings, rights, or safety” (wanton), we don’t have a word for “having no regard for justice, or for posterity’s feelings, rights or safety.” The way we treat this planet can also be regarded as somewhat analogous to slavery. Just as slavery was a horrific way to treat other people, how we’re treating this planet demonstrates a thoroughly callous disregard for future generations.
We are mistreating this planet in so many ways. One of those ways is through the widespread release of so many different chemicals into the environment. Regarding just one consumer product, cellphones, here is what Oladele A. Ogunseitan — an environmental-health scientist at the University of California, Irvine — had to say (as quoted in a New York Times Magazine article by Jon Mooallem [“The Afterlife of Cellphones” / “A growing international trade in discarded mobile phones is helping the world’s poor. But will it poison the earth?” Jan. 13, 2008]):
In a phone that you can hold in the palm of your hand, you now have more than 200 chemical compounds. To try to separate them out and study what health effects may be associated with burning it or sinking it in water — that’s a lifetime of work for a toxicologist.
Studying the health effects from those cellphones being discarded might be a lifetime of work for a toxicologist, but from what I read in a cover story that appeared in The New York Times [Hiroko Tabuchi, “Fad-Loving Japan May Derail a Sony Smartphone” June 27, 2013], many Japanese consumers are ditching their cellphones after just three or four months, so they can trade up for the ones with the latest features.
One old article that I’m holding in my hand — (Bill Richards, “Computer-Chip Plants Aren’t as Safe and Clean As Billed, Some Say” The Wall Street Journal, Oct 5, 1998) — mentions that both the older and newer computer chip plants “typically use about 500 to 1,000 chemicals.” Another article talks about how ubiquitous polybrominated diphenyl ethers, or PBDEs (chemical flame retardants) are (Deborah Blum, “A Spreading Health Worry” The New York Times, July 8, 2014). An opinion piece by Diane Lewis (“The Toxic Brew in Our Yards” May 11, 2014), published in The New York Times, states that “A study by the United States Geological Survey released in 1999 found at least one pesticide, and often more than one, in almost every stream and fish sample tested, and in about half of the samples drawn from wells throughout the country.” And I have so many more examples of these sorts of articles. It goes on and on and on. Chemical pollution is everywhere.
One article talks about the chemical Bisphenol A, or BPA and how it “has been detected in nearly all human bodies tested in the United States” (The by-line mentions that this article was published in The Los Angeles Times, but the copy I have was published in Newsday [“Plastics chemical may pose risks” Apr. 15, 2005]). The article references a report published online in Environmental Health Perspectives, by scientists Frederick vom Saal [reproductive biologist, University of Missouri, Columbia] and Claude Hughes [executive director of the polycarbonate business unit of the American Plastics Council]. Here is how the article concludes:
“The chemical industry’s position that this is a weak chemical has been proven totally false. This is a phenomenally potent chemical as a sex hormone,” vom Saal said. He and Hughes found that 100 percent of the 11 studies funded by chemical companies found no risk, while 90 percent of the 104 government-funded, non-industry studies found harm.
This also raises another issue. How scientifically valid are studies, when they have been funded by companies with a vested interest in the outcome?
In concluding, let me just mention three more chemicals. While methane and CO2 get most of the press coverage when it comes to discussion about the causes of global warming and climate change, there are other contributing factors as well. For example, nitrogen trifluoride (NF3), according to the Wikipedia article on this inorganic compound, “is a greenhouse gas, with a global warming potential (GWP) 17,200 times greater than that of CO2 … and has an estimated atmospheric lifetime of 740 years.” It is used in the manufacture of such consumer goods as CPUs, laptops, video game consoles, cellphones, digital cameras, and thin-film solar cells.
Sulfur hexafluoride (SF6), is described by Wikipedia as having a global warming potential (GWP) of 23,900 times that of carbon dioxide, and an estimated lifetime of 800-3,200 years. The Wikipedia article states that “more than 10,000 tons are produced each year.”
Tetrafluoromethane, also known as carbon tetrafluoride (CF4), according to what I’ve read, has a heat trapping potential roughly 11,200 times that of CO2, and according to the Wikipedia entry, “has an atmospheric lifetime of 50,000 years.”
So even if we stopped using this one particular chemical (CF4), today, the molecules of it that we’ve already produced, and that have found their way into the atmosphere, will have the ability to remain there, until another 50,000 years/Earth Days from today!
Every year around this time, the following sentiment — eloquently expressed by Irish author Dervla Murphy — comes to mind:
The multiple threats to the Earth are so complex that in most cases they seem beyond the reach of an average citizen’s influence. Yet we can all launch a personal campaign to reduce consumption — though perhaps only after a change of mind-set, to overcome the fear of seeming poor, parsimonious or eccentric. This does not mean being deprived or uncomfortable. It simply means stopping to think, before each purchase, ‘Do I really need this?’ For years a small minority has been living and thinking thus. If a large majority did likewise — if frugality and shabbiness could become trendy — then the Earth, though not saved, would be measurably less endangered. — Dervla Murphy, Irish author
I’ve long felt this would make a great alternative Christmas card, especially for someone who wanted to share their reasons for opting out of the practice of gift-giving. I no longer buy gifts or send cards, but sometimes, if I do receive a gift, I share this quotation as a means for explaining why I feel the way that I do.
One of the things I don’t like about holidays is that they take us out of just appreciating the moment that we’re in and being satisfied with what we already have. Personally, I try my best to live by the following credo: If I did without it yesterday, I can do without it today.
One of the most frightening things about our predicament is the fact that one of the best things we can do for the planet, would be to simply stop buying stuff (and this time of the year really brings home the point that so much of what we buy we can so easily do without), and yet, if we did just that, the consequences would be catastrophic (soaring unemployment, bankruptcies, homelessness, hunger … there would be a full-scale global economic collapse). As I point out on this website, that is truly one of the biggest quandaries humanity must grapple with: how best to resolve that diametrically opposed conflict (and quickly!); because that is definitely the road we must take, whether or not we can all agree on the best way to proceed.
Back in 1999, I remember reading a sentiment expressed by William Eichbaum, a vice president at the World Wildlife Federation in Washington. This is what he said: “We have to learn to live off the interest of the Earth, not the principal.” Don’t you just love it when something so deep can be expressed so simply and so succinctly. Those are words we must learn to live by. I can think of myriads of examples to illustrate how we have been living off the principal, and not the interest. I’ll give a few examples below.
In the September 28, 2014 edition of The New York Times, in a question and answer column in the Travel section (“In Transit” / “Travel News, Deals and Tips”) Emily Brennan asks Hilary Bradt some questions (“Hilary Bradt on the changes in Madagascar”). Bradt, a “British guidebook publisher and tour operator” with extensive experience traveling to Madagascar throughout the years, describes the changes she has personally witnessed since her first trip there in 1976. Here is her response to the question “What has changed in the years since?”:
A lot. Deforestation gets a lot of publicity, quite rightly. I remember taking a train from the capital to the coast and almost being able to pick the flowers from the window — the rain forest was towering over the railway. Now, it’s almost all cleared, almost all savanna …
Incidentally, I occasionally read (as is the case here) opinions expressed that speak laudably about the positive effect tourism is having in some areas throughout the world, but I am nevertheless not an advocate for such tourism and am of the opinion that while the monetary support is good, biologists, investigative journalists and private investigators can best determine whether the funding is having its intended effect.
Here is another perfect illustration of how we’re spending the principal of this planet, not the interest. In an article published in The New York Times, written by Larry Rohter (“Loggers, Scorning the Law, Ravage the Amazon Jungle” Oct. 16, 2005), we get a glimpse of the extent of some of the devastation being wreaked upon the Amazon rain forest:
With large parts of the eastern and southern flanks of the Amazon already devastated, the principal target of loggers and sawmill owners these days is the so-called Terra do Meio, or Midlands, between the Xingu and Iriri Rivers. In fact, the area north of here, between the Trans-Amazon Highway and the Amazon River, is so active that local people have begun calling it Iraq. “Because the loggers are bombing the life out of it,” Mr. [Milton Fernandes] Coutinho of the farmworkers’ association explained.
In the accompanying photo appearing on the same page as the article, the area shown doesn’t even remotely resemble a rain forest. A long road, a long row of telephone poles, no standing trees, a flatbed truck is in full view and filled with sawed-down trees. Milton Fernandes Coutinho, president of the local farmworkers’ association, which represents peasant settlers living along the roads used by the loggers is further quoted in the article as stating that “It goes on all night long, with the traffic so intense some nights, 30 or 40 trucks thundering through, that people can’t even sleep.”
Finally, just one more example of how all around the globe we can see examples of how we are living off the principal of this planet and not the interest. This comes from an opinion piece written by the novelist Sheng Keyi [it was translated by Jane Weizhen Pan and Martin Merz, from Chinese] and published in The New York Times, on April 6, 2014 (“China’s Poisonous Waterways”). Keyi describes the dire situation she has witnessed in her home country and in her home village, one of China’s hundreds of so-called “cancer villages,” which she defines as areas “blanketed with factories where cancer rates have risen far above the national average.” She talks about the deaths of people she knew well, some “only in their 30s or 40s.” Here is the part where I believe Keyi best illustrates the point I’ve been making:
More than 50 percent of China’s rivers have disappeared altogether, and few of the surviving waterways are not completely polluted. Some 280 million Chinese people drink unsafe water, according to the Ministry of Environmental Protection. Nearly half of the country’s rivers and lakes carry water that is unfit even for human contact.
I can go on and on and on giving example after example of this same sort of thing going on all around the globe but these were the examples I wanted to use to illustrate how we are spending the principal of the Earth, not the interest.
In my last posting, I included mention of Naomi Klein’s This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate. Today, in the pages of The New York Times Book Review, Rob Nixon reviews the book (“Force of Nature” / “The status quo is no longer an option, Naomi Klein warns in this analysis of the climate crisis.”). In the review, Nixon states that This Changes Everything “is a book of such ambition and consequence that it is almost unreviewable.” But he does review it; and at the finish of his review he calls it “The most momentous and contentious environmental book since Silent Spring.” Got your attention? “There is still time to avoid catastrophic warming,” Naomi Klein writes in her book, “but not within the rules of capitalism as they are currently constructed. Which is surely the best argument there has ever been for changing those rules.” Further into the review, Nixon again quotes from the book: “Any attempt to rise to the climate challenge will be fruitless unless it is understood as part of a much broader battle of worldviews. Our economic system and our planetary system are now at war.” Incidentally, I would also add that religions are basically worldviews, and some of those worldviews compromise our chances for saving the planet.
That’s all I’ll say for now concerning This Changes Everything, but sticking with the topic of climate change, let me cite an informative Nicholas Kristof column that appeared in The New York Times (“‘Neglected Topic’ Winner: Climate Change,” January 19, 2014). Kristof asked his readers back at the beginning of the year for their suggestions concerning “neglected topics” that those “in the news business should cover more aggressively in 2014.” Among the some 1,300 responses Kristof received, he states that “many made a particularly compelling case for climate change.” Here is how he began his column:
Here’s a scary fact about America: We’re much more likely to believe that there are signs that aliens have visited Earth (77 percent) than that humans are causing climate change (44 percent).
And if that’s not bad enough, wait, it gets worse. Despite the fact that, as Kristof points out, “The [Nobel-Prize winning] Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in September  raised its confidence that human activity is the main cause of warming from 90 percent probability to 95 percent or higher,” only “66 percent of Democrats say human activity is the main cause of global warming; [and only] 24 percent of Republicans say so.” Want to hear the scariest part of all? November 4th was Election Day; and Republicans, having won big, are soon going to be in control of both houses of Congress. Oh, my God! Consider these facts regarding just one Republican Senator (Sen. James M. Inhofe, of Oklahoma), which in fact-checking I found on the website desmogblog.com (“Clearing the PR Pollution That Clouds Climate Science”):
In 2003, the Natural Resources Defense Council noted that Inhofe “scored zero with the League of Conservation Voters since 1997, was the only senator to oppose Everglades restoration, and once compared the Environmental Protection Agency to the Gestapo.”
He is also one of the biggest climate change deniers that you are ever likely to find. For example, here is what this U. S. senator, with a B. A. in Economics from the University of Tulsa, thinks of global warming: “With all of the hysteria, all of the fear, all of the phony science, could it be that man-made global warming is the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people? It sure sounds like it.” To support his contention that global warming is a hoax, he quotes from the Bible (Genesis 8:22).
There is one silver lining in the dark cloud that was Election Day 2014. While I in no way would have wished for the results that we ended up with, I think it will undoubtedly make my quest for gift capital that much more attainable. It is going to be that much easier now to convince people that our future is in jeopardy and that we are going in entirely the wrong direction. It’s going to be a very bad next couple of years (at least), for the flora, the fauna, and the entire biosphere of this planet. In all seriousness — and I’m not exaggerating one bit — if I had been given a magic wand before Election Day, and the ability to chose between one of these two wishes: (a) Republicans win both houses of Congress, and I get $1 million dollars, or (b) Republicans don’t win both houses of Congress, and I don’t get $1 million dollars, I unhesitatingly would have chosen the latter (!). I’m not a Democrat; but I can even more emphatically say I am not a Republican (especially where environmentalism is concerned).
If I might cite just one more article pertaining to climate change … Here is an article that I suggest you take a look at. It is chock full of evidence for why I would now predict an extremely bleak next two years (at least), as far as environmentalism (for lack of a better word) is concerned. This article was written by John M. Broder and was published in the New York Times a little over four years ago (“Skepticism on Climate Change Is Article of Faith for Tea Party,” October 21, 2010). The article points out that during that year’s election cycle, “of the 20 Republican Senate candidates in contested races, 19 question the science of global warming, and oppose any comprehensive legislation to deal with it,” according to a National Journal survey. The article also points out that “oil, coal and utility industries have collectively spent $500 million just since the beginning of 2009 [to October 2010] to lobby against legislation to address climate change and to defeat candidates” who support such legislation (the source for this information is stated to be the Center for American Progress Action Fund, a left-leaning advocacy group in Washington). The article also quotes from two citizens active in the Tea Party movement, both of whom rely upon Scripture as a means for completely discounting any argument in support of the validity of climate change. Here is what one of them had to say: “It’s a flat-out lie. I read my Bible. He made this earth for us to utilize.”
About a week and a half ago, the World Wildlife Fund released its Living Planet Index 2014 report, and according to their calculations, for the period between 1970 and 2010, human activity has been responsible for the loss of 52 percent of the planet’s non-human vertebrate animal population. Human activity-related causes include habitat loss, pollution (e.g. algae blooms), fishing and hunting.
Just to clarify, this does not mean 52 percent of all mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and fish, all across the globe, have been driven into extinction. No, it means that in terms of their sheer numbers, there are that many fewer of them. Still, it highlights the reality that extinction could indeed be on the horizon for many vertebrate species.
It is ironic that I did not see reportage of this news story prominently featured in any of the newspapers I saw that day (one had it on page 34, the “Health & Science” page. “If half the animals died in London Zoo next week,” as Ken Norris, the Zoological Society of London’s director of science, points out in an article published in the British national daily The Guardian (Damian Carrington, “Earth has lost half of its wildlife in the past 40 years, says WWF” Sept. 29, 2014), “it would be front page news.” [The Institute of Zoology, the research division of the Zoological Society of London, worked collaboratively with the WWF in putting together the Living Planet Index 2014 report.] Think about that! If half the animals die in a zoo, that’s front page news. But if we kill off over half the [non-human] vertebrates on the planet, that’s not front page news.
This current assessment concerning vertebrates on the planet reminds me of a phrase that has long since stuck in my mind. It comes from David Quammen’s review of Dale Peterson’s book Eating Apes, published in The New York Times Book Review (“Almost Cannibalism / The chances of keeping Africans from eating all their apes don’t look good” June 15, 2003), in which he states that “African forests are being emptied of wildlife even faster than they’re being cut for timber.” He speaks of the “more than five million tons of antelope, elephant, buffalo, bush pig, porcupine, rodent, monkey and other native animals” being killed there every year. One big contributing factor, as Quammen points out, is this: “The problem of bushmeat in central Africa is entangled with industrial logging, which brings roads, trucks, hungry workers and their families and guns into forest areas once far less accessible.”
On Sunday, September 21st, I attended the Climate Change March in New York City. I found it very heartwarming and uplifting. While I don’t think it will lead to any substantive change, I did get the chance to see and meet some really wonderful people. And that easily made it all worthwhile.
I had only found out about it a couple days beforehand, but decided to attend, since I saw it as a perfect opportunity to get the word out about this website. I brought along about 700 or more “business” cards [they only provide the website domain name, and this: “Could this be one of the most important websites you will ever see? Read it with an open mind and decide for yourself.”], and planned to hand out as many of them as I could. That was my plan, anyway. Instead, I was in sponge-mode, absorbing everything. I only spoke with about half a dozen people; and only gave out about half a dozen cards. The level of participation was indeed quite large. I left an hour after it was scheduled to have ended, but it was still going and going and going.
While I didn’t give out many cards, I did manage to find a way to publicize this website simply by being there. How? I got the bright idea the night before (as soon as I got into bed), to safety-pin lots of cards [I have conventional, rectangular cards, as well as circular ones] all over my T-shirt. And that is precisely what I did. I brought along an extra T-shirt and pinned them on while taking the train in (and then switched T-shirts when I got there). One consideration I forgot to take into account, however, is that New York City is one of those rare places on earth where you can have three dozen cards pinned to your T-shirt and people hardly even notice. Oh, well.
Now, back to the deeper, more germane reality concerning what is happening to the earth, even as you read this sentence. On the very same day as the march, The New York Times published an opinion piece by Robert N. Stavins (“Climate Realities,” Sept. 21, 2014), in which he states that “The world is now on track to more than double current greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere by the end of the century. This would push up average global temperatures by three to eight degrees Celsius.” China, for instance, as Stavins points out, “is expected to add the equivalent of a new 500-megawatt coal-fired electric plant every 10 days for the next decade.”
One of the factors which makes this climate change issue one that is so difficult to rectify, is the fact that we don’t necessarily see it as its happening. As Stavins puts it, “climate change is unobservable by the public. On a daily basis, we observe the weather, not the climate. This makes it less likely that public opinion will force action.” Incidentally, this reminds me of a sentiment expressed by Tony Federer, in his self-published book Ecoshift: The Movement That Is Transforming the Relation of Humanity to Earth (which is accessible from his website, www.ecoshift.net [the following comes from the chapter titled “Ecopsychology: Human Need for Nature”]): “I wonder how things would be different if all the CO2 we produce by driving, heating, and air conditioning were purple instead of transparent.”
Two days after the march, The New York Times made its Tuesday ScienceTimes section a special issue. It focuses on climate change and opens with the heading “Nature in the Balance.” In this issue, an article by Nathaniel Rich (“Books: Feeling Our Rising Temperature,” Sept. 23, 2014), describes three new books that are out now. Pertaining to one of them — journalist Naomi Klein’s This Changes Everything (Simon & Schuster, 576 pages) — here is what Rich writes: “Drawing on an impressive volume of research, Ms. Klein savages the idea that we will be saved by new technologies or by an incremental shift away from fossil fuels: Both approaches, she argues, are forms of denial. It will not surprise those familiar with her previous books … that her solution requires a radical reconfiguration of our economic system.”
Without having read the book, I can say this: Just as it would be wrongheaded to think that we can “be saved by new technologies or by an incremental shift away from fossil fuels,” it would be equally wrongheaded to think that “a radical reconfiguration of our economic system” can do the trick. Surely, that is one piece of the puzzle (radically reconfiguring our economic system, not necessarily Klein’s perception of what that should entail), but it’s not the whole of it. There’s much more to it than that. Not just concerning the climate change issue, but all of the other issues concerning how we are harming the biosphere, as well. Solutionistically speaking, we must think holistically. We must think in terms of attacking all of the problems, simultaneously. But we don’t, we never approach it from that perspective, with that basic logic in tow, and with an intense laser-like focus; and worst of all, time is running out.
This reminds me of how I once read that veteran broadcast journalist Daniel Schorr, in describing our nation’s capital, proclaimed that it tends to be a “one-thing-at-a-time type of town,” because politicians have difficulty managing multiple problems all at once. But dealing with a whole array of multiple problems — innately complex and intractable problems — all at once, is exactly what we must do. There is no way around it. And we must wrap our minds around the fact that we need to think in terms of finding real solutions to these problems. Focusing so much of the time, as we do, on the singular issue of climate change, necessarily leaves out all of the other issues that we need to be dealing with. Climate change may indeed be the biggest issue; but even if that were the case, it is only one of the issues that we need to be grappling with.
For quite some time now I’ve been wanting to add some things to enhance the website (most particularly concerning the Quotations and Links pages); but I just haven’t had the time. That, coupled also with the fact that I haven’t posted any new messages here in several weeks, got me to thinking “Hey, why not share some of those quotations here, right now.” So here, below, are a few of the quotations I would like to have the time to eventually add to the Quotations page:
Education rears disciples, imitators, and routinists, not pioneers of new ideas and creative geniuses. The schools are not nurseries of progress and improvement, but conservatories of tradition and unvarying modes of thought. — Ludwig von Mises
The man who follows the crowd will get no further than the crowd. The man who walks alone is likely to find himself in places no one has been before.
Creativity in living is not without its attendant difficulties, for peculiarity breeds contempt. And the unfortunate thing of being ahead of your time is that when people finally realize you were right they’ll say it was obvious all along. You have two choices in life. You can dissolve into the mainstream, or you can be distinct. To be distinct, you must be different, and you must strive to be what no one else but you can be. — Alan Ashley-Pitt (pseudonym for Francis Phillip Wernig)
I always tell students, “Go ahead and write directly to the person you want to study with; you just never know.” That’s what I did, and I’m always surprised to hear how seldom it happens. I met the Nobel laureate Torsten Wiesel, and went up to him and said, “Gee, you must get people writing to you all the time, wanting to work with you.” He says “Nope, hasn’t happened.” — Michael S. Gazzaniga (from when he was interviewed by Benedict Carey)
We’ve devastated the natural resources of this country, for no particular reason except to make money and buy houses and send our kids to college. — Bob Dylan
Let me conclude with one that I have decided not to include on my Quotations page. I have decided not to include it for the very simple reason that while I don’t have reason to doubt its authenticity — and I don’t doubt its authenticity — I was unable to substantiate it to my satisfaction. Despite that, it really is a terrific, touching quotation, and therefore, I’ll happily include it here. It came to my attention while reading an article written by Sam Howe Verhovek, which was published in The New York Times (“The Void Without the ‘Great Beyond,'” Feb. 18, 2001). Here is the paragraph, from the article, that contains the quotation:
Terry Tempest Williams, the nature essayist, says she heard it best put 24 years ago, at a Congressional hearing on Alaska lands. A man in his 20’s, a blind piano tuner from Texas, stood up. “Gentlemen,” he said, “I may never get up to the Arctic and I certainly will never see Wild Alaska, but in those days when my own world seems dark and small, just to know such places exist will fill my soul with hope.”
Several years ago, I read an interesting review of Julianne Lutz Newton’s Aldo Leopold’s Odyssey, a book about Aldo Leopold, author of A Sand County Almanac. The review was written by Verlyn Klinkenborg, and published in The New York Times Book Review (“Land Man” / “A guide to the life of Aldo Leopold, author of ‘A Sand County Almanac.'” Nov. 5, 2006, p. 30). One could easily conclude, based on that review, that Leopold was a man who understood the seriousness of the ecological crisis man is up against, and the degree to which we must change our ways and chart a different course. “That the situation is hopeless,” Leopold wrote in a letter in 1946, “should not prevent us from doing our best.” The review also brings out the fact that in the early 1940’s, Leopold observed that “It is increasingly clear that there is a basic antagonism between the philosophy of the industrial age and the philosophy of the conservationist.” But here is the part that I find most worth mentioning: “In 1944 [he died of a heart attack in 1948] he confessed to a friend that he had come to a disarming realization — that nothing could be done about conservation ‘without creating a new kind of people.'”
That sentiment reminds me of something else I once read; and for this, we must fast forward 63 years after Leopold made that confession. This comes from a book ad, which appeared in The New York Times Book Review (July 1, 2007, page 22). The book being advertised in the ad, is Notes from a Dying Planet, 2004-2006: One Scientist’s Search for Solutions, by Paul Brown. It is a small ad, less than a quarter of a page. For me, one sentence particularly stands out. It is this one: “He [Paul Brown] concludes that our only hope for survival will be an evolutionary leap in human behavior.” I couldn’t agree more.
The Science section of yesterday’s New York Times included a letter to the editor, written by an Irene Muschel, of New York, who wrote in response to an article (Justin Gillis, “Looks Like Rain Again. And Again.” May 13) that was part of the New York Times’s “By Degrees” series dealing with the issue of global warming. The letter starts out by asserting that articles dealing with the issue of global warming usually fail to mention the significant relationship between livestock and climate change. “Animal agriculture causes more global warming,” the letter states, “than all forms of transportation combined.” The letter then points out that most people, including, ironically, the climate scientists who warn us about the dire consequences of not addressing climate change, continue making food choices (eating “meat, dairy and eggs”) that are most likely to exacerbate global warming. She ends the letter with this [my italics]: “What is the point of knowledge if it does not lead to personal change?”
That simple yet thought-provoking question could equally apply to so many things in life (whole books can be written on the fertile topic of knowledge not leading to personal change). It could also extend beyond diet to include so many other things we could be doing to reduce the size and effect of our carbon footprint. And that issue is not new. We’ve known about global warming for quite some time (decades!). But why hasn’t that knowledge led us towards making substantive personal changes in how we live? That is one of the important questions we need to examine. [Please be sure to read the Underlying Causes page, for information pertaining to this.]
Returning again to the topic of diet, it is interesting to note that Albert Einstein once stated “Nothing will benefit human health and increase the chances for survival of life on Earth as much as the evolution to a vegetarian diet.” I had decided long ago not to include that quotation on my Quotations page, because while I agree that switching to a vegetarian diet would probably benefit mankind greatly, I regard it as being too reductivist in the sense that it’s bad enough that there are already so many people believing “I’m doing my part,” simply because they recycle some of their garbage, or because they’ve gone out and bought a hybrid (automobile), or because they once in a while are willing to reconsider some of their purchasing decisions. I don’t want to contribute to that prevailing minimalistic thinking. There is no hope for saving the planet if we don’t expand our thinking in much broader ways and go way beyond those limited ways of thinking. We can’t save the planet simply by aiming towards being better consumers, while leaving the whole capitalistic, consummeristic, industrial infrastructure and paradigm wholly intact. An improved-upon re-wording of that quotation/sentiment might go something like this: Nothing will benefit human health and increase the chances for survival of life on Earth as much as the evolution towards a holistic approach towards saving the planet.
To corroborate some of the claims the letter-writer is making, an article published in The New York Times, in 2008 (Mark Bittman, “Rethinking the Meat-Guzzler” 27 Jan., p. 1 & 4 Week in Review section), states that “an estimated 30 percent of the earth’s ice-free land is directly or indirectly involved in livestock production, according to the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization, which also estimates that livestock production generates nearly a fifth of the world’s greenhouse gases — more than transportation.” In addition to also pointing out some of the other ecological ills caused by our overreliance upon a meat-based diet, the article states that in 2007, the world’s total meat supply “was estimated to be 284 million tons.”
Today is Earth Day. I am not a big fan of Earth Day. Why? Because while there are 8,760 hours every year that the earth keeps us alive and makes all life on this planet possible, Earth Day comes just once a year and lasts just twenty-four hours. As I say on the About me page, “Saving the planet requires making that goal a daily habit, not deceiving ourselves into believing that infrequent acts of planetary goodwill can do the trick.” In short, Earth Day should be every day. Many people say “I’m doing my part. I recycle.” But recycling doesn’t exculpate. There is so much more we need to be doing.
As an article that appeared in Newsday a couple of years ago (Bettina Boxall [Los Angeles Times] “Damaging changes to Earth, group says,” June 10, 2012, p. A30) stated, “human influence on the planet has become so pervasive that some scientists have argued in recent years that Earth has entered a new geologic epoch, the Anthropocene.” That same article provided information about a paper that was published in the June 8, 2012 edition of the journal Nature, in which researchers from a variety of fields paint a not-so-pretty picture concerning what man is doing to the planet. Here is something it’s lead author, Anthony Barnosky, a professor of integrative biology at the University of California, Berkeley, stated in an interview (according to the article):
The net effects of what we’re causing could actually be equivalent to an asteroid striking the Earth in a worst-case scenario. I don’t want to sound like Armageddon. I think the point to be made is that if we just ignore all the warning signs of how we’re changing the Earth, the scenario of losses of biodiversity — 75 percent or more — is not an outlandish scenario at all.”
The article also states that by the middle of this century, we “could have altered more than half the world’s land surface.” Mikael Fortelius, a professor of evolutionary paleontology at the University of Helsinki in Finland and one of the paper’s authors, states that he is not “particularly optimistic,” and says “I think we had to speak up. We have to say what we see. Whether it will have any impact, I really don’t know.”
This is something I just can’t resist sharing. I fortuitously stumbled upon this, about six months ago. This video is only about a minute and a half long, but it will stay with you for a very long time. In the Google search box, enter the following search info: 5 Encounters with Giant Beasts. I am referencing the clip about the leopard seal, specifically (I haven’t watched the other four). Sam Mallery is the name given in the byline.
I’ve been going through a huge stack of old articles and notes and came across an op-ed written by Al Gore and published in The New York Times (“Moving Beyond Kyoto,” Jul. 1, 2007). It focuses on the issue of global warming and states that mankind is dumping “70 million tons of CO2 every 24 hours into the Earth’s atmosphere.” [Currently, in 2014, it’s getting very close to 100 million tons per day; as a link on my Links page illustrates.]
On the Read this first! page, I explain why I use the phrase “saving the planet” as my all-encompassing mission statement; and I also explain what is imperfect about that phrasing (the planet itself is not in jeopardy, it will continue orbiting the sun whether we render it incapable of further supporting human life or not). Gore makes this point himself in the op-ed: “Our home — Earth — is in danger. What is at risk of being destroyed is not the planet itself, but the conditions that have made it hospitable for human beings.” He states that we should heed the warning of many scientists “that we are moving closer to several ‘tipping points’ that could — within 10 years — make it impossible for us to avoid irretrievable damage to the planet’s habitability for human civilization.”
Incidentally, while I do think that Gore is far ahead of many people (in certain respects) regarding “saving the planet,” I do see his particular vision as falling far short of where we need to be going in terms of getting us on the right path and moving in the right direction.
The same day as my last posting, The New York Times Book Review ran a review of Elizabeth Kolbert’s new book, The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History. This review was written by Al Gore (“Without a Trace,” Feb. 16, 2014), and it is well worth reading. In it, Gore states that up to half (“20-50 percent”) of all species on earth could disappear within this century! He states that oceans have become “more acidic than they have been in millions of years.” And he points out that “Everywhere the intricate interconnections crucial to sustaining life are increasingly being pulled apart.” Concerning an esteemed scientist who previously worked at NASA, this is what he writes:
According to a conservative and unchallenged calculation by the climatologist James Hansen, the man-made pollution already in the atmosphere traps as much extra heat energy every 24 hours as would be released by the explosion of 400,000 Hiroshima-class nuclear bombs.
But will this wake humanity up and get us questioning our tremendously tunnel vision-like, anthropocentric mindset? I doubt it. It’s been half a century since Rachel Carson passed away, and we are no closer towards saving the planet.
2/16/14 Just to illustrate how serious the ecological crisis we are in, actually is, let me paraphrase something I wrote, which you can find near the beginning of the bullet list, on the Solutions page:
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) species on the planet, within the next 1,000 years.
In this respect, modern man can be likened to an approaching asteroid.
*What you can do:
(1) You can read this website.
(2) If you are a multi-millionaire or billionaire, especially, please read this website!
(3) If you are not a multi-millionaire or billionaire, please see the green message at the bottom of this page.
(4) There are oceans of information out there just waiting to be discovered or re-discovered. Read! Do independent research! Think! Use your imagination! Make a real difference in the world; and become a change agent for substantive, meaningful change. And remember: when it comes to saving the planet, don’t think small, think BIG!
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